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New Book Recalls “Men Into Space”

These days we know that perhaps a million objects the size of the Tunguska impactor or larger are moving through nearby space, and talk of how to deflect asteroids has become routine. Given our increasing awareness of near-Earth objects, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear of a new Hollywood treatment involving an Earth-threatening asteroid. But I wouldn’t have expected a science fiction series that ran from 1959 to 1960 would have depicted an asteroid mission and the dangers such objects represent.


Nonetheless, I give you “Asteroid,” from the show Men Into Space, with script by Ted Sherdeman. Viewers on November 25, 1959 saw the show’s protagonist Col. Edward McCauley (William Lundigan) take a crew to ‘Skyra,’ a 3.5-kilometer long rock that scientists believed might hit the Earth. The crew assesses whether the asteroid is salvageable for use as a space station and decides there is no other choice but to destroy Skyra, which they do at the cost of considerable suspense as McCauley works to save an astronaut separated from the others while the clock ticks down. The suspense would have been heightened by the fact that this was a show on which astronauts sometimes died and hard sacrifices were the order of the day.

I report on all this with the help of John Fredriksen’s new book Men Into Space (BearManor Media, 2013), which arrived in the mail the other day. Like me, Fredriksen had watched the show in its all too short run while growing up in the Sputnik era. He was taken with the understated but tough role of McCauley, who was depicted as participating in all the significant space missions of his time, from the first lunar journeys to building a space station and, at the time of the show’s cancellation, two attempted flights to Mars that were plagued by problems and aborted.

You could say that Mars as a destination hovers over all this show’s plots. Its final episode, “Flight to the Red Planet,” did get McCauley and team as far as Phobos, where their ship was damaged enough to force an early departure without landing on Mars itself. The Mars of this episode is a compelling target, because from Phobos, in these years not long before Mariner 4, the crew can see waterways that seem to be feeding an irrigation system. This is Percival Lowell’s Mars in an episode surely designed to build into a second season, but that season was unfortunately not to be.

Fredriksen’s book walks fans through all the episodes, with extensive quotes from the scripts and stills that capture the look and feel of the production. If some of these images seem familiar, it may be because Chesley Bonestell was asked to produce concept art for the show, resulting in sharply defined lunar landscapes reminiscent of his paintings. Lewis Rachmil, who produced Men Into Space, would have been familiar with Bonestell’s Hollywood work, which included Destination Moon (1950), When Worlds Collide (1951) and Conquest of Space (1955), not to mention the famous space series in Collier’s.

Frederic Ziv, who headed up ZIV Productions, didn’t stop with Bonestell when it came to making his show as realistic as the times would allow. Sputnik had been launched in 1957 and Ziv had been exploring doing a different kind of space show for CBS ever since. From the book:

Unlike the children-oriented science fiction programming of a few years previous, the tenor of the times now demanded an approach that was rigorously scientific to appease more mature audiences. Ziv, who prized flaunting the technical expertise assisting his programs, also believed that obtaining Department of Defense cooperation facilitated access to their extensive and elaborate space facilities. At length, his show acknowledged help from the Air Force Air Research and Development Command, the Office of the Surgeon General, and the School of Aviation Medicine. Ziv’s credibility was further enhanced with Air Force technical experts who were brought into the scripting and consulting process, receiving credits in the end titles.

Couple this with location shooting at research facilities like Edwards Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral and stock footage of missile launches of the time, along with special effects crews working with von Braun-style three-stage rockets launching capsules that were almost as tiny and cramped as Apollo. Men Into Space turned out to be complicated and expensive. Fredriksen notes that ZIV gave the Air Force the final say in keeping the show realistic, which is why the more fantastic tropes of 1950s science fiction make no appearance. Personality conflicts and equipment malfunctions took the place of ray guns and aliens.


