Future Past

Space: 1999

Video phone and touch panel interface.

When I was a kid I loved watching the 1970’s tv show Space: 1999. For some reason it was only on around 11 or 12 at night, and so I had to stay up late, which gave watching it a kind of other-worldly experience. A few months ago Sean Adams did a great post on the show’s fashions and interiors — and I’ve been meaning, since then, to post something on the show’s computer interactions.

Watching it now, it’s fascinating to see the way that they use “Computer” — the master system that ran all of aspects of the moonbase. Computer was everywhere, and much of show, especially the command center, has the feeling of being set inside a computer lab. Strongly influenced by computer hardware designs of the 70’s, the sets have walls covered by rack-mounted, bold and colorful, units.

Actual DEC computers from 1970s.

The show’s details of actual interactivity are pretty low-tech. When Computer needs to output information it’s mostly via paper-tape printouts or blinking lights. The displays are primarily used for video communication or alert messages — almost never are they shown as interactive. And the ubiquitous Commlocks that everyone carried had pretty limited functionality.

Still, the degree to which computers were integrated into the environment was pretty cool. Especially in the 70’s, when access to access to computers was on the verge of become part of the popular culture. The show presented a world where people used technology for everything they did. In a way it was a prettv accurate vision — all we need now are the cleanrooms and some more space travel.

For more information, check out The Continuity Guide, which has a detailed analysis of the systems in the show.

Output via paper tape.
More paper output.
Looks complicated with lots of buttons.
Computer display/projection.
Joysticks to remote-pilot a space craft.