Elon Musk: Heinlein’s “The Man Who Sold The Moon” Made Real

by Randy Murray on September 16, 2013

I have a great and lasting admiration for Steve Jobs. His work has made my life better and richer. But I am in complete awe of Elon Musk. If ever someone has stepped right out of literature when we need him it is Musk.

From all appearances Musk is a creation of the grand master of science fiction, Robert A Heinlein. Heinlein wrote a short story named “Requiem” in 1940 and followed it with the novel, “The Man Who Sold The Moon.” The central character in both is D.D. Harriman, a businessman with a life long dream: to visit the Moon. Shifted just a bit in time, D. D. Harriman is Elon Musk.

Both the short story and novel were written long before the Apollo project put men on the Moon, as far away today is from when we briefly visited Luna. When Heinlein wrote these pieces it wasn’t at all clear how we’d get there. In 1940 we were on the verge of World War II and the government was far from capable of such a feat. So Heinlein did what he did best: he figured out how to do the thing. His solution: have a businessman consumed with a dream do it.

Harriman didn’t just build a rocket and ride it into space. He structured a business that would build the infrastructure to do the thing. He created the way to do the thing. And that is exactly what Musk is doing.

 It would be pretty cool to die on Mars – just not on impact.

Elon Musk

You can see his dream taking shape. NASA doesn’t have a clear mission anymore and doesn’t have the funding. So if Musk wants to go to Mars he’ll need another ride. He’s not wealthy enough (at the moment) to simply pay for a Mars program, so he’s building the infrastructure that will eventually get him there.

How? Take a look at Tesla. This amazing company is doing what far too many pundits said couldn’t be done: create a great all electric vehicle that people will actually want and buy. And, by the way, the Tesla Model S is rated the best car ever made as well as the safest. But how does an electric car get you to Mars? First, it generates profits, which he’ll need for other phases. It also creates infrastructures and technologies that will propel the next steps. And most important: Tesla is creating a new generation of engineers, designers, and planners, all with a new vision of making things possible.

SpaceX, another Musk company, is a direct link to Mars. This amazing company is already ferrying cargo to the International Space Station and will soon carry astronauts. They have working prototypes of rockets that can both take off and land, just like the rockets in 1950s science fiction movies do.  And soon they’ll be building heavy lift rockets, something the U.S. government gave up on over 30 years ago. And SpaceX, like Tesla, is profitable.

Musk is creating exciting things because he has a dream and he understands that building infrastructure is the key to making things happen. He knows how to plant that dream in others. Musk doesn’t have the eloquence of JFK, but he is inspiring us to ”. . . do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

I’m deeply excited by what I’m seeing Musk do. And I fully expect for him to get his wish. I recommend that he consider this for his gravestone on Mars. It’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem” and it’s what D.D. Harriman scratched onto an oxygen canister before he died on the Moon.

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 the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.


The Elon Musk: Heinlein’s “The Man Who Sold The Moon” Made Real by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Glenn September 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Great article as usual! Years ago while browsing books in an antique store while visiting Florida, I came across a collection of scifi stories from the Golden Age (1940s to early 1950s). I bought the book for $6 and the very first story was Requiem and it blew me away. I started collecting original Astounding and Galaxy pulps from that point so that I could read the stories as originally published.

I find Elon fascinating as well, not just the vision but the incredible execution. Somehow his companies are not only able to pull off these feats but do it in a modern way. Compare the “mission control” rooms from NASA vs. SpaceX on the Dragon launches and ISS dockings. The SpaceX team is much more streamlined and it’s fun to watch younger engineers pull off similar feats as they did back in the Apollo program days.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: