Lost in Space
The image of America in the 1960s is often one of turmoil (assassinations, war, protest) mixed with hedonistic fun (sex, drugs, rock and roll). But what analysts often fail to appreciate is that, for so many Americans, the space adventure was an all-consuming distraction that diverted their attention away from the domestic and international crises usually associated with the decade. Instead of looking at the problems around them, many Americans cast their gaze skyward. America was lost in space.
Television schedules were packed with space themes. Hollywood offered a romantic comedy (I Dream of Jeannie), two slapstick sit-coms (My Favorite Martian and It's About Time), a corny family adventure (Lost in Space), a “serious” bit of science fiction (Star Trek), and a variety of space cartoons, including The Jetsons. The exploits of NASA provided welcome verisimilitude to the space stories peddled by the Hollywood film industry. The boom in space films that started in the early 1950s continued through the '60s and '70s. Most were B-movies deploying the well-worn theme of astronauts encountering something nasty in outer space, as with the truly execrable Phantom Planet (1962), Assignment— Outer Space (1962), and Wild, Wild Planet (1967). Chimps in space provided enormous opportunity for comedy, as in Disney's Moon Pilot, starring Tom Tryon and a since-forgotten monkey. Chimps of a decidedly more sinister sort figured in Planet of the Apes (1968) and its endlessly diminishing sequels.
Missing from the genre were heroic stories of successful space missions, perhaps because NASA itself had a monopoly on that plotline and because space travel is pretty boring unless something goes wrong. This nevertheless caused a problem for NASA, since movie producers regularly asked for technical assistance and location shots, but the agency did not want to be associated with films about space disasters. A case in point was Frank Capra's Marooned, universally panned on its release in 1970. While the film was still in its planning stages, the PR