December 4, 1957 – The Disneyland Anthology Episode “Mars and Beyond” Airs
“In this exciting age when everyone seems to be talking about the future possibilities of space travel, there’s much speculation on what we will discover when we visit other worlds.”
On December 4, 1957, the Disneyland Anthology episode “Mars and Beyond” aired on television. The episode features several well-known technical advisors, including Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, Dr. E. C. Silpher, and Dr. Wernher von Braun, as they explore the possibilities should man travel to Mars. The episode was later released a featurette in theaters on December 26, 1957, and portions of the film were reedited into a short film called Cosmic Capers, released in England in 1979. The short features several different styles of animation, ranging from the humorous to the more serious. The voices in the animated sequence are all done by Disney veteran Paul Frees. This episode was directed by Ward Kimball, with story by Kimball, William Bosche, John Dunn, Charles Downs, and Con Pederson.
The episode begins with a robot named Garco introducing Walt to the television audience. Walt poses the question of what we will find when we start traveling to other planets. It then goes into the story of man, with each passing age speculating and wondering about their existence and the nature of the world around them. It then explains the process of man’s thoughts and knowledge of the stars movement around the world, leading into a dark world of superstition and stupidity. In the time of the Renaissance, Copernicus came along to prove mathematically that the sun was the center of the universe, not the Earth as was believed. Galileo then proved that the planets were not just specks of light, but spheres just like the Earth. Soon after, people start speculating what life is like on other planets. One of the first to describe the supposed inhabitants of other planets was Bernard de Fontanelle, a Romantic poet. In the 19th century, many people chose Mars as the planet most likely to have inhabitants, as they believed they saw specks of light and interpreted them to be signals to Earth. Several books are written about people meeting Martians, each more fantastical than the previous. At the time of this episode, an eager public is more than willing to read stories about life on other planets, usually with the same formula.
The story then goes to the discussion about other universes, with the Milky Way being one of billions. To give the example about how evolution may be occurring across other planets, the audience is lead into the story of the creation of our own universe, beginning with the Big Bang. The planets are also compared to Earth, and how man would die on each planet, save for the golden zone of Venus, Mars, and the Earth, where it would be possible for man to live. If man were to journey to Mars, life might just be possible, providing that the right resources are provided to sustain life. Mars has always captured the interest of astronomers, and the episode explores the history of the interest of Mars, with the study of the planets’ surface. Dr. E. C. Slipher, a senior astronomer who had worked at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona for over fifty years, is interviewed about potential life on Mars. He explains the facts that astronomers accept, including the size of Mars being half the size of Earth. He introduces a spectrograph, which can help interpret the atmosphere of Mars, and a thermocouple, which can interpret the temperature of Mars. However, photographic evidence of the canals on Mars cannot be obtained due to the Earth’s atmosphere blurring the photo. Although a small amount of information that has been collected, it isn’t enough for astronomers to draw any definite conclusions about Mars, including the conclusion about life on Mars. However, many scientist speculate what life would be like should there be any slight changes to the conditions on the planet. The final part of the program focuses on the possibility of travel to Mars from Earth. Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger and Dr. Wernher von Braun have been working together to create a special atomic type of spaceship that would be able to travel outside the gravitational pull of Earth without using a ton of chemical fuel, with the parts of the spaceship assembled in space after being brought up by conventional rockets. A small atomic reactor will continue to provide heat to power a turbogenerator. A plan is explained for the trip to Mars, which will take a little over 13 months to accomplish, and six ships will be used for the entire expedition.