Destination Moon

The 1950 film Destination Moon, based on the Heinlein book, is incredible for it’s accuracy of what was to come 19 years later. To show rocket physics in simple terms a Woody Woodpecker cartoon is used. Unlike some of the sci-fi films of the era (Ed Wood comes to mind), there is very little cheesy about this (unless you believe what they say about the moon).

A small group of scientists have decided to get private US companies to finance the building of the rocketship to the moon. I’m sure they had McCarthy breathing down their necks enough to use this line: “Whoever gets to the moon first will be able to hit anywhere militarily on Earth and rule the world.” In spite of the meglomaniacal military mentality of this, the rest of the film stays off of this track.

It’s interesting to compare this with the actual Apollo missions. First they show the weightlessness pretty accurately with decent weightless FXs, and when they walk on the spacecraft and someone drifts away they utilize something the first Galileo spacewalkers didn’t even think of; using an oxygen tank as a jet to maneuver (after the first spacewalkers found it too difficult without them the spacewalk jets were later used). They ate bananas and coffee (as opposed to tang and baby food), and they never showed how they used the bathroom (in Apollo it was with great difficulty).

And the idea to land the rocket whole on the moon was the original concept of Apollo until the main designer found it was much easier to create a Lunar Module. The FX of Earth from space was pretty accurate even if the colors weren’t quite right, and most striking was how the moon looked in this film. Check it against the Apollo footage and you’ll know they were accurate. I mean in 1950 they did have telescopes powerful enough to see the lunar surface up close and they utilized this. And most impressive is the science, being accurate with the airlocks, 1/6th gravity, and even the crisis where they must lower the payload.

And compare the words of what the 2 astronauts who first step onto the lunar surface tell the world via radio: “First impression is one of utter barrenness and desolation…most intensely brilliant stars anyone ever dreamed of”. Buzz Aldrin said “Magnificent desolation.” And “I claim possession for the United States for the benefit of all mankind.” Neil Armstrong planted the American flag and said the mankind bit.

Remember this was all theoretical and a decade before anyone had even entered space. The stars I guess is what turns people off here, as they are too bright and looked more like lightbulbs. I guess the technology wasn’t good enough back then to use actual star footage, but even on the Star Trek TOS intro they use fake stars.

And considering all the B films about space travel since (the one with James Caan in ’68, The Stowaway in ’74, Capricorn One ’79, Mission to Mars ’99), this stands out for it’s being dead on in many ways, even using 4 astronauts (opposed to 3). I’m wondering if the Apollo planners took some cues from this film.

No, it’s no 2001: Space Odyssey, but it’s great for 1950. And one other point: they even predict the Space Shuttle, as the rocket is designed to “glide to a landing”. I’m wondering when mankind will once again venture to the Moon, establish a moonbase, then onto Mars and beyond. We have the technology now, so let’s do it!