In the 1950s the German rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun wrote a book about a first manned voyage to Mars and, in an amazing coincidence, named the leader of the expedition “Elon”.
Destiny appears to be close to fulfilling his 1952 prediction 69 years later as billionaire SpeceX boss gets ever closer to his dream of establishing the first human colony on the Red Planet.
Wernher von Braun had a lifelong passion for space travel and was recruited by the Nazis in the early 1930s to lead their rocket weaponry program. He was instrumental in the develop of the V2 – one of Hitler’s so-called “revenge weapons”. The V2, the first ballistic missile, was the first artificial man-made object to travel into space.
Speaking about the V2 after the war, he stressed that he had worked on the missile program as part of his overall dream of sending a man into space. In a biographical film about von Braun, the actor playing the rocket pioneer says "I aim at the stars, but sometimes I hit London."
At the end of World War Two, as part of America’s Operation Paperclip recruitment drive, von Braun and most of his team were taken to the US where they became instrumental in the development of the space program that culminated in the Moon landings.
It was after he reached the States that von Braun wrote The Mars Project, part of a larger science fiction project entitled Project Mars: A Technical Tale. While the 1952 novel didn't reach the general public until 2006, its technical appendix was published in English in 1953.
The book was a highly technical description of a mission to Mars taking place in the 1980s. In it, von Braun speculated how the newly-colonised planet would be governed: "Once installed,” he wrote, “a Martian government was created led by ten men, whose leader was elected by universal suffrage for five years under the name or title of Elon.
“Two houses in Parliament enacted the laws that would be administered by both the Elon and his cabinet.
"The upper house was referred to as the Council of the Elders and merely named about 60 people, each of whom was named for life by the Elon as vacancies in the event of death.”
“The Elon” appears to be a job title, rather than a proper name, quite possibly based on a biblical term meaning “judge”.
But the architect of the Apollo program might just have been right. NASA has handed Musk’s SpaceX company a $2.9 billion contract to develop a version of his heavy-lift Starship to take American astronauts back to the moon for the first time since the Apollo program ended in 1974.
And the Moon is expected to be a springboard for a mission to Mars. – a project that Musk refers to again and again.
In a 2019 interview with Popular Mechanics, Musk described living on Mars as “quite manageable.” “
He’s optimistic about generating enough oxygen and other essentials for the colonists, saying “once you get there that stuff is relatively straightforward.”
However “The Elon” warns that many of the first Mars pioneers will never come home: “It’s an arduous and dangerous journey where you may not come back alive, but it’s a glorious adventure,” he said.
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