NPR has a story today about Space-Age design in honor of the Space Shuttle’s last mission. Point being that this really is the end of an era in America (I’ve got dope rhymes), not only are the Shuttles being retired, but America’s fascination with space exploration is waning. There was a time in the late 50’s and early 60’s when space was not only the final frontier, it was the awesome lunchbox, car, coffee shop and amusement park frontier as well.
The story references Walt Disney’s love of space and how he funneled that love into the design of Disneyland using southern California aerospace engineers. For people who don’t know, aerospace is HUGE in SoCal. During my time there, I met people who worked on the SR-71, the Shuttle and the Stealth Bomber. I had friends whose family were involved in the Apollo and Gemini programs and what I alway assumed were the future Mars missions. Point being, Angelenos know their space stuff. Disney took that design expertise as well as the love of the aesthetic and grew what is now Tomorrowland from California farm land.
Using far out materials like plastics, foam and aluminum, Disney crafted a vision of the future, knowing even then that corporations and commerce would be built into the system in a way that becomes part of your every day routine. It stood as a white, clean, gleaming peek into what our future could become, full of hope, promise, a sensible allocation of resources and much like Gene Roddenberry, a way for all to live peacefully together.
Sadly, that vision has been replaced with an odd mix of Jules Verne, Steampunk, CGI and Las Vegas. The giant rock forms in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World at the entrance to Tomorrowland remind me more of a Mission to Mars, which oddly enough doesn’t exist anymore, then a stroll into a better tomorrow.
Have a listen to today’s NPR story. There’s even a soundbite of Disney talking about a day when Shuttle missions would become a daily event, much like driving to work. I miss that American optimism. Disney was as optimistic as anyone during that age. And for that, I thank him.