How Walt Disney Helped Promote The Space Race To America

How Walt Disney Helped Promote The Space Race To America

In the 1950s, the world started to wonder in earnest about what it would take to see humanity reach beyond its home and into the stars. The rise of speculative work on space colonization—and the science fiction to match—helped propel the United States into the earliest days of the space race. And part of the boom is thanks to Walt Disney himself.

Disney found himself enchanted by the work of Dr. Werhner Von Braun — the, uh, former Nazi rocket scientist recruited into the U.S. Army’s Ordnance Guided Missiles Development Group as part of Operation Paperclip after World War II — whose articles in the likes of Colliers about the potential for human spaceflight stoked Disney’s interest in futurism, as well as his interest in expanding the breadth of his growing theme park empire. Tomorrowland’s opening at Disneyland in 1955 brought with it the tallest structure in the park, even larger than the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle — the TWA Moonliner, designed in part by a collaboration between Disney’s Imagineers and Von Braun.

But the Moonliner was only really the beginning of Von Braun and Disney’s relationship—and Von Braun’s wider influence on Hollywood sci-fi in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

The six-hour, three-part documentary series, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings, takes an imaginative new look at the space race’s evolution, using archival footage to examine the political and public relations drama — as well as the human ones—behind sending humanity on its first steps into the stars.

Chasing the Moon premieres on PBS starting July 8.