Old-School Selling of the Exploration of Mars

Quote of the Day

Late to bed, early to rise, work like hell, and advertise.

— Saying on Wernher Von Braun's desk. He was not going to repeat the mistakes of other rocket pioneers who shunned publicity.

Figure 1: Wernher von Braun in 1960. (Source)

Figure 1: Wernher von Braun in 1960. (Source)

My youngest son has been fascinated with Elon Musk's plans for colonizing Mars. He is not that different from his old man because in my youth Wernher von Braun (Figure 1) had me captivated with his plans for human-crewed missions to Mars. As I described von Braun's plans for exploring Mars to my son, I realized the both Musk and von Braun applied similar state-of-the-art marketing approaches.

You might think that Musk's use of animation and visionary storytelling were unprecedented for selling a technical program – not so. I would argue that Musk is following the von Braun playbook almost exactly.

Von Braun also applied a media full-court press for exploring both the Moon and Mars:

  • Wrote a science fiction novel, The Mars Project, with an amazing appendix containing the math and physics behind the mission plan. True, many engineers argued with von Braun about the details but he saw those arguments as unimportant – the details looked convincing. I re-read this book a couple of years ago. While the science fiction story is marginal, the vision just exudes credibility.
  • Wrote a popular science book with Willy Ley called The Conquest of the Moon that described how the Moon would be be explored. The Moon was always portrayed as a stepping stone on the way to the real goal, Mars.  As a boy, I loved this book and read it several times.
  • Teamed with famous space artist Chesley Bonestell on some beautiful space-related art that appeared in various magazines (e.g Collier's) back in the 1950s. Here is one of my favorites.

    Figure 2: Bonestell Visualization of Mars Exploration Effort.

    Figure 2: Bonestell Visualization of Mars Exploration Effort. (Source)

  • Gave presentations on space travel to any group that was willing to listen. I still remember the science teachers in my high school talking about when von Braun helicoptered in to give them a seminar on the space program. He must have given a motivational talk that rivaled anything that Vince Lombardi ever gave a football team.
  • Teamed with Disney on making some marvelous animated films on how the Mars mission would be be implemented. Fortunately, all of this animation appears to be available on Youtube.
    Figure 3: Disney-Produced Program on Exploring Space.


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2 Responses to Old-School Selling of the Exploration of Mars

  1. Gary Reed says:

    I recall he wrote a book entitled "I Aim for the Stars" in the 1950s, and on TV Jack Paar made me laugh when in his opening mono-log he referred to it as "I Aim for the Stars...but occasionally hit London".

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