I was 11, a week from being 12 years old. It was in the mailbox. ‘It’ was October 18 1952 issue of Collier’s magazine. I had seen the movie Destination Moon; I had my copy of Fletcher Pratt and Jack Coggins’ ROCKETS JETS, GUIDED MISSILES AND SPACE SHIPS1. Where was the bullet shape? The fins? The needle nose? This was not right! This was supposed to be a space ship! It was ugly!
Yet! That lighting, the color, that splash of molten rock! The detail! How could something so ugly ... catch my imagination? So real? I took that issue to my room, ugly!
It lay about most of the day. Well... eventually I had to read it. That week I must have read that issue 20 times!
you don’t have air, you don’t need aerodynamics. I thought about
Willy Ley and Wernher von Braun’s words. Yeah! To land on the
moon you don’t need a bullet shape. Almost any shape will do.
I came to love that ugly space ship! It cemented itself to my soul. It led me to a life in science, a B.A. degree in Mathematics, a M.A. degree in Physics and Ph.D. in physics. Most startling , to me, that series led me to 35 years of work in space flight , first Apollo , the Shuttle program, and now the ISS. All due to the romance of space expressed by Chesley Bonestell, Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley.
Landing on the Moon
March 22 2002 marks the 50th anniversary of the most influential feat of popular science writing ever. The March 22 1952 issue of Collier’s stands a landmark in the history of space flight.
Collier’s magazines from March 1952
to April 1954 outlined an amazing dream2. There was a huge vertical
three-stage launch vehicle with its horizontal landing ferry space
ship, a large toroidal space station, orbital transport ships, a base
on the moon, exploration of the moon, and ultimately a manned expedition
to Mars. Even thought the exposition in each issue was brief, all
aspects of manned space flight were covered. Besides the hardware
there was coverage of the medical/psychological and training elements of
manned space flight, even the legal aspects of manned exploration of earth
orbit and the moon. The prose in the Collier’s issues was simple,
direct and clear. The illustrations on the covers and pages conveyed
an immense sense of detailed design. Even if those articles were fairly short
the amount of information contained in the paintings and drawings enfolded
a mind boggling amount of depth of thought.
Third stage ferry, space station, taxi and telescope in orbit.
The March 22 issue of Colliers dealt with the design and building of the space station. The basic building blocks ferry ship and were incredible, in the words of Wernher von Braun:
“Imagine the size of this huge three-stage rocket ship: it stands 265 feet tall, approximately the height of a 24-story building. It base measures 64 feet in diameter. And the over all weight of this monster rocket ship is 14,000,000 pounds, or 7,000 lbs – about the same weight of a light cruiser.” Hardly mentioned is that in the building and testing this ferry ship, man would have made his first orbital flight!
Only 15 years later von Braun led his Marshall Space Flight Center crew to design and build the Saturn 5.
Most interesting is how von Braun had expanded his idea of a Mars expedition (more on that below). He now recognized the importance of establishing what we call a ‘node’ in low earth orbit and introduced the space station. Important for many reasons the von Braun space station would serve as an assembly point for expeditions to the Moon and Mars. This was important logistical concept and solution to a crucial mass ratio problem. Much more economic to launch from earth orbit than from a deep potential well.
Cutaway view of the Ferry Cabin (painting by Fred Freeman)
The design of a total manned space flight mission had occurred before, in 1939 The British Interplanetary Society had planned out a mission to the moon. The scale of the Collier’s space flight series was titanic. The space station and Moon expedition , and then the vision of a grand flotilla of ten space ships that would go to Mars for an expedition time of 2 years, with 70 explorers! Fifty men go to the surface, 20 stay in orbit. Everything is worked out, even the 950! ferry flights needed to assemble the ten space ships. In the Collier’s series the build up to the Mars expedition is elaborated. First the Space Station is built, with the following logical Moon exploration.
The Grand Flotilla to Mars
One has the impression by the end of the lunar exploration exploration, in the Colllier's series, that mankind has a permanent foothold in space.
The full realization ,1952 to 1954, of this Collier’s series is astounding,
not less due to the illustration artistry of Chesley Bonestell. Bonestell
,who was already famous for his paintings with astronomical settings.
The Collier’s series exceeded any illustration work he had ever done.
The composition, point of view, color and , indeed, ‘sense of
wonder’ are probably the greatest examples of ‘space art’
ever done. (Let us not for get the wonderful illustration work done by the
artists Fred Freeman and Rolf Klep). The English version of
The English version of Das Marsprojekt
Dr. von Braun’s Mars paper project was worked on between the end of 1947 and through out 1948. It was published in special edition of the German space flight journal Weltraumfahrt in 1952, later that year in a hardback edition. Lucky for me I bought a copy of the English translation in 1953, from the University of Illinois Press.
This slim little volume details the design of the earth-to-orbit ferry vessels, the passenger/cargo ships and the Martian landing ‘boats’. The chapter headings are, (a) THREE-STAGE FERRY VESSELS, (b) SPACE SHIPS, (c) LANDING BOATS, (d) FERRY FLIGHTS AND GENERAL LOGISTICS, (e) POWER PLANT PERFORMANCE and (f) INTERPLANETARY RADIO COMMUNICATION.
Das Marsprojekt is an amazing technical conception for 1948! Von Braun implies the reason for the size of the Mars mission design ,in his introduction, when he talks about Columbus and his exploration. It seems that von Braun realized that the expedition needed redundancy. Though redundancy is not elaborated as a concept in Das Marsprojekt it is evident that 3 ‘landing boats’ and 7 cargo/transport ships insures the success of a mission , so far from home!
Later in the Collier’s series space taxies and space suits were invented. Expanding the 1948 ships and mission design to a space station and lunar expedition was a logical extension of the original conception.
All in all the
Collier’s space series influenced thousands of people, some
who became wonder struck supporters and some who became active participants
in American space history. Like me!
*Though fully acknowledged , one notes, strong contributions were
made to Das Marsprojekt by Krafft Ehricke, Dr. Hans Friedrich, Dr. Josef
Jenissen, Dr. Joachim Mühlner, Dr. Adolf Thiel and Dr. Carl Wagner.