Though we’re now spoiled by the incredible efforts of NASA to use social media, video conferencing, and high-res telescopic images to convey information about space, just a few decades ago, information about space could have come from a very different sort of place.
In 1959, the Amalgamated Tobacco Corporation of Australia, a subsidiary of England’s Amalgamated Tobacco Corporation, released a 25-card collectable set of space and aviation-related trading cards. Though the cards highlight some actual space events, the more interesting cards display renderings of what the future of space might look like. The cards each had a color image on the front, and a short explanation of the event or person on the back. Since they were sold along with the company’s Mills cigarettes, they also offer few lines of advertisement.
While the factual cards are fine, the real gems come from what space might look like over the coming decades. These were all released by the New York Public Library as a part of their digital collections. The entire database is worth a look, but these cards offer up a view of a whole other time.
This is the 24th card in the set. The back reads, “Our illustration is of an imaginary two-passenger space ship. It seems probable that these ships would operate only in space where there is no atmosphere and they need not, therefore, be streamlined as the ferry rockets which travel from the earth to the Space Stations would have to be.”
Now, obviously we don’t have multiple space stations–just the one–and we don’t have little pods to cruise around in, but these look delightfully fun.
This is card number 11 from the collection. The back reads: “Space ships are still largely in the realm of the imagination but so much information is being collected in various ways that it seems likely they will be developed in the future. Ships landing on the moon would have to be checked by robot electronic pilots to counteract the moon’s gravity pull.”
In 1959, the Soviet Union launched the Luna 1, which was supposed to be the first unmanned spacecraft to land on the moon. Ultimately, due to an incorrectly timed upper stage burn during launch, Luna 1 missed the moon and became the first spacecraft to be put in heliocentric orbit. Luna 2 made the landing, and the U.S. reached the moon in 1962. The Luna 1 spacecraft looks more like an underwater mine than anything, but since it was intended as an impact landing, that makes sense. It is kind of odd that the card would refer to them as largely in the imagination when earlier that year one was launched, but it’s possible this is more of a reference to a manned mission.
The U.S. wouldn’t actually make it to the moon with a manned mission for another 10 years, and JFK wouldn’t the challenge the nation to put a man on the moon until 1961. Although, if you take a look at the Apollo 11 Eagle, the card isn’t too far off on design.
Card No. 22 depicts the assembly of a space station, “To build a Space Station accommodation for engineers and scientist would be provided in the framework shown in our picture. A spider’s web of mirrors is being assembled to provide solar heat for an engine and rocket ferries are seen arriving wish more materials.
Again, they’re in the ballpark. The International Space Station wasn’t launched until just over 40 years later, but it does provide a living space for scientists and engineers. The real ISS is a little less curvy by design, and more modular, but it does use solar power. The artist was a little optimistic with the word “ferries”, but that’s more or less how Earth resupplies the station at this point.
The idea that people could live in space must have seemed straight out of science fiction 50+ years ago, and while they’re off on the look and how it was built–pretty sure these astronauts would have been lost in space–the fact that they weren’t that far off is pretty impressive.
Card No. 21. depicts a hypothetical refueling of the space ship. The back reads, “The re-fuelling of space rockets in flight will no doubt be solved by the stationing of other rockets as tankers in space orbit. Space ships could then attach themselves or “home” on the rocket and the two vessels would couple by means of a pipe-line. Altogether a difficult but not insolvable problem.”
They missed the mark on this one. Though this type of refueling does exist in aerospace between planes, it’s never actually made it to space. Right now, if the spaceship can’t make it on its own rockets, the spaceship is out of luck. The idea of having people man these space orbit tankers also seems a bit challenging. Do you just have one person up there a la “2001: A Space Odyssey”? Do they stay there all the time or just when flights are scheduled? It seems like it might be easier to design a better rocket than to design, build, and continuously man space tankers. Maybe they were thinking even further down the road than 2016, and these were a solution for deep-space travel?
(Editor’s Note: Clearly, I have many questions about this solution)
The full collection is available for viewing, here. The cards make for an interesting perspective for a trip back in space history.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense