October 12, 2012
The February 26, 1977 edition of the Herald-Star in Steubenville, Ohio published dozens of predictions for the year 2000 made by the people of Steubenville, a working class town in eastern Ohio (and the birthplace of Dean Martin). Some of these letters came from local middle school kids 10-12 years old and they provide a fascinating snapshot of the era; unique in their ability to reflect the pessimism stirred by a down economy and shaken faith in government in a post-Watergate, post-Vietnam War era, while also laying bare the irrational optimism of youth.
Many of the predictions are clearly influenced by the energy crisis, with many kids predicting there will be tough times ahead without access to cheap energy. However, there’s also optimism about space exploration and more than one reference to women as astronauts. Even though Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963, the first American woman (Sally Ride, who died this past summer) wouldn’t become an astronaut until 1983 — a full six years after these kids were making their predictions.
Interestingly, for being middle schoolers these kids sure seem concerned about high taxes. All of these kids are now between 45 and 48 years old and if you happen to be one of them, I’d love to hear from you. How do you feel reading your predictions from the vantage point of “the future”? How do you feel about the years to come?
Some of the letters from the February 26, 1977 Herald-Star appear below:
New Great Depression
I think that by the year 2000 we will be in a great depression. People are saying that we are running out of fuel. People will be using machines to do everything. And machines run on fuel. If we run out of fuel we won’t be able to run the machines and people will be out of jobs. So we can save fuel. Everybody should try to save by turning their heat to 68 degrees.
Debbie Six, 12 (Harding School)
We’ll Find More Oil
My view of the future is that we will find more gas and oil. No one will be poor and we all will live in peace! Also in the future, I think they will find some mechanical device that could make kitchens, dining rooms and etc. You’d just push a button and WHAM!! An instant living room or WHAM!! an instant milkshake. And that’s my view of the future!
Emma Conforti, Age 11 (Harding School)
Robot Maids, Robot Teachers
In the year 2000, we will have all round buildings. We will have a robot teacher, a robot maid, and all workers will be robots, too. We will have a pocket computer that has everything you can name. We will even be able to push a button to get anything you want!
Marty Bohen, Age 10 (Harding School)
Electric Cars and Ladies on the Moon
The year 2000 might have everybody walking instead of riding in their cars because there might be a gas shortage by then, and the cars give out a lot of pollution. Or there might even be electric cars instead of gas cars. The year 2000 may send ladies to the moon to explore and look and see if there are people living on the moon. And when you work you will push buttons and robots will come out and do the work for you. And there will be lower prices and taxes, I hope.
Tim Villies, 10 (Harding School)
Cures For Every Sickness
In 2000 I will marry a doctor and maybe have kids. I would like my husband to be a doctor because he would be helping people and would still want to be close to my family. As for a job for me I would help the crippled boys and girls. I would still like to have my same friends. And the most important thing for there to be is no wars and killings. I hope they could find cures for every sickness. And everybody will care for each other.
Monica Katsaros, Age 10 (Harding School)
The Last Five Years Haven’t Been So Good
I think 2000 will be a good year. I hope so because the last five years haven’t been so good with people dying and getting shot and murdered. I will be a grown man by then and will be married. I’ll probably have kids. I hope it will be a good America.
Michael Beal, Age 10 (Harding School)
In the year 2000, I think there won’t be any crimes of any kind. Shorter school days and lower taxes. I hope there will be lower taxes and no crimes because I’ll be 33 years old and I am sick of crimes and high taxes. I hope woman can be astronauts. I also hope there won’t be any pollution. And I also hope there will be town in space, where people live in space capsules.
Lora Ziarko, Age 10 (Harding School)
Cars That Float On Air
I think the future will be better than it is now. The pollution problem will be solved and there will be cars that float on air. I will be 34 in the year 2000. I will have a good job designing modern houses with push-button controls for everything to make it easier on everyone.
You could push a button and a bed would unfold from the wall. Everything would run on solar energy so you wouldn’t have to worry about the fuel shortage. You wouldn’t have to go to school. It would be on TV and living would be much easier for everyone.
John Vecchione, Age 11 (Harding School)
Young People Unemployed
I think by the year 2000 we will be riding bikes or driving solar-energized cars. By then more younger people will be unemployed. The price of gas will go up and so will the price of coal, silver, gold and oil.
