About From the Earth to Mars

The origins of space travel have always been a mystery for me. Despite being involved in the community long enough to question America’s single-point dependency on the unproven space shuttle, much of the influencing factors have always been murky. 

I knew of Dr. Robert Goddard and his pioneering efforts on liquid propulsion rockets, but history remembers Goddard as a recluse. And when I worked with my Russian colleagues, they told me of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. But he was a loner living in a small town hours from Moscow wasn’t he? We all knew of Wernher von Braun which only deepened my puzzlement. How did America become so dependent on von Braun and his German team to realize the dream of reaching the Moon?

The questions were deeply personal. As young boys my brother and I promised ourselves that we would be living on Mars by the distant year of 2000. Nope. Not even the Moon. Frustrating. 

Several years ago I set out to find the spark that took the dream of space travel from fantasy to reality. The results were surprising, even stunning. I never expected that the magical ingredients included failed graduate students, famous film directors, overlooked visionaries, stubborn optimists, untrustworthy politicians and successful businesspeople. All of whom knew, communicated with, and, in many ways, competed against one another across national boundaries in the 1920s to realize the first rockets.

I decided to share the incredible story from the perspective of one who has been in commercial space for several decades, pushing to make space more like other emerging markets. And soon enough I realized that the historic graphic novel was the perfect medium, squarely in the intersection of the videos so popular today with the nuances of more traditional literature. I reached out to two great artists with differing styles. I was drawn to Shraya Rajbhandary’s bold, sweeping illustrations to reveal the power of the first generation of ‘rocket travel’ supporters. And Jay Mazhar drew the comic strips, the ‘pencils’ and kindly did the lettering as well. His classic style makes clear the factual nature of the strips.

There is one exception to the accuracy of the strips and the text, and that is the last cartoon, which has all the major rocket pioneers of the 1920s gathered together in a German beer hall. Otherwise, this is a non-fiction book. Okay, a highly opinionated work, but non-fiction nonetheless!

In terms of recent writings, Asif A. Siddiqi has written the most on the space crazes of the 1920s and Frank S. Winter authored a detailed look at the early rocket societies and their influence on driving exploration program. (Prelude to the Space Age: The Rocket Societies 1924-1940.) It was also Winter, along with colleague Martin Harwit, who conducted the interview in the 1980s with Hermann Oberth, which is a wonderful portrait of the rocket pioneer looking back—or sometimes refusing to re-examine, his career.

There are many more books and articles on the early days of rocket travel in the Library for those of you who enjoy, as I do, directly reading the historic books and watching the first (silent) films on space travel. Cool stuff. Space exploration is too often a business with both eyes on the future. But understanding the past is vital to make sure we avoid the previous stops and starts and make exploration sustainable and impactful for all of us. That is the goal here.