Friday, November 21, 2014

Of A Larger Reality

Ursula LeGuin is a revered writer and a prophet of the imagination.  She received an award from the National Book Awards, and used the occasion to note that such literary awards are rare for science fiction writers:

"And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists."

But it is not just because an entire branch of writing has been snubbed, just as television awards snubbed Star Trek and other science fiction for most of its history.  It is the value--and the future value--of those visions:

"I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality."

LeGuin then made some pointed comments about today's publishing world.  They may seem unrelated to her previous point, but they really aren't.  It is only when writers and creators can create and express their visions, including visions of a better future, that they can be shared.

We all know that television and movies are expensive to make and especially these days to market, and that the extent of profits have become increasingly the measure of success, and determines what is allowed to be seen.  (Not just profits, but the extent of profits.)  That's become dominant in book publishing as well.

These are ultimately self-destructive values, and the wrong measures, yet they are so easy to adopt. I've noticed for instance that instead of discussing the issues raised by Star Trek and other stories, or the visions of the future they suggest, the dialogue is increasingly about money, about blockbusters, profits and "the franchise."

Once we start talking about "the franchise" instead of the Star Trek saga, or the stories, then we're defeating ourselves.  Star Trek is not about profits, tent poles and maintaining a franchise.  It's about stories, visions, complexities, models and hope for the future.  Yes, the money involves some constraints.  But a sense of proportion and always remembering what it's actually all about--they are more necessary than ever.

Here's more of LeGuin on publishing:

 Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)

 Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. 

 Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words." 

 This post is probably longer than her speech, and quotes almost all of it.  But you have to see her give it, in under six minutes. The complete transcript is here.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Captain's Log: Where the Soul Is

There's no new Star Trek on TV to talk about, the movies are few and far between, and so a lot of what fills the Trek sites is news of merchandise: replicas, figures, jewelry, dresses, an Enterprise pizza cutter, a Borg cube cake.  It all has its place, these tools to increase the feeling of participation in the Star Trek myth (probably the best light to shine on it all.)  But it's not the essence.

Neither is the speculation on how to make Star Trek a better "franchise," which has the positive goal of increasing the number of Star Trek stories.  But it might have its drawbacks, and besides, it's mostly on the level of business.  That's certainly an important consideration, but it's not the essence either.  The mythos is part of it.  The franchise isn't.  It's not the soul of Star Trek.

There's an analogy between the merchandise and the technology in Star Trek.  Trek tech is exciting and integral to the Trek universe.  But on its own it is empty.  In an essay on Slate called "Forget the Tricorder," Joey Escrich (in writing about a new book called Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions of a Better Future) asserts "the most important innovations that will shape our future aren’t the gadgets, but the beliefs, values, communities, and relationships that will determine how we use them."

Here's another thought or observation to throw into the mix.  I admit I have been surprised that the JJA or Abramsverse movies, with all their much bigger budget contemporary effects and style, haven't overwhelmed the GR era Star Trek TV shows and movies.  Specifically in their alternate Original Series universe, one might expect New (or Nu) Kirk and Spock to have replaced the old.  That has not happened.  Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are admired for their portrayals, but William Shatner is still James T. Kirk, and Leonard Nimoy is still Mr. Spock.

The conventions (such as October's New York Comic Con) affirm this, as well as the firm grasp on the Trek imagination of the Next Generation crew.  The GR era shows and movies own the conventions, especially when the new cast isn't promoting a new movie.

The conventions are one place that the soul of Trek is enacted, as fans and Trek creators interact within the Trek mythology that includes the stories and the values that Trek promoted and that fans extract from Trek to guide and enhance their own lives.

Another place--which combine these two observations--seems to me to be in the independent films, the web series etc. otherwise known as fan films--pretty much set in the GR Trek mythic universe.

 That's found for example in the Star Trek Continues promotional videos through Wired.  This is participation in a deeper way--creating stories within the Star Trek universe to share with others.  Yet clearly the participants cherish the experience of creating with each other.

That was part of Star Trek from the beginning.  The airing of grievances, chronicles of conflict and misbehavior etc. since may have obscured the fundamental facts of it, that are so often expressed in the earliest interviews and accounts:  people who worked together to solve creative problems, united by the joy of each other and also their belief in the better future Star Trek stood for, the equality of opportunity and the diversity of contributions to the common enterprise.

