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.
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.
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.
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