Social History of Aviation and Spaceflight - An Overview [ Part 2 ]
From the earliest times, humans have had a fascination with the heavens. Many believed that the heavens were home to the gods. Religions related stories of airborne chariots and winged angels that descended from the heavens to speak to humans. Flying creatures that were half human and half beast were legendary, and birds and fantastic winged creatures pulled boats and other vehicles through the air.
As the home for these supernatural creatures, the heavens also assumed special importance. The arrangement of the stars, or constellations, were often seen as being linked to the activities of the gods, and elaborate stories were developed to explain their movements across the sky.
People also looked up to the stars and planets as a calendar of the changing seasons that they used to order their lives, when they would plant their crops, when to expect the rivers to flood, when their animals would be fertile, and to support their religious observances. They observed the movements of the planets, and different cultures arrived at varying theories of the place of the Earth in the universe. This visualization of an ordered universe was the birth of astronomy, which gradually replaced superstitious beliefs in gods and mystical forces as the originators of the movement of heavenly bodies with an understanding of mathematics and physical laws.
The imagination that contributed to the creation of myths led very early to the desire to emulate the gods and physically approach the heavens by means of an air or space vehicle or perhaps even by propelling oneself through the air.
This desire manifested itself in many unsuccessful attempts. One of the earliest recorded in myth was that of Daedalus and his son Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and perished. The ancient Chinese reportedly tried to sail through the air by attaching themselves to kites, one of the most significant inventions leading to flight.
Gradually, as knowledge of the Solar System and Universe grew, the connection between the heavens and the supernatural faded, but the desire to achieve flight itself remained. Beginning with Leonardo da Vinci, through the Wright brothers' successful flight in 1903, and into the modern era of spaceflight, individuals took tentative steps toward flight, often with bodily injuries and sometimes with fatal results. Nevertheless, efforts continued and once the Wright brothers made their fateful flight, there was no turning back. Aviation soon became part of the mindset of the world; people became what Joseph Corn has called "airminded," and the fervor with which many embraced aviation approached a religious zeal.
The "barnstormers" of the 1910s and 1920s did much to introduce aviation to people in remote areas. They often took people for their first flight and inspired some like Bill Boeing to enter aviation. But it was Charles Lindbergh's epic transatlantic crossing in 1927 that captured the world's imagination. He excited people about flight and did more than any single individual to move the fledgling technology forward.
Unrelated, but also around the time of Lindbergh's flight, physicists from around the world interested in traveling outside the Earth's atmosphere began to form a number of rocket societies where they carried out significant research in rocketry, the first step toward space flight. This was the beginning of the space industry and also introduced the public to the possibilities of space travel.
Gradually, the growth of aviation and air travel changed the lives of most people. Much like the interstate highway system did for continents, air travel shrunk the size of the world, making it possible for widely spaced family members to visit one another, allowing far-flung resorts to grow, and making "face-to-face" business contacts a reality. It changed the way people viewed the world. No longer were they limited to looking at it from the ground; now they literally could look down upon the Earth from above. The ability to fly was part of a growing sense of connectedness with and mastery over the world. People became citizens of the world. The enthrallment with aviation also became apparent with the continued popularity of air shows, air races, and other demonstrations that showcased skilled flyers. Every year millions of people have attended these thrilling and entertaining events.
Aviation's influence steadily grew in the areas of architecture and design. The first airports were merely airfields with viewing stands that allowed spectators to watch the early air competitions and looked much like the stands built for watching a horse race or other sporting event. When planes began carrying passengers, airports were designed to look like train stations to reassure the flying public that air travel was much like the familiar train travel and nothing to fear. Later airport design reflected the need to move growing numbers of passengers and the requirement to handle larger and faster airplanes. In more recent years, airport design has been influenced by the need for increased airport security and the stated desire to make air travel less stressful for passengers by introducing large, open, well-lit spaces.
