As the subtitle to this volume indicates, Westfahl will venture back almost to the dawn of cinema to examine the presence of spacegear in films as the defining touchstone of a certain sensibility and focus. But before then, in an amusingly named preface, “Pre-Flight Briefing,” he outlines with great clarity the reasons why he feels the spacesuit is the defining motif of a certain serious-minded speculative vision. His insights, I find, represent a very clever and striking perception and distinction not previously noted or vocalized by critics within the field. Westfahl convinces the reader at once that his theme is valid.
Despite its impressive accuracy in several aspects of space travel, the Soviet sci-fi film COSMIC VOYAGE (1936) was scarcely known to exist until recently. Fritz Lang’s German sci-fi film WOMAN IN THE MOON (1929) received much wider distribution and exhibition and is still a delight to watch, even if it is less technically accurate than COSMIC VOYAGE . . . In 1932 Komsomol, the Communist youth organization in Stalin’s Soviet Union, insisted that filmmakers create works that would appeal to young people . . . Constantin Tsiolkovski (78 years old at that time) , a professor, scientist, and author . . . offered his services as a consultant. While understanding that the cinematic form and dramatic content would necessitate some bending of scientific probability, Tsiolkovski did insist that six elements must appear in the film:
1. The rocket would be launched from a ramp rather than vertically because of its huge size 2. Individual voyager’s cabins would fill with water during take off to ease the effects of extreme pressure on the human body 3. Stars in space would not flicker once earth’s atmosphere was left behind 4. Voyagers would experience weightlessness during the coasting phase of the flight 5. The voyagers would be able to jump about the moon surface “like sparrows” on earth 6. Return of the space cabin to earth would be accomplished by parachute once the earth’s atmosphere had been entered