Fredriksen gives all the details, including a summary of each of the show’s 38 episodes. It’s a nostalgic trip for those who remember watching Men Into Space, and it brings back to life memories many of us had long forgotten. After all, this was a short-lived series that survived only in occasional syndication and in some of the space suits and ship interiors that wound up being used again in episodes of The Outer Limits (I knew they looked familiar!). Nominated for a Hugo Award in 1960, the show lost out to The Twilight Zone, and critics sniped at its mundane special effects and earnest quest for authenticity. Despite the promise of Mars, the show was axed in September of that year.

But early impressions count, and it’s safe to say that this show captured more than a few young minds, not the least of them being Fredriksen’s, for whom the experience was indelible:

May future generations rekindle that sense of awe, the ability to dream a better future, and a fixed determination to cross the gulf separating imagination from reality as we did, and joyously so, in the 1950s. If Men Into Space encapsulates the essence of a departed, heroic ideal, it is also a good measure of everything we have lost as a space-faring culture.

As for me, I’ve always been a William Lundigan fan. This is a guy who walked away from Hollywood in 1943 to join the Marines, where he served with the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu, an operation that ranks with Iwo Jima in terms of the ferocity of combat and the staggering percentage of casualties. He went on to Okinawa as a combat photographer and, having received two Bronze Stars, returned to acting after the war. 1954’s Riders to the Stars was his first science fictional outing in a show about astronauts trying to capture meteorites in flight. His work with Ivan Tors on that film fed into a role in the series debut of ZIV’s Science Fiction Theater.

Of Men Into Space, Lundigan would say: “…this was not some Buck Rogers type show. It was not a science-fiction series but a science-fact series. You might even say it’s a combination of a public service show and a dramatic series.” Even he would become exasperated with the quality of writing in some of the later shows, but as Fredriksen’s book makes clear, there was still inspiration to be found here of the kind that awakens young people to careers in engineering and science. With a little better luck and a second season landing on Mars, Men Into Space might be far more than the obscure recollection it is today, and the name ‘McCauley’ might be as recognizable as ‘Kirk.’


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ljk February 8, 2013, 13:06

    Thomas Hackney said on February 7, 2013 at 15:43:

    “ljk: Bruno and Galileo were brilliant men and ahead of their time. Galileo may have held the apparent truth to himself but I suspect otherwise. Bruno and Galileo both applied for the Mathematics Chair at the University of Pisa in 1589 (I think it was) with Galileo winning the coveted seat. Maybe the younger man felt obliged to disparage Bruno and his ideas for that reason alone. Who can say (what truths lurk secretly in the minds of men)? The Church officially pardoned Galileo in December 1992, but because Bruno loudly bucked the Aristotelean system, among other Church doctrines, Bruno continues to stick in its throat.”

    Galileo was never much of a team player. He ignored Bruno and never mentioned him so far as I can recall. Again no doubt Galileo also had genuine concerns about ending up like Bruno did, who spent seven years in prison and was then executed by burning at the stake. Ah, nothing like those extensions of the Middle Ages into the Renaissance.

    Galileo also had some correspondence with Kepler, but again he was not big on sharing credit. His later biographers did much to make sure most people to this day think, intentionally or otherwise, that Galileo not only invented the telescope but was the first person to ever consider aiming said instrument at the heavens. I have little doubt that others did this before Galileo but they lacked his publicity machine. Among them could be Leonardo da Vinci (who described a telescope in 1508) and Thomas Digges. More about the latter here:


    Galileo also once said that God Himself had chosen his humble (cough cough) servant Galileo to reveal the wonders of the Universe which God had created to humanity. Nuff said on his ego.

    As smart and daring (or maybe just socially clueless?) as Bruno was, much of his thinking on what we would now consider to be like modern cosmology came more from mysticism than science. Perhaps that is another reason Galileo steered away from the former Dominican monk, as the Italian astronomer was busy laying the foundations for modern science.

    You can read more here about Bruno and how later generations eager to establish science and disparage the Church bent his story a bit to make it seem that Bruno was a latter-day Einstein and martyr for science:


    As usual, things are rarely black and white despite what the general history books often say. And that is what makes history so fascinating!