Pietro Sincropi, 10 (Harding School)
Living on Mars
I think it is going to be an all-new world. People are going to be able to live on the moon and on Mars. Man is going to have computers to do the work for him. It is going to be a computer run world.
Tracy McCoy, Age 12 (Harding School)
Most of the World Will Be The United States of America
In the year 2000 I will be 34 years old. And actually I don’t think kids will have to go to school, because I believe that families will have computers to educate students. That’s all for education. I also believe that most of the world will all be the United States of America. I also believe that business and industry will be up 75 per cent. And as for culture, the Model T will be an old artifact. And, if you have children or grandchildren, they’ll all be more interested in culture than ever.
Mike Metzger, Age 10 3/4 (Harding School)
I Hope By Then Things Will Get Better
I think that everything by the year 2000 will be different. I hope the violence will all be stopped. I hope that the computers don’t take over people’s jobs. I hope by then things will get better.
Mary Gallo, Age 12 (Harding School)
July 31, 2012
Yesterday, we looked at Wernher von Braun’s 1954 vision for a manned mission to Mars. But long before people imagined how we might plausibly put boots on Martian soil, we dreamed how one day we might be able to communicate with the planet.
Thanks to “canals” spotted on Mars in the late 19th century, there were some people here on Earth who thought there were indeed intelligent Martians somewhere out there. American astronomer Percivall Lowell, who wrote Mars as the Abode of Life in 1908, argued that what looked like canals on Mars were constructed by intelligent beings to bring water from the frozen poles to the dry equator. Lowell’s “canals” were first written about in 1877 by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who actually interpreted these passages as “channels,” or natural occurring formations that need not have been built by intelligent life to exist.
If there are indeed Martians out there, and no conceivable way to journey there ourselves, how might we communicate with them? The September 1919 issue of Popular Science Monthly featured a cover with a gigantic mirror mounted so that it could swing on an axis and reflect the sun’s rays up to Mars. The magazine imagined that Earthlings’ best bet would be to communicate with the planet in 1924, the next time when Mars would be closest to Earth.
The more imaginative modern astronomers are inclined to believe, with the late Professor Percival Lowell, that Mars is inhabited. Assume that Mars is inhabited. How can we talk to the Martians? What a world-wide sensation there would be if we were to receive from Mars a flash in response to a signal of ours!
In 1919, legendary animator Max Fleischer produced a short film called Hello Mars which was released in 1920. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a copy of it — and it’s entirely possible that one no longer exists — but if you know where to find a copy please let me know in the comments. The film, as Popular Science explains, sets about explaining the way in which humans might communicate with Mars in 1924 via mirrors (as seen on the cover of the magazine), huge flashing electric lights (thought to be too costly for the time) or gigantic strips of black cloth set out in the desert.
But how will the scientists signal Mars? At its nearest, the planet will be about thirty-five million miles away in 1924. Various proposals have been made by Professor Pickering, Professor Wood, and the imaginative Professor Flammarion. In order to visualize and explain how these distinguished astronomers will communicate with Mars, Mr. Max Fleischer has directed the preparation of a motion-picture film for the Bray Studios. Through the courtesy of Mr. Fleischer and the Bray Studios we are enabled to present on these two pages excerpts from the film.
The first (and most expensive) method of contacting Mars that’s explained in the film/magazine shows how millions of electric lights could be placed somewhere on Earth so that it might be visible from space.
The well known French astronomer, Professor Camille Flammarion, who has done more than any other man in Europe to popularize the notion of Mars’ habitability, suggested that an enormous area on the Earth should be covered with electric lights. It would be a costly experiment. A huge tract of land — a considerable portion of the Desert of Sahara, for instance — would have to be “planted” with millions of lamps. The current to illuminate the lamps would have to be generated in a power house big enough to run a railway. Andrew Carnegie once said that he hated to die rich. Here is a chance to get rid of several million dollars at one swoop.
The illustration above explains how a strips of cloth attached to electric motors may be set out in the desert in order to “wink” at the red planet.
