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‘Glorious Hopes of Pioneers’
Destination Moon by Robert A. Heinlein
1950, Reading from the Three Times Infinity anthology, 1958, Fawcett Gold Medal edition, pages 122-176
Destination Moon is a crisply written novella paced like an action yarn from the pulps, but consisting primarily of cerebral heroics, tense dialogue and mathematical daring do on the order of the movie Apollo 13.
A scientist, a retired admiral, a test pilot turned entrepreneur, and a second string radio technician decide to defy U.S. environmental edicts, and blast off in their atomic space ship from the Mohave Desert instead of waiting to apply for new unaffordable permits in Fiji. These men judged that the privatized space mission would be scrapped if it was delayed any longer, and acted out of a patriotic impulse to beat the Soviets to the moon.
In 1950 the Moon was envisioned as a ballistic platform, and the Cold War was only a few years old. Heinlein was writing before the Korean Conflict took off, and envisioned atomic space travel in a Cold War future that might be placed in the 1980s.
The technology imagined was fascinating—and horrifically dirty. The ethics of the men involved were anchored by patriotism and the desire not to permit the one man among them who had children to perish. The masculine ethos of the story is nearly timeless—excepting our own neutered age. The men declare, one after the other, in various discussions, that their first duty is to the group—the tribe. This is a book on tribalism set in a starkly capitalist atomic age in which nations walk the knife edge of nuclear Armageddon. The most interesting and workable aspect of the story is the quote leading into each chapter from a book on the history of transportation by an Arabic author of a more distant future than that imagined by the author for the first lunar landing.
Destination Moon was simply a great, thought-provoking read that holds up after 65 years for the pointedly simple reason that it is about men testing the boundaries of humanity, which has the purpose envisioned for men across all cultures and ages except, curiously, for our present one.
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