Sci-Friday #114 – The Great 1952 Space Program That Almost Was

For this Sci-Friday, enjoy a look at the future that never happened in this collection of Collier’s photos ‘The Great 1952 Space Program That Almost Was.’ As Gizmodo reports, ‘In 1952, Collier’s magazine sponsored a gathering of the world’s greatest space experts who, in a series of illustrated articles, outlined one of the first comprehensive scenarios ever conceived for the exploration of space.’

The Great 1952 Space Program That Almost Was

We had no idea what space exploration would look like, so we asked a number of futurists, experts, and dreamers to tell us what we might be getting ourselves into. You can even see this issue, it’s available online, courtesy of Horizons, the newsletter of AIAA Houston Section – use the search bar to search for “Collier’s”.

Along with the breathless superlatives come realities that are sublime in their gruesomeness. As the article brings out: ‘The first step proposed is the launching of a 10-foot cone-shaped “baby satellite” carrying three rhesus monkeys. It was orbit at an altitude of 200 miles for 60 days. It would eventually be allowed to reenter the atmosphere, where it would burn up (after the monkeys are given a merciful dose of lethal gas).’ Imagine being that rhesus monkey, floating along for two months, totally at peace with your human caretakers. Then the gas starts.

If you think I’m being macabre, look up what happened to Laika, the Soviet Space Dog. The United States scored a publicity coup by sending Ham to space and bringing him home safely, but the Collier’s article proves that wasn’t in the first draft of the plan. In those final moments panic and struggle, a monkey might not put the horrible truth together, but a human would. This was the plan all along. You were never meant to come home. Freaky!

William Gibson satirizes that mindset in The Gernsback Continuum, calling it ‘Hitler Youth Propaganda.’ I prefer to think of it as the result post-WWII American exceptionalism that died in the tragedy of Vietnam. Either way, it’s interesting to consider and that’s why I wanted to share The Great 1952 Space Program That Almost Was on this Sci-Friday. If you like it, go down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years.

Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!