Where is Delos D. Harriman when we need him?

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

       1831 Hours


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.”


15 thoughts on “Where is Delos D. Harriman when we need him?”

  1. Wayne, as a Crew Interface Coordinator at MSFC in 1992, I read the Heinlein poem you quoted to the STS-47 (Spacelab-J) crew during their flight. I don’t know if they recognized that it was from a Heinline book (The Green Grass of Home, as I recall, about a blinded starship engineer) but it tickled me to read my childhood hero’s words into space.

    I knew most of the Challenger crew and I know they’d be a bit stressed on what is happening right now. Nonetheless, you and all the folks at NASA (and her contractors) honor them with your work and dedication. The same is true for the Apollo I and Columbia crews. Those who have gone before can only be truly honored by what we do, not what we say or the tears we shed.

    The use of commercial rockets to service LEO is just fine but we do need to keep NASA’s goal of a lab on the moon (much like the South Pole Station) so that engineers know what they need to build and scientists know where we are going. Keep fighting the good fight, buddy. You are not alone. We are not afraid.

    Homer Hickam

  2. “Ad Astra Per Aspera”

    I wish I could post the photo, but everyone who watches “Armageddon” has seen it…

    That wasn’t rain, Wayne. It was tears.

  3. The poem quottation is from one of Heinlein’s novellas – “The Green Hills of Earth”.

    I, too, agree that while private transportation to LEO would be nice, I LOVE the Orion approach – especially landers equipped for a 30 day stay. That way, we can get some REAL work while we are there.

  4. Very painful … We render deserved honors, is a minimum we can do. Safety in flight is really something extremely important in space exploration, which is, by nature, an activity of extreme danger. Let us work for warehouses safer. I believe that a propulsion system that eliminates combustion is a significant advance. Now it’s time for change. That NASA go to these heroes become even more significant because they are few.

  5. Your comments are thought provoking, sad, and encouraging. We must trudge on and do what is best for not only the U.S. but also humanity. The longer we wait, the less we can rely on those who have experience from the past programs.

  6. Somber words on a somber day. We honor these men and women best by moving forward; let us hope we have the will to do so.

  7. Dear Mr. Hale,
    thank you very much for all your inspiring blog posts. It is always a pleasure to read, and it always gives me renewed confidence when looking to the future of human space flight.

    I am glad you mentioned the fallen heroes rememberance day. There is one thing that puzzles me a little about this ceremony. I don’t understand why NASA never mentions Mike Adams, who lost his life during the ill-fated X-15A-3 flight, among the crews of Apollo 1, STS 51-L and STS 107. It was a spaceflight after all, and major Adams is being recognized as an astronaut nowadays, among other X-15 pilots.

    I think he would also deserve to be remembered this day.

    Ondrej Spinka

  8. I am appalled by the decision of the U.S. government.
    Suspension of funding development of space exploration and NASA plans landing on the moon and Mars. Human Space flight is a human right to learn. Nobody has the right to deprive people the right to know. NASA should return to the national societies for assistance in the implementation of the flights on the moon and Mars as an ordinary person, I will give part of my income to support NASA projects so because they have the whole of humanity
    People who think like me, is enough to set up foundations to support NASA activities

  9. Wayne

    I missed the memorial. Wish I’d not been so forgetful: We can’t forget what these men and women have done for both the Country and humankind.

    And, I agree: Heinlein had it right when he created Harriman: We need a commercial entrepreneur with that sort of drive, right about now.

    I’m of mixed emotion about the announced budget. I am looking forward to what you can get the commercial guys to accomplish for the Country.

    Gerry Creager

  10. Wayne,

    A day of remembrance for lost astronauts is hardly a day for burying a space program, but the Federal Budget does not wait for any man or women.

    Many people will see the cancellation as Democrats killing off the Republican initiated Constellation program never mind the merits of the decision.

    As Wayne has often noted, with no ongoing program, critical skills will be lost. As Norm Augustine said, you look at your figures of merit than apply professional judgement. While NASA is developing performance standards for spacecraft on which it is prepared to send its payloads and astronauts, will there be room for professional judgement when figures of merit are reviewed?? I note it is difficult to write appropriate performance standards for plastic and metal pipes, never mind a whole spacecraft.

    Its hard to see much American research being done on the ISS without an American delivery vehicle. This is one botched program. 10 years is hardly a long time for effective ISS use. It is hard to see another ISS built in the next 15 years. Lets hope ISS lasts till 2030.

    I would like to think that with President Obama visiting Australia in the next we months that we would sign up to be an effective international partner in space exploration. Alas, with no men or women of science or engineering in our Parliament, earth based telescopes are about as close as we will get to a space program.

  11. I haven’t heard very much about the new budget except a news brief thdat said we would support the space station and commercial launch capability. This seems to me to mean that we will abandon our premier efforts with Aries which will lead to the destruction of our capability to lead and even to support space exploration in the near future. This includes near and far earth manned missions. Forget about the moon and mars seems to be the plan. I had hoped that Goldin would be a posiitive influence.He has cancelled his news connference on the budget and instead opted for a telecon with reporters questions today, This means to me he is afraid of the firestorm which would greet any comments about the effects of the new budget on NASA.
    It seems to me that the infrastructure NASA haas built is about to be canned. How many wioll ose their jobs this year next year and after the last shuttle takes off ?
    This is a sad day for \
    America. By the way, I don’t think Augustine’s work was worth the ink it was printed on.
    Good luch to you and thanks for your hade and excellent work with NASA. George Lehne

  12. Hi Mr. Hayle,

    Can you tell us what you know about the HL-20? It sounds like this is one of “space taxi” proposals. It seems tp be a pretty cool idea.


  13. For the last 12 years I have driven around in my car which has the legally registered number plate NASA. Why. I have no actual connection with NASA other than knowing an existing Astronaut through mutual friends but felt the need 12 years ago to express to others how important NASA and human spaceflight is to me and why it should be important to others. Its often been a conversation starting point. The cancellation of the Constellation Program is a devastating blow to me. Its good the ISS has been extended and I have no issue with commercial crew to the ISS providing they can do it safely enough but to consign, yet again, another generation to some new now vague goal of exploration, with no timetable or specific location to land is just wrong, bad policy and flawed. I hope somehow in 15 years time the ISS is still flying, with routine commercial crew and cargo and the hardware to get us back to the Moon and then Mars is built or being built. I seriously doubt now that will be the case.

  14. Friday, January 27th, 1967. Early evening in Riverhead, New York. Following a CBS News Special Report.

    “Danny, do you still want to be an astronaut?”
    “yes, mom”

    The Dream Is Alive.

  15. The President’s new direction for manned space flight is a slap in the face to these brave heros. The director states that NASA’s new budget will inspire America’s youth. My fifth graders were anything but inspired when they heard we had cancelled the Constelaation program. Many of them said the President and his advisors need to pick up a history book and read about what happened to Spain and England when they put exploration on the back burner. President Obama a 127 percent return on the Apollo program put a lot of Americans to work.

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