Guest columnist Walter Forsberg is a Research Fellow at NYU Bobst Library and lead producer of Orphans in Space: Forgotten Films from the Final Frontier.
Orphan films are great but I whole-heartedly believe everything is better when outer space is involved. Here is a quick update on some space news: funding cuts to NASA’s space shuttle program and Mars missions are painting a very bleak picture for the future of space travel in the U.S. On the international level, the plans for space are a bit brighter, with the growth of China's space program, and North Korea’s announcement to launch a satellite into orbit, both of which are sparking a call for action in the U.S.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and ostensibly the spokesperson for space, recently acquired the attention of the Senate, advocating for the development and funding of space programs. (Here is a longer version of his speech.) His new book, Space Chronicles, was released this past month. All of this activity, quite luckily, and either directly or indirectly, has led to this. Now, what a wonderful coincidence!
The well-timed Orphans in Space 2-disc DVD will be available this year at the Orphans 8 Symposium. Make sure to get yourself a copy!
A few key items may catch your attention. From 1947, Meteorites is a beautiful black and white film from Russia exploring the role of comets and the nature of the “falling stars.” One of three items from the Prelinger Archives is The Big Bounce, produced by Jerry Fairbanks during the height of the Cold War in 1960. It recounts the early years of satellite development and global telecommunications. Narration by Megan Prelinger, space and technology historian as well as co-principle of the Prelinger Archives, is available for this piece. Teenage Cosmonauts, from 1979 highlights the lessons, activities, and hopes of space and engineering aspirants in the U.S.S.R. These are only a few of the films on the first disc.
The second disc offers other orphan gems of the cosmos. The earliest film of the 2-disc collection, A Trip to the Planets, from the 1920s, appears to be an educational medley of films reflecting initial concepts and romantic ideals of space exploration. Beyond the Moon, 1960-62, is an engaging performance filmed in Kodachrome of model rockets and amateur animation. This is followed by two country songs, discussed previously, which were inspired by space and performed on The Flatt & Scruggs Grande Ole Opry Show, sometime around 1961. All films are excellent examples of how visions of space and the space race influenced the broad cultural landscapes.
Delightfully and appropriately, Tyson’s new book is dedicated “to all those who have not forgotten to dream about tomorrow.” Some particular favorites of mine, such as those listed above, reflect these words and the meaning behind them.
I hope you love space. I hope you love the thrill of adventure. I hope you love the journey as much as the destination, the sensation of dreaming, and the feeling of joy when those dreams become reality. Orphans in Space is a reflection of the enchantment of cosmos still holds on us and a reminder of the wonders that space inspires in us.