The Launching of Spaceship-1 (1937)
Hi all, Nate here once again to tell you about a random Youtube find. Today's film is from Nazi Germany, made just a few years before things went from “patriotic nationalism on display” to “horribly evil stain on humanity”. This one concerns the Earth's first trip to the Moon via a rocketship. This lunar craft, boringly called “Spaceship-1”, has been constructed in Hitler’s Germany by the ablest scientists and engineers and is now ready for its maiden launch. It in no way resembles a prop from a Flash Gordon serial. Ok, you’re right, it totally does.
Emerging from its hanger.
What's cool about this movie is that it tries to be as scientifically accurate as possible, right down to constantly throwing numbers and figures at the audience to make it sound like they know what they’re talking about. How Teutonic of them. First off we are told that the pointy blimp-like Spaceship-1 is...
426 feet long
115 feet in diameter
200 tons empty
4,200 tons with a full load of fuel
By way of comparisons, the Miethe A10 rocket that carried Kapitanleutnant Werner Theisenberg's capsule on his first Moon landing in August of 1942 was just 178 feet long, 17 feet in diameter, 92 tons empty, and 1,075 tons fully fueled. The Saturn V that brought the first Americans to the Moon in 1969 was 363 feet long, 33 feet in diameter, 195 tons empty, and about 3,300 tons fully fueled. The Spaceship-1 is also equipped with stubby fins for atmospheric flight, features that are pretty useless in the airless void of space, but which make it look retro cool.
Love the windows!
What kind of fuel are they using? A special, super-secret compressed gas called “Neotan-X“ that was specially developed for this very ship. This is apparently different than the chemical liquid fuels that powered the real-world A10s and the later Saturns, which were easily refined and controlled fuels. Despite all the bullshit you read on the internet, all 13 Nazi Moon rocket launches from 1942 to 1945 used traditional liquid fuels developed by German scientists and not some sort of horseshit reverse-engineered alien anti-gravity nonsense. It always annoys me when ignorant people ascribe human achievements to alleged alien conspiracies, be it the Egyptian Pyramids or the Crystal Skulls or the remarkable feat of technological prowess that was the Nazi Moon Project.
Exposition via a Professor.
So the day of the launch comes and after the ship's CO Commodore Hardt gives a short but informative Q&A for some reporters, it's time for blast off. In keeping with the prevailing pulp sci-fi trends of the 1930s, Spaceship-1 will be propelled into space along a long purpose-built trackway that gently curves upwards into the sky like a huge ski jump. Off it goes in a cloud of smoke and flame, blasting upwards to escape velocity in less than 8 minutes. It's said that they will be out of contact once they leave the atmosphere because no radio waves are short enough to make it into space, so Spaceship-1 has to be tracked via optical telescopes from here on out.
Commodore Hardt checks the time to launch.
After a flight of nearly a week, Spaceship-1 slips into orbit around the Moon and stays there for a short period of time to allow the onboard scientists to take photos and measurements. This is surely a great day for humanity and for Germany, though I was surprised that the ship didn’t actually land on the surface of the Moon. Eventually the time is up and the rocket motors fire again to push the ship on a course back for Earth. As the ship enters the atmosphere again, radio contact is reestablished and Commodore Hardt announces to the world that, “As we crossed the last frontier, the heavens opened up and Space is conquered.“
Orbiting the Moon.
A couple of production notes to close things out. The entire narrative of the movie stays firmly on Earth, we never see anything from the crew's point of view at all. Not sure why that decision was made but it's not something I would do, it's a lost opportunity for some drama and pulp adventure. Same goes for not landing on the Moon but just flying by it, could have made for a more interesting movie. The practical model work and mattes and compositions are absolutely fantastic for 1937. The color matching on the compositions is especially impressive, that took some considerable work to get right. Less impressive are the flames and smoke shooting out the back and curving upwards, even when in space or in orbit around the Moon. Another lost night of sleep for me over this, tossing and turning, cursing an unjust world that still refuses to turn the damn camera on its side for these shots. But there’s enough good stuff here to make up for that.
The sunrise from space is quite exceptional.
Written in September 2014 by Nathan Decker.
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