The picture at left looks like a neatly cut-up farm. It represents Professor R. W. Wood’s proposed method of communicating with Mars. The Professor would cover some huge white space on the earth, a portion of the Desert of Sahara, for instance, with strips of black cloth. These strips he would wind and unwind by means of electric motors. The result would be a series of winks. When the black strips are wound up, the white sand below reflects the sun’s rays; when the strips are unrolled, the white area is covered. This is probably the cheapest method of optical signaling yet proposed.
Since this article was published in 1919, it’s important to remember that the world was still reeling from the devastation of WWI. The magazine imagines that not only would we have much to tell Martians, but we would likely have much to learn.
To the right we have the earth flashing a message to Mars. Who knows but some day we may tell the Martians all about our great war, all about the struggle for democratic ideals, all about the terrible upheaval through which we have just passed! Perhaps we will learn from an older and wiser planet how we ought to run the Earth.
July 30, 2012
Assuming everything goes according to plan, NASA’s Curiosity rover will touch down on the surface of Mars this Sunday, August 5th at 10:31 PDT. Curiosity travels in the cosmic wake of not only the pioneering landers and rovers that have made journeys to Mars before, but also the innumerable visionaries who showed us how we might get there —well before it was possible.
From 1952 until 1954, the weekly magazine Collier’s published a series of articles on space exploration spread out across eight issues. Several of the articles were written by Wernher von Braun, the former Third Reich rocket scientist who began working for the U.S. after WWII. The Collier’s series is said to have inspired countless popular visions of space travel. This impact was in no small part due to the gorgeous, colorful illustrations done by Chesley Bonestell, Fred Freeman and Rolf Klep.
The last of the Collier’s space-themed series was the April 30, 1954, issue that featured a cover showing the planet Mars and two headlines: “Can We Get to Mars?” and directly underneath: “Is There Life on Mars?” The article, “Can We Get to Mars?,” by von Braun is a fascinating read that looks at everything from the impact of meteors on spacecraft to the stresses of living in cramped quarters during such a long journey. Even when astronauts finally arrived on Mars, they’d still be subjected to claustrophobic living conditions, as you can see from the illustration above by Fred Freeman. The astronauts—who in this illustration have landed on an icy Martian pole—live in inflatable, pressurized spheres that are mounted on tractors.
Von Braun’s story in the 1954 issue explained that he didn’t believe he’d see a man on Mars within his lifetime. In fact, von Braun believed that it would likely be 100 years before a human foot would touch Martian soil. But there was absolutely no doubt that we would get there.
Will man ever go to Mars? I am sure he will—but it will be a century or more before he’s ready. In that time scientists and engineers will learn more about the physical and mental rigors of interplanetary flight—and about the unknown dangers of life on another planet. Some of that information may become available within the next 25 years or so, through the erection of a space station above the earth (where telescope viewings will not be blurred by the earth’s atmosphere) and through the subsequent exploration of the moon, as described in previous issues of Collier’s.
But unlike NASA’s current Mars mission, von Braun’s vision for travel included humans rather than simply rovers. As Erik Conway, historian at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains, “There have also always been—since at least Wernher von Braun—people proposing expeditions to Mars with humans, with astronauts. Von Braun’s idea was to send a flotilla of spacecraft, not just one. As you’ve seen in the Collier’s magazines and so on, he was a big promoter of that. And that affected how the American public saw Mars as well. So it was being promoted as a future abode of life for us humans—and it still is in a lot of the enthusiast literature. That hasn’t changed. It’s just the funding isn’t there to actually accomplish it.”
The funding may not be there today, but the space interest revival we’re currently seeing under the unofficial leadership of astrophysicist and media personality Neil deGrasse Tyson could very well help change that. Look for a reboot of the late Carl Sagan’s 1980 mini-series Cosmos in 2013, starring Tyson.
For now, we’ll just have to settle for the exciting discoveries that (hopefully) will be beaming down from Mars next week and some good old fashioned space art. Below are samples of the amazing illustrations from the April 30, 1954 issue of Collier’s by Bonestell, Freeman and Klep.
Wernher von Braun imagined that spacecraft would be assembled 1,000 miles from earth near a wheel-shaped space station.
The cropped illustration above, by Chesley Bonestell shows four of the ten spacecraft von Braun imagined would undertake the journey.
