Von Braun’s Smallest Rocket

What’s that on Von Braun’s desk? A Hugo, answers G. Patrick Molloy.

Through May the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville is presenting “100 Years of Von Braun: His American Journey”. It includes a re-creation of Werhner Von Braun’s office with all the souvenirs, models photos and knick-knacks that used to festoon the place.

And a Hugo.

This is not an award Von Braun received in his lifetime. Rather it is the Retro Hugo for Best Related Book voted to Conquest of the Moon by Werhner von Braun, Fred Whipple, and Willy Ley in 2004. Molloy, due his connection with NASA, took responsibility for finding a proper home for the award. He got the Von Braun archive to accept it. Since then, the Hugo rocket has been exhibited several times together with other things the scientist once owned.

[Thanks to G. Patrick Molloy and Andrew Porter for the story.]

Listing to the Other Side

The Long List of Hugo Awards site has restored to full Hugo status the 1953 awards given to Forry Ackerman and Willy Ley, the 1956 awards to Ley and Damon Knight, and the 1958 award to Walt Willis. The corrections have been made without public explanation.

It was only this year that the reclassification of the Hugos as “Special Awards” by the FOLLE committee in 2003-2004 came to light and became a source of controversy.  I happened to notice the changes today while researching a post, and I know they are recent because I checked the site before I wrote about the matter in the current File 770.

Ackerman’s Hugo

Forry Ackerman stopped being the winner of the first Hugo Award again the other day. And not in nearly so nice a way as he did originally.

History records that immediately after he was handed the very first Hugo Award as #1 Fan Personality at the 1953 Worldcon, Ackerman declined it in favor of Ken Slater and abandoned the little rocket-shaped trophy on stage to be forwarded to Britain. This was acknowledged a magnificent gesture by everyone — except Forry’s wife, Wendayne, and about that, more in a moment.

Now Forry has been deprived of his Hugo in a whole new way. Rich Lynch complained to a Southern Fandom listserv on February 9 that The Long List of Hugo Awards was changed to show Ackerman’s #1 Fan Personality honor (and Willy Ley’s for Excellence in Fact Articles, too) as being only Committee Awards. Reportedly, the Formalization of Long List Entries (FOLLE) Committee, a panel of a few fans selected by the Worldcon business meeting to vet its institutional history, has decided for some undisclosed reason that the Ackerman and Ley awards were not voted by the membership, as were other Hugos, just picked by the Philcon committee.

Was the winner of the #1 Fan Personality category determined in the same manner as the pro categories, by ballot, or not? Well, Wendayne Ackerman thought so. Forry’s article says that right after he turned it down “Wendy was furious. She said, ‘What have you done, Forry? You’ve insulted the entire convention! They voted this to you — how could you give it away??'” Harry Warner Jr., seems convinced that all the winners were voted upon because (1) he makes inferences about the unpublished results of the vote (see Wealth of Fable, page 369), and (2) draws no distinction between #1 Fan Personality and the other Hugos. Seeming to clinch the argument, Rich Lynch added to the online discussion that Bob Madle confirms both the Ackerman and Ley Hugos were voted by members.

I opened my copy of Isaac Asimov’s The Hugo Winners Volumes I & II to see whether the Good Doctor shed any light on the subject. He did, but not at the very beginning of Volume I where I expected it. Asimov’s collection of Hugo-winning short fiction only begins in 1955 — for the simple reason that there were no short fiction Hugo awards given in 1953. (Warner speculates that a lack of votes led the committee not to name a winner in some categories.)

The Appendix to Asimov’s Volume I names all the Hugo winners through 1961 based on a list compiled by Ed Wood. Ackerman’s Hugo appears first on that list. Fan historiographers know Ed Wood was a fellow with strong opinions about the subject which he never hesitated to share. Nor should it be overlooked that it was Asimov himself who presided over the 1953 ceremony and personally handed Ackerman the award. That the list in The Hugo Winners names Ackerman without further comment inclines me to treat Wood and Asimov as two more votes in favor of the proposition that what Ackerman won was a Hugo.

It happens that, decades later, Ackerman secured the return of the trophy so it could be added to his collection, having asked Slater whether he had plans for the award when he passed on. It is one of the things remaining in the estate and its fate is still being decided. Lynch seems to think that news somehow led the FOLLE committee to take up the question at this time.

Postscript: Really, the most peculiar thing about this example of FOLLE revisionism is the committee’s failure to fully extrapolate the logical implications of its own idea. (That sound you hear is John W. Campbell, Jr. spinning in his grave). Ackerman’s gesture in declining the first Hugo didn’t prevent a whole succession of editors of the Long List from recording him as its winner, with never a reference to Slater. That is the appropriate decision for a subject determined by vote of the membership because the winner is a computational fact, no matter what the winner does with the hardware. But accepting for discussion’s sake that the committee picked the winner of this award… Well, after Ackerman turned it down the committee did send Slater the award. It’s Slater that the committee gave the #1 Fan Personality trophy to in the end.