Some of that future evolved through storytelling, such as the full historic meaning of The Prime Directive.  But a lot of it was there in what people often refer to as simply the relationships, both of the creators and of the characters.

I see the Star Trek universe as a series of concentric circles, with the creators at the center (producers, writers, actors, directors, designers etc.) and gradually expanding rings of ancilliary storytellers (novels, independent films, fan fictions etc.) and the rings of fandom from the most actively involved to the devoted viewers.  That they have always interacted is one reason that the soul of Star Trek is still so strong.  You see this today in the conventions but especially in the independent films--done with love, care, sacrifice, and for no monetary profit.      

Meanwhile, more is happening in the real world that might influence new Star Trek stories in a post-1960s or even 1990s understanding of the universe... First on my list is the astonishing idea that a third to half the water on planet Earth is older than the sun.  It's become fairly orthodox science that a great deal of Earth's water arrived from space, probably borne by comets.  But this discovery, if it holds up, makes that certain--not only from space but from outside our solar system... And right on cue, other scientists believe they've detected water on an exoplanet for the first time, on a Neptune-sized planet in the constellation of Cygnus.

A new study concludes that there indeed may be thousands of alien civilizations in the galaxy, but the vast distances make contact unlikely or at least very rare.Without warp drive anyway, but we knew that.   A survey found that 37% of the Americans polled believe space aliens exist, but proof of them has varied effects on their religious beliefs.  Meanwhile, a researcher of terrestrial life wonders if we will even recognize intelligent alien life if we run into it out there, especially since we have so much trouble recognizing it here.

So long for now.  And thanks for all the fish.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Internet Factor

From Tom Tomorrow via Daily Kos.  Signed prints available.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Captain's Log: Braga, Geekie and the New Doctor Who

Welcome to the Captain's Log at Soul of Star Trek, where your vision will never be blocked by a popup ad that you can never shake, so for better or for worse, you can actually read what's on this site.  Is that science fiction or what?

Readers of this past post at this site will not be surprised that at a convention appearance, former Star Trek producer/writer and producer of the Cosmos series Brannon Braga reportedly said of his work on Cosmos: "I did bring a lot of my Star Trek sensibilities to the show. The ‘Ship of the Imagination’ might as well be the Starship Enterprise."  (I suggested it looked like the Enterprise D before they put the stuff in, except for the captain's chair.) Check out the Trek Movie story that reports on some of what he said about the Star Treks he worked on. (That's Neil deGrasse Tyson on Cosmos--can't you just hear him? "Engage!")

Speaking of the Trek Movie site, I was genuinely surprised to see (in several comments sections) that such a negative tone towards Star Trek Into Darkness has developed.  I've made my own caveats and qualms known here, but the trekgeist seems to have turned against it definitively.  I don't know what that means for the next JJverse movie, unofficially as yet to be directed by a writer on the past two who is a writer on this one, Roberto Orci.  Word there is that the script is complete, and 2016 is still the release year.

Congratulations to Star Trek Continues for winning as Best Web Series at the 2014 Geekie Awards.  Also to Geek of the Year LeVar Burton.  His successful Kickstarter campaign for Reading Rainbow apparently was the clincher.

 Doctor Who did not fare as well at the Hugo Awards.  Despite having four entries among the nominees for short form TV, it lost to an ep of that other Brit global hit, Game of Thrones.  I really, really dislike that series.

However the world is being prepared for the new season of Doctor Who, a series now of global reach.  The actors playing the new Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and the current companion (Jenna Coleman) participated in a tour that touched down on five continents.  Cities included Mexico City, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro and Seoul, South Korea.  Each stop included screening of the premiere episode, "Deep Breath."

The episode will be aired in the UK, US, Canada, South America and Germany (though in undubbed English) on August 23, as well as in at least four other countries the next day or the next week.  Thanks to the successful theatrical screenings of the 50th anniversary show, "Day of the Doctor," this episode (70 minutes plus) will also be shown in theatres in a number of countries.

The BBC publicity machine hit a snag however when scripts of the first five episodes were leaked on the Internet.  But from my point of view, this was not all bad since one of the online "reviewers" of the scripts suggested that the new Doctor, while definitely darker than the previous, will have humorous moments, and that the scripts include humor as well as drama.  That would be in keeping with past Doctors but the official publicity shows Capaldi glowering all the time.  I began to wonder if the series is taking itself too seriously.