  • Dmitri February 8, 2013, 16:24

    “ljk February 8, 2013 at 12:50
    Dimitri, you may find this new book to be of interest:

    Science fiction helped create modern Russia, says author

    By Linda B. Glaser, Jan. 31, 2013”

    ljk, many thanks for the lead. I’ll definitely give a shot at the book. It may help to comprehend how others, western societies regard technological advancements in Russia from another vantage point. When reading annotation of the book I actually instantly hit on the thought that young Communist Russia in Lenin era (1918 – 1924) had some very advanced daring scientific undertakings which are unfathomable by modern standards. The same Pavlov reflex experiment and all the dogs w/ sliced open bellies and other intestines are one of the example. The other I can recall is rumor of successful cross-breeding of human and orangutan. There are no written evidence of that, rumors and some eyewitness oral testimonies. So ’20s and ’30s were crazy time in Soviet Russia to establish itself on World Map. In the limelight of events and developments of that time Mikhail Bulgakov wrote a book [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_of_a_Dog]Heart of a Dog[/url]. It talks about biological experiment where human hart was transplanted into a dog called Sharik and his transformation into a human developing all human traits. The content of the book should be taken lightly and w/ humour as was the movie made based on that. Clearly it shows how differently people thought at that time. As the movie is a Lenfilm movie and Lenfilm offers all its movies on YouTube for free I hope they added English subs but the first episode is here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whHySar4EoY&wide=1

    The other known difference regarding ways of thinking is the Soviet manned moon mission space ship engine NK-33 which was done on cloced-cycle what NASA tried to achieve but gave up as impossible. Later when the moon program was scraped and the engines scheduled for demolition the engineers actually saved them and later tried to approach NASA. Now the same engine are in use Orbital Sciences. Elon Musk said that Orbital Science is using old technology from ’60s ;)

    Many thanks for the book reference!

  • Dmitri February 10, 2013, 14:07

    Must admit I’ve always admired how comments lead evolution of article content to new meadows that are expanded picture of the same puzzle w/ all the elements one previously know are there. I’ve gleaned so many useful information and books from Centauri-Dreams that I have to priority reading backlog.

    To substantiate my claim of human and ape cross breeding experiments in the ’20s and ’30s in young Communist Russia actually lead to more than expected to know or did know what have been investigated and revieled.

    As I tend link related Russian movies and documentaries which turn out lack English subs or dubbing would appreciate feedback how useful they actually tend to be in principle.

    A professional Russian writer Oleg Shiskin (http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A8%D0%B8%D1%88%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%BD,_%D0%9E%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%B3_%D0%90%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%87) has wrote a book “Red Frankenstein : The Kremlin’s Secret Experiments”, 2003, re-issued 2012. [Красный Франкенштейн. Секретные эксперименты Кремля](http://www.setbook.org/books/1393470.html) about Ilya Ivanov (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilya_Ivanovich_Ivanov) who was the lead of the idea of the human and ape corss-breeding experiments and the paths that undertaking took before the Great October Socialist Revolution and after up until his inprisonment in 1930. Dr. Ilya Ivanov’s lack in moral judgment and presistence in achievieng the new heights in world of science w/ fresh communist power whos seek ways establish itself in science on the world scale led to quite astonishing results and developments especially thanks to works of Russian born emigrant in France Serge (Sergei) Voronoff (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serge_Voronoff) in field of revujenation by grafting monkey testicle tissue on to the testicles of men. Ivanov actually went to Africa and got hold of chimpanzees and returned to Russia where he made experiments and later quite publicly called women to participate in the experiment to performe IVF and prove better and efficent race of man is achievable w/ some peciluar goals for benefiting it for the Communist Russia. Actually woman who volunteered knew they will get IVF of chimpanzee sperm and the goal is a human-ape cross-breed. By official documents, professional investigation there is no evidence of any pregnancy or descendant. Also Herbert Wells when visited Dr. Ivan Pavlov in his by that time cutting edge genetic experiment facility on dogs and primates asked directly how Ilya Ivanov’s cross-breeding experiments are progressing on which Pavlov changed the subject. That means it must have been public and Wells was aware of them.

