Sunday, February 11, 2018

The space world to come, imagined in 1956

This book has such a wonderful dust jacket. I can't remember where I found it any more but I suspect it was on one of my expeditions searching second-hand bookshops and op shops in Adelaide for ex-Woomera literature. Often, the libraries of those employed at the Long Range Weapons Research Establishment find their way onto the shelves. I like reading the old books to get an idea of how people thought the Space Age was going to unfold, and what they thought the space environment was like.

Apart from its appealing design, the interior holds many delights. Of course, it was written before a satellite had been successfully launched into Earth orbit - which happened a year later in 1957 -  and at this stage, the USA expected that its Vanguard satellite would be the first human object in space.  Here is the authors' assessment of what it all meant:
The Earth satellites developed under Project Vanguard are to be the first space vehicles.  The prime purpose of these vehicles will be to derive basic data about the environment in which we live.  Yet this is only the short view. 
The longer view may easily rank in significance with the first steam vessel in 1802, the first railroad in 1825, and the first airplane in 1903.  Each of these radical inventions basically altered ways of life.  It is probable that space flight will do no less.  The orbiting vehicles can affect nearly every human activity, ranging from the discovery of new medicines to the development of new literature and philosophies. They can help bring about a universal peace or a universal chaos.
This book is concerned with the utility of space satellites and the way this aspect can affect every person on Earth. .... We can see them giving us long-range weather forecasts, improving our communications and transportation systems, helping us discover underground treasures, influencing military tactics, and questioning many theories (Bergaust and Beller 1956:13).

Not a bad forecast of the impact of satellites! However, where are the new literatures and philosophies? Science fiction already existed, although it has changed and evolved over the decades. Perhaps I might opine that it's only now that we are seeing the coherent emergence of new ways of thinking influenced by space. 

Bergaust, Erik, and William Beller  1956  Satellite! The first step into the last frontier - the full facts about man's coming exploration of space.  New York:  Hanover House

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