But then I've only recently been catching up with the last Matt Smith episodes on dvd, lacking a couple of the Christmas specials and the final regeneration story.  I loved "The Day of the Doctor" 50th anniversary story. John Hurt and especially Billie Piper were superb.  David Tennant and Matt Smith work very well together, as do their Doctors.  Though I've come to appreciate Matt Smith's Doctor more, I still feel partial to the Tennant/ Russell T Davies years.  Davies' East Enders Meet the Time Machine approach grounded the stories better for me. Tennant did comedy and drama, the big gestures and subtle moments, all so well.  Matt Smith had unique strengths as the Doctor but he didn't quite have all those colors, and neither did the stories.  Capaldi has done drama and comedy well in the past.   So we'll see.  Although you'll probably see first.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Giant Leap

Forty-five years ago today, a human being first set foot on another world. Some 600 million people on Earth were watching and listening as Neil Armstrong descended to the surface of the Moon from the Apollo 11 lunar lander, saying (in words slightly obscured by static) "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

 Those of us who were alive and old enough usually remember where we were. I was visiting Colorado, and had spent the afternoon in a car winding through the dry bare mountains near Denver, which seemed to me as desolate as a moonscape. Kathi, the driver, and my girlfriend Joni were from Denver and we were seeing the sights, but I remember that landscape (and possibly the thin air that I wasn't used to) just made me despondent.

 A few hours later we were in the basement rec room of Kathi's parents' house as we watched the ghostly image of Armstrong on the Moon. I felt it--that I was watching in real time an extraordinary moment in human history. At the same time, that indistinct black and white image was a little like watching Captain Video on an early black and white television set when I was five or six.

 Years later the worlds of science fiction and factual history collided again at a Star Trek convention dinner. I stopped to speak to Nichelle Nichols at a table in the darkened ballroom when she said she wanted to introduce me to someone. From the seat next to her up popped a man in a suit holding out his hand--it was Neil Armstrong. I shook the hand of the first human to really touch another world. 

Earlier in this 45th anniversary year, MIT Press published Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  I've posted a review of this book and further observations of this day on other sites.

As I wrote in that earlier post, humans rocketing into space was considered childish fantasy even as late as the 1950s.  Just a few years after Apollo 11, the  Apollo 17 astronauts left the Moon, and no human has returned.

Today we know that many things went wrong with technologies that we'd find laughably primitive in 2014 as the Eagle was trying to land on July 20, 1969. But somehow it did land, and that moment inspires awe even today. Perhaps even more so, since such a voyage has returned to the realm of fantasy, only with better visual effects.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Pale Blue Dot

This is about three minutes from the final episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which (along with one of the producers, Brannon Braga) has just been nominated for several Emmys.  It's the voice of Carl Sagan, who hosted and co-wrote the first Cosmos series, reading from his book The Pale Blue Dot.  The visual is an animation ending with the view of Earth that Voyager 1 got as it passed Neptune on its way to interstellar space (where, by the way, it was further confirmed this week, Voyager definitely is.)

As one of the comments on YouTube suggests, the views Sagan expresses so eloquently in this clip are basic to Gene Roddenberry's vision for Star Trek.  That's one reason I'm posting it.  Another is that the episode this clip comes from can be seen for free on the Internet, but (at least at this site) only for a few more days.  Some earlier episodes will be available there longer. The whole series is available in other ways, including DVD.  I wrote about it here at the beginning, and since then, my admiration for it has grown.  It really is a stellar series.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Preface to Space


There's a new book called Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jerek (MIT Press.)  It's a large format, coffee table-sized book with lots of photos but a pretty smart text as well.

The title makes the content sound a little crass, but the fact is that Americans had to be "sold" on the space program because even in the  1950s or early 60s, the idea of people going to the moon was considered loony. Until well into the 20th century it wasn't just the general public, the press and politicians who thought space flight was a nutty dream--it was also the scientists.

This book quotes astronomical artist Ron Miller: "Astronautics is unique among all the sciences because it owes its origins to an art form.  Long before engineers and scientists took the possibility of spaceflight seriously, virtually all of its aspects were explored first in art and literature..."  Much of that was of course science fiction.

"No one had considered the actual technological problems of space flight until Jules Verne," Miller asserted.  Thanks mostly to weapons of war in the 20th century, scientists and engineers became deeply interested in such technological problems.  But the goal of manned space flight for the purpose of exploration was still for dreamers.

