Back in the late 1950s, the idea of actually traveling into space was having renaissance of sorts in popular culture. That includes the likes of Lee Marvin who starred in an episode of the anthology show, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse entitled “Man In Orbit” and costarring E.G. Marshall. The show aired May 11th, 1959, a year after the formation of NASA. Then, almost exactly two years later to the day, came the flight of Alan Shepard on May 5th, 1961.
Marvin portrayed Capt. David Roberts, an Air Force pilot scheduled to be the first astronaut but clashes with scientist Eric Carson, played by Marshall. Unfortunately, try as I might, I’ve never seen the episode so I didn’t really mention it in my book. I do however, devote an entire chapter to his prolific TV performances and as readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know, he proved to be infinitely more versatile on my small screen than he ever was on the big screen.
All this is mentioned simply because space travel seems to be back in the news again, whether it’s the Space X launch, planned reactivated NASA flights or Trump’s boast of a military Space Force. With that in mind, I can say proudly that I discovered these two rare images from the original broadcast and can display them below….
Oh and by the way, way too many people, mostly Gen X’ers and Millennials, seem to think John Glenn was the first man in space. This may not be the place to state definitively but let it at least be repeated here. The first man in space was Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and to reiterate, the first American in space was Alan Shepard. Or, as stated in the film The Right Stuff, “The first free man in space.” Then came John Glenn, the first man to orbit the earth….three times! Which is of course impressive but only one Mercury astronaut also went to the moon. Wanna guess which one?
– Dwayne Epstein