In many areas, design after the arrival of air travel featured long, lean, horizontal lines suggesting airplane wings, and soaring upright structures and parabolic arches that directed the eye skyward. The Art Deco style of the 1920s and 1930s had a streamlined look evocative of speed. Air motifs were common and airplanes appeared in murals, metal work, and mosaics as well as in advertising and household items. Automobile manufacturers especially adopted aviation design. From the late 1950s, cars sported tailfins, sharply angled hoods, and other features drawn from fighter jets. The "space race" further affected design. Flying-saucer shapes showed up in furniture and starbursts and rocket logos were common. Spaceflight appeared at expositions and fairs such as at the 1962 exposition in Seattle, Washington, which exhibited John Glenn's Friendship 7 capsule, a model of the Soviet Sputnik satellite, and a ride to the top of the Space Needle. Amusement parks like Walt Disney's also entertained visitors with Tomorrowland, Space Mountain, Spaceship Earth, and Star Tours, an intergalactic flight to the Moon.
Literature has also reflected the allure of flight. Jules Verne's 1870 book Around the World in Eighty Days was a romantic story about balloon travel. World War I aces Eddie Rickenbacker and Manfred von Richthofen (the "Red Baron") wrote about their exploits as did later war heroes. Lindbergh's books, and those of his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh were best sellers. Other well-known aviators also wrote their stories and were the subject of biographies. Books for young people also focused on aviation, with "a is for airplane" frequently replacing "a is for apple." Children's books as early as the 1920s featured famous aviators, war heroes during times of conflict, and later astronauts. There have also been many young people's books describing historical events in aviation and spaceflight and the technology and science of flight at a level understandable to young readers.
Probably the earliest literary work dealing with space travel was Historia Vera (True History) written by the Greek Lucien of Samosata in the 2nd century. But until the 17th century, after the publication of Nicolaus Copernicus' work describing the place of the Earth in the Solar System and Johannes Kepler's work on planetary motion, few works dealt with space travel. The real Cyrano de Bergerac (of the famous nose) wrote on space travel to the Moon in the mid-1600s and set the theme for later books. More realistic space vehicles appeared with the discovery of electricity. Edgar Allen Poe used a balloon to send his hero to the Moon. A "Moon hoax" in 1835 that described creatures from the Moon was repeated in the press and temporarily believed as true. Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon, written in 1865, almost a century before the first space flight, was uncannily prophetic about future developments. Edward Everett Hale wrote The Brick Moon in 1899, a story about space stations. H.G. Wells' 1898 War of the Worlds about a Martian attack became a classic, especially after its 1938 radio broadcast threw the New York area into a panic. Although space fiction was written for entertainment, it sometimes also stimulated future rocket pioneers. Hermann Oberth, after reading Jules Verne's Around the Moon and realizing that Verne's method of firing astronauts to the Moon was impossible, was motivated to look for alternative ways of getting there. For young readers, the several series of Tom Swift books beginning in 1910 and lasting into the 1990s and the Tom Corbett Space Cadet Adventure Stories of the 1950s (as well as related television and radio broadcasts) appealed to children from the time of their release.
Hardly called literature, comics and pulp fiction emerged almost a century before the invention of the airplane. Filled with futuristic ideas, these were entertainment, simply written and filled with illustrations. Hugo Gernsback created the first all-science-fiction pulp with his Amazing Stories that featured outlandish technologies and stories, some written by established authors such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. This pulp launched the first space hero, "Buck" Rogers, who showed up in comics, movies, on radio, and on television. Aviation stories appeared in a wave of comic books, especially during World War II, when they offered patriotic tales of dogfights, bombing runs, and daring rescues.
Art dealing with aviation and spaceflight has both accompanied works of literature and existed independently of it. Woodcuts or other drawings often illustrated the earliest books and stories about spaceflight and flying. The multi-talented Leonardo da Vinci illustrated his notebooks with sketches of flying machines. The military's accomplished artists shared their impressions of wartime with moving testimonials to their experiences. Militaries also commissioned, during both war and peacetime, posters to recruit airmen and to inspire support for war efforts, often hiring established artists such as Norman Rockwell. Civilian artists like Pablo Picasso have also testified to the horrors of war through their art. Aviation artists, many of them also pilots, have created paintings of planes in flight that hang in galleries, illustrate books, and decorate the walls of museums as murals. Artists with distinctive abilities illustrate comics and children's books. Space artists, beginning in the late 1950s, have turned more to fact than fiction, depicting the planets, famous space flights, and those who have ventured into space.