The first landing party takes off for Mars. Two other landing planes will wait until runway is prepared for them, and the remaining seven ships will stay in 600-mile orbit. Arms on cargo ships hold screenlike dish antenna (for communication), trough-shaped solar mirrors (for power).
The illustration above by Rolf Klep explains how the earth and Mars must be positioned in order for a successful flight to occur.
This illustration above of astronauts preparing for their return flight was done by Chesley Bonestell.
After 15 month exploration, the Mars expedition prepares for return flight to earth. Two landing planes are set on tails, with wings and landing gear removed. They will rocket back to the 600-mile orbit on first leg of journey
This illustration, by Fred Freeman shows all ten spacecraft as they travel to Mars.
Illustration shows how the landing planes are assembled in 600-mile Martian orbit. Pointed noses are removed from three of 10 ships that made trip from earth; wings and landing gear are fitted to them. Cutaway of plane in the foreground shows personnel, tractors in ship
May 15, 2012
The Kids’ Whole Future Catalog touted itself as “a book about your future.” This 1982 book promised kids a peek into a coming era of automatic language translators, cities floating on the ocean and robot teachers. It also told kids about the kinds of jobs they’d have 30 years into the future. Well, 30 years have passed and it seems like as good a time as any to look back at their predictions.
Some of the predictions about which jobs would become obsolete are remarkably prescient. One of the predictions involves travel agents and stockbrokers, who are predicted to become scarce thanks to the home computer which allows people to make their own airline reservations and check stock prices. There’s even a prediction about jobs at the post office disappearing, as more and more people send mail through the computer.
What kind of job will you be working at 30 years from now? Do you expect to be programming computers or delivering mail? Can you imagine yourself as a stockbroker or a travel agent? Don’t be surprised if you end up in a totally different kind of career than the one you’re thinking of right now. In 30 years, some of today’s jobs may no longer exist. The computer will eliminate many of them. As more and more people send mail by computer, jobs at the post office will disappear. Stockbrokers’ and travel agents’ jobs may also become scarce. Instead of calling these experts, people will use their own home computers to check stock prices and make airline reservations. Today, computer programmers are in great demand, but in 30 years, they might not be. By then, many computers will be able to program themselves.
But don’t worry about find a future career. Although some kinds of work will no longer be available, new job opportunities will open up— in space industries, genetic engineering, undersea mining—maybe even robot psychology! Thirty years from now, you may be working at a job we can’t even imagine today.
Of all the job listings, one in particular stuck out to me. The “history research position” pretty accurately sums up my current occupation:
HISTORY RESEARCH POSITION AVAILABLE. Are you interested in what written communication was like back in the 20th century? Extensive computer work involved. Weekly reassignment, flexhours, and personally tailored workload. Zip your resume to WHATWAS CORP., 4V19*D458S
Another possible occupation of the future was a “genetic engineer” who would work on breeding animals that could survive in space. I’m not sure what a “girax” is. Any guesses?
GENETIC ENGINEER WANTED to develop space-sturdy strains of cows, goats, and giraxes. High zero-g tolerance, degree in animal genetics required; training in trans-species communication desirable. Top salary. Reply to SPECIAL SPECIES CONGLOMERATE, R20*H520##
The space theme continued with more listings for jobs in space, even with a new version of the cruise ship comedian: the space colony actor.
ACTORS/ACTRESSES. Be a star among the stars! Sing and dance on stages throughout the galaxy! The UP AND AWAY THEATER has bookings at Moon Base II and all the major space colonies. Zip your video tape to Minerva White, Director. 46X8N06*
IS EARTH GETTING TOO CROWDED FOR YOU? New Frontiers, Inc. is currently listing thousands of job opportunities in space. Registration information from TY**039##4
SHUTTLE PILOTS. Universal Airlines need experienced shuttle pilots for its regularly scheduled weekend flights between Earth and the moon. All positions involve job-sharing. If you have logged a minimum of 1,000 hours in space and are looking for a steady, secure position, zip your resume to *47WXH7824
CHEFS needed for space hotel. To specialize in insect cookery. Top salary plus time-in-space bonus pay. Free transportation to and from Earth. Zip your resume to Earth Headquarters, SPACE-OUT INNS, J207*1P26V
It was fairly common for Americans of the 20th century to expect that life expectancy would continue to climb indefinitely —and with good reason! Life expectancy in the year 1900 was just 49.2 years of age (47.9 for males, 50.7 for females), but by 1980 that number had climbed to 73.9 (70.1 for males, 77.6 for females). In 2012 that number is about 78.