How Tall Is The Hugo?

Nippon 2007 Ultraman Hugo base

How tall is the Hugo rocket? As a matter of fact, a chrome Hugo rocket is thirteen inches tall. But what I am really asking you to do is put your imagination to work, then tell me: What sized rocket do you think the Hugo is modeled on?

John Hertz and I came up with this question while we were discussing the spate of silly controversies that plagued Nippon 2007’s Hugo Awards. The last one was about the Hugo Award base. From all the griping you’d think the Japanese superhero Ultraman practically dwarfed the Hugo rocket.

A lot of fans thought it was perfectly fine for a Japanese Worldcon to honor an icon from its country’s sf tradition. But for or against, all fans seemed to take for granted that the figure of Ultraman was exaggerated. No one ever asked whether Ultraman and the rocket might, in fact, be in proper proportion to one another, or how to find that answer.

Ultraman is supposed to be 130 feet tall. Just how big do we conceive the Hugo rocket to be?

In the popular imagination the hypothetical, life-sized Hugo rocket has taken on mythic proportions with the passing years.

Trylon and PerisphereTo honor the 50th anniversary of the first Worldcon, the 1989 Hugo Award base took inspiration from the signature buildings of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the Trylon and Perisphere. Connected to the Trylon, which stood 700 feet tall, by what was at the time the world’s longest escalator, was the Perisphere, 180 feet in diameter. So in the 1989 base design the Hugo rocket stood in for a 700-foot-tall tower.

Three years later, Phil Tortoricci designed the 1992 Hugos, with special gold-plated rockets on his beautifully-made bases. He hand-painted an astronomical scene on each black stone backdrop. The rockets rested on little squares of orange grating from the original Pad 29 where America’s first satellite was launched. That was the Explorer-1 satellite launched on a multi-stage Jupiter-C rocket in 1958. I’m sure that by 1992 fans were used to seeing historic footage of missions launched with the huge Saturn V rocket, 363 feet tall (shorter than the Trylon, but still mighty big.) In fact, the rocket that launched our first satellite was just 71 feet tall – something Ultraman actually could tower over!

The fairest measure of the relative size of Ultraman and the Hugo rocket can be found by identifying the rocket ship that inspired the Hugo design.

The official Hugo Awards site says, “The earliest Hugo Award trophies used a rocket hood ornament from a 1950s American automobile…” Hopefully that will soon be corrected –accurate information is already posted elsehwere on the same site about Jack McKnight’s role in manufacturing the first Hugos.

Jack McKnight's Hugo rocketMilton Rothman, chair of the 1953 Philadelphia Worldcon that invented the Hugo Awards, said in his article for the Noreascon Program Book that they had a lot of trouble finding someone to make the Hugo rockets. “It was Jack McKnight who came to the rescue. An expert machinist, he turned the little rockets out of stainless steel in his own shop, learning to his dismay that soldering stainless steel fins was a new art. While doing this, poor Jack missed the whole convention, but turned up just in time for the banquet and the presentation.”

The use of hood ornaments wasn’t proposed until the Hugos (which missed a year) were revived in 1955 by the Cleveland Worldcon committee. They hoped Jack McKnight would make their Hugo rockets, too, but their letters brought no replies. Nick Falasca asked, couldn’t they simply use Oldsmobile “Rocket 88” model hood ornaments? They ordered one of the ornaments from the local dealer. Unfortunately, the rocket had a hollow underside; hood ornaments did not prove to be a cheap and easy solution after all. Instead, Ben Jason had the Hoffman Bronze Co. prepare a pattern rocket from his design, and that rocket does bear a resemblance to the 88 logo from the trunk lid of a 1955 Oldsmobile “Rocket 88.” That’s the Hugo rocket shape in use to this day.

Conquest of SpaceMilton Rothman said Jack McKnight’s original stubby-winged 1953 Hugo rocket was inspired by Willy Ley. Presumably he meant the cover of Ley’s 1949 book, The Conquest of Space. The original Hugo rocket looked more or less like the Moon rocket Chesley Bonestell painted for the cover of Ley’s book. The general impression is of a rocket about the same size as used in the 1950 movie Destination Moon, for which Bonestell also did the matte and scene paintings. We know that the Luna, flown in Destination Moon, was 45 meters or 150 feet tall. (Bonestell’s image has never ceased to fascinate Hugo designers: the cinematic Moonscape of the 1996 Hugo base, with Hugo rocket in the foreground, pays homage to Destination Moon.)

In the end, the fairest and most logical answer is that our hypothetical Hugo is the same size as Destination Moon’s Luna, 150 feet tall. That makes the Hugo similar in size to the legendary Ultraman, and allows us to conclude the Nippon 2007 base shows the two images in proper proportion. Case closed.

That gives us about a week to get ready for this year’s Hugo controversies…