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Then and Now: Exploring the Final Frontier

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Hayden059-250

In the 1950s, requests to book a trip to space such as this letter poured into the Museum.

© AMNH


In 1950, as part of a publicity campaign, the Hayden Planetarium began accepting reservations for what was billed as the first trip into space. After ads appeared in newspapers and the story was picked up by BBC broadcaster Alistair Cooke, letters poured in from as near as Newark and as far as Northumberland, with requests to book trips to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Some were accompanied by elaborate drawings of spacecraft, others by offers to serve as crewmembers on the flight. All came from applicants who wrote passionately about becoming the first to experience a trip to outer space, and the result is a treasure trove of letters that capture the public fascination with space exploration, a selection of which are now available for viewing on the Museum’s Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration site.

Some letter-writers had very practical concerns. “I have to take a vacation from school,” wrote Horace, who also asked whether bringing his dog would incur extra fees. Others were curious about what they could do to prepare, or if there was expertise they could offer. Larry from Denver wrote to ask for advice on what field “of business or engineering I should enter” in college “to best prepare for a job with an interplanetary travel agency.” Charlotte inquired about “Earth-moon communications” and volunteered her experience as an amateur radio operator in “maintaining a radio station.”

There were amateur astronomers who were cautiously delighted—“I don’t doubt we could send a ship to a planet,” wrote Leopold, “but I wonder if I’ll live to see it.”—as well as entrepreneurs like John, who requested a reservation for the red planet so that he could “open the first hot dog stand on Mars.”

Today, aspiring space tourists can get a glimpse at some possible future missions in the Museum exhibition Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration, on view now through August 12. Sixty years have passed since the first letters booking trips to Mars and the Moon arrived, and the future seems right around the corner.

The Hayden Letters are part of the Museum Library’s collections. For more information about the letters or the library, email libref@amnh.org.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring issue of Rotunda, the Member magazine.

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