Often works of art in their own right, models of aircraft and space vehicles have appealed to hobbyists and children alike since the 1930s. Buck Rogers' rocket ship appeared as a model as did models of spacecraft from many space movies. Models of actual planes and spacecraft have also become big business, and working rocket models sometime border on real missiles.
Although recreational, models are not really considered toys. Toys relating to aviation and spacecraft exist for children of all ages, from those still in their crib to teenagers. The earliest were probably kites, existing from ancient times. The Wright brothers were said to have been inspired by a toy helicopter that their father brought them from a trip. Toy manufacturers have offered space helmets and costumes for children's imaginative games, wooden and plastic airports, building block sets for constructing space stations, and balsa planes that can entertain children for hours. Computer games and flight simulators entertain many older "children" as well.
Aviation has been the subject of hundreds of movies and television shows. The first Oscar-winner was the 1927 silent movie Wings. Aviation movies depicted real life as passengers in earlier movies changed from being the rich and famous to ordinary people in later ones. Themes included war adventures, romances, and hijacking, and many incorporated air chases or used airplanes for quick transition scenes.
Space travel has also been common on the silver screen and to a lesser extent on television, but presented in a more fanciful way than aviation since spaceflight is outside the realm of first-hand experience for most. Space movies were introduced years before the first spaceflight and tended to be completely improbable even when they did obey the laws of physics. Aliens of all sizes, shapes, and colors abounded, and nothing seemed impossible. One movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, affected how people looked at space exploration and, as space historian Howard McCurdy noted, determined what a space station "should" look like. Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. built their plots around extraterrestrial contact. Star Trek, one of the few successful television space shows, developed a huge cult after an uneventful beginning, becoming much more than just a popular television show and later a movie. Its "Space, the Final Frontier" and "Beam me up, Scotty" have entered our vocabulary, the first Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise was named after the show's Starship Enterprise, "Trekkie" conventions have become big business, and a large series of Star Trek comic books have replaced the aviation stories found in earlier comics.
Music has also reflected its share of flight, aviation, and space themes. Almost everyone responds to a rousing military march, and the U.S. Air Force's "Off we go into the wild blue yonder"is no exception. But the variety of music relating to flight, aviation, and space has been much broader than military music. This music has spanned the range of classical works like the "Flight of the Bumblebee," the many songs written to honor Charles Lindbergh and the aviators of the world wars, songs about ballooning, and soundtracks to accompany aviation and space movies.
A special place exists in social history for unidentified flying objects and extraterrestrials. The idea of an invasion from outer space is one that persists, no matter what the evidence to the contrary. Both feared and anticipated, people on Earth (supposedly called "earthlings" by those from out-of-this world) were quick to believe the realistic "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast in 1938. In 1947, reports of "flying saucers" made headlines, and the U.S. Air Force responded by setting up an office to study the rumors. In 1952, Washington, D.C., was the target of unexplained space vehicles. The area around Roswell, New Mexico, has seemed to attract sightings of mysterious phenomena. Others instances have also made the pages of the National Enquirer and other tabloids and occasionally the mainstream press. Television has broadcast the "X-Files" and Hollywood has produced Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Men In Black. An ongoing project called SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, continues to seek signals from outer space, using the world's largest radio telescope. But still, the evidence remains: we seem to be alone.
In the last one hundred years, and to a lesser extent for thousands of years, both aviation and spaceflight have played an important part in social history. Most would agree that this role has largely been positive. Aviation has made the world smaller and brought people closer together. It has provided an avenue for those with special skills and talents in countless areas to shine and to express themselves. It has improved the lives of many people. Spaceflight, too, had a positive impact on life in the 20th century. It has opened up the vastness of the Universe and if not exactly able yet to explain how life began, has provided us with substantial clues. It has, to a great extent, achieved what writers could only imagine a hundred years ago.
