Saturday, 22 December 2018

First Man into Space (1959)

A sci-fi story containing both charm and corny dialogue, told on a modest budget. 

Directed by Robert Day
Produced by John Croydon, Charles F. Vetter, Richard Gordon
Written by Wyott Ordung, John Croydon, Charles F. Vetter
Music by Buxton Orr
Cinematography: Geoffrey Faithfull
Edited by Peter Mayhew
Production company: Amalgamated Productions
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Running time: 78 min.
Budget: $131,000
Box office: $635,000


Marshall Thompson: Cmdr. Charles Ernest Prescott
Marla Landi: Tia Francesca
Bill Edwards: Lt. Dan Milton Prescott
Robert Ayres: Capt. Ben Richards
Bill Nagy: Police Chief Wilson
Carl Jaffe: Dr. Paul von Essen
Roger Delgado: Mexican Consul
John McLaren: State Dept. Official, Harold Atkins
Spencer Teakle: Ratings Control Room
Chuck Keyser: Ratings Control Room
John Fabian : Ratings Control Room
Richard Shaw: Witney
Bill Nick: Clancy
Helen Forrest: Secretary
Roland Brand: Truck Driver


What if?..........

(Spoilers Follow Below……)

Good evening. I’m your host, Bill Bannerman and welcome to tonight’s program, Probing the Past where we will be revealing to you exclusively shocking revelations that cast doubt on the widely held assumption that the Russians were the first to launch a human being into space and return him safely to earth.

Read on for more.......

History has recorded that on April 12, 1961, 27-year-old test pilot and industrial technician, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1, became the first human being to travel into space. During the flight, Yuri Gagarin also became the first man to orbit our planet which he did in 89 minutes. But was he…the first man into space?

Yuri Gagarin

During the early years of the American and Soviet space race, the Soviet Union achieved a series of firsts with the launching of the first satellite into space, the first robotic spacecraft to the Moon, the first woman in space, and the first spacewalk. These monumental scientific, technical and strategic breakthroughs sparked a desire within the United States to catch up with and hopefully surpass the Soviets in the area of human exploration of space.

The result of this urgent endeavour resulted in American astronaut Alan Shepard venturing briefly into space on the Mercury 3 mission in May 1961 and astronaut John Glenn spending five hours in orbit on the Mercury 6 mission in February 1962.

What is not known is that one of the “firsts” we have been led to believe the Soviets achieved-the first human launched into space-had in fact been secretly accomplished by an American astronaut test pilot in…….1959!

This courageous young test pilot we have been informed died soon after his achievement for reasons which will be explained later and was never to be recognized for his feat as were the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts who became the most visible and celebrated symbols of space exploration.

After his tragic death, according to the recent revelations, the one-man Mercury missions were developed to ensure safe spaceflight and return to Earth and demonstrate how human beings would fare in space. No-one wanted to see anyone else succumb to the same fate as befell the real first human in space…..or so it seemed….

By why, you may ask, wouldn’t the US proclaim their achievement to the world and establish their giant leap forward and ahead of their Soviet rivals? Had the tragic death of the American test pilot tarnished the accomplishment? Was more time needed to establish what might have gone wrong and try for a completely successful mission next occasion? Did experts in the US believe that time was on their side to do this? Or was a calculated risk made whereby if the Soviets beat the US with a successful manned launch into space, then whatever went wrong with the American mission would also affect any Russian mission and some kind of political capital could be made out of this?

Tonight’s story is based on testimony from military and other personnel who are still alive, documents released under freedom of information provisions, as well as secretly obtained top-secret audio-visual recordings of the alleged 1959 manned space launch mission. No representative from the White House, The Pentagon or NASA have been prepared to appear on our program. Nor has anyone from the Kremlin responded to our invitation to appear, except for the issuing of a terse statement ridiculing the claims that an American and not a Russian was the……..

