Monday, April 30, 2018

Your trip to Mars!

Alexander P. de Seversky was a Russian born in 1894. He became one of the first fighter pilots during World War I. He was shot down, lost a leg, then came back a year later and took up flying again. He was convinced that air superiority was the way to win a war. In 1927 he emigrated to the United States, where he had a long career, both as an author (Victory Through Air Power, turned into an animated feature by Disney), and as an airline executive. He died in 1964.

In 1952 he wrote an article for Pageant magazine called “Your Trip to Mars.” In the time after World War II there were a lot of articles about the world of technology to come. There were self-driving cars (now a reality), flying cars (never got off the ground — yuk, yuk), rocket ships (reality)...the list goes on. In retrospect, in 1952 trips to the moon were less than 20 years away, so de Seversky’s article reminds me more of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with TWA taking people to the moon.

In 1952 anything was possible in the future. This article treats a trip to Mars as being something like a cruise to the Caribbean. I was struck by the “barman unconcernedly mixing Martinis” as the spaceship attains a speed of 150,000 mph.

The closest I can come to de Seversky’s fantasy in today’s world is in the words of Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) and his claim that 100 families will settle on Mars. That seems even more fantastic than de Seversky’s idea. Mars is a totally hostile place for humans. The infrastructure that would have to be ready to accommodate those pioneers seems prohibitively expensive. But dreams are free, aren’t they? Musk has succeeded in getting supplies to the International Space Station with his rockets. Unlike de Seversky, who lived to see the early stages of men in space but died five years before Apollo 11, Musk is still alive to guide his vision.

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