Ray Bradbury: The Illustrated Spaceman

Ray Bradbury is the author of classic works of science fiction such as, “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man“, “Fahrenheit 451“, and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” He has published more than five hundred works, including short stories, novels, plays, screenplays, television scripts, and verse.

Science fiction author, Raymond Bradbury.

Beyond his literary contributions, Bradbury also serves as an “idea consultant” for civic, educational and entertainment projects. He provided the concept and script for the United States Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and contributed to Disney’s Spaceship Earth at EPCOT and the Orbitron at the Disneyland parks in Paris and Anaheim.

On April 15, Bradbury again was asked to share his ideas, this time for the President’s Commission on Implementation on U.S. Space Exploration Policy. In testimony given to a panel chaired by Edward “Pete” Aldridge,Jr., Bradbury spoke of his vision for our destiny in space.

Testimony by Ray Bradbury

(portions of the testimony have been edited)

I’m writing a new book called “Too Soon From the Cave, Too Far From the Stars.” In other words, we’re the in-between generation. We’ve been out of the cave about ten thousand years, we’re on our way to Alpha Centauri, with a way stop on the Moon and Mars.

We know very little about the generation of life on Earth; we’ve tried to explain it to ourselves but its very difficult – we have no answers. But I worked with the Smithsonian a few years ago creating a planetarium show about the universe, the Big Bang, and what have you. In doing that, I got to thinking about the generation of life on Earth and what we’re doing here. There’s not one of us who hasn’t laid awake at night, or laid out on a hill and looked at the universe and wondered, “What’s it all about? Why are we here?”

Mars plane
Mars airplane design
Credit: NASA

Well my idea is this: that there’s no use having a universe – billions of stars and all creation before us – if there’s no audience. So the universe, in mysterious ways, created life on Earth as an audience for this miraculous experience of being alive in the universe. We will witness, and we will celebrate. Now here we are on the threshold of space, going on to the Moon, which we should never have left, and going on to Mars.

I’d like to put this in a framework for you. Five hundred years ago, three Italians set out from various parts of Europe. Christopher Columbus set out representing Spain. And then England came along, with Giovanni Caboto representing Henry the Eighth, and then a third person – Verrazzano, another Italian, set out for India.

So on the way to India, all three of them bumped into a huge obstruction. An obstruction that was empty, that was uncivilized, that was cold, and rejected them. Christopher Columbus did not land on the main continent of this huge obstruction on his first trip. Giovanni Caboto examined the northern regions of this unknown continent. Only one man, Verrazzano, landed on the shore somewhere near Kitty Hawk.

Star field
In a universe brimming with stars, the search is on if life exists elsewhere

That’s fascinating to think about – isn’t it? Four hundred years before Kitty Hawk, an Italian lands on an empty shore, and four hundred years later the Wright Brothers take off into the air above the Earth.

Now those people, and those Kings, and the whole population of Europe could not possibly predict that these three Italians would found a nation of 300 million people that would become the center of civilization, the center of a new thing called democracy, and change the history of world, and become the most powerful power of the world.

Now we are called upon, viewing the moon and Mars, to guess ahead five hundred years. That’s almost an impossible task, but we must try to do it. Try to imagine that the moon is a base, and Mars is a new landing place, and a creation for civilization will burgeon in the next five hundred years, in one thousand years, in ten thousand years, and become the center of a new frontier in the move outward, someday, to Alpha Centauri. Why? Because life wants to exist, wants to survive, wants to be free of the conflicts of Earth, even as America, when it was created, was free of the conflicts of Europe.

So we’re going into space to be free of the conflicts and politics of the various nations, and to become one new nation on the planet Mars. I can think of nothing more exciting to all the children of the world and to their parents, who are infected by the joy and the love of their children for space.

Looking at it in a very practical way, we are spending roughly a billion dollars a day at this time for armaments, for war, for conflicts, for doubt, for hatred at times. If we take one day each year, and spend the money of that one day on space travel, we can do it. So 364 days for armaments, and one day for rockets, for our destiny on the moon, and for our future civilization of freedom and a new democracy on Mars.

Questions from the Presidential Panel

Edward “Pete” Aldridge, Jr.: One of the issues this commission has to worry about is to ensure that the program is sustainable for the decades it will take us to begin this journey. Do you have any thoughts about how we continue to sell this to the American taxpayer for it to be sustainable over this period of time?

Bradbury: Just the way I told it to you. If they see their destiny, if they see their children, and their children’s children, in a new future that’s brighter and better and more wonderful than this.

It has to be sold on an aesthetic level, on a level of relating ourselves to the universe, and to the gift of life which we wish to solve and preserve. That is the way you sell it. Try not to speak of impossible gifts, like gold, which Cortez talked about, or spices, which the Kings of England and France spoke of, but the aesthetic thing, the human thing, of the entire race of people on the Earth at this time looking to the sky, and saying, “Look what we’ve done.”

