June 28, 2002
Destination Moon was released in August of 1950. This movie was special in that it was actually very well done for its day. In fact, it even won an Oscar for special effects. Produced in Technicolor, great effort was placed into making the sets and scenes as real as possible, which meant taking some educated guesses based on physics and wild imagination. Some worked, some did not but remember, man didn’t actually go into space until 11 years later when, on 12 April 1961, Yuri A. Gagarin became the first man into space riding in Vostok I. In addition, two extremely creative techniques were used: The first was to cradle the interior space ship set in a structural steel gyroscopic gimbal, and the second was to use a cartoon to explain a then little known concept, “rocket propulsion”. The gyroscopic gimbal permitted the set to be turned so that the cast could walk on the walls and the ceiling. This same technique was used 18 years later in 1968 with greater effect in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001-A Space Odyssee. (Who can forget the scene where the stewardess on the shuttle flight to the moon walks up and over the passageway in a 270° arc only to disappear upside down into another passage)? The cartoon in Destination Moon, is inserted into the movie as an “instructive sales pitch” to a group of industrial leaders, and stars Woody Woodpecker. (I presume there are at least a few of you out there who remember Woody). Since the concept of rocket propulsion was relatively new to the public back then, this cartoon was an excellent way of explaining to the audience the gist of the entire movie plot so that the underlying scientific concepts of space travel to the moon were understandable. This same technique was to appear again 43 years (WOW 43 years!) later in 1993, when Steven Spielberg used a cartoon to explain the complex scientific process of how to create dinosaurs from reclaimed DNA in Jurassic Park. So what that the dialogue is strained, and the characters unsophisticated for their roles as a spaceship crew; this is a keeper…a must for those who want to see a movie that was truly creative for its time.
Our story tonight begins with a smoke signal coming out of a tube on a concrete block house over looking a rocket on a launch pad. (At first I couldn’t determine if they were going to launch the rocket, or elect a pope.) They launched… the rocket flopped. As you will recall, that was common back then. After the crash, the General turns to Barnes (the Rocket Guru) and comes up with the idea of building another one and flying to the Moon. Why the Moon? It’s simple. Whoever gets to the Moon first can launch missiles at the earth. (Remember the Big Red Scare)?Ok…so they decide that they will build a rocket, this time with an atomic engine no less, and fly to the Moon. Problem is, they need money and talent. Both are sought by inviting a group of the USA’s greatest industrialists to a promotional lunch. At the lunch they show the Woody Woodpecker cartoon. The cartoon depicts the concepts of rocket propulsion as well as an entire animated trip to and from the Moon. The industrialists buy this idea, of course, and the quest is on.The rocket is built and lo and behold, the local community goes bananas over the fact that the rocket will use an atomic engine! What if it crashes? Plutonium everywhere… they’ll all die! (If you think that I exaggerate too much, I ask that you remember the local resistance to the Cassini Project back in October of 1997 – if you don’t remember, goto www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini. An emergency launch is conducted in order to avoid a court restraint. The crew consists of Jim Barnes (pilot), General Thayer (groupie), Joe Sweeney (Radio and Electronics), and Dr. Charles Cargraves (scientist).
Shortly after launch, the crew tries to communicate with earth, but cannot. After a short discussion, it is learned that Sweeney greased the antenna shaft before takeoff. (Grease freezes solid in outer space). Dr. Cargraves and makes an arrogant fool of himself by humiliating poor Sweeney for not following proper procedures. He then loudly declares that they will have to go outside and repair the antenna. We call that an EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) today. They put on their magnetic shoes, tie onto a lifeline and go “outside”.While Sweeney unfreezes the antenna, Dr. Cargraves walks to the back of the ship where he gets down on his hands and knees to inspect the thrusters. What happens when you get on your hands and knees? The soles of your feet lose contact with the floor. Likewise with the arrogant Dr. Cargraves. The magnetic soles of his boots lose contact with the skin of the rocket and Shazaam! He becomes the first man to take a space-walk! (So much for following proper procedures on his part!!!) Everyone scrambles to save him as he slowly drifts away from the ship. (I’d have let him go). Finally Barnes takes an oxygen cylinder and uses it to propel himself out to rescue Dr. Cargraves. They then return via the same mode. (Today, we would call that cylinder a Self-actuated, gas propelled, personal extra-vehicular propulsion device.)
After a harrowing drawn out attempt to find a suitable LZ (landing zone) they finally touch down on the surface of the Moon. Here they unload equipment, leap and bounce around, and take stupid pictures... then, its time to return to earth. Now the fun begins as they find out that, due to the extended landing efforts, they do not have enough fuel to return to earth. Desperately, they strip the ship of everything that is not needed to eliminate unnecessary weight. With everything gone… its still not enough! Will someone have to stay behind to die alone on the surface of the Moon? (I vote for leaving Dr. Cargraves) Or will they come up with an extremely creative solution to their dilemma? Discover the answer for yourself…in Destination Moon.