Many of the images you will see are reconstructions depicting both alleged and actual events from the time. Visit our website and Facebook page for sources of information used in tonight’s program, interviews that were conducted and more.
If you wish to respond to any of the claims made in tonight’s program, please feel free to join the conversation via our Facebook page and on twitter.

Our story begins with Navy test pilot Lieut. Dan Prescott, in an experimental rocket plane. His brother U. S. Navy Commander Charles "Chuck" Prescott was sceptical about Dan being the right choice for piloting the rocket-powered Y-13 to extreme altitude. Captain Ben Richards of the Air Force Space Command, however, felt that Dan was their best pilot.

During the test-piloting of the Y-12 into the ionosphere, Lieut. Prescott began to experience flight difficulties. After landing his craft, Dan contravened regulations by immediately going to see his girlfriend, Tia Francesca instead of immediately submitting his flight report.

Dr Von Essen (left) Comdr. Charles Prescott (centre)

Despite concerns about Dan Prescott’s conduct and suitability, Captain Richards insisted that Dan pilot the Y-13 after a thorough check-out and briefing by Dr. Paul von Essen, former German Nazi scientist co-opted by the US government at the close of the Second World War.

In an interview conducted earlier, one of the then young operators in the launch control room tells us what he recalls of the launch of the unlucky numbered Y-13: 

“The Y-13 took off with Lieut. Prescott at the controls. Everything was going well as he ascended higher and higher. At 600,000 feet, Prescott was supposed to level off and begin his descent. But for reasons best known to himself he just continued to climb, firing his rocket emergency boost for more speed."

"When he reached 1,320,000 feet or roughly 250 miles, he suddenly lost control of the Y-13. All the while his brother, Cmdr. Charles Prescott was frantically trying to get the Lieutenant to stick to the mission parameters and then tried to establish contact. The next question for us was what became of Lieut. Prescott and the Y-13? Had he crashed somewhere outside of the predetermined landing zone? Did he manage to eject and was he lost but still alive? It wasn’t long before we found out!” 

We disguised the former operator’s voice and identity at his own request.

The next thing that is heard about the fate of the Y-13 is when the New Mexico State Police later sent a report that a Mexican farmer spotted a parachute attached to what appeared to be a plane land near his farm on Route 17 about 10 miles south of Alvarado. Fortunately, Police Chief Wilson notified the military on the off-chance that it was related to their recent rocket firing.

Wilson then met up with Commander Prescott and showed him the wreckage. By the looks of things, it seemed impossible that the pilot could have survived the crash.

Tests on the recovered aircraft later revealed that the automatic escape mechanism and breaking chute had operated perfectly. Tests also revealed the presence of an unknown substance encrusting the aircraft’s hull and that it was impervious to x-rays, infrared photography and ultraviolet light.

Where had this substance come from? What exactly had Prescott and his Y-13 encountered in space, 250 miles above the earth? And where was Prescott?

Interestingly enough, at about the same time as the crash of the Y-13, we have two reports from the Santa Fe Daily News. One report tells of a break-in at the New Mexico State Blood Bank in Alameda where one of the nurses was brutally murdered and even more shockingly, vast quantities of blood had been consumed by someone or….something!

The other article is headlined, “Terror Roams State” and reports on the grotesque slaughter of cattle on a farm right next to where the Y-13 crashed.

An autopsy report on the dead nurse revealed the presence of wounds in the form of jagged tears across her throat. Also mentioned was the presence of shiny specks around the wound.

Now listen to an interview we earlier recorded with the son of Commander Charles Prescott and Tia Prescott (formerly Tia Francesca), Daniel Earnest Prescott: 

“Dad never talked much about those days. I do remember one story he told me after we watched a documentary about the mysterious incidents of cattle mutilations around the world. Dad told me that he once visited a farm back in 1959 somewhere in New Mexico where some cattle had been mysteriously slaughtered. He said that he discovered some shiny specks on the necks of the dead cattle. Even more surprisingly, he went on to say that lying under one of them was found a piece of what looked like a high-altitude oxygen lead that was used in…..and then he just abruptly stopped speaking about it. He never once mentioned it again till the day he died in 1996.” 

