Space fever

2013-07-05 09:30

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The new Superman film, Man of Steel, hit theatres this weekend – giving us the perfect excuse to examine how space fever has changed our lives.

16 June 1963

The Russian Valentina Tereshkova is the first woman in space – more than six years before the American Neil Armstrong’s moon landing on 20 July 1969, and two years after Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering mission.

 Space dates 

4 October 1957: The unmanned

Sputnik 1 satellite is launched, becoming the first successful orbital launch. America and Russia were neck and neck in the space race, but Russia pipped the USA to the post when Yuri Gagarin entered space on 12 April 1961.

10 June 2003

Nasa launches the robot-like Spirit spacecraft on a seven-year long exploration mission to Mars.

25 April 2002

Mark Shuttleworth becomes the first South African in space, joining a Russian mission as space tourist.


There's a martian in my lounge!

Furniture from the 50s and 60s that is described as ‘retro’ today was inspired by the space fever of those decades. New technology also played a big role, with designers experimenting with plastic injection moulding – which allowed for fun, futuristic curves tailormade for the space trend. Halfmoon and capsule shapes were very popular, like Eero Aarnio’s fun Ball chair from 1965, that’s still made by Adelta in Italy today.

And which Sputnik captain wouldn’t want to sit in the bright scarlet Egg chair designed by one of the great Pop designers, Arne Jacobsen, in 1958? Neil Armstrong’s moon landing in 1969 further fuelled the space trend and inspired iconic designs in the 70s that even disco divas could curl up in.


What gravity?

Architects were swept away by the space trend and futuristic buildings changed our landscape. Airports started looking like space stations with dramatic, flowing curves, but the most dramatic examples are from the former Soviet Union – which won the space race, after all.

In Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed (Taschen), Frédéric Chaubin writes that Russian architects were so cut off from the rest of the word they looked to space for inspiration.

‘The Soviet Union was a big construction site for the future, and the background for the first “flying saucers” – in the shape of public monuments.’ No wonder America and Turkey thought Igor Vasilevsky’s Druzhba Sanatorium in the Ukraine was a launching pad!

The Druzhba Sanatorium in Ukraine (1985) by Igor Vasilevsky.

The principles of architecture were overturned in Paris with the Pompidou Centre (1971-77), with its insides – including plumbing pipes – on the outside. Another icon is the Finnish designer Matti Suuronen’s Futuro house (1968).

And the latest example? Sir Richard Branson’s Spaceport America in New Mexico, designed by the British architect Norman Foster, who also designed London’s rocket-like 30 St Mary Axe building, famously known as ‘The Gherkin’.

Pop culture

My galaxy, or yours?

‘My name is ZX Dan, I am a spaceman, my galaxy is doomed, so I’ve moved to your moon…’ When humans first entered space, pop culture swiftly followed. The hit song ‘ZX Dan’ by Radio Rats was No. 2 on 28 January 1979. And who didn’t sing along to David Bowie hits like ‘Space Oddity’ (1969) and ‘Starman’ (1972)?

There was also a wealth of sci-fi movies like Star Wars (1977), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Barbarella (1968), with Jane Fonda as a futuristic sex kitten.

Star Trek started as a TV series in 1966, but is today an entertainment franchise with so many cult followers that there is even a language institute for Klingon (the language spoken by some of the characters). And since 1951 there have been five Superman movies, with Man of Steel being number six.

Industrial design

Rocket or car?

Household appliances such as TVs and alarms started to resemble space helmets, and vacuum cleaners looked like Sputnik 1, but the space race especially influenced car design. Small cars like the Renault 4 and Fiat 500 took second place to bigger cars with wings, turbines and rocket-shaped tail lights, such as the Cadillac and Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner from 1959.

Space tourist

A seat next to actor Leonardo DiCaprio on the Virgin Galactic spaceflight was auctioned off at the recent Cannes movie festival for $1.5 million (about R15 million) in aid of HIV/Aids research.

More than 600 people have bought tickets for this flight, at $250 000 (about R2.5 million) a pop. (Actor Ashton Kutcher is number 500 on the list.) According to Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, commercial space flights can launch as early as next year.

Did you know?

Mars One, the company that wants to settle the first people on this planet, has chosen the four they will send in 2022. The trips is expected to take eight months – and their stay on Mars will be broadcast live on TV.

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