Alpha Centauri
The closest star system to the Sun is the Alpha Centauri system. Alpha Centauri A, also known as Rigil Kentaurus, is the brightest star in the constellation of Centaurus and is the fourth brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is the brightest even thought it is more than twice as far away. By an exciting coincidence, Alpha Centauri A is the same type of star as our Sun, causing many to speculate that it might contain planets that harbor life.
Credit: STSci Digitized Sky Survey, Anglo-Australian Observatory

Here is an antidote to war, here is a relief away from war, here is something wonderful as against the bad news we’re getting almost every night from all over the world. At this very moment there are innumerable wars being fought all over the world at various locations. So if we sell it on the basis of a new freedom, a new movement away from the politics, and the horror and terror of Earth, I think people will recognize how true this is.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson: There is a credible rebuttal to the space program which suggests, quite independent of dreams of space, that spending money on Earth to improve our life on Earth should be where any extra money might go. The credibility of that is simply that we know we have problems on Earth. I worry sometimes that, going into space, we take our problems there. Why should we believe that if we go to Mars there wouldn’t still be wars? Could you comment on that – the role of space in our dreams of a Shangri-La, versus the role of what we might do on Earth to fix it.

Bradbury: Consider the social situation in England at the time that Henry the Eighth sent Giovanni Caboto. There were all sorts of problems that hadn’t been solved. The problem of a true democracy had not been solved in England. If they’d stayed there, and only worked on that, there would have been no America.

In France, in the time of Francis the First, when he sent Verrazzano over, they had a mess of problems – they had not as yet had the revolution two or three hundred years in the future. They had problems that should have made them stay home. Why should Verrazzano go anywhere? And in Spain, problems again, and in Italy, where Columbus came from.

All over Europe, there were problems – there were plagues, there were all kinds of wars, of countries invading one another – Italy being invaded by Austria, Sweden being invaded by Spain. All of these problems, we look back on and say, “Thank God they didn’t try to solve these problems only, but sent three voyagers out to invent America.”

We’re always going to have problems. We solve them. The role of medicine in America in the last eighty years is remarkable. When I was born in 1920, people died by the millions. By the time I was 30 years old, penicillin and sulfanilamide had been invented. Nobody could have predicted that.

You don’t lag behind, you move ahead on all the fronts at once. You take the good things with you into space. We’re not going to take our problems with us, we’ll refine ourselves along the way, and the first people that land there will be responsible citizens. They will be the first Martians, and then they will look back at Earth, and call more people up.

So I do not believe we’ll bring our problems with us. We will take representatives from every country in the world at some future time. I would like to send, on the first manned expedition to Mars, three Italians. If we can find any living relatives of Columbus, and Caboto, and Verrazzano – wouldn’t that be remarkable if we could send them on the first manned rocket to Mars.

Paul Spudis: Americans are a very pragmatic people. We embrace innovation, engineering, hardheaded facts, the bottom line. What you’ve outlined is a rationale based on an aesthetic appreciation, which traditionally has never gathered much political support in this country. While we can appreciate the aesthetic aspects, getting it to be a selling point is very difficult because people expect practical results. So given that background, how do we appeal to that practical side of the American public? I might suggest that one way is to say that space is a source of wealth. It’s a source of virtually unlimited wealth. That seems to me something that would appeal to the American public much more than an aesthetic appreciation – even though that would resonate, I think a practical approach would resonate with a much larger segment of the population. Do you agree with that or not?

Bradbury: There’s a scene in “Moby Dick,” where Ahab is going after the white whale, and Starbuck says to him, “Where’s the profit in this?” And Ahab touches his heart and he says, “The profit is here, man, the profit is here.”

So the answer to all this is not incredible wealth, but incredible wealth of love and well being. A freedom to express joy instead of sorrow and melancholy. It has to be sold on the basis of a higher aesthetic, but an exciting one. Again, ask your children, and they will respond with shouts of joy! They will not demand gold or silver, or all the profits that we’re speaking of on a practical level – they want the joy of going to space.

Apollo 17
Apollo 17 panorama, rover and giant boulder

I talked with all the astronauts in Houston thirty years ago, before we moved into space with the Apollo project. I went down for Life magazine to do a series of articles about our plans to go to the moon. I was in a room with eighty astronauts, and they were all being very practical, all very practical. But it was announced from the front of the room by the Life editor that Ray Bradbury was sitting in the back of the room. Sixty astronauts jumped to their feet and rushed toward me. Why were they doing that? Because of the joy of knowing I cared about space. That I knew what it was to go up and look back for that first view of Earthrise, the joy of space, the joy of being on Mars, and the joy of finally moving to Alpha Centauri.

It’s on this higher level that children can give us this gift – we have to look to the children, and not the practical people, who say, “Stay here and solve the problems before you move.” Because if you stay here, you’ll stay here forever, and Earth will be a mausoleum if we stay here for ten thousand years. We cannot do that.

Maria Zuber: In your book, “The Martian Chronicles,” it took several tries for humans to get to Mars successfully and then to start to form colonies. In the NASA culture now, it’s very risk adverse because we’ve had some failures. What would happen if “The Martian Chronicles” played out when we sent the first people to Mars, and there were failures right at the beginning? What would it take to tell America and the rest of the world to keep on going?

Bradbury: Well, when you think of the history of sea travel – thousands of people had to die in order to come to America. Thousands of people had to die of various diseases on the coasts of America. Millions of people, finally, sacrificed to make America what it is. So the answer to all this is, no matter what, we will prevail.

You have to set yourself against this. We all have personal things that happen during our lives. In the last year, I’ve lost many of my friends, I’ve lost members of my family, but you don’t give up, do you? You simply do not give up.

That’s the answer – you prevail, you move ahead, and you finally succeed. What we did here in America took millions of people working, and tens of thousands of people dying, and we finally did it. And we are the beacon to the world, because we would not let ourselves be destroyed.

Publication of press-releases or other out-sourced content does not signify endorsement or affiliation of any kind.