Tia Prescott (formerly Francesca) in 1959 centre

Just before her tragic death in a freak car accident, Mrs Tia Prescott who was in her eighties kindly granted us an interview in which she recalled many of the important events surrounding the crash of the Y-13 and the fate of her then boyfriend, Lieut. Dan Prescott: 

“My husband Charles began to suspect that the strange deaths in New Mexico and the slaughter of cattle may have been linked to the crashed Y-13 craft. Samples of the shiny specks that were gathered were sent for testing to Dr Von Essen at Aviation Medicine where I also worked. 

The results of the tests revealed that the specks were particles of meteor dust that showed “no signs of structural damage such as would be expected from passage through atmosphere.

Dr Von Essen’s notes on the results of the metallurgical tests performed on the encrustation revealed that those parts of the metal of the Y-13’s hull that were encrusted were intact. However, the places on the hull that were not encrusted had become brittle and resembled crumbling carbon that could be reduced to a powdery substance. 

Charles was of the opinion that the encrustation may have been a form of cosmic protection, something akin to the evolution of skin on primeval creatures as protection from the sun."

We have recently obtained a document from 1959 from a source in the Mexican government detailing damage caused to a bullring in San Pedro due to an object that apparently fell out of the sky! It seemed to have caused one bull in particular great consternation and almost killed His Excellency, the Minister for Social services.

A certain Senor Ramon DeGareara, consul for Mexico at Santa Fe met with Capt. Richards of Air Force Space Command with the result that ruffled feathers were smoothed with assurances of compensation for damages caused. After this, a crew was sent to San Pedro to salvage what we believe was a section of the Y-13, most likely its tail section. 

Something or someone was responsible for the strange deaths and killing of the cattle. Something or someone was responsible for quantities of blood being consumed at the Blood Bank. All available evidence seemed to suggest a link to the crash of the Y-13. And where was the body of Lieut. Dan Prescott?

Perhaps Mrs Prescott is able to shed some light on the strange series of mysterious but related events:

"After more killings were reported, Charles began to suspect that the strange encrustation that formed a protective barrier on the hull of Y-13 also covered the cockpit’s interior, including Dan. This would suggest that it was actually Dan himself doing the killing. But why? 

Charles considered the matter of the blood and speculated that Dan’s blood absorbed a high content of nitrogen while the protective encrustation that had penetrated the canopy quickly formed on his body, allowing him to survive the hostile conditions of space. Charles believed that once back on Earth, Dan's body and brain had become so starved of oxygen that he needed to consume oxygen-enriched blood in order to replace the oxygen his body lacked. 

It wasn’t really until Dan’s helmet was found in the car of another dead victim that Charles’ theory seemed to be correct after all.” 

Shortly after this interview, Mrs Prescott was killed in the auto accident while on her way home. A tragic twist of Fate or the result of something more sinister? She, like all the other personnel associated with the Y-13 project would have been required to sign strict non-disclosure agreements and be subject to and bound by national security provisions. Despite this, Mrs Prescott and other surviving personnel - who unlike her have chosen to remain anonymous - have bravely decided to step forward and put the record straight.

Back at the airbase lab, there was much talk concerning how best to stop this dangerous version of Dan Prescott, especially seeing that even bullets were useless against him. One of the then junior operators takes up this part of the story but was evasive when asked if he had actually witnessed the events or had learned about them second-hand:

“Suddenly this monstrous wheezing hulk of a creature burst into the building. It turned out that he gained access through a window. It seemed to be encased in some strange-looking material and appeared to have real trouble breathing. It sure was difficult to believe that creature was in fact Lieut. Prescott! 

While the high-altitude chamber was being opened, Comdr. Prescott used the P.A. system to warn all personnel in the building to stay out of the corridors. He then instructed Dr von Essen to use the P.A. to guide Lieut. Prescott to the high-altitude chamber seeing as he seemed to be able to understand what was being said to him. 

