What Is It? This late 50’s speculative fiction entry was a semi-anthology series (with William Lundigan playing the only recurring character) that chronicled the exploration and colonization of the solar system. This series also relied heavily on scientifically accurate data for the time and tried to present a realistic, less fanciful portrayal of space travel (no aliens, time travel, space battles, etc.).
Why It Stands Out: This was a rare bit of series science fiction for its day that stepped away from the “kiddie space operas” that defined the genre like Captain Video and his Video Rangers, Space Patrol, and Tom Corbet Space Cadet, and that tried to tell realistic stories based as much as possible in science.
The Skinny: This little known relic from the early days of television ran only one season on CBS from 1959 to 1960 and it has since been mostly forgotten because it never enjoyed much of a syndication run (the episode count of 38 was less than that market prefers). And that’s a shame because this series represented a significant step forward for sci fi television, even if it rarely gets the credit. This was an early instance of hard sci fi / speculative fiction on television with British entries like Quatermass and A for Andromeda as the few other similar examples to make it to the small screen during the 50’s and early 60’s. Men into Space focused on the near future exploration and colonization of the solar system, and it did it by sticking as close as possible to scientific fact (based on the knowledge of the day). This series was a far cry from the Captain Video-type space operas of the early 50’s as it eschewed plots dealing with alien menaces, mad scientists, or maniacal villains. Instead this series took a realistic look at space travel that at times focused on such mundane issues astronauts would have to face as technical malfunctions to their spacecraft and the impact of extra weight on a rocket launch. The series even had an episode similar to the actual events of the Apollo 13 mission and one that seem to predict the fate of the malfunctions encountered by the Gemini 8 crew. The downside of the approach that the series took is that it often led to episodes that seemed rather stoic and dull compared to other Prime Time fare and that likely lent to the show’s cancellation after only one season. And nowadays it definitely has a dated look to it. But the show’s special effects were actually quite good for the time, and sci fi fans today might find it more than just a curio from an age past. It’s definitely much more enjoyable than Captain Video or Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers (though those shows do have their own particular charm), and it offers an interesting early attempt to deliver a serious show about space travel not aimed primarily at kids. Unfortunately, this show has never had an official DVD release, though apparently the series is now in the public domain so several unofficial collections can be found on the internet. It’s definitely worth seeking out to to see a rare attempt at series science fiction from an age when the genre was considered for kids only.
Notable Stars: William Lundigan, Robert Vaughn (Guest Star), James Coburn (Guest Star), Werner Klemperer (Guest Star)
Did You Know? William Lundigan was the only actor to appear in every episode of Men into Space (as Colonel Edward McCauley). Several other actors such as Tyler McVey and Ron Foster showed up in multiple episodes, but the series had no other regular actors.
Did You Own? I doubt this show produced much in the way of merchandising, but apparently it did at least have a lunchbox associated with it. I’m guessing one of those in good condition (and with the thermos intact) would fetch a decent price on the collectors’ market.