This book singles out some of the ways that the public was prepared for space even before the reality began in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik I.  Science fiction, including the movies like Forbidden Planet, and those Saturday morning TV shows in the early 1950s that as a space-happy kid I remember vividly-- Space Patrol,Tom Corbett, Space Cadet; Rocky Jones, Space Ranger--and even earlier, Captain Video (following of course the heroes of radio, comics and movie serials in Gene Roddenberry's 1930s youth, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.)

But what interested me most about this early chapter was the emphasis the authors placed on the speculations and artistic renderings in the popular press in the 1950s (notably Collier's Magazine) and particularly the three programs produced by Walt Disney, aired in the first years of his now-classic anthology program, known by many names over the years, but which started out as simply Disneyland.

The significance the authors place on these programs got my attention because I remember them so vividly, especially the first one, "Man in Space."  Disneyland the program (like Disneyland the theme park in California that had not yet opened when the TV series started) was divided into four categories: Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland and Tomorrowland.  Almost all the programs however were in the first three of those categories.  I remember tuning in every week, waiting, waiting for Tomorrowland.  I mean I loved Davy Crockett like everybody else, but I craved the future.  And then one night, it appeared.

I'm guessing I saw it more than once that first year--Disney was never shy about rerunning programs.  I soaked up every second of it.  And I pined for more.

All three are now on YouTube, along with a USSR fictional version of space flight called Road to the Stars (1957).  This film wasn't available in the West for a long time, but as the Marketing the Moon book says, it was one of the visual sources for Stanley Kubrick's 2001, along with the Disney films.  The version on YouTube--in Russian, and with closed captioned English subtitles that are only marginally less understandable than the Russian for we non-Russian speakers--is a very good print.  Thanks in part to the always-smiling cosmonauts in their naughty leather flightsuits, it's fun to watch.

So now I've watched the Disney films again, and offer my comments below.  If you check them out you may notice that there's an awful lot of blue in them.  Walt Disney introduces them wearing a blue suit with a blue tie.  That's because they were filmed in color but seen on black and white TV, and blue transferred best.  (It's the same thing with the last four years of the 1950s Superman series with George Reeves-- shown first on black and white, they got a whole new life when color TV spread across the country.  Practically everybody wears various shades of blue in those.)

The three Disney TV films ran from 1955 to 1957.  Disneyland moved from ABC to NBC in 1961 to take advantage of NBC's leadership in color television broadcasting, and changed the name to Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.  Undoubtedly these space films got a second life in color then.  I suspect they were on TV when the look of Star Trek was first being developed.   But even before color broadcast, there were Dell magazines and books that captured the color illustrations.

"Man in Space" was first broadcast on March 9, 1955.  Let's first place that date in historical perspective.  Sputnik I was the first artificial satellite to be launched into space in October 1957.  The US launched its first satellite in January 1958. John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as President of the US in January 1961.  The first manned spaceflight was by the USSR in April 1961, with Yuri Gargarin's orbital flight.  In May 1961 the US sent its first man into space, Alan Shepard in a suborbital flight.  Also in May 1961, President Kennedy proposed the goal of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to the Earth--what became the Apollo program. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in February 1962.  On Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong became the first human to touch the surface of another world in 1969.

In other words, "Man in Space" was made and broadcast before any satellite or any human had reached outer space.  So was the second, "Man and the Moon."  Only the third, "Mars and Beyond," was broadcast after Sputnik, by about two months. (And even though "man" was used in its general sense as "human," it pretty much was just men in space.  Though the Russians sent the first woman into orbit in 1963, none of the US programs before the shuttle had women astronauts.)

"Man in Space" is introduced by Walt Disney, who refers to space as "the new frontier" (JFK's campaign slogan in 1960 became The New Frontier.)  The bulk of the program is a very fine history of rocketry and an illustration of possible perils of humans in space, introducing the concept of weightlessness.  Rocketry pioneer Willy Ley is among those who explain various concepts but much of the explanation is through animation, some of which is still funny.  I remember in particular that this is where I learned Newton's third law of motion, which as this film put it means "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."  It's still about all the physics I know.

The history of rocketry leads up to the V-2, the last German rocket built in World War II.  Several blast-offs of this handsome rocket are shown, though it's not clear if these are German films or films of the launches of some of the 75 V-2s the US captured and brought back after the war, to essentially create the US rocket program.  Many launches of a dazzling array of differently designed rockets follow.

