Jan 23 2012: A Gallery of Forty-Seven Images from an ABC of Space (ITV Publications, 1969)

Published in advance of the Moon Landings in 1969, this annual-style book (a tie-in with the ITV childrens’ programme Magpie written by ITN’s science editor Peter Fairley with a brief introduction from one of the show’s presenters, Pete Brady) covers the ongoing story of the space programme using the device of an A to Z to cover a range of topics in a fairly brief text: A, inevitably, is for ‘Astronaut’, Z for ‘Zero Gravity’, and in between we find Cape Kennedy, Docking, Escape Systems, Ground Control, Jet Shoes, Lunar Landing Vehicle, Orbiter, Saturn, Tracking and Velcro, among many other things. It’s intriguing that the names now carved into the history of this period only fleetingly appear (Neil Armstrong is glimpsed demonstrating a scoop for Lunar soil samples in a single marginal image) while others – forgotten by all but those with a deep interest in the story of the Space Programme, such as James Lovell – are given far more prominence than we might expect, given the way things unfolded later in the year of publication. Clearly, too, there’s a heavy emphasis on the American NASA programme, and the Soviet contributions, while duly noted, are firmly marginalised: there’s a line-up of cosmonauts in which Valentina Tereshkova appears, but nowhere do we see Yuri Gagarin, for example, or hear much about the long history of Soviet research into space flight, beyond a brief discussion of the Baikonur rocket base. But then, this propaganda function within the Space Programmes on both sides of the Cold War may also explain why some of the artist’s impressions of potential future space technologies seen in the gallery below never materialised: a combination of oil-shocks in the 1970s and the apparent collapse of Soviet ingenuity in the same period meant that NASA had, by the early Reagan era, been obliged to turn its energies to commercial exploitation of its know-how in the absence of much need for a continuation of the propaganda war that had run so strongly through the early post-war period. It’s also ironic, perhaps, that the views of Earth captured by Apollo astronauts – notably the famous image of the ‘Earthrise’ – galvanized an awareness of the potential evironmental costs being run up by the resource-heavy space programme itself. In some respects, this ABC of Space marks the last moment at which a kind of unshadowed technological confidence and straightforward belief in some endlessly progressive future could be maintained by a wide population without too much effort.

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