Four years before the Soviet Union's Luna 2 reached the surface of the Moon, and fourteen years ahead of the crewed Apollo 11 mission, Walt Disney introduced audiences to deep space exploration with a trio of fantastic space-themed featurettes.
Disney's motive for producing these "science factual" programs was two-fold. The first was to promote Tomorrowland — one of the four major sections of the Disneyland theme park in California. The second was to use the novel medium of television to illustrate "how high man might fly on the strength of technology and the spirit of human imagination." The objective, Disney said, was to combine "the tools of our trade with the knowledge of the scientists to give a factual picture of the latest plans for man's newest adventure."
The first program in the series, Man In Space, aired in March of 1955. Later that year, Man and the Moon was televised to homes all around the United States. Featured up top is Mars and Beyond, the third installment, which aired two years later in December, 1957.
All three are definitely worth watching, but Mars and Beyond really stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of raw futuristic content. The 52-minute segment explores ideas from science fiction giants like H.G. Wells, discusses the feasibility of humans inhabiting planets throughout the solar system, and even considers the possibility of alien life on Mars — all with animations unlike any Disney film you've ever seen.
Read more about Disney's retrofuturistic visions of the future and their influence on space exploration over at NASA.