Not once however is it mentioned that the V-2 was used to rain terror and destruction down on England.  V-2 meant "Vengeance Weapon 2" in retaliation for the Allied bombing of Berlin and other population centers.  Over 3,000 were launched against Allied targets, mostly London, killing some 9,000 people.  Some 12,000 people died in forced labor camps making these rockets.

The London Blitz at first consisted of attack by German bombers, and then the V-1 rockets.  Londoners learned to listen for the V-1 and for the silence after the motors cut out--if it sounded close, then the bomb was apt to fall nearby.  The V-2 however was supersonic--the bomb arrived before the sound was heard, making it even more of a terror weapon.  In Thomas Pynchon's famous novel Gravity's Rainbow set in London during the V-2 bombing, one of the characters seems to have precognition of where the bombs will land.

The reason for the Disney film's silence on the uses of the V-2 was simple: Wernher von Braun was one of the chief scientists who designed the V-2 but by 1955 he was working for the US government on its military rocket programs.  And about a half hour into the 49 minutes of this show, he appeared on camera to explain his design for the rocket that would take Americans into space.

Then comes the animated first launch of man into space.  The style is hyper-realistic, with a dramatic music score.  It's only about ten minutes but for me it was unforgettable. (The illustration at the top is from this segment.)

 In broad outlines, it does predict what the launches were like that I later watched avidly on TV, from the first Explorer satellite launch through Mercury and Apollo.  But a lot of very big details were off.  Von Braun was way too ambitious--he has a four stage rocket topped by a winged aircraft to return the 6-man crew to this "isolated atoll in the Pacific."  (The first Russian and US spaceflights had crews of one.  US Gemini had two, and Apollo three.) They also made it a night launch, which was more dramatic, but there wasn't a US night launch until deep into the Apollo program.

Probably the funniest detail now is that the crew wasn't taken to the rocket until 20 minutes before launch.  Watching the real launches I recall those poor astronauts sitting strapped-in for hour after hour, through the long countdowns, through launch holds and scrubbed missions.

"Man in Space" was directed by Ward Kimball, who also appeared as a kind of host (as he would at times in the following two programs.)  The voice-over narrator is Dick Tufeld, familiar from lots of Disney productions but also as the voice of the robot in Lost in Space (Danger Will Robinson!) on TV in the 60s (and later reprised on The Simpsons.)

"Man in the Moon" was first broadcast on Disneyland on December 28, 1955.  It starts with animation illustrating the human conception of the moon throughout history, narrated (as is the rest of the film) by Hans Conreid, a famous face as well as voice of the 50s and 60s, frequently in Disney productions.

From a fanciful history of stories the program moves onto the science.  It's unfortunately noticeable now how casually Walt Disney himself mentions that the universe is at least 4 billion years old.  A mention like that in the currently running 2014 version of the Cosmos series is routinely attacked by fundamentalists, but in 1955 this caused no controversy.  In a program built on science, it was perfectly natural.

The basic astral mechanics and the then-current knowledge about the solar system is well told with animation of various kinds, though details like the number of moons of the outer planets are now far out of date.

Then von Braun appears again to talk about the process of a human voyage to the moon.  Again he's thinking very big, ultimately about a craft that carries ten.  But a major part of this process is the construction of a space station, as an embarkation point for the huge moon-bound craft.  The space station itself is immense--much larger than today's International Space Station.  And it is in the now classic shape of the wheel.

The circular space station with a hub in the center and spokes to the sides was already becoming a space travel icon, in science fiction novels like Arthur C. Clarke's Islands in the Sky, published in 1952 as part of the Winston series of juvenile s/f novels, or in films and TV shows like Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (1954), culminating in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968.)

It's not surprising that von Braun would gravitate towards the space wheel, for according to Sam Moskowitz's s/f history Explorers of the Infinite, its first appearance was in a novel by German writer Kurd Lasswitz in 1897, which was republished many times well into the 1940s at least.  Several aspects of von Braun's design are descendants of concepts published by a German scientist Hermann Oberth in 1923. An Austrian writer named Noordung and two German scientists named von Pirquet and Gail pioneered other ideas adapted into this design, including how the crew would live on the space station, all decades earlier. It's likely von Braun would have been aware of all of these as he worked on the German rocket program. To these concepts Von Braun added an atomic power plant.

