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The 50s Fascination With Space

I wasn’t the only one gazing upwards and wondering if there was anyone else out there.

alien lab

I wasn’t the only one gazing upwards and wondering if there was anyone else out there. The invention of liquid-fueled rockets in the 30s launched a space-minded pop culture that rose to its peak in the mid-50s to late 60s. 

During this Space Age, passion for technology and the future infused virtually every aspect of US culture. “Fly Me to the Moon”, the 1954 song by Bart Howard and Kaye Ballard, sky-rocketed on the charts. And, Baby Boomer kids played on rocket-shaped playground slides and faux moon surfaces, read sci-fi themed comics, and watched space-based TV series such as Rocky Jones Space Ranger, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon. 

They also rode rocket ships at Tomorrowland in Disneyland (I remember watching shows about Tomorrowland on The Wonderful World of Disney). We played with tin rockets and flying saucers, atomic disintegrator ray guns, wind-up tin astronauts and robots, and the Christmas catalogs featured toy space helmets for pretend dress-up play. 

People in the 50s were also fascinated by Mars. Prior to the Mariner flybys in the 1960s, the scientific belief held that Mars had water and plantlike lichen. If plants lived on the red planet, it wasn’t too far-fetched to imagine Martians lived there too. And, so a Martian invasion of our pop culture began with movies like:

  • Abbott and Costello Go to Mars”

A hilarious madcap adventure of a misguided Rocketship piloted by Abbot and Costello that lands on Venus, which is inhabited by women only.

  • “Invaders from Mars”

Martians, weird beings with super intelligence, capture humans for sinister purposes. Turning them into diabolic instruments of destruction. 

  • “Flight to Mars”

An astounding expedition set 50 years into the future (2001) explores the suspense, the surprise, and the drama of the unknown. Exciting adventure on a planet of forbidding dangers. 

  • “Red Planet Mars”

Learn the incredible secrets of the red planet Mars. Secrets that might destroy us. Earth shaking excitement and out of this world suspense.

space lady on tv

Also, during the 50s the cold war combined with the nuclear age incited relevant fears in the general public of a possible atomic bomb attack. These fears spawned alien invasion movies and apocalyptic space adventure films. Some great American sci-fi motion pictures of the 50’s were:

  • Destination Moon (1950), which won an Oscar for Best Effects, Special Effects

Its premise was that the country that can utilize the moon for launching missiles will control the earth.

  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

A timeless plea for peace and pacifism

  • The Thing from Another World (1951)

More than an overblown SFX spectacle it explores the disparate value systems between the military and the scientific community. The film’s notable final line is “Watch the skies.”

  • When Worlds Collide (1951)

A space-age Noah’s Ark. 

  • It Came from Outer Space (1953)

Featuring a 3D meteor crash, but its strongest effect is fear of the ‘other’.

  • Forbidden Planet (1956)

An iconic 50s film featuring lush set designs, CinemaScope Eastman Color images, a mad scientist, and comic relief from Robby the Robot.

Did the space mania set up the interest in getting to the moon in the 60s? There’s no way for me to know, but it sure seems like it. I know all this research led me straight into a bunch of documentaries and such about our space program. 

The space mania of the 50s was an interesting mix of serious and well, spacey. Lol 

 Have you seen any of these movies or shows?

Perilously yours,

Pauline

2 Comments

  1. Great post! I’ve seen all those movies and more! Including “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” which is verrry similiar to the plot used for “Alien” many decades later…

    1. Very cool! I’d like to binge 50s scifi movies one night! I need to track down a way to stream them though. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post!

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