BOOK REVIEW: Men Into Space, by John C. Fredriksen

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You can always tell when an author really cares about his subject. It shows through his writing--you can almost hear the smile in his voice as he paints his word-pictures. His enthusiasm buoys the reader along and infects him with a desire to learn more about the topic of the book.

This is certainly true about John C. Fredriksen's "Men Into Space," a well-researched guide to a now-obscure television series based on the American space program, which aired on CBS from 1959-1960, but which was set around the year 2000. As the author himself notes, this is a deeply personal look back at a time in America's past when enthusiam about the future in general, and the space program in particular, was ascendant.

Dr. Fredriksen has a PhD in history and has authored numerous reference books on various topics. In his preface, he notes that he was a boy when "Men Into Space" first premiered, and like many boys of the era, he was hooked on all things celestial. The series itself tried hard to be "science fact" as it chronicled the exploits of Colonel Edward McCauley, an astronaut who not only went to the Moon, but regularly performed daring rescues from stricken rocket ships and explored the wonders of the Solar system. The show also mixed humor and romance in with its hard science fiction; during the run of the show, McCauley dealt with cranky scientists, Russian cosmonauts, space accidents of various kinds, and the first woman on the moon.

Fredriksen sets the stage by reviewing the origins of the US space program, and describes how America was becoming infatuated with science fiction, most of which was action-adventure or horror in nature, and aimed at children. But as more mature audiences demanded more rigorous realism, especially once Sputnik grabbed the attention of the world, producer Frederick Ziv floated the idea of a reality-based space-oriented series.

The author then introduces us to the cast, crew, and creative process behind the "Men Into Space" TV series, which starred William Lundgren as McCauley and featured the inspired conceptual designs of aerospace artist Chesley Bonestell. Since television was recognized as a wonderful way to get the attention of the public, the TV series got a lot of assistance from the various departments of the US Government that allowed them access not only to technical writers and researchers, but also ennabled them to shoot at such locations as Edwards Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral, all of which lent credibility to the "future history" aspect of the show.

The bulk of the book is taken up with an episode-by-episode description of the show, complete with air dates, cast list, writing and directing credits, and in most cases, who served as the technical advisor. Each of the 38 episodes ran about a half an hour, and was so good at depicting the future of space exploration as dangerous but mundane, that the show, sadly, suffered cancellation after its premier season.

Which is a shame, because it was ahead of its time, both in its dedication to accuracy in a genre where "fantasy" more often held sway, and in the topics with which its plot lines dealt. The series is available on DVD--I've got a copy, myself--and I highly recommend having a copy of Dr. Fredriksen's book to serve as a handy reference guide. It's eminently readable, even engrossing, and generously illustrated with photos from the series, as well as ephemera produced in conjunction with the show.

"Men Into Space," by John C. Fredriksen, is available from Amazon: