The SpaceX New Beginning Follows the 1950 Film Destination Moon

Destination Moon was a 1950 film, which won the Academy Award for Visual Effects. The rocket ship in the movie looks very similar to the planned SpaceX Super Heavy Starship.

The film’s premise is that U.S. private industry will mobilize, finance, and manufacture the first spacecraft to the Moon, while making the assumption that the U.S. government will then be forced to purchase or lease this new technology to remain the dominant power in space and on the Moon. Industrialists are shown cooperating to support the private venture. In the final scene, as the crew approaches the Earth, the traditional “The End” title card heralds the dawn of the coming Space Age: “This is THE END…of the Beginning”.

Space development was stalled for many years after the Apollo missions. We had the space shuttle and the space station but there was a long plateau in capability. SpaceX is giving a private industry rebirth. SpaceX will send the next major manned mission around the moon.

The SpaceX Super Heavy Starship will now be made of mirror polished stainless steel and will have tripod legs. The real SpaceX vehicle looks very similar to what is in Destination Moon. The real-life story of a return to the moon has parallels to the fictional story.

The first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard SpaceX Super Heavy Starship is fashion innovator, billonaire and globally recognized art curator Yusaku Maezawa.

More Destination Moon

The plot of Destination Moon is when their latest rocket test fails and government funding collapses, rocket scientist Dr. Charles Cargraves and space enthusiast General Thayer enlist the aid of aircraft magnate Jim Barnes. With the necessary millions raised privately from a group of patriotic U.S. industrialists, Cargraves, Warner and Barnes build an advanced single-stage-to-orbit atomic powered spaceship, named Luna.

The story was written by Robert Heinlein, James O’Hanlon and Rip Van Ronkel.

The Man Who Sold the Moon and Requiem

Although the science fiction film Destination Moon is generally described as being based on Heinlein’s novel Rocket Ship Galileo, the story is closer to The Man Who Sold the Moon. The Man Who Sold the Moon has a multi-staged rocket. Destination Moon uses a single-stage-to-orbit spaceship that takes off and lands vertically, both on Earth and the Moon.

Delos David Harriman, “the last of the Robber Barons”, is obsessed with being the first to travel to—and possess—the moon. The technical problems are solvable with money and talent. To solve the tougher financial problems, Harriman exploits commercial and political rivalries. He implies to the Moka-Coka company that rival soft drink maker plans to turn the Moon into a massive billboard, using a rocket to scatter black dust on the surface in patterns.

“Requiem” is a short story by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, a sequel to his science fiction novella “The Man Who Sold the Moon”.

The story centers around Delos David Harriman, the lead character of The Man Who Sold the Moon. Harriman, a tycoon and latter-day robber baron, had always dreamed of going to the Moon, and had spent much of his career and resources making space flight a practical commercial enterprise. His business partners prevented him from taking the early flights because they could not risk the public face of their company.

He is now too old to pass the medical examination needed for space travel. Harriman bribes two spacemen to help him get to the Moon on their old ship.

The three of them fight many obstacles. Harriman finally makes it to the Moon and dies soon after landing. His body is left there, with his epitaph scrawled on the tag from an oxygen bottle. It is Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem”, which is inscribed on his own headstone in Samoa.

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will!

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

27 thoughts on “The SpaceX New Beginning Follows the 1950 Film Destination Moon”

  1. Except there is no direct link at all between the FASTRAC and the Merlin, they are nothing alike each other. SpaceX did all their own math and cut all their own metal.

    The Merlin is a regeneratively cooled restartable engine intended for many, many uses, and the FASTRAC was an ablatively cooled nozzle with a very limited lifespan.

  2. You could run a nuclear “lightbulb” engine in the atmosphere, the fissile material is fully contained. But 3000 ISP is right at the limit for that concept, you really need a plasma core, not gas core, reactor to get that high. I’ve never seen a design for a fully contained plasma core nuclear engine.

  3. Nasa is just another bloated, pork driven Federal Agency seeking only to propagate and expand its dead wood centers/HQ… … with a long record of waste, stupidity, incompetence and dead end unaffordable boondoggles like Shuttle and Constellation… and now the unneeded, unaffordable, unsustainable shameless earmarked pork SLS/Orion … when innovative, efficient, spirited American private enterprise SpaceX has vastly superior boosters and capsules already flying.. 
    The US space program is too important to be further entrusted to our Federal Govt and Nasa…
    we could and should do far better with public funded x-prizes to accomplish US space goals…

  4. I really hope to see something done soon with the Kilopower reactor. That has so much potential for doing anything in the outer solar system or on the surfaces of planets.

  5. I vaguely remember seeing the movie as a child when TV use to show old movies instead of infomercials.

  6. 3000 ISP is high for solid core nuclear engine. More likely to get from 800 to 1200 ISP. To get 3000 ISP you need a gas core nuclear engine. Not something you would want to run in the atmosphere.

  7. Don’t remind me i have to suppress tears of rage with hiw they mishandled the x33 / venture star.

  8. They developed the rocket themselves, launched early to preempt preemptive bureaucracy.

    So a win-win.

  9. And in the late 90s NASA would do R&D that would create the Fastrac rocket engine that would lead directly to the Merlin engine.

    Narrator voice: like much of NASA’s R&D they came up with good ideas and did nothing with them.

  10. Rumor has it that Russia is thinking of doing nuclear SSTO to compete with SpaceX. Probably LANTR style LOX injection to get initial trust up.

    Given that they have a nuclear cruise missile version of project Pluto this can’t really be discounted.

  11. “And I could see something like that happening to Musk’s plans to colonize Mars, only with the early launch less likely.”

    Think of the (potential) Mars microbes! We must stop this filthy capitalist before he bespoils an untouched world!

  12. And I could see something like that happening to Musk’s plans to colonize Mars, only with the early launch less likely.

  13. The film’s premise is that U.S. private industry will mobilize, finance, and manufacture the first spacecraft to the Moon, while making the assumption that the U.S. government will then be forced to purchase or lease this new technology to remain the dominant power in space and on the Moon.

    Really? Because as I remember the film, they had to launch early because the government got wind of what they were doing and some bureaucrat/process server was on his way to the launch center to deliver a court order to cease & desist.

  14. For my part, I’m happy with the return of a staple of retro-futurism: the reusable, lands on its tail rocket just as god and Heinlein intended.

    Space travel was for a long time a given in any futuristic projections, due to the evident progress that was made in the 60s and 70s.

    It was just natural for people to expect we will be traveling across the Solar System in mighty reusable rockets by now.

    But then the 80s and 90s came, with the stagnation of the noughties finally killing the optimism and making space travel a dream of other era.

    And it showed even in our fiction, with most sci/fi moving to a more introspective, cyberpunk/biopunk/dystopic or Earth-centered focus.

    A few writers and producers remained faithful to the old dreams, but they were only acceptable to the public as very far away ones, several centuries into the future and obtained with unknown means and technologies we could not even imagine (e.g. antigravity, warp drives, wormholes, teleportation, successful government projects). That is, space travel became fantasy.

    The latest developments change things definitely for the better. A generation will re-discover what is to think about space as a possibility for humanity once again.

  15. Destination moon had a 3000s ISP nuclear thermal rocket. Single stage to the moon and back.

    Yes they give out the performance of the engine in the film.


  16. There are a whole bunch of those 1950’s movies (some sent up on MST3K) that look a lot like the current Starship design. The SpaceX flight suits also look retro. We took a big detour with “wings = progress” … or maybe the computer power to coordinate so many engines and thrusters was just not there for Shuttle Era … leaving us with a long, hot, heavy glide. Without a more propulsive slowdown that is currently planned for Starship those old movie depictions are not right on either. There is so much aerobreaking that one side needs to be different than the other … but maybe not so much with the Stainless Steel approach. And of course nuke/SSTO is not on the table even now.

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