Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Future of Yesterday

Mechanix Illustrated, March 1961

This morning while Auntie was killing time on the NASA website, as one does, looking for some footage of Monday's Mars landing, I realized something was missing.

After watching simulations of the landing in the riveting, Seven Minutes of Terror followed by  a video of the happy but tired mission control ground crew in NASA Lands Car-sized Rover on Martian Surface, I was puzzled.  Where was the real time video of the Rover as it was landing on Mars?

When I mentioned my puzzlement to Uncle Jim, he smiled, rubbed his chin and in a patient and fatherly way, explained using short words that Auntie could understand that there was no video of the Rover landing because there were no cameras on Mars to transmit it.  Wha?  Oh yeah!  Heh, heh.  How silly is Auntie?   I'm always heartened at how patient Uncle Jim is with me.  

Landing on Mars seems like a complete miracle to me yet at the same time I expected more.  How did this happen?  I remember how something as simple as a game of checkers kept Auntie and her friends amused for hours. It's ironic that something as complex and technologically advanced as landing a Rover on Mars got me thinking about how simple entertainment used to be.

Back in the stone age before television, video games, iPods and flip flops, families spent time in the evenings crowded around the radio listening to dramas and plays. Everyone huddled together and stayed quiet as the words created movies in one's mind.   

Listening to plays, radio dramas and comedies back then required listening skills, imagination and an attention span.

There was no way to time shift the programmes either. If you missed a radio broadcast, the next day you had to ask your neighbour over the back fence what finally happened to Superman in last week's cliff hanger or how Our Miss Brooks got herself out of a pickle!

Auntie is a big fan of radio dramas.  In a practical blend old new, my iPod is filled with programmes like Our Miss Brooks, Father Knows Best, Radio City Playhouse and The Mel Blanc Show.

But my favourite, by far, is a Science Fiction series called, X Minus One. It's outstanding dramatizations of stories from famous science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov will stick in your mind forever.  Listening to these broadcasts gives my imagination a good workout and keeps my brain occupied while I bake cakes, do the laundry or dig in the garden.

While I was watching videos of the ground crew at NASA cheering, crying with joy and high fiveing each other as the Rover landed, I remembered an episode of  X Minus One, Mars is Heaven, by Ray Bradbury.  

In the drama, astronauts land on Mars and encounter evil, but clever, mind reading Martians and... Well, you should listen to the broadcast yourself and learn about the dangers of travelling to new planets and accepting dinner invitations from relatives who should really be at home on Earth.

Here's how the narrator introduces the programme:

"When the first space rocket lands on Mars, what will we find?  Only the ruins of a dead and deserted planet, or will there be life? Intelligent life in some strange form that only we can imagine? Will we be welcomed with open arms, or will the Martians treat us as invaders?
Only one thing is certain, some day a giant metal ship will take off from earth to travel through the black velocities, the silent gulfs of space, to descend at last into the darkness of the upper Martian atmospheres and on that day, man will finally know the answers, the day we first land on Mars!"

Riveting stuff!  Especially to someone who lived in 1955 and their idea of futuristic innovations was a long-life tube for their radio.

Well, here we all are, as predicted, in 2012, landing on Mars.  Even though NASA didn't send any humans to poke around, just the Rover, it's a technological miracle all the same and one that writer Ray Bradbury wrote about long ago.

If you'd like to hear the rest of the broadcast, and Auntie recommends that you do, click on the picture of the radio...
Listen to Mars is Heaven here
If stories about space are not your cup of Tang, here's a website where you can download all kinds of old time radio shows for free. 

Go ahead, put down that Nintendo, gather 'round your iPod, and fire up your imagination.


  1. Auntie you rule and that space man suit on the cover of Mechanix Illustrated just might be my Halloween costume. Looks easy breezy to make!


    1. Auntie just loves your website too DeDe. It's so alive and inspiring and I'll be visiting it often. Just where do you find room for all your finds?


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