Monday, April 20, 2009

Look Up - Part 2

Writers of science fiction, throughout the years, have often been the predictors of humankind's progress in the sciences, particularly exploratory science. Jules Verne took us to the Moon, and many leagues under the sea along with many other fantastic voyages. Additionally, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Kurt Vonnegut, to name just four among hundreds, have carried us far into the realm of fantasy, and imaginative science. So this blog article is not intended to either minimize or discredit these works of artistic expression of both real and imaginary science.

There is a common denominator between the creations of science-fiction writers and the works of speculative science that emanates from recognized scientist/engineers and science writers/journalists. The common factor is their ability to ask "what if" and then proceed to answer the question. Imaginative and creative thinking is a critical ingredient in both efforts.

The concept of manned space travel goes way back into the library of science fiction. A key non-fiction, but highly imaginative series of articles and books promoting manned space exploration were the works of science writer, Willy Ley, space artist, Chesley Bonestell (see "Look Up - Part 1" for more) and aerospace scientist/engineer Dr. Wernher von Braun (a fortuitous import following the end of WWII). It is the work of Willy Ley and his collaboration with Bonestell and von Braun that I present in this blog.

Willy Ley, like Dr. von Braun, was a native of Germany. In addition to being natives of the same country, Ley and von Braun were both members of the German amateur rocket society in which Ley was a founding member. It was Ley who elevated von Braun's already intense interest in rocketry to the point where he (von Braun) became professionally involved in the science.

Willy Ley was highly educated from German universities and until the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, he authored many articles and books on rocketry and space travel. When Hitler rose to power and put pressure on Ley and the rocket society to cease writing about rocket science, Ley fled to England and then the United States. He became a U. S. citizen in 1944. It was not until the middle of WWII and afterword that Willy Ley began to expand his writing on space travel. If you wish you may go here to see a full listing of his works. The foregoing link also includes a more detailed biography of Willy Ley.

After WWII Dr. von Braun was recruited to become a key scientist of first the Army Missile Command and later NASA. At the same time the old friendship between Ley and von Braun was revived and they along with space artist Chesley Bonestell began presenting to the American public a series of informative, dramatic and graphic articles advocating the manned exploration of space. They remain landmarks of the beginning of public and governmental interest and action toward developing a national space science program. The rest, is of course, incredible history, with von Braun leading the way that put the Apollo program in orbit and the United States on the moon.

The public interest that Willy Ley and his friend and associates stimulated is now supplanted by both live and recorded video reports of actual rocket launches and live reports from space. In fact this is so commonplace that we often become too casual toward these momentous events. Willy Ley, Wernher von Braun and Chesley Bonestell have all passed on, but the heritage they founded not only lives on, but grows and expands before our eyes. I am sure all three are together joyously smiling and applauding as they see their dreams coming true.

The image above is entitled "Looking Toward Home"
2D Digital Art, Science Fiction, Looking Towards Home - free computer desktop wallpaper.

Art in Science (c) 2009 Waddell Robey All individual copyrights apply.

1 comment:

  1. While a veteran student at the University of South Carolina, I had the opportunity to correspond with both Willy Ley and Dr. von Braun. I remain in awe over their quick, complete and supportive comments about a Space Age Symposium I was working on at the university. They truly held their dream of manned space travel close to their hearts.