But not everything associated with aviation and spaceflight has been heartening. While making the world smaller, aviation has also made warfare easier, allowing adversaries to kill one another without ever seeing the faces of their victims. Some would argue too that the large costs associated with spaceflight and space travel have taken limited resources away from those on Earth with dire needs.
But for good or otherwise, our world would certainly be different if two brothers on a windy hill in North Carolina had not made their short flight into the air on a cold day in 1903. And one can believe, with some certainty that, because of the accomplishments of space-minded people, humans will some day journey to other worlds.
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Winter, Frank H. Prelude to the Space Age. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983.
Winter, William J. The World of Model Airplanes. New York: Scribner, 1986.
Wohl, Robert. A Passion for Wings: Aviation and the Western Imagination 1908-1918. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994.
Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1979.
Wright, Bradford W. Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
Wynne, H. Hugh. The Motion Picture Stunt Pilots, and Hollywood's Classic Aviation Movies. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1987.
Yeager, Chuck with Janos, Leo (Editor). Yeager: An Autobiography. Minneapolis: Econo-Clad Books, 1986.
Zubrin, Robert. The Case for Mars. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Zuckerman, Ben, and Hart, Michael. ExtraterrestrialsWhere Are They? New York: Cambridge University Press, l995.
Zukowsky, John. editor. Building for Air Travel; Architecture and Design for Commercial Aviation. Munich and New York: The Art Institute of Chicago and Prestel-Verlag, 1996. (Essays by Wolfgang Voigt, Koos Bosma, and David Brodherson).
"About Air Shows." International Council of Air Shows. http://www.airshows.org/aboutairshows.htm
"Air Racing." Hickok Sports History. http://www.hickoksport.com/history/airrace.shtml
"Alberto Santos-Dumont." Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. http://educate.si.edu/scitech/impacto/graphic/aviation/alberto.html
Analog: Science Fiction and Fact. http://www.analogsf.com/
Arthur C. Clarke Unauthorized Home Page. http://www.lsi.usp.br/~rbianchi/clarke/
Asimov's Science Fiction. http://www.asimovs.com/
Batchelor, David Allen. "The Science of Star Trek." http://ssdoo.gsfc.nasa.gov/education/just_for_fun/startrek.html
"Blanche Stuart Scott." National Air and Space Museum. http://www.nasm.edu/nasm/arch/findaids/bscott/bs_sec_3.html
"Blue Angle FAQ." U.S. Navy. http://www.navy.com/images/media/BlueAngelsFAQ.Pdf
Brundige, Ellen. "Inventing the Solar System: Early Greek Scientists Struggle to Explain How the Heavens Move." Tufts University. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/GreekScience/Students/Ellen/EarlyGkAstronomy.html
"Charles Lindbergh: An American Aviator. Charles Lindbergh Music." http://www.charleslindbergh.com/music/index.asp
Circa 1950s. http://www.circa1950.co.uk/site/default.asp
"Clay's Atomic Cafe Wav Page." http://www.slonet.org/~rloomis/acafe.html
The Comic Page. http://www.dereksantos.com/comicpage/
Dehs, Volker, Har'El, Zvi, and Margot, Jean-Michel. "The Complete Jules Verne Bibliography." http://jv.gilead.org.il/biblio/.