"The plan worked, and the Lieutenant entered the chamber, but the Commander realized that his brother wouldn’t be able to operate the controls due to his altered physical condition and deformed clumsy fingers. Like a flash the commander entered the chamber only to find himself narrowly dodging swipes from the lieutenant’s flailing arms."

"While this was going on, the high-alt chamber operator increased the simulated altitude to 38,000 feet, making the conditions easier for the Lieutenant to tolerate. The Commander on the other hand was reduced to wearing an oxygen mask. 

When the Lieutenant started to settle down, he tried to describe what happened, but he seemed to have no memory of the events. All he could recall was darkness, a feeling of being suffocated, and a need to stay alive until he could find Dr von Essen. 

Just before he took his last breath, Lieutenant Prescott apologized to Miss Francesca for the way things turned out and that he just had to be the first man into space. I think I understand what he meant, and I guess “there will always be men willing to take the risk.” 


And so, viewers, that is all we know so far. It certainly raises more questions: Was an American indeed the first man into space a full two years before the Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin? If so, why wasn’t this feat made known to the world and why has it been kept secret for six decades? Why have there been no more recorded incidents of encounters with the kind of cosmic dust material that affected Lieutenant Prescott and the Y-13 he piloted into space back in 1959? Had plans been made to incorporate such material into the hulls of the first capsule to carry an American astronaut aloft into space, but then abandoned with the success of the first Russian manned mission? Did this influence the eventual development of heat shields for space craft?

This is what programs like Probing the Past seek to do – to ask difficult questions about our cherished beliefs concerning our history in the hope that the answers will provide us with the truth.

Until next week, the is Bill Bannerman wishing you good evening from all of us at Probing the Past where we take one step back into the past and two steps forward into the future….


The micro-meteor encrusted spacesuit costume worn by the Dan Prescott character was so stifling due to its tendency to heat up inside, that it could only be worn for a few minutes at a time. Breathing became a real problem for the actor because of the costume's poor air circulation. It only had small holes cut in its head and face mask section, so the actor could see.

The Y-12 was portrayed by the Bell X-1A, which was carried and launched by a Boeing B-29 Superfortress. The Y-13 was portrayed by a Bell X-2, which was carried and launched by a Boeing B-50 Superfortress. A Redstone rocket launch was also featured.

Location filming for First Man into Space took place near a Brooklyn, New York air base in the US and also in New Mexico. Much of the studio work was shot in a mansion near Hampstead Heath near London while some exterior shots were done in Hampstead itself with additional filming conducted at other British locations.

Bill Edwards, who played pilot Lieut. Dan Prescott had his dialogue synched in post-production because he had difficulty with maintaining an American accent during shooting.

If the plot of First Man into Space seems somewhat derivative, then it comes as no surprise that it was influenced by The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), a far better film and one which is featured in this blog.

Marshall Thompson, who plays Air Force Commander Prescott we have seen in superior sci-fi films such as It! The Terror from Beyond Space, and Fiend Without a Face, both of which are featured in this blog.



Like listening to an old man telling tales of yester-year, 
Whom we tire of hearing tell the same story over again. 
Instead contenting ourselves with myths of heroes and villains, 
And lap up lies that swell our chests with national pride. 

Like a cherry tree from which choicest bits are picked 
To sweeten and satisfy what we hold to be true 
And spit out the pips we cannot chew and swallow 
Lest they cause us to choke on a bitter truth. 

Like a man accused and made to feel shame, 
Standing before a wagging furious feminist finger 
Admonishing him for daring to tell his-story 
Of building, laying siege to and destroying his castles. 

Like parchment paper upon which stories are scribed 
With quills dipped in the blood of innocents, 
Guided by the hands of those who’ve won; 
Blank pages of ignorance left to those who’ve lost. 

Like a random memory that is half-forgotten 
Or half-remembered but just out of reach. 
Connections are quickly lost as the fog rolls in 
And we wonder why we find ourselves standing here. 

©Chris Christopoulos 2018

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