Sunday, March 22, 2015

Men into Space (1959): "Moon Probe"

In the first Men into Space (1959) episode, “Moon Probe,” reporters gather at Mission Control to witness the first manned space flight to the moon. 

Spearheading the three-man mission is an experienced officer, Colonel Edward McCauley (William Lundigan).

His wife (Angie Dickinson) and son are also at the briefing, and she reports “as long as I’ve known my husband, he’s been reaching for the skies. This flight means just going a little higher.”

The XMP-13 mission is launched successfully, and “escape velocity is reached.”  

However, the craft soon veers off-course seven degrees because a secondary booster has not successfully detached. 

McCauley must now risk a dangerous space-walk to pry the booster from the capsule.

The mission goes dangerously awry, and McCauley is sent careening into space, but his crew and all the people of Earth rally to track his progress, and mount a rescue.

“Moon Probe,” the inaugural half-hour installment of Men into Space is like Gravity, 1959-style. 

But whereas that award-winning film pulps the entire space program (in a matter of hours, no less…) to dramatize the heroism of one astronaut, Men into Space has an opposite goal. 

“Moon Probe” reveals how people across the Earth -- ensconced at telescopes and mission control centers, even in foreign countries --- come together to save an astronaut’s life.  McCauley becomes, “a man lost in space,” but the human race has his back.  The episode’s dramatic point is that the space program must go on, even if an astronaut is lost in an accident.  There is too much at stake for the human race for it to act in timid fashion. 

McCauley – a husband and father – accepts the risks because the opening chapters of the space age 
are vital to man’s survival, and he knows it.  He has put his survival as second, and made the exploration of near space the primary goal.

Much of the effects work in “Moon Probe” consists of stock footage, but once the episode gets to space and McCauley’s ill-fated space-walk, the visual work is original, and truth be told, not bad by today’s standards. 

Today, we have seen space-walks portrayed more convincingly (in programming like UFO and Space: 1999, for example), but the effects still succeed in selling “Moon Probe’s” dangerous and narrative.

The quality I most admire about Men into Space is its sense of the space age’s inevitability. It is grounded in reality -- in the possible -- but optimistic about the overall outcome, that we will reach the stars, or at least the other planets in our solar system.  

There may be setbacks, there may be terrible deaths, but man must venture beyond Earth’s boundaries if he is to have a decent, sustainable future. 

If there’s a mountain, someone has to climb it…it’s a way of life,” McCauley states in this installment.  And indeed, that is true. If mankind did not have the impulse to explore, to push the frontier, we would have never found “the new world” that is America, or visited the moon in 1969. 

That same spirit dwells in us today, but our politics have grown small and petty. I hope, at some point, we will once again cast our eyes heavenward, as we did in 1959 during this series, and imagine the opening chapters of our next big step as a species.

“Moon Probe” is also interesting for other reasons. The reporters depicted here are not hated representatives of the mass media, but respected journalists attempting to tell an accurate story.  “Moon Probe” comes from an age when the news was the glue that held us together, not something attempting to partition and divide us into liberals and conservatives, red states and blue states.

Perhaps the first step in turning back to the stars is turning away from Fox News (which makes demonstrably false statements roughly 60% of the time) and MSNBC (which makes demonstrably false statements roughly 44% of the time). The truth of our day is that there isn’t a liberal media or a conservative media anymore, just a corporate-owned media that tells us the things we need so we can fight with each other and root for our particular team.  Remember when we were all one team...Americans?  

We can change this, just as we can change the pitiful nature of our space program, and once more look to the stars.

“Moon Probe” features many scenes in “mission control” and so might be read as boring by today’s standards, but the episode moves at a decent clip, and the presence of his family helps us to invest in McCauley’s life.

The central, overriding notion of Men into Space, and “Moon Probe” is that space exploration is going to be extremely difficult, and fraught with issues we can’t anticipate.  But nonetheless, man will conquer the stars, because he must.

I would like to see us begin that journey in earnest.

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