Who Invented The Countdown?
Answer: A Filmmaker
It would be easy to assume that the countdown came in with the space race or perhaps the tradition of dropping the New Year’s Eve Ball in Times Square, but we have a movie maker to thank for introducing the world to the countdown.
In his 1929 work Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon)—one of the first sci-fi films—filmmaker Fritz Lang wanted to add a little extra suspense to the rocket launch sequence in the movie. Rather than count from one to ten seconds to mark the launch of the rocket, he used a reverse count—the countdown—to move from ten seconds down to one. The simple reversal proved to be a hit and soon the reverse countdown was in use for everything from actual rocket tests to radio publicity events.
What’s particularly interesting about the film is that it not only introduced the countdown but, due to how closely Lang consulted with actual scientists while producing the film, it proved very prescient. Many of the features that would appear in actual spacecraft made an appearance in his work. The rocket in the film had multiple stages, for example, and the rocket interior had foot straps for the astronauts to hook their feet into to avoid floating around.