In 1953, Ward Kimball showed Walt six articles from Collier’s magazine that had been penned by scientist Wernher von Braun, Willy Ley, and others, and introduced a plan for a fully functioning space program. Walt was enthusiastic about the idea and contacted Wernher bon Braun and asked to meet with him.
Von Braun was a brilliant scientist who worked with the nazis during WWII to develop the V2 rockets. Nevertheless he was not sympathetic to “Hitler’s war” and at one point was arrested by the gestapo for suggesting that rockets could be used peacefully to colonize the moon and other planets. After the war, he emigrated to the US and became one of the most influential members of the space program.
Walt asked von Braun to act as technical advisor to a special program he was deciding for the Disneyland TV series and von Braun excitedly agreed.
Knowing that Ward Kimball was highly interested in all things space, Walt asked him to produce and direct the coming space episode. Charles Shows would write the script.
They spent weeks on the project, researching and writing until finally they showed Walt a finished product for what they planned on calling “Man in Space.” It would begin a thousand years in the past where ancient Chinese invent the first rockets then travel ahead into the future where man develops space stations and astronauts explore the moon and mars.
When they finished, Walt didn’t speak for several moments. “You know, boys,” he said finally, “you don’t have a story here.”
Kimball and Shows felt their hearts drop into their stomachs. “We don’t have a story?” Shows asked.
“You have three stories,” Walt insisted. “Three different episodes. The first should be called ‘Man in Space,’ about the development of rockets and manned spaceflight. The second should be on how to put the first men on the moon. We’ll call it ‘Tomorrow the Moon.’ The third will be on Mars and the search for life beyond the Earth. We’ll call it ‘Mars and Beyond.'”
The episodes went on to become so influential that Dwight Eisenhower even requested copies of it to show his staff.
Walt was an optimist and a futurist. He not only dreamed of the future, he did everything to make it happen.
Growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s/80s we visited Disneyland on a regular basis and often after school, before "Annual Passes".