When I was a little boy, my parents gave me a poster called "Space Age." I cherished it, studying all the many spaceships pictured on it. The poster came out in 1959. There are some notes on the poster here. Note that the labels next to the spaceships are white letters on a blue background. The only identifying information on it is: Copyright 1959 Educational Posters #117 "Space Age". The poster is signed, but nobody seems to be able to make out the scribble. For many people the poster sticks in their mind.
In the New York Mirror Magazine April 28 1963, the poster art was re-used in an article entitled "U.S. Space Hardware —Today and Tomorrow" by Fred Dickenson. There is a lo-res version of the article artwork here. You will note that in this version the labels next to the spaceships are white letters in a black box.
No, I do not know where to get a copy, I'm trying to find one myself. The poster is difficult to do a web search for, since search terms like "space age" and "educational posters" are so generic.
However, now that have learned much in the decades since I had that poster, I can recognize all the spaceships that "inspired" the artist.
Late breaking news: Art Lortie (firstname.lastname@example.org) has managed to identify the artist of the poster.
Mr. Lortie found the poster was issued by Educational Posters Co., a division of Dow (Louis F) Co. There were 24 artists who worked for Dow from 1958 to 1960. The artist who created the Space Age poster was Richard Amundsen.
Even later breaking news: a certain Bruce Hettema contacted me. He is the current owner of a San Francisco art studio named Patterson & Hall. He tells me:
I came across your site doing a Google search, and I thought I’d share some information about the “Space Age Poster” artist.
Your information "Educational Posters Co., a division of Dow (Louis F) Co. There were 24 artists who worked for Dow from 1958 to 1960. The artist who created the Space Age poster was Richard Amundsen.” is partially true. The artist is correct, but he didn’t work for Dow. The artist was part of a San Francisco art studio, Patterson & Hall, who did an entire series of posters for Dow, including your Space Age.
I am the current owner of P&H, and I’ve collected a few of these.
Above we have the Personnel Rocket from the poster. Below we have the Moon rocket designed by Wernher von Braun for the Collier's Man will Conquer Space Soon series. The poster artist put a cowl over the lower two spheres but that's about it. This is one of those quaint designs that use a mercury boiler for solar power, before they started using photovolatic cells or small nuclear reactors.
Another von Braun design for the Collier's series, this is the Ferry rocket. It is basically the Space Shuttle, mark negative-one. The poster version seems to have added wing extensions connecting the top canard wings with the midsection wings.
The RM-1 rocket below is from Walt Disney's 1955 documentary Man in Space. I guess the poster painter thought the rocket needed to be spiced up so he added wings. The ship's nuclear reactor is mounted on a boom in the front, and a cone-shaped shadow shield protects the crew from radiation. There is also a docking port for a bottle suit underneath. The ship is 53 feet long and carries a crew of four. In the documentary the rocket does an orbital pass around the Moon.
The Baby Space Station is another von Braun design for the Collier's series. It would allow testing of the space enviroments effects on structures and test animals. The animals would be studied for 60 days until they suffer the fate of Laika. Note the mercury boiler solar power unit at the top.
This is one of the few pieces of space hardware that is actually from the real world. It's the Vanguard rocket. It was scheduled to boost the first ever satellite into orbit, before it got upstaged by the surprise launch of Sputnik 1. Six failures and one successful launch later it sent the Vanguard 2 satellite into orbit (see Weather Eye Satellite below).
The Vanguard had no fins since it was steered by gimbaled engines. I guess the poster artist thought that looked too undramatic and so added fins to the poster version.
This is from an article by Frank Tinsley titled "How to get 25,000,000,000,000 miles away from it all" featured in the February 1953 issue of Mechanix Illustrated. Like many of Tinsley's concepts, it is grand in scope but some of the details are wildly impractical. For example: why not build the ship in orbit? Building it on the moon then launching the blasted thing seems counterproductive.
The CR-1 rocket below is from Walt Disney's 1955 documentary Man in Space. It is the third stage of a three-step rocket, carrying cargo into low orbit. Note that both the poster and the Disney image has "shock diamonds" in the exhausts (the series of white puffs).
The "Space Scout" is a vehicle designed by G. Harry Stine in the early 1950's and appears in a book entitled The Answer to the Space Flight Challenge by Frank Tinsley (1958). It is meant to defend the United States against hostile space stations, which means nuking them with atomic missiles. You can find more details about it here. Note that the wings are supposed to make a "W" shape and have the control surfaces on the leading edge, not the trailing edge. The pods that the landing feet stick out of are also jet engines, and are suppose to have exhausts at the top of the wings, not closed off like the poster.
This is a photon-drive rocket designed by Frank Tinsley. It appears in an article entitled "Light-Propelled Space Ship" by Frank Tinsley in the February 1954 issue of Mechanix illustrated. You can find more details here.
