Frankie Thomas - Tom Corbett Space Cadet
April 9, 1921 - May 11, 2006
NOSTALGIC FOR THE FUTURE
You may not recognize the name Steve Robinson. He's an astronaut. He is one of the elite few to have walked in space. On the last Space Shuttle mission, Robinson carried a "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" lunchbox into orbit with him. Such is the generation-spanning influence of Frankie Thomas, TV's legendary Tom Corbett.
Before "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "E.T." and "Alien," when the name Spock indicated a pediatrician, not a pointy-eared Vulcan, programs such as "Space Cadet," "Space Patrol" and "Rocky Jones" pioneered a path to a glowing tomorrow, where the virtuous were clearly discernable from the evil. Men of science were heroes existing in a better future, a future that just might become reality if we rolled up our sleeves, worked hard and ignored the naysayers.
Naive? As these shows were airing, the Nazi Reich and the Empire of Japan had only recently been vanquished and a polio cure was just around the corner. Frankie and his fellow space pioneers appeared at a unique juncture in American history, an all-too-brief moment when we really did believe that we could accomplish anything. Benevolent science would spur new exploration that would benefit all mankind, not just the rich and powerful. So why not a diverse legion of altruistic explorers in spangled uniforms and gleaming ships, traveling the galaxies to preserve freedom and interplanetary concord? It could happen. Someday. Somehow. Not all the dreams came true. Does that make them wrong or the dreamers foolish?
As sad as Frankie's passing is, it's nearly as disheartening to realize that today many kids are unable to experience the bracing enthusiasm for the future that fueled shows such as "Space Cadet," "Space Patrol," "Rocky Jones" and others. Today's youth play video games that replicate the experience of gunning down a hooker with an assault rifle. Enthusiasm, determination and a once-stubborn streak of optimism have been supplanted by resignation and irony.
The virtues embodied by Frankie, Ed Kemmer, and Richard Crane abrogate irony and resignation. Their characters dared to believe. They believed that science was good and certain to improve the quality of our lives, that members of disparate alien societies could live in harmony, that the future would be better, that the new peace was worth defending against those who would corrupt this lofty prognostication.
We make the future; it doesn't just happen to us. To dream is a good thing. Astronaut Steve Robinson evidently realizes this. It is heartening to learn that someone from a generation younger than the original "Space Cadets" continues to dream and explore and wonder. I hope that Frankie was aware of his gesture, and interpreted it as a sign that the wonder lives on.
Spaceman's luck, Frankie,