"Dr. Strangelove of: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." http://www.kubrick.dk/strangelove_manus.html
Du Toit, Damien. "Your online introduction to Kites & Kite Flying." http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/4569/home.html
Edwards, David B. Book Safari: Aviation Series Index. 1 April 2002, http://www.seriesbooks.com/aviation.htm
FAA List of Aviation and Space Books for Grades Kindergarten Through Three. http://www.dot.state.mn.us/aero/aved/curricula/edk-3/trs/books.html
Forman, MSgt Peter D. History of the Air Force Song. U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band. http://www.af.mil/accband/sounds/airforce_song.html
Fowler, Michael. "How the Greeks Used Geometry to Understand the Stars." University of Virginia. http://www.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/lectures/greek_astro.htm
Fries, Colin. "Space Milestones in Song." http://www.space.com/news/spacehistory/music_tributes_000822.html
"Gallery of Teen Space Books." http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/er/seh/teenbk.html
Hugo Gernsback's forecast. http://www.hugogernsback.com/
"Isaac Asimov." http://books.guardian.co.uk/authors/author/0,5917,-9,00.html
Kruggel, James C. "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify: How Simplifying Fleets Might Help America's Largest Airlines Return to Profitability," www.Airliners.net, June 16, 2002. http://www.airliners.net/articles/read.main?id=23
Lichtmann, Kurt. "Lindy: The Man and the Dance." http://people.cornell.edu/pages/kpl5/Char_les1.html
Lienhard, John H. "The First Daredevil." University of Houston Engines of Our Ingenuity. http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi1225.htm
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/
Markstein, Donald D. Toonopedia http://www.toonopedia.com
"M-G-M presents 2001: A Space Odyssey." http://members.tripod.com/~odyssey_2001/
"MusicSpace: Listening to the Cosmos …" http://www.hobbyspace.com/Music/
National Aeronautics and Space Administration."Astronaut Biographies." http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/
"National Air Races." Cleveland National Air Show. http://www.clevelandairshow.com/natlairraces.htm
"New York World's Fair 1939-1940." http://websyte.com/alan/nywf.htm
1939 World's Fair. http://members.aol.com/vintage707/39nywf/wf3901.html. A collection of images from the fair.
1950s Concept Cars. http://www.lilesnet.com/paul/Memories/concepts.html
"The Paris Air Show." Paris Air Show. http://www.paris-air-show.com
Pepin, Christopher James. Tom Swift Jr. - Series 2 Book List. 1997. http://www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/Stage/6058/swiftjr.html
Perry, Geoffrey. "A Short History of the Kettering Group." http://www.users.wineasy.se/svengrahn/trackind/getstart/oldcyts.htm
Pilot Officer John G. Magee, Jr., U.S. Air Force Museum. http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/prewwii/jgm.htm
Pulp Net. http://www.thepulp.net/
Rao, Joe. "The Big Dipper: Ancient and Modern Intrigue." SPACE.com. http://www.space.com/spacewatch/big_dipper_020621.html
"Reno National Air Races." Hickok Sports History. http://www.hickoksport.com/history/renoairr.shtml
Rickenbacker, Captain Edward V. Fighting the Flying Circus. The War Times Journal. http://www.richthofen.com/rickenbacker/
"Robert A. Heinlein – Dean of Science Fiction Writers." http://www.wegrokit.com/
"Robert A. Heinlein Topics." http://www.allscifi.com/Topic.asp?TopicID=15
Santiago Calatrava home page. http://www.calatrava.com/indexflash.html (requires Flash)
Santiago Calatrava: the Unofficial Site. http://www.comquat.com/calatrava/
"Science Fiction Films and Shows." http://windows.arc.nasa.gov/tour/link=/art_and_music/films.html (Many of the links from this site do not work, but it's still a comprehensive list, with descriptions, of many science fiction movies and TV shows.)
Scowcroft, Philip L. "Aviation in British Music." Classical Music on the Web. http://www.musicweb.force9.co.uk/music/Aviation.html
"SETI: The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence." http://history.nasa.gov/seti.html
"SETI@home. The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence." http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/faq.html
"Showcasing Technology at the 1964-1965 New York Word's Fair." http://naid.sppsr.ucla.edu/ny64fair/map-docs/technology.htm
"Songs of the U.S. Air Force." http://www.af.mil/accband/sounds/afsongs.html
"Space Books for Children." http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/er/seh/juniorbk.html.
