Dr. Wernher von Braun
Project MARS: A Technical Tale
A fiery chariot, borne on buoyant pinions,
Sweeps near me now! I soon shall ready be
To pierce the ether's high, unknown dominions,
To reach new spheres of pure activity!
This godlike rapture, this supreme existence,
Do I, but now a worm, deserve to track?
Yes, resolute to reach some brighter distance,
On Earth's fair Sun I turn my back!
Yes, let me dare those gates to fling asunder,
Which every man would fain go slinking by!
T is time, through deeds this word of truth to thunder:
That with the height of Gods Man's dignity may vie!
Mankind's love affair with the planet Mars is certainly not new.
It has long been recognized that Mars is the planet in our solar system most capable of supporting life.
Until the 1970s, the existence of life on Mars remained an open question. We know today that there are no civilizations on Mars, but in 1949, when this story was written, the possibility had not yet been ruled out. In this story by Wernher von Braun, Mars has an underground civilization which is more or less on par with our own. And it is a peaceful civilization, neither bent on conquest nor paranoid about being attacked. In this story of man's first human mission to Mars, ten space ships make the journey. Upwards of 1,000 flights into Earth's orbit are required to build, supply and fuel these ten ships, and it is an international, cooperative project. In short, the undertaking is on a scale that would never happen in the real world. We tend to stick our toes in the water first, before diving in.
But neither of these issues takes anything away from the story. In fact, they add to its larger-than-life-adventure quality. All other aspects of the story are very realistic. The characters think and feel like real people; the science and rocket technology are accurate and are consistent with what is being used today; the mission timeline exactly matches reality; and so on. The mission plan does not include staying to colonize or setting up a
Martian base, which, again, is realistic for a first mission, von Braun went to great lengths preparing the plot for this story. The calculations and technical drawings that he developed for a Mars mission, and on which he then based this story, are included in the 65-page appendix of this book.
The writing style of Project MARS is typical of an adventure story written in the 1940s. The translation from German to English and the publisher's editing have both retained the original styling, faithfully reproducing what von Braun created. What we have here is a genuine adventure story, created without the aid of special effects or sophisticated electronics. In contrast with much of what is written today, this story is highlighted by love and adventure, instead of sex and violence.
This is quite simply a story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Where Project MARS differs from most fiction of the mid-20 th century is in its multiple main characters. Typical science fiction of that era involved one main character (perhaps with a side-kick) who beats the odds, saves the world, and gets the girl, pretty much all by himself. In von Braun's story there are many characters who make essential contributions, and the story will center for a time on each of them. This may be a throwback to von Braun's stated fascination with the works of Kurd Lasswitz, the father of German science fiction, whose book "On Two Planets" featured a host of characters, all contributing to the plot but with individual roles. This is also consistent with how the real world works — many people working together to accomplish what must be done; each affecting and being affected by the others. It's no accident that contemporary fiction predominantly relies on this "multiple protagonist" style.
You will find no ravaging monsters, terrorists or killing machines in this story; there is danger without a "dark side," and challenge without threat, just like the real world. However, it does differ from a "real" space mission in that there are no interfering politicians, lobby groups, trade unions, etc., repeatedly redefining the mission's goals, driving the cost up and the schedule out. .
As much as Project MARS is entertainment, it can also be seen as a proposal — for international cooperation in a human mission to Mars. Von Braun clearly believed this was possible (this story takes place in the 1980s) and went to great lengths to prove as much, both in his professional life and in his writing. When this story was written, in 1949, a manned mission to Mars was considered fantasy by the man in the street, but today very few people would deny it was possible. The reasons that we haven't done it are economic, not technical.
There are minor social matters in the story that might be different from what would happen if this mission were flown today — such as the all-male crew — but they don't detract in any way from either the story or the idea of a manned mission to Mars. There are no miracle technologies or leaps of faith required to make this story believable, just a willingness to be entertained.
In this never-before-printed science fiction novel, Wernher von Braun, combines technical fact with a human story line in the way that only a true dreamer can realize.
There are few dreams of the future which have woven so fascinating a web around human fantasy as flight through space. Since the first, epoch-making experiments of the great American pioneer of rocketry, Robert Goddard; since the days when Hermann Oberth, the German, and the Russian Constantin Eduardovitch Ziolkowsky published their startling writings on rocket propulsion, a veritable spate of literature has overwhelmed the public. This has covered the entire field ranging from serious, scientific dissertations to comic strips.
This literature is so voluminous as to render it difficult for even an engineer to sift the actual interplanetary premises of rocketry from idle conjecture, for in many minds there is a strong tendency to identify rocketry with space travel.
In the meantime, rocketry has become a recognized part of the science of armament and this tends to darken the glass through which one peers into its future. Much development has taken place since the first crude experiments of the path-finding pioneers, and much of this has been hidden from the public view for reasons of military security.
The object of this book is to assist the eye of the public to penetrate the thicket of confusion in which the future of rocket power now lies hidden. The following pages present a sketch of inter-planetary travel as visualized by one who for more than two decades has tumbled along the thorny path leading to the development of large rockets.
The author has had his full share of bitter disappointments, nor does he underestimate the height and ruggedness of the barriers to be conquered before the first manned rocket shall be projected into illimitable space. Despite our justified preoccupation with the problems of today, we must not neglect those of the morrow. It is the vision of tomorrow which breeds the power of action.
Thousands of scientists and engineers are laboring constantly to perfect our knowledge of rocketry and rocket propulsion, and millions of dollars are spent yearly to advance such research. What the results will be is beyond the public ken, but they will surely exert a vital influence upon the future of the entire Earth and well beyond its present confines. Tens of thousands of young lads live their inner lives in dreams of a rocket-powered world. They envisage themselves circumnavigating the Earth in space ships, landing on the Moon and conversing on terms of familiarity with the inhabitants of Mars. The ease with which their comic strip heroes perform such feats leaves them no doubt that the actual reality lies not far away.