Scientists debated whether robots or humans should explore space. Satellites and transistors were jazzy emblems of postwar technology, and we were about to unravel the secrets of the universe and tame the atom (if it did not kill us first).

Some of the most extravagant of these visions of the future came not from cheap paperbacks, but from corporations buffing their high-tech credentials and recruiting engineering talent in the heady days when zooming budgets for defense and NASA had created a gold rush in outer space.

In the pages of magazines like Aviation Week, Missiles and Rockets and even Fortune, companies, some famous and some now obscure, were engaged in a sort of leapfrog of dreams. And so, for example, Republic Aviation of Farmingdale, N.Y. — “Designers and Builders of the Incomparable Thundercraft” — could be found bragging in Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine in 1959 about the lunar gardening experiments it was doing for a future Air Force base on the moon.

Or the American Bosch Arma Corporation showing off, in Fortune, its “Cosmic Butterfly,” a solar-powered electrically propelled vehicle to ferry passengers and cargo across the solar system.

Most Americans never saw these concoctions, but now they have been collected and dissected by Megan Prelinger, an independent historian and space buff, in a new book, “Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962.” It is being published on May 25 by Blast Books.

Ms. Prelinger and her husband, Rick, operate the Prelinger Library, a private research library in San Francisco with a heavy emphasis on media, technology and landscape history.

In an e-mail message, Ms. Prelinger said she had grown up “on a cultural diet of science fiction and space,” memories of the moon landings and “Star Trek” merging in her mind. “As a result,” she said, “I grew up believing that I was a junior member of an advanced technological society.”

The book, she said, was inspired by a shipment of old publications to the library, including Aviation Week & Space Technology and Missiles and Rockets. “I little expected that the advertising in their pages would seize my attention more than the articles themselves,” she writes in the introduction to her book.

The ads are chock-full of modernist energy and rich in iconography in ways Ms. Prelinger is happy to elaborate on.

The late ’50s were also the years of the Organization Man. The cover illustration, from an insurance ad, shows a man in a gray flannel suit who is a dead ringer for the existentially confused Don Draper of “Mad Men,” floating alarmed and bewildered among the planets and stars. Time and again, the mountains and valleys of the moon, for example, are portrayed as if they were the mountains, canyons and deserts of the American West, making the space program just another chapter in the ongoing narrative of Manifest Destiny.

In one illustration, the hands of God and Adam from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling have been transformed into a giant pair of space gloves reaching for each other. In another, the silhouette of a spaceship forms a cross.

“These images suggest that the furthest reach of what humankind hoped to find in space was in fact the very essence of infinity,” Ms. Prelinger writes.

Leafing through this book is a walk down my own memory lane. I grew up in Seattle, which was a one-company town dominated by Boeing. Almost everybody worked there sooner or later. My best friend’s father helped design the Saturn V rocket that lifted humans to the moon. After limping out of M.I.T. with a physics degree in the late ’60s, I, too, worked there for a year, playing a kind of space war — shooting high-speed aluminum balls at sheets of aluminum arrayed to simulate the structures of aircraft or spacecraft, to see what the damage would be under various conditions. At the end of the day, my desk was buried in piles of sharp dented and charred sheets of aluminum. I had to count all the holes.

It’s hard to know what to be more nostalgic about, all those childhood dreams of space opera or the optimism of an era in which imagination and technology were booming and every other ad ended with a pitch to come work for the thriving company of the future. “To advance yourself professionally, you should become a member of one these teams. Write to N. M. Pagan,” reads a typical notice from the Martin Company, now part of Lockheed Martin.

You don’t hear that much these days.