CENTURIAN EMPLOYMENT COUNSELOR. Would you like to specialize in the employment needs of persons over 100? High-level job search skills necessary. Top pay, liberal time off benefits. Contact Lyn, CENTURY EMPLOYMENT, *193B8*G26
APPRENTICE HERBOLOGIST. Work with an experienced herbologist. Learn to prescribe herbal remedies for common diseases. Biology or botany degree desirable. Inquire UW480*2XN6
NASAL TECHNOLOGIST needed to develop and test mood-creating products for home and industrial use. Biochemistry degree with smell specialty required. Send resume to the NEW OL-FACTORY, INC. 41*WD570B60
Some of the jobs even included “your own personal robot”:
ROBOT RELATIONS. Interviewer needed to design or match personal robots to the needs and desires of human customers. Four years experience with robots, psychology degree, and high-level communication skills necessary. Your own personal robot included. Inquire MECHAN PALS INC., 5K2*1B8*NV2
PEACE ANALYSTS. We need two members for the Earth Food Distribution Committee. Varied cultural and dietary background required, plus creativity and communication skills.
FOAM HOME PHONE SALES. Do you transmit with style? Job involves computer chats with people all over the globe. We will train. Send video tape and resume to XANA-DOME, INC., K904022**5
April 25, 2012
At first glance, the cover of the April 1938 issue of Popular Science magazine looks like a particularly odd vision of the future. Is that a 1930′s rocketship, blasting off into space? What about the door on the right with a clearly marked “EXIT” sign above it?
Our Depression-era rocketship is indeed indoors and claims to be the design for a new planetarium exhibit that would show visitors the cosmos from the perspective of a soaring, futuristic spaceship.
Rocketing through space at lightning speeds, encircling the moon, streaking past planets, racing with a comet — these are some of the startling sensations promised visitors to an ingenious planetarium planned for an international exposition. Outside the domed structure, visitors enter a steel rocket ship fitted with circular windows.
The short article goes on to explain how the rocket would give the illusion of blasting off into space:
Wheeled through an arched doorway, the space ship glides into a steel turntable where it is tipped upward, pointing into the heavens pictured on the inside of the planetarium dome. As chemical vapor illuminated by colored lights roars out of exhaust vents at the rear of the ship, specially prepared motion pictures are projected onto the circular ceiling to give the effect of speeding through space on a whirlwind tour of the universe.
Though the “international exhibit” isn’t named, we can deduce that it was most likely for the 1939 New York World’s Fair the following year. Designed by Raymond Loewy, the exhibit wasn’t built precisely as Popular Science had described it. The final design still had a rocketship, but visitors were no longer seated inside of the vehicle. And rather than the stars, your new destination was London. Loewy’s design, depicting the spaceport mid-blast, is pictured below.
Found inside the Chrysler Motors Building, this “Focal Exhibit,” gave visitors a presentation of the past, present and future of transportation. Though the Focal Exhibit is not as well remembered as GM’s Futurama exhibit, it certainly presented visitors with a wondrous vision of the future, emphasizing that “the world has steadily grown smaller, its people drawn ever closer together by improved methods of transportation on land and sea and in the air.”
From the Official Guidebook to the 1939 New York World’s Fair:
What of transportation in the “World of Tomorrow?” As the airplane finishes its flight across the screen, lines shoot out and harness the earth with other planets. Twinkling signal lights, the hum of gigantic motors and the warning sound of sirens indicate that the Rocketship is loading passenger for London. You see futuristic liners unloading at nearby docks; sleek trains glide to a stop, automobiles whisk voyagers to the spot, high-speed elevators rise and descend as the Rocketship is serviced for the coming journey. The moment of departure arrives. A great steel crane moves, a magnet picks up the Rocketship and deposits it into the breach of the rocketgun. A moment of awesome silence. A flash, a muffled explosion, and the ship vanishes into the night.