"Space Settlement Video Library." http://www.belmont.k12.ca.us/ralston/programs/itech/SpaceSettlement/Video/index.html
"Star Wars: The Magic of Myth." http://www.nasm.edu/StarWars/Brandt-Erichsen, David. "The L-5 Society." http://www.azstarnet.com/public/nonprofit/tucl5/l5dream.htm
"To Fly is Everything.." A Virtual Museum covering the Invention of the Airplane. Inventors Gallery." Mississippi State University. http://invention.psychology.msstate.edu/air_main.shtml
Top Fun Aviation Toy Museum. http://www.topfunaviation.com
"2001 – A Space Odyssey." Warner Brothers. http://kubrickfilms.warnerbros.com/video_detail/2001/
"The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds History." U.S. Air Force. http://www.airforce.com/thunderbirds/historynoflash.htm
U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics." Airport Activity Statistics of Certificated Air Carriers Summary Tables, Twelve Months Ending December 31, 2000." BTS01-05 Washington, DC: 2001. http://www.bts.gov/publications/airactstats2000/AAS-2000.pdf
"The Vectren Dayton Air Show," Dayton Air Show. http://www.airshowdayton.com/
Von Richthofen, Manfred. The Red Fighter Pilot. The War Times Journal. http://www.richthofen.com/
Wade, Mark. Encyclopedia Astronautica. "Cosmonaut Biographies." http://www.astronautix.com/astros/cosgroup.htm
"Welcome to the World's Fastest Motor Sport!" Reno Air Racing Association. http://www.airrace.org/index.php
"What is EAA AirVenture Oshkosh?" AirVenture. http://www.airventure.org/2002/about/index.html
Windows to the Universe team. "Myths about the Sky, Constellations and Stars." Boulder, CO: © 2000-01 University Corporation of Atmospheric Research (UCAR), (c)1995-1999, 2000 The Regents of the University of Michigan. http://www.windows.ucar.edu/cgi-bin/tour_def/mythology/stars.html
Winnie Mae, Lockheed 5C Vega, National Air & Space Museum. http://www.nasm.si.edu/nasm/aero/aircraft/lockheed_5c.htm
Witcombe, Chris. "Stonehenge and the Druids." Sweet Briar College. http://witcombe.sbc.edu/earthmysteries/EMStonehengeC.html
Air Art Northwest http://www.airartnw.com/
ars astronautica - Space Art Web Project. http://www.spaceart.net/
Bonestell Space Art. http://www.bonestell.org/Page_1x.html
"Guernica: Testimony of War." (Treasures of the World). http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/guernica_nav/main_guerfrm.html.
"Henry Moore, Crisis and Aftermath: The 1940s and 1950s." (National Gallery of Art, USA). http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/moore1940.htm.
International Association of Astronomical Artists. http://www.iaaa.org/
Keith Ferris, aviation artist. http://www.keithferrisart.com/
Keith Woodcock, aviation artist. http://www.satiche.org.uk/kw/woodcock.htm
NASA Arts Gallery. http://www.nasa.gov/gallery/arts/index.html
ND4 Aeronautical Art (the art of Peter Fromme-Douglas). http://www.fromme-douglas.com/nd4/
Novaspace Galleries. http://www.novaspace.com/
Space Art Home Page http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/er/seh/spaceart.html
Space Art on the Web. http://www.spaceart.org/
Sport Flyer's Internet Resources: Aviation Photos/Images/Art. http://sportflyer.com/images.htm
The Stokes Collection, artwork of Stan Stokes. http://www.stokescollection.com/
Associations and Organizations
Center for Archaeoastronomy, University of Maryland. http://www.wam.umd.edu/~tlaloc/archastro/
Federation of American Scientists. http://www.fas.org
The H.G. Wells Society. http://www.hgwellsusa.50megs.com/
The Mars Society. http://www.marssociety.org
National Association of Rocketry. http://www.nar.org
Planetary Society. http://www.planetarysociety.org
SETI Institute. http://www.seti.org/