Was Rod Serling scientifically illiterate...

…or did he just figure that it would be easier to simply presume his audience was?

I’m currently binging The Twilight Zone on Netflix. In some of the episodes, we’ve got astronauts who land (or crash-land) on what they either believe is, or actually is, an “asteroid.” Yet they never question either the breathable atmosphere or the Earth-consistent gravity.

I’ma spoiler the rest in the next post.

So here’s the rest of my OP, spoilered, for people who haven’t seen the series:

[spoiler]In “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air,” the astronauts themselves are particularly culpable. Granted, they don’t know where they are. But to suppose that an asteroid is capable of either retaining a nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere, or could be massive enough to have Earth-like gravity (what elements would need to comprise the asteroid in order for it to be both massive enough and have a small enough diameter for an Earth-like gravitational field? How could such elements be stable enough to not kill them outright with radiation exposure?) betray an ignorance of high school-level science such that the three surviving members of the crew shouldn’t have even been within a hundred miles of the spacecraft at liftoff from Cape Canaveral (or Goddard Field), much less in charge of the whole expedition. And what’s the deal with sending an eight-man crew out on NASA’s very first manned mission?

In “Elegy” we’re told (by Wickwire) that Happy Glades actually IS an asteroid, which is a preposterous assertion on its face (for a similar set of reasons that the crew of Arrow One had for NOT assuming that they were on an asteroid, the idiots).[/spoiler]

I recognize that Serling didn’t conceive of either of these plots (although I know that he wrote the teleplay for at least one of them). But, as executive producer/creator, shouldn’t he have had script approval authority?

So, was he ignorant on his own terms, or just lazily (and apparently with justification) assuming he could get away with it?

it’s just a TV show you have to make some conceits

you’re thinking too much about it

I don’t mean to sound snarky, but scientific literalism was never a top priority in the* Twilight Zone*. The writers had a story to tell (and usually a point to beat you over the head with) and that’s what mattered.

Spoilering a 60 year old TV show seems excessive. Heinlein who wasn’t Scientifically Illiterate was still writing about life on Mars & Venus when he already knew better. It just didn’t get in the way of a good story back then.

Also, yes, most viewers back then would have been ignorant of if asteroids can hold an atmosphere. They glossed over science all the time in the Twilight Zone and most SciFi until 2001 Space Odyssey at least.

The Twilight Zone obviously wasn’t hard sf. It was a fantasy show that revolved around “sting in the tail” twists. Serling wrote a lot of the output himself, including this episode( the idea came from someone else from a dinner party conversation ). His own degree was in literature and I would say that there is zero indication that he was even remotely interested in scientific literacy in terms of the show.

FWIW, Rod Serling narrated a documentary of “ancient astronauts” for Xerox Films.


Of course ancient astronauts is one of the most easily debunked nonsense “theories” out there. On the other hand, it could’ve just been a paycheck for Serling.

This is more of the same IIRC.

Unless I miss my guess, every Twilight Zone episode was actually filmed on Earth. Barring a very large budget and/or technology that may not even have been available at the time, every planet or asteroid is going to necessarily have an Earth-like gravity.

Like others have said, scientific accuracy was never the point of the anthology. That doesn’t mean Serling was scientifically illiterate; It’s just the way he chose to tell his stories.

I guessed the episode when you spoilered it.

But first of all, “accuracy” was not a concern before the internet allowed easy lookup of facts for nitpickers
And the point of the episode was the irony, not a science lesson.

I think you’re being a little hard on Serling. He created TZ to tell stories he couldn’t get away with on conventional dramatic television; the SF trappings in some episodes are just window dressing.

Calling him “scientifically illiterate” is a bit of an overstatement. I’d say his knowledge of outer space was typical of an educated person at the time who wasn’t an astronomy buff or SF fan.

If you’re wondering how he eats or breathes
Or other science facts
Just repeat to yourself it’s just a show
I should really just relax.

If I understand correctly, the OP’s objection was not that the show didn’t depict lower gravity. It’s that astronauts should have instantly known, based on the level of gravity they felt, whether they were on an Earth-sized planet or a much smaller asteroid; and that they didn’t was a massive plot hole, albeit one that requires a certain amount of scientific literacy to see.

^^^^That.^^^^

Repeat to yourself, over and over:
"It’s just a show, you should really just relax."

It was a much different time. In the 1950’s, no human had been in space, and until 1957, there were no artificial satellites. Science fiction was a relatively new genre, and movies made no attempt to be scientifically accurate until 2001 came along. So Serling could get by with minimal (i.e., no) knowledge of astro-physics and still have an entertaining TV show. That’s all it was.

But if they had realized that immediately, there wouldn’t be a story.

Maybe he should have set it further in the future and made them interstellar explorers, or have them be inter-dimensional travelers.

Normal gravity, whether on another planet, an asteroid, or a spaceship, is one of the most common conceits in SF film and TV, right up there with sound in the vacuum of space and aliens that look mostly human.

The last part is ironic when considering how alien the Martians were in War of the Worlds. Some of the earliest aliens described in Sci-Fi. A little earlier the Selenites of First Men in the Moon were also not too human, those these were insectoid bipeds that were better suited to actors in costumes.

Over 30 years old as a genre, not counting Verne and Wells.
But Twilight Zone was no worse than The Martian Chronicles. This used the Planet Stories model of Mars - but even Clarke had Mars with an atmosphere in the early '50s.

As far as accuracy goes, Destination Moon (with Heinlein as science advisor) did a pretty good job for the very early '50s.

If you want something twice as bad as any of these, try Flash Gordon from the very early 1950s filmed in West Berlin. The writers had no clue as to the difference between a solar system and a galaxy, and how long it would take to get to planets outside the solar system. Made Rocky Jones look like 2001.

The same level of science idiocy is found in 99.5% of all other SF TV and movies ever made.