Monday, May 9, 2011

Rockets Through Space (1957)

I realized I have never blogged about this book. It is a treasure of space art with some beautiful color paintings.

Del Rey, Lester. Illustrated by Heugh, James. Rockets Through Space: The Story of Man's Preparations to Explore the Universe. New York: John C. Winston Co. (118 p.) 26 cm. (1957)

The book covers all aspects of space travel starting with the theory of rockets and the first planned satellites. It goes on to describe conditions in space, plans for space stations, missions to the Moon, and exploration of the planets.

The paintings by James Heugh are wonderful, a last goodbye to the romantic images of spaceflight illustration. Realism in depicting spaceflight starts to take over from here.

There are lots of copies around including a 1958 reprint (post-sputnik text) and a 1960 updated edition.

The paintings are very beautiful. When I had first put illustrations from this book on my Dreams of Space website ( back in the 1990s, there was not as much space art content on the web. The son of the illustrator James Heugh communicated with me about his father's work in 1994. He said:

"...while searching for relatives I discovered your site and a painting I know
well. Dad is a healthy eighty-something who sculpts, gardens and plays
tennis in Pinehurst North Carolina. I was probably 8 or 9 when that book
Rockets Through Space occupied Dad's loving attention. He worked late
regularly, in a room just at the top of the stairs from my bedroom - in
a beautiful old stone Pennsylvania country farmhouse that I will miss
forever. I watched Dad work like no-one else, I suspect. Looking at his
work tonight (this morning) all these years later brought a flood of

Although he never earned much money for the effort I believe his space

paintings were among those that contain the essence of his pride at the
peak of his power. You really should see the work full size, without the
muddling of the printing process. His meticulous scratchboards (black and
white - ink on white clay board, scratched through for thin white lines) are gorgeous."

 He goes on to share:

"After his 80th birthday, when I gave him a copy of his long lost Rockets

Through Space, he expressed some embarrassment about the now obvious inaccuracy of his imagination: specifically he pointed out that the "starship" (the sphere) couldn't contain enough fuel to have such a huge
flame, nor would it need it. And the skin-tight space suits were all wrong
(although in that case he was following one of the possible solutions as
explained in the text - pressure from the suit's structural "fabric" rather
than a self contained atmosphere.) "

James Heugh did almost no other space art and this was his only full length work.  I really enjoy finding these treasures and hope you will seek this one out.


  1. I believe that this book introduced me to the concept of what they now call a "mechanical counter pressure spacesuit." The image showed the two astronauts. Their suits were skin-tight around the arms and legs, but inflated around their lungs.

  2. Nostalgia indeed, revelling in it as I write this.