Apr 7 2012: Nine Hand-Coloured Illustrations From The Astronaut Book (Panther Books, 1969)

Over the next three days we’ll look at the monochrome and colour images featured in the pages of The Astronauts’ Book, an annual-style publication issued by Panther in the UK in 1969, the year of the Lunar landings. Comprising articles written (or, at least, ghostwritten) in the voices of actual astronauts (and the odd Soviet cosmonaut, too) it’s an intriguing reference, clearly aimed at children, but certainly of wider interest, if only for such curios as a short SF story from the pen of Werner von Braun, the former Nazi scientist who became instrumental in the delivery of the United States’ Space programme during the 1950s and 60s. The images here, however, seem of particular interest, having been carefully hand-coloured in wax crayon by the book’s anonymous former owner. Like von Braun’s story, these images show the future as it happened under a veneer of Victorian hand-coloured artifice, like tinted frames from Georges Melies’ adaptation from Jules Verne’s novel about a trip to the moon: a story that clearly affected many of those who, in later life, made the trip itself. In other words, there’s a curious retrospective prescience in these images, which isn’t quite the self-cancelling paradox it first appears to be.

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