It is difficult not to be reminded of the prescience of Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) during a month in which two billionaires have boisterously dipped their toes into space. His early story “Requiem” (1940) from Astounding Science-Fiction depicts an era of lunar space travel from the perspective of an elderly industrialist, D. D. Harriman. A pioneer in space travel who has dedicated much of his life to humanity’s dream of reaching the moon, Harriman longs to land there himself. Heinlein elaborates on the early part of Harriman’s life in the novella The Man Who Sold the Moon (1950), describing the cutthroat manipulations of his partners, rival corporations, governments, and even the entire public that he enacts in an obsessive quest to obtain ownership of the moon. Ultimately, Harriman is denied the ability to travel aboard the first lunar colony flight for legal reasons—he is too important to the venture to risk losing. Indeed, it is possible that Jeff Bezos stepped down as CEO of Amazon for liability reasons ahead of his own launch. As Harriman watches the ship depart, his associate remarks that “He looks as Moses must have looked, when he gazed out over the promised land.” Businessman Richard Branson launched to space first, but Bezos’s spaceflight company Blue Origin suggests that his trip should have an asterisk attached, since it did not reach the Karman line that defines the beginning of space. This snide corporate insinuation suggests that we are not witnessing the resolution of the billionaire space race, but rather the aggressive beginning. It will be interesting to see how many of Harriman’s experiences are mirrored by reality as space tourism swiftly approaches the moon; after all, a crater there was named in Heinlein’s honor. Certainly Bezos, a pioneer in both bookselling and space travel, must be familiar with and perhaps even inspired by Heinlein’s fiction. So how does Harriman’s story end? In “Requiem,” he finally makes the journey to the moon, despite the risk that it will kill him. He dies shortly after arrival, albeit a happy man. Who knows what would have gone differently if Harriman had made it aboard that first colony ship; would his goal have expanded to Mars? Achieving that, would he still yearn for something further?
To learn more about Robert A. Heinlein, check out Short Story Criticism, Volume 305.
Connor Towle, Content Standards Editor, Layman Poupard