Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Men into Space (1959 - 1960): "Building a Space Station"

The 1959-1960 series Men into Space is all about a “new breed of adventurers” led by William Lundigan’s Colonel McCauley.

He and his fellow astronauts are taking the first, dangerous steps into near space, and into the space age, and this 38-episode series depicts those steps in rousing, and sometimes thrilling terms.

In “Building a Space Station,” McCauley leads a mission (wearing the same astronaut jump suit that Gil Gerard wears in 1979’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) to place the first piece of a space station in high orbit. 

The episode’s opening image, intriguingly is of that space station already complete, an indication, again, of the series’ belief that success in space is inevitable.

But before that entire space station can be built, there are challenges to face.

Here, a young astronaut named Smith (with a pregnant wife) gets his space-suit caught between space station components a thousand miles away from Earth. McCauley must figure out way to save the astronaut’s life, even as Mission Control orders the seven man team back to Earth.  

Smith will die if the space suit is torn, but McCauley isn’t ready to write him off just yet.

As is the case in the other episode I reviewed, “Moon Probe,” “Building a Space Station” actually features some pretty damn good visual effects.  Here we see the miniature for the space station complete (as noted above), but also the first components hauled into space and connected manually by hard-working astronauts.

Also like “Moon Probe,” “Building a Space Station” (the third episode of the series) makes a point of establishing two leitmotifs.  

The first is the danger the astronauts' face, but their total preparation for such danger.  Here it is noted, for example, that the astronauts have practiced the moves of this mission literally hundreds of times.

However, “Building a Space Station” is inspiring because it also returns to the conceit that space is dangerous, but worth the risk.  “You can almost reach out and grab a handful of stars,” says one astronaut. 

How differently we view the world -- and ours struggles -- from such a glorious vantage point.

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