Those of us who were children in the 50s and 60s were witnesses to the dawn of space travel. I remember hearing about the Sputniks and being excited by the thought of anything travelling into space. When they launched Sputnik 2 in 1957 I was haunted by the thought of the poor little dog Laika being sent up there and not coming back alive.

In 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel into space, my school acquired its first ever television set specifically so that we could watch the lift-off live as a whole school – all 28 of us and two teachers! This was incredibly exciting.

The launching of a man into space was exciting in itself but this was at a time when many families, especially in remote countryside locations like ours, didn’t yet have a TV set in the home. We all know that next came the Explorer, Apollo and Shuttle programmes. Space systems continue to become more and advanced and now space travel itself doesn’t often make headlines but many facets of our lives, are influenced and even sometimes controlled from space. Just think of our SatNavs and Sky dishes!

Although space travel didn’t begin until the 1950s, people have always been fascinated by space and the possibility of extra-terrestrial beings. Here is a brief summary of some of the science fiction which predated real space travel.

The First Men in the Moon is a scientific romance by the English author H G Wells, originally serialised in The Strand. His work The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel. Its first appearance in hardcover was in 1898. and it is one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between mankind and an extra-terrestrial race.

H.G. Wells - Books, Time Machine & War of the Worlds - Biography
The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells

 Mr Skygack, from Mars is considered the first science fiction comic to feature an extra-terrestrial character in the history of comics. It ran from 1907 to 1911.

In 1942, Isaac Asimov published the first of his Foundation stories—later collected in the Foundation Trilogy in the 1950s. The books recount the fall of a vast interstellar empire and the establishment of its eventual successor. 

Image 1 - isaac asimov foundation series 6 books collection set - (foundation,foundation a

Arthur C. Clarke was a lifelong proponent of space travel and in 1934, while still a teenager, he joined the British Interplanetary Society. When originally formed in January 1933, the British Interplanetary Society aimed not only to promote and raise the public profile of astronautics, but also to undertake practical experimentation into rocketry.

In 1948, he wrote The Sentinel for a BBC competition. Though the story was rejected, it changed the course of Clarke’s career. Not only was it the basis for 2001: A Space Odyssey but “The Sentinel” also introduced a more cosmic element to Clarke’s work. 

Dan Dare was a British science fiction comic book hero (1950 – 1967), created by Frank Hampson who also wrote the first stories. They were set in the late 1990s, but the dialogue and manner of the characters were reminiscent of British war films of the 1950s.

Eagle cover 1989.jpg

Credit to Wikipedia, Google Images, NASA, ESA, BIS. As always, I have endeavored to ensure that I have not infringed copyright through the images I have used. If, however, anyone objects to the use of a particular image please contact me and I will remove it.

15 thoughts on “Space

  1. Hi, Great post on the space programs! I remember my friends and I looking up to see the sputnik in the evening on I think it was Oct, 4th the day after my Birthday, 1957. You could see it moving along it’s way! A great sight too see. And with And Alan Sheppard, and John Glen going up, it was a wonder for the world to witness.

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  2. Great article! I guess Laika arrived back safe and sound but I’ve always wondered what trauma she(?) endured. Not that the Soviets would have told us. Ditto for the monkey that was later given a free tour of the Earth. Neither would likely be allowed today.

    I remember the first issue of The Eagle coming out but the only character I recall is Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. He and his sidekick, Digby(?), who was supposedly from Wigan, both fighting the Mekon and his Martians – small bodies and huge heads and all green. Soon there was a plethora of space heroes but it all seemed entirely possible then.

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    • Thanks for the enthusiastic comment! I’m glad you liked the post. I try and research all my facts for the blog instead of just relying on memory and the sad truth is that Laika, who I also remember being referred to as Little Lemon, perished from overheating within four hours of lift-off. This was not made public until 2002 and I’m so glad I didn’t know the truth when I was a child. My brother took Hotspur and sometimes The Eagle comics and all three of us loved Dan Dare. I hadn’t remembered the bit about his sidekick being from Wigan! One Christmas my mum’s mail order catalogue had a Dan Dare radio set in the toy section. Oh, how my brother longed for one! It was expensive and somehow Father Christmas didn’t manage to find one for him.

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      • Yes, the Hotspur! Another great read. It was delivered weekly but we sometimes had to wait, and not very patiently, because Dad had got it first and was reading it!
        Many of the comics (and their characters) in those times exuded a feeling that doing the right thing brought its own reward.

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      • They did and it’s a good principle. Hotspur and Eagle were my brother’s so I read them when I got a chance and only after he’d finished with them. Although a girl, I still found them interesting. Was it the Eagle where they used to do a double page cutaway drawing showing the inside of a boat, plane, tank etc.? I loved those!


  3. I don’t know about the cutaways but that is true for me for everything other than Dan Dare.
    The Eagle annuals were excellent.
    Were the girl’s comics themed like the boy’s? Not having any sisters, I have no idea. The Eagle had a sister comic aimed at girls, I believe.

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    • Not really. I took Princess for several years and it was a mixture of cartoon strips (I remember one called Happy Days about a family called Day), craft ideas, recipes, puzzles etc and sometimes things you could send for. I just searched Eagle comic cutaway drawings on Google images and there are loads of them to see. I loved annuals!

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  4. I was brought up during the ‘golden age’ of the space programmes – the Apollo period. It was extraordinary just how far society was drawn into the excitement – something we’ve lost since. I suspect it was a one-off from the day, I can’t imagine anything that might re-kindle such public excitement in space travel in the way that the astronauts and cosmonauts of the 1960s did, back then.

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