Rocket Flight to the Moon, a film also known as Spaceship Number I Starts (Weltraumschiff I Startet), was made in 1938 by the Bavaria Film-Kunst. Since the Germans cancelled most of their science fiction films once the war began, the film that remains is only a short, 23-minute remnant, edited from scenes already filmed.
One has the impression that the special effects were filmed before the live action and, with the exception of a handful of live-action scenes, that is all the further the film ever got. The effects were eventually absorbed into a German-made documentary called The History of Rocketry.
In the surviving film, after an historical overview of the history of rocketry featuring some rare footage of early German experimenters, a five-man crew boards an enormous art-moderne spaceship, which is then shown taking off along a horizontal track, leaving its wheeled undercarriage behind at the end.
It's a spectacular take-off scene rivaled only by the launch of the Space Ark in When Worlds Collide. A trip to the moon is made, closely observed by telescopes all over the world, including a fictional giant instrument on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. There is a close approach to the surface (!—the spaceship swoops to within a few feet of the lunar craters) and a dramatic gliding return into he earth’s atmosphere.
Director Anton Kutter (above)
The bullet-shaped, stubby-winged model spaceship constructed for the film was a half meter long. Spaceship Number l Starts was directed by Anton Kutter, with technical advice from engineer Fritz Beck. The strikingly realistic spaceflight effects were the best done up to that time and hold their own quite well against anything done up to the 1960s, including the Oscar-winning effects of Destination Moon (1950).
While the film itself has been rarely seen, its impressive effects footage was used in countless children's programs and TV series during the 1950s. One of these appearances was in The Space Explorers a series of education films created by New York's Hayden Planetarium. The series, which followed the adventurers of young boy and the crew of the Polaris II in their search for the boy's missing father, the commander of Polaris I. The Space Explorers was syndicated nationally for nearly a decade.
Inspired by the series, Fantastic Planet has created an impressive model kit of the German spaceship.
Video provided courtesy of the Hermann-Oberth-Raumfahrt-Museum