December 28, 1955 – The Walt Disney Anthology Episode “Man and the Moon” Premieres
“After consulting with the scientists, our artists and studio technicians have prepared a factual picture of how the coming conquest of the moon will be accomplished.”
On December 28, 1955, the Disneyland episode “Man and the Moon” premiered on television. Known as a “science-factual” presentation, the episode was part of a series that explored the same ideas that were in the Tomorrowland section of the Disneyland theme park. The episode was directed and produced by Nine Old Men animator Ward Kimball, and written by Kimball, William Bosché, and John Dunn. It features Dr. Wernher Von Braun, who also assisted the creation of the episode as a technical consultant. The episode was rerun in 1959, but was renamed “Tomorrow the Moon.” Like many episodes of Disneyland, the episode was shot in color, although it was broadcast in black and white.
The episode begins with an introduction by Walt, who introduces the rocket ride located prominently in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. He then takes the audience to a meeting of animators and studio technicians to discuss how to correctly portray an exploration of the moon. Ward Kimball then takes the helm, who begins the study with a history of man’s fascination with the moon. It begins with cave drawings explaining how primitive man thought the moon came to be, then moves on to the individual legends of cultures around the world. The first book dedicated to the moon was Plutarch’s parchment, where he called the moon a smaller earth, populated by demons. In 1609, Galileo Galilei created his telescope and looked at the moon, which led to Johannes Kepler writing his book Somnium. More science-fiction books were written about people’s travels to the moon, including one by Cyrano de Bergerac and Jules Verne. The commentary then moves to mentions of the moon in literature, beginning with Shakespeare, before moving to superstitions and legends.
Kimball then moves to how the moon stands in our solar system, and the mystery of how the moon came to be. He explains the legend of the big bang, and then explains the moon’s movement around the Earth, and how it appears to change shape. The moon’s gravitational pull also has an effect on the tides of the ocean. Kimball then shows an image of the moon taken through telescopes and telegraphic lenses, and explains the moon’s appearance. He then introduces Dr. Wernher von Braun, who is on hand to enlighten about plans of a trip around the moon. He describes that the orbit around the moon must be done in two phases to get the ship out into the atmosphere and into the orbit around the moon. He shows a model of a space station in the shape of a wheel. The shape, with the wheel revolving at three revolutions a minute, will create an artificial gravity for the 50 men that will be inside. He then describes how the pieces for the space station will be sent out into space in cargo ships. His explanation is accompanied by detailed illustrations of the ships and crew members that will help assemble the space station. The purpose of the trip around the moon, von Braun clarifies, is to test methods and equipment that will be used on later voyages into deep space, and no landing will be attempted. Timing is quite important on this mission, as the rocket needs to be in line with the moon’s rotation around the Earth. Von Braun then shows a model of how that rocket would possibly look.
Von Braun then introduces a fictionalized account of how the first expedition around the moon would look once all the problems have been solved and the space station has been built. The crew gathers to their places and begin prepping the ship for its journey to the orbit. The firing timer is then engaged, and it is only a few minutes before the ship is fired off to the orbit. The launch occurs without a hitch, and after they are on their way, the crew takes off their helmets and starts checking the view around them to make sure they have the right position. Unfortunately, after a while, Emergency Alarm 2 goes off, and the men discover that a meteorite has hit their second nitric-acid tank. One of the men heads out in the bottle suit to use the robotic arms to fix the leak. The leak is plugged, and the man returns to the ship successfully. As they near the moon, they check to see if they are still in the right position. They find that they might collide with the moon, and use a tape selector to fix the ship’s course by firing rockets for a certain amount of time. As they pass by the moon, the men take photos and make observations of everything on the moon’s surface; as they travel on the dark side of the moon, they fire flares so they are able to still see the surface. They discover some strange readings through their instruments, and take a quick picture before they pass from behind the moon and view the Earth once again. The ship returns to the space station, victorious, and plans are made on the next mission of exploring the moon, and the planet Mars.