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Men into Space

Entry updated 13 November 2023. Tagged: TV.

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US tv series (1959-1960). CBS-TV. Produced by Lewis J Rachmil. Writers included Jerome Bixby, Meyer Dolinsky, David Duncan and Ib Melchior. Directors included Alan Crosland Jr, Nathan Juran, and Lee Sholem. Writers included Jerome Bixby, Stuart J Byrne, Mike Dolinsky and David Duncan. One season, 38 episodes. Black and white.

Men into Space stands alone as Television's most significant contribution to the tradition of the Spacesuit Film, as it endeavoured to depict realistically how humans might explore and inhabit outer space in the Near Future. Eschewing such devices as Aliens, Monsters, and space pirates, episodes occasionally focused on pioneering efforts – the first landings on the Moon, two Asteroids, and a Martian moon (see Mars), and the construction of a Space Station – but more often dealt with minor crises occurring in space or on the Moon, usually involving astronauts in peril due to mechanical problems or natural disasters. The series' protagonist, the stolid Colonel Edward McCauley (William Lundigan), implausibly took the lead in virtually every activity and rescue mission. Each episode credited space artist Chesley Bonestell as "creator of space concepts", but the extent of his actual involvement with the series is unclear. The official novelization of the series, Murray Leinster's Men into Space (1960), was actually written while Leinster had little knowledge of the series and bears no relationship to actual episodes.

Among its noteworthy features, the series smothered its heroic astronauts in domesticity, as early episodes invariably began and ended with astronauts at home on Earth, socializing with wives, children, and friends in spacious suburban homes equipped with backyard grills and swimming pools. Later, domesticity entered space itself, as two episodes featured female astronauts, and astronauts in space were increasingly shown both at work and at leisure – playing card games, eating dinner, even strumming a guitar. Over the course of its single season, then, the series vividly illustrated how humans might gradually adjust to the rigours of life in space, painstakingly but genuinely conquering that environment in a manner that starkly contrasts with the implausible exploits of standard-issue Space Opera. The episode "Mission to Mars" (1960), with a storyline clearly borrowed from the Russian film Nebo Zovyot (1959), introduced Russian astronauts as friendly competitors to the Americans, while another episode involved the British space programme. Most interestingly, several episodes explored how humans might actually uncover evidence of Alien life in the universe – not by encountering humanoid aliens, but by stumbling upon an abandoned Spaceship, artefact, or fossil, or by picking up a patterned radio message (as discussed in Gary Westfahl's article for The Internet Review of Science Fiction, "Not-So-Close Encounters: Men into Space and Their Search for Extraterrestrial Life"). This singular series, now available on DVD, merits more attention than it has so far received. [GW]

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