This is one of the few pieces of space hardware that is actually from the real world. It's the Vanguard 2 satellite, which is launched into orbit by the Vanguard Rocket, on the poster as Three Stage Rocket. The Vanguard 1 satellite just sent tracking data, the Vanguard 2 had two optical scanners designed to measure cloud cover between the equator and 45° N latitude (hence "Weather Eye"). Unfortunately the scanners were not pointed in optimal directions so the data was disappointing. Vanguard 2 is still up there, it is not due to re-enter the atmosphere for another 300 years.
The XR-1 rocket below is from Walt Disney's 1955 documentary Man in Space. It is the third stage of a three-step rocket, carrying passengers into low orbit.
The Convair Observational Satellite was a space station designed by Krafft Ehricke, which was to be constructed from spent fuel tanks and other components cannibalized from used rockets. A nuclear reactor was located in the center, while the six-man crew was located far far away from the deadly radiation in the crew quarters on either end. The station was about 400 feet long, had an orbital height of 600 miles from the surface, and was intended to be used as a spy-in-the-sky platform to keep an watchful eye on those sneaky Soviets. Mr. Ehricke was trying to demonstrate the wide variety of stations and whatnot one could create out of spent fuel tanks.
In the poster the center section has been replaced by a simple sphere, presumably because the poster artist was not being paid enough to paint the actual complicated tangle of tanks in the center.
This is the Mars expedition ship from The Exploration of Mars by Willy Ley and Wernher von Braun.
Man's Reach Into Space by Roy Gallant is a book that came out in 1959. You can see some of the great artwork by Lee Ames here.
You can't have a book about space unless you include illustrations of space ships. This one had a two-page spread just full of them. You can see it above.
Sadly, the sources of all the images were not credited, and the descriptions were very terse and in some cases a bit misleading. Most of the ships appear to have been real designs created by the legendary Krafft Ehricke, who at the time was working for General Dynamics / Convair. He had been scooped up by Operation Paperclip. I briefly wrote about him and his brilliant idea to make a space station out of an Atlas rocket.
In the 1950s Collier's Magazine gave the world "space fever" with a ground-breaking series of articles called Man Will Conquer Space Soon! (the series is reprinted for free, available here). The articles were written by top spaceflight experts: Willy Ley, Fred Lawrence Whipple, Dr. Joseph Kaplan, Dr. Heinz Haber, and Werner von Braun. Colliers had a circulation of about 4 million and they all were mesmerized by the stories of a space program.
Meanwhile, a certain Walter Elias Disney had a new TV program called "Disneyland". It had shows whose themes came from the major sections of Disneyland Park: Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Frontierland.
Oh, yes, don't forget the other section: Tomorrowland.
The Tomorrowland section of the theme park was devoted to show the visiters what life would be like in the future. So the TV show had to do the same. Disney looked at the Collier's series and had an idea.
Disney wanted to cash in on Space Fever. von Braun wanted to make crewed space exploration a reality. Neither were ever backward in making maximum use of new media for advancing their ideas. And the hot new media was TV. Both Disney and von Braun jumped at the chance.
von Braun became technical advisor for what became three entire episodes of Tomorrowland: Man in Space, Man and the Moon, and Mars and Beyond. Years later they were released on DVD, and all are currently available on Disney+
In the Collier's article, the key to an extensive human presence in space was a four-staged rocket called the Space Ferry. This was a reusable rocket that would transport into orbit the components for space stations and moon rockets. For the Tomorrowland episode Man in Space, von Braun updated the Space Ferry.
And that is where Lee Ames got the concept for the four stage chemical rocket.
So far the only information I can find is from an old issue of Life magazine. It says: "The Drag Brake, designed by Avco Research Laboratory, has a curious loop shape with a bulging cabin. The craft's motion through the air creates an electric current over its suface. Inside the loop a magnetic field is artificially generated. By a complicated electromagnetic effect, the electric current "collides" with the magnetic field. This slows the ship down, prevents excessive heating."
The nearest I can figure it is a form of magnetohydrodynamic aerobraking.
This was "inspired" by the Mars Snooper invented by the amazing Frank Tinsley. You can see some of Tinsley's other work here.
The two-ended engine arrangement of the Mars Snooper appears to be from an earlier design, the Space Scout designed by G. Harry Stine. In space, the petals on the base open to expose the nuclear rocket and the ship moves pointy end first. When landing on Earth, the petals close, and the ship moves blunt end first. The nuclear reactor gulps atmosphere for propellant, heats it, and shoots it out the ramjet. The blunt end is the heat shield, with channels for coolant.
This is based on the Convair Observational Satellite was a space station designed by Krafft Ehricke, which was to be constructed from spent fuel tanks and other components cannibalized from used rockets.
If it looks familiar, that's because this was also featured in the Space Age poster.