Atlas Obscura thinks Fritz Lang may have invented rocket countdowns

Life imitates art, but rarely does art have the chance to define the hallmark of a totally unrelated field. For an example of when a film managed to capture the public imagination that strongly, read Cara Giaimo’s article for Atlas Obscura about how German director Fritz Lang essentially popularized the basic ideas of space travel.

Giaimo ties Lang’s 1929 silent film Woman in the Moon to the booming popularity of rocketry in post-World War II Germany. Lang worked with a rocket scientist through the film’s production to depict space travel as realistically as possible, often making up concepts as needed. A number of their hypothetical inventions, like a multi-stage engine, have become standard in space travel.

But their biggest artistic license was the use of a countdown before a rocket launch. That was entirely a filmmaking technique to build tension in the absence of sound, but it was so effective that it immediately became part of the popular imagination. The next time you watch any sort of space launch, remember that we have Fritz Lang to thank, accidentally, for that countdown from ten.

Woman in the Moon so accurately predicted the future of rocketry that Hitler reportedly banned the film during Germany’s development of the V-2 rocket. We have no idea if that’s true, but you can certainly watch it now. Borrow our DVD copy at the Media Services desk (HU DVD 1285).

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