Blast off to planet Imagination

My space travels began in a TV studio in the 1950s. Later they continued with two little boys and homemade helmets.

Not everyone can boast of having been to outer space on a rocket ship, but I've been there many times! And not just in my dreams.

Back in the 1950s, when I was in my early teens, I had the privilege of appearing on television in a weekly series. The set for the show was a malt shop. We actors sat around sipping cotton sodas, singing, dancing, and carrying on sparkling repartee with one another about teenage life. We broadcast live, so any mistakes had to be covered over, just as if we were on a stage with an audience.

For a while we met in a small theater, performing to rows and rows of empty seats and a big black camera with a lit-up red eye. As television grew and more shows and channels were added, we moved to a huge warehouse that had several sets. A variety of shows were broadcast there, one right after the other. On the set next to us, for example, was "Buck Rogers," a sci-fi program. Buck had wild adventures with aliens and unexplored territories in outer space.

This was long before "Star Trek" and videotapes. Anyway, Buck had two rocket ships. One was an open cockpit with no sides, so the camera could see the actors better. The other was a whole ship with doors and sides for long shots. Both were made of cardboard, and both sat on rockers, like a cradle.

Neither model moved without assistance from the stage crew, and many times anyone standing around was drafted to help out in the "flying" of these ships. When there was a particularly heavy, rough ride through a field of meteorites or some such thing, we, from the other sets, were asked to help with rocking the spaceship.

"Stand by," the director would whisper into his microphone off-camera. Then, on cue, we would gather on either side of the ship, step up on a seesaw-type thing, and rock the cradle back and forth - thus traveling into space with Buck Rogers and his sidekick, Lt. Wilma Deering.

Later, when I had two sons of my own, America's manned space program was in full progress. Our little boys liked to pretend they were astronauts like Alan Shepard and John Glenn.

To do this, they made their couch-beds into spaceships. Three bolsters fit nicely in the corner next to the wall. Blankets and pillows were bunched up for comfortable seating on their spaceship. A broom from the kitchen became a steering stick, and cooking-pan lids (with their rotating center knobs) were assembled into a critical mechanism of some kind. The cooking pots themselves were pressure-suit helmets. (What valuable equipment I had in my kitchen!)

"Get ready for takeoff!" one would shout.

"Everything 'A-OK' here," the other would answer.

"Ready for count down ... five, four, three, two, one - blastoff!"

The spaceship was off in a flurry of down feathers, the broom was swung wildly around, and the knobs of the lids were twisted and turned until they fell off their screws. All the while, the calm assurance came that, "Everything is A-OK," even though they appeared to be falling back into Earth's atmosphere.

The parachute jump into the carpet "ocean" was especially fascinating. The two, dressed in red-and-white-striped spacesuits (better known on Earth as pajamas), danced over beds and chairs. Pink-pillowcase parachutes trailed behind them to gentle their descent into the sea.

Fortunately, a helicopter swooped down to rescue the space cadets (one's tongue, trilled on the roof of one's mouth, makes a realistic helicopter noise). Yay!

At this point I tried to interrupt long enough to convert their rocket ship back into day beds. This was not accepted very graciously.

"Aw, Mom, that's our ship!" They complained.

So instead, following the all-too-familiar saying, I joined them. I entered the spacecraft for a thrilling ride into space. My instructions were to sit back and enjoy the ride. Before takeoff, however, I was reprimanded for not having the proper outfit.

So I grabbed a robe from the closet and stuck a pot on my head. Then we were off, leaning first to one side and then to the other, dodging meteorites and other objects in space.

My sons were pleased with my flying know-how. "Hey, it's nothing," I told them. "When I was young, I flew with Buck Rogers!"

Their little eyes opened wide. "You did?" They seemed genuinely surprised and impressed. Then they said, "Who's Buck Rogers?"

"I'll tell you about it sometime," I answered.

But never did, until now.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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