The dramatization of the actual voyage from the station to the moon is the most elaborate of the series.  It involves animation but also models, and live actors and sets.  The models and sets are particularly interesting--the spacecraft are all white, while the interiors favor primary colors.  It's all surprisingly 1960s Trek-like.  The first pass of the moon has some Trek resonance as well.

The technology however is dated to the point of nostalgia.  The on-board computer for instance gives a new meaning to "dial-up."  There's a little drama aboard when a micro-meteor hits a fuel line and a space walk is necessary.  The craft doesn't attempt to land (as the first Apollo didn't) but does a single orbit.  There's a little s/f involved when it crosses the dark side of the moon and launches flares to reveal unusual surface features at right angles, perhaps suggesting built structures, but nothing is said about it and the moment passes.

Mars and Beyond was first broadcast on December 4, 1957.  It's narrated by Paul Frees, an actor who did a lot of voice-over work for many decades (he was everybody from the unseen millionaire on The Millionaire to Boris Badenov on Rocky and Bullwinkle.)  His most prominent s/f appearance was in the 1953 George Pal version of  The War of the Worlds: he was the first of the narrators, and played a role as a radio announcer.  As this program begins he seems to be trying to sound like Orson Welles, but by the end he's using the portentous voice he employed when talking about Mars in The War of the Worlds.

This show begins with animation about human conceptions of the nature of the stars and the cosmos and life on other planets.  The concepts are often so weird that the animation gets wildly creative.  At times it seems very Cubist, as if Picasso is the strangest thing the animators could think of.  There are also suggestions of such later animations as Yellow Submarine.

To suggest the variety of possibilities for life on other planets, the show tells the story of Earth's own history, from carbon atoms to proteins to organic compounds in the primordial sea.  "Now with time as the main ingredient the evolution of life is inevitable."  Visually arresting enough for children, the script is surprisingly sophisticated and eloquent.  While the accompanying images sometimes go off on playful tangents, the narration is carefully scientific.  Again, it's sad to compare what was uncontroversial for a family audience in 1957 compared to the regressiveness of 2014.

The program's attention finally turns to Mars, and the question of whether humans could exist there--a question, the narration states, that arises because of human overpopulation and depletion of resources on Earth.  This is 1957!  (Which is getting close to the time that the correlation between fossil fuel burning, higher CO2 in the atmosphere and the warming of the global temperature is being determined.)

There's also the question of what kind of life could exist on Mars.  STAR TREK ALERT!  Some of the forms discussed are silicon based lifeforms, and creatures that eat through rock.  Though they're up on the surface, unlike the Horta.

There's talk of fuels and drives for the Mars spaceship. Someone with a firmer grasp of propulsion will have to check me but I think one they describe is the equivalent of Trek's ion drive.  In any case, the von Braun design is atomic-powered.  It has a big circular dish at the top and a kind of airplane-looking landing craft underneath.  Only in certain shots does it even resemble a Trek starship, though.

This is a much briefer depiction of a trip of a six ship convoy, beginning at the space station (which we've seen in animation being built) and ending with speculation as to what the craft will find on the surface (though a planet totally devoid of life isn't among the speculated possibilities).

  The "beyond" part is briefer still, as a flying saucer--apparently of advanced electro-magnetic drive to neutralize gravity--zips off towards the infinite, looking like the opening of Forbidden Planet (or perhaps the end of The Day the Earth Stood Still) with small saucers disappearing into the belly of a much larger mothership (This Island Earth to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.)

This is the spaciest of the series, with imagery that suggests some of the wilder parts of 2001 a decade later (which maybe why they didn't surprise me?)  It also has the most eloquent script.  Its description of the possible lifeforms on Mars is the most imaginative I've ever seen illustrated.  Think of what they could do with the tools of today.

The function of this series at the time was to excite the imagination while showing through scientific explanation that these age-old dreams of exploring outer space, the moon and Mars were within the realm of possibility in the near future.  And as it turned out, with some modifications, some of them were.

Yet something about these programs apparently transcended their time, for they continued to play fairly often on the Disney Channel into the 21st century, long after their speculations became obsolete.  Although I'm sure children were still fascinated with the space shuttle missions and remain interested in the International Space Station (especially when astronauts interact with schools), the heroic age of space turned out to be surprisingly brief.  Less than a decade and a half after "Man and the Moon" first aired, men actually went to the moon, and then stopped, never to return in the more than 40 years since.