Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dreams of Space after 1 year!

"Through their popular and science fiction works Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley …created a unique blend of technoscientific extrapolation and fantastic adventure that created "rocket-minded" youths conscious of the possibilities the conquest of space could offer." ( Kilgore, De Witt Douglas. "Engineers' Dreams: Wernher Von Braun, Willy Ley and Astrofuturism in the 1950s." Canadian Review of American Studies 27, no. 2 (1997): 103-31.)

Happy BLOGiversary to me!

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of “Dreams of Space”. So since it is my party, I get to make a speech as to why these children’s books fascinate me.

Historians have developed a commonly accepted history of the major events and people that pushed space flight into the popular culture in the 1950s and helped create continuing support in the 1960s for manned exploration of space. However a critical piece of the story of how popular culture affected manned space flight is the place of non-fiction children's books about spaceflight.

Looking at these books as part of the historical record, the reader finds more than out-dated facts and quaint illustrations. The books capture a narrow window when the centuries-old dreams of space exploration were being transformed into immediate “normal” expectations and ultimately into the readers seeing men walking on the moon. As our societies' sense of wonder about space flight has changed we should examine more closely these books that were inspirational in making that future happen.

The history of the Space Age is a relatively new discipline and much of its basic structure has been mapped out only recently in the light of new documents released at the end of the Cold War. McDougall in his Pulitzer Prize-winning explanation of the Space Race, ...the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (1985) said, "History is a discipline of selection and is defined by what is left out." These popular non-fiction books for children have been left out and should be part of the history of how we chose to go to the moon. This was propaganda directed at children and by its nature is freer to show the dreams of a generation. Yet science books for children have been studied mostly as a pedagogical tool and only rarely as a social phenomenon. By identifying and discussing these books there may be an increased awareness of how these books made a difference.

The years between 1945 and 1975, were an extraordinary time as space flight went from a science fictional idea to a massive national effort. Not widely known is that hundreds of non-fiction children's "space books" were published in that period. Many space flight history narratives have been created about this period, including McDougall (1985), Burrows (1998), and McCurdy (1997). But neither these nor any other more recent histories have highlighted the influences on a child during these times.

To highlight the possibilities over the next couple of weeks I am going to highlight Russian children’s non-fiction about spaceflight. These books paralleled the American and British efforts and are full of Russian authors and artists try to help their children “Dream of Space”.

Thanks for all the feedback, links to good pictures and generally making me feel welcome.


  1. The Russians are here!

    Happy first anniversary, John, and congratulates on what remains one of my very favorite destinations on the Web (along with the main "Dreams of Space" site, of course)! Children's books on spaceflight, especially from the 1950s and early '60s, are truly the stuff our dreams are made of. And to continue with this theme a little longer, a passage quite dear to me from Wyn Wachhorst's The Dream of Spaceflight: Essays on the Near Edge of Infinity (2001):

    "Soon there will be no one who remembers when spaceflight was still a dream, the reverie of reclusive boys and the vision of a handful of men. Most of those who met in ardent little groups in small cafes between the world wars, planning voyages to the moon and planets that they never hoped to witness, are no longer living. And the last lonely boy to lie in a cricket-pulsing, honeysuckle night and gaze at a virgin moon is now in the latter years of his life. On the yellowed pages of boyhood books, the silver ships still poise sleek and needle-nosed on the craggy wastes of other worlds -- on alien moonscapes, bathed in the stark and eerie light of some monster planet whose ring-shadowed hemisphere fills the whole horizon, bulging into the black sky like a great golden bubble, looming behind spacesuited specks who wander ant-like across the incandescent night.... It was a dream of visible planets impossibly distant, of fantastic alien surfaces, of a Tom Sawyer's island or an Emerald City of Oz, awaiting for eons the beaching of man's boats. It was a vision of steaming Venusian jungles, and fine soft days on the green hills of Mars, cooled by coastal breezes from the Great Canal, looking over a far desert where ruins stood half in sand...."

    Kaor, clear ether, ad astra!
    Michael S.

  2. Happy 1 to your blog ! Many thanks for all the descoveries I made thanks to you !

  3. VERY HAPPY ANNIVERSARY JOHN. Congratulations on another brilliant website and a consistently excellent read. One of my first stops each day!
    keep the books coming!