Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ray Bradbury, the Kingston Trio, and the High Frontier

I like looking at space exploration books from different eras--the 1950s anticipation of manned space flight and space travel, the 1960s vision of lunar voyages, and the subsequent decades with the benefit of actual experience and history to create bigger and bolder visions and predictions.

In the 1970s, with mankind having orbited the earth, traveled through space, and landed on the moon multiple times, visionary thinking began creating the next generation of more realistic, achievable scenarios for the evolution of exploration off the home planet. Colonies in Space, by T.A. Heppenheimer (Stackpole Books, 1977), is an example of such visionary thinking and prediction.

The book's subtitle is A Comprehensive and Factual Account of the Prospects for Human Colonization of Space. As science fiction of earlier decades gave way to fact, accomplishment, and a new reality, it might seem ironic that a science fiction writer, even the iconic Ray Bradbury, was asked to write the introduction to the book.

I think Bradbury was chosen for a couple of reasons. It would have been easy to get an expert in some aspect of space exploration to write a scenario of the future. But the defense of such endeavors needed more than just compelling scientific fact. Defending the notion of space colonization against the critics, Bradbury summons "the literary/aesthetic," as important a tool as scientific fact in the toolbelt of the visionary.

Bradbury also serves as a reminder that it wasn't that long ago that these recent accomplishments were the stuff of science fiction and fantasy. The sci-fi writer offers a bridge between the two eras of fantasy and fact and serves as a reminder to highlight what can be accomplished in a relatively short time with the fusion of imagination and will.

Martian Chronicles: Ray Bradbury, by Les Edwards

Bradbury titled his Introduction to Colonies in Space, "The Life Force Speaks--We Move to Answer." Written for this 1977 publication, it could not feel more timely today more than 30 years later. "Colonies in space?" he parrots the naysayers. "Yes, of course," he answers the question. "Why not? Let's move. Let's go there. Let's do the job." He then recites a list of arguments, by rote, about having too many problems on Earth to deal with first. In spite of many valid arguments, he declares:
"The Life Force speaks to all of us. We should, we can, we must listen. Because wouldn't it be terrible to wake up one morning and discover, without remedy, that we were a failed experiment in our meadow-section of the Universe? Wouldn't it be awful to know that we had been given a chance, a testing, by the Cosmos, and had not delivered--had, by a loss of will and a flimsy excuse at desire, not won the day, and would soon fade into the dust--wouldn't that be a killing truth to lie abed with nights?"
In the next paragraph, he writes perhaps my favorite passage, realizing one day what opportunity we once had and squandered:
"Our failed imagination tossed our seed onto the infertile sands of a barren river bottom on a lost world named Earth."
If that's not a powerfully ominous sounding message, then it begs another reading.

As Mr. Bradbury nears his final paragraph, he pleads, "We must become citizens of the Universe." He then applauds the author of this book, Colonies in Space, concluding:
"Mr Heppenheimer is keeper of the key, opener of the gate, tender of the gardens we will toss to space and inhabit with proper proportions of sorrow and joy. He offers you citizenship in the Universe. How can you refuse?"
I know a lot of people who would take these words to heart--the civil service and contractor work force at NASA's Johnson Space Center, where I used to work. And that's just for starters. The American government may see things differently, as Bradbury lamented with the administration in power during the time he wrote this Introduction. Both sides of the argument of going back to the moon or to Mars make valid points, whether in 1977 or 2010. It doesn't hurt, though, in either time period, to have Ray Bradbury's thoughtful, inspiring words trying to tip the scales in your favor. By the way, Ray Bradbury will celebrate his 90th birthday later this summer on August 22nd.

Now how about the Kingston Trio, as mentioned in the title of this post? How do they figure into Mr. Heppenheimer's book?

First, a little background. The Kingston Trio folk music group became an icon of American music in the late 1950s with the release of their first album (pictured) and the huge hit, Tom Dooley. They were very instrumental (pardon the pun) in elevating the folk music revival of that era. My parents had this album and I remember, as a child, listening to it over and over again. Tom Dooley was always my favorite. A movie version about the character in the song was made in 1959 and starred Michael Landon , later of Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie fame. I had an opportunity to meet him a few years before he died and told him, aside from Bonanza, Tom Dooley was the role I always associated him with. He smiled at my revelation, or maybe winced.

So, riding the crest of their popularity, in 1962, Kingston Trio member John Stewart wrote the song, The New Frontier, also the title of their third album, to honor President John F. Kennedy and his vision for the young space program. Flash forward to 1977 and the publication of Colonies in Space. President Kennedy's vision for missions to the moon had been realized and Stewart teamed up with author T.A. Heppenheimer to rewrite The New Frontier for the next era of space exploration. They titled this new version, The High Frontier. I can't find anything to indicate that this version was ever recorded. Below are the lyrics for both versions.

The New Frontier
written by John Stewart

Some to the rivers and some to the sea.
Some to the soil that our fathers made free.
Then on to the stars in the heav'ns for to see.
This is the new frontier. This is the new frontier.

Let the word go forth from this day on.
A new generation has been born.
Born to the task to keep us free,
but proud of the rights of the home country.
This is the new frontier. This is the new frontier.

Let us begin for it shall take long.
Let ev'ry man sing out freedom's song.
Not for ourselves that we take this stand.
Now it's the world and the freedom of man.
This is the new frontier. This is the new frontier.

The day will come. It's got to be.
The day that we may never see.
When man for man and town for town
must bring the peace that shall resound.
This is the new frontier. This is the new frontier.


The High Frontier
written by John Stewart and T. A. Heppenheimer

Some to the rivers and some to the sea,
Some to the soil that our fathers made free,
Then on to the stars in the heavens for to see,
This is the High Frontier, this is the High Frontier.

Let the word go forth, from this day on
A new age of mankind has begun.
Hope will grow for the human race!
We're building a colony deep in space!
This is the High Frontier, this is the High Frontier.

Let us begin, for it shall take long,
Let everyone sing a freedom song.
Not for ourselves that we take this stand,
Now it's the world and the future of Man.
This is the High Frontier, this is the High Frontier.

The day will come, it's going to be,
A day that we will someday see
When all mankind is reaching out
Without a limit, without a doubt!
This is the High Frontier, this is the High Frontier.

Colonies in Space, by T.A. Heppenheimer, is offered online courtesy of the National Space Society at

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