    A French writer Jean Real wrote a book “Voronoff” (http://www.worldcat.org/title/voronoff/oclc/462821498) about Serge Voronoff experiments on rejuvenation.

    Another French expert in biology and medicine history Jean-Loui Fischer has investigated Voronoff’s works and Ilya Ivanov’s experiments but I don’t know has he published books about this. They both, Jean Real and Jean-Loui Fischer give interview in a documentary about the Shishkin’s Red Frankenstein book, which I’ll talk later.

    I did not know Herbert Wells visited Communist Russia nor did I know Ivanov’s and Pavlov’s works directly contributed to migration of Herman Josep Muller (prhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_Joseph_Muller) to Soviet Russia and preferring doing the experiments there as it turns out Mueller, Ivanov and Voronoff were eager supporters of eugenics which was OK for that period Russia until start of NSDP reign in Germany. Coincidently the approach how people should be steered changed in the same time in Russia w/ Stalin’s concentration camp policy that made need for eugenics redundant.

    Ther other fact puzzles me is timing of Herbert Wells “The Island on Doctro Moreau” 1896, Voronoff’s IVF and rejuvenation opertaions in 1904(?), Ilya Ivanov plans on human-ape cross breeding during The Czar period, Pavlol developments and consecutive Nobel nomination, rise of Eugenics in pre-DNA discovery era, Mikhail Bulgakov’s 1925(!) Heart of a Dog clearly is inspired by strides in the decade before in political and medical fields make wonder what actually drives scientific and technical progress – stories of visionaries or lack for established social moral in science / scientist for the name of science results? I want to have here a clear cut in future WW2 and Nazi concentration camp events.

    What is remarkable Bulkakov describes a scene in Heart of a Dog where a middle-aged lady turns to the doctor for fertility help and he swiftly advices to perform an operation transplanting Chimpanzee fallopian tubes. She only could ask when on which the doctor said – Monday [read: on first opportunity]. That in a book written in 1925! Now add Anindita Banerjee assertion “Sci-Fi made modern Russian science” and especially her emphasis on 1890-1920 period. That actually makes wonder in many many ways.

    Russian National TV made a documentary about the book also called Red Frankenstein which is based on reliable information, where afforementioned people – Oleg Shishkin, Jean Real, Jean-Loui Fischer, and others – talk about their investigation results and conclusions about the endavours of the involved people. There is the link, but sorry no English subs or dubbing – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGY_nBZm6dc

    Viasat History made w/ German investigators more overview and drivers of that era not so much in-depth into Ilya Ivanov cross-breeding experiments documentary in 2009 “The Breeding of a New Mankind”. (Russian version) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jLjEo8EFAY

  • ljk March 27, 2013, 0:56

    Back when real men astronauts smoked:


    When the Mercury Seven were at their very first press conference in 1959, one of the first questions asked them by the media was how many of them smoked and could they go without a cigarette during their space mission? Three said they smoked and all of them said they could endure their exploration of the Final Frontier without lighting up.

  • ljk May 22, 2013, 19:06

    Futures imperfect

    Science fiction has long offered a variety of visions of what the future of spaceflight might be like. Dwayne Day looks at three movies slated for release later this year that offer differing visions of humans in space.

    Monday, May 20, 2013


  • ljk June 8, 2013, 23:32

    Saved from the Paper Drive

    08 June 2013

    Saturday Morning Comics~Men Into Space:The Dust and the Depths

    3rd story in the Dell Four Color adaption of the TV series MEN INTO SPACE.

    Story by Gaylord Du Bois. Art by Murphy Anderson.