During my childhood, back in ancient times, science fiction was my reading material of choice. Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark and Robert Heinlein were first among the pantheon of science fiction writers in those days.
One of the best was Robert A. Heinlein’s 1949 story “The Man who Sold the Moon”. A brilliant American businessman (today we would say entrepreneur, then Heinlien called him a robber baron) devoted his vast wealth to building a moon rocket. Think Elon Musk but with Bill Gate’s fortune and Donald Trump’s ethics. Of course he succeeded, despite of all the difficulties, including the roadblocks set up by the government. At the end of the story Harriman famously tells his best friend: “I would cheat, lie, steal, beg, bribe — do anything to accomplish what we have accomplished”.
Where is Delos D. Harriman today? We sure could use him. “We” being all those folks who really really really want to humanity off this planet in a significant way. And maybe not depending on the vagaries of politics and politicians.
I spent too much time out in the soggy weather in Houston this afternoon at the memorial grove for fallen astronauts. It was a sorry day to have an outdoor ceremony, but there was a big crowd despite the cold and damp. There was a similar ceremony up at the Arlington National Cemetery, and another one at the Astronaut Memorial mirror at KSC, and other places, too. The weather may have been better there, but I doubt that the mood was different.
The price has been paid, we need to get on to Mars an the other places.
Heinlein had Stevenson’s famous poem “Requiem” inscribed over Harriman’s lunar grave:
“Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will!
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”
I believe Heinlein captured a better thought in his own words in another story, although the critics would probably say the poetry is worse:
“We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.”
If these somber thoughts are not enough to end this dreary January day, I leave you with the words of the plaque affixed to Launch Complex 34, which I visited two days ago:
“Friday, 27 January 1967
Dedicated to the living memory of the crew of the Apollo 1
U.S.A.F. Lt. Colonel Virgil I. Grissom
U.S.A.F. Lt. Colonel Edward H. White, II
U.S.N. Lt. Commander Roger B. Chaffee
They gave their lives in service to their country in the ongoing exploration of humankind’s final frontier. Remember them not for how they died but for those ideals for which they lived.”