What is the likelihood of von Braun predicting the coming of Elon Musk and Musk’s SpaceX Mission to Mars?
Could it be that Elon was familiar with Wernher von Braun’s books, and decided to link craft his own aspiration for space travel with his predecessor.
Who is the “Elon” in Wernher von Braun’s Project Mars: A Technical Tale and how is the character similar to the “real” Elon Musk?
Called by the New York Times as “one of the most successful and important entrepreneurs in the world,” Elon Musk, like von Braun, showed an early proclivity toward what would be his chosen profession, technology, having taught himself programming at the age of twelve. With one successful technology business venture after another, Musk sought to push the boundaries of technology to include space travel, based on his core belief that this quest represents the strongest chance of human survival. Von Braun also believed that “nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation.”
Von Braun’s choice of ‘Elon” for his main character’s name could be related to the word’s ancient roots; three people carry the name “Elon” in the Old Testament, and the word translates into oak, or grove of oaks in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek; the name also has African roots meaning “god loves me” and spirit. Von Braun was known for belonging to a tradition of scientists who believed in a higher power, and it is said that Elon Musk, while not espousing to have any specific spiritual beliefs, has been quoted as saying he uttered a prayer before a Falcon 1 launch, asking for any listening entities to bless the mission.
In addition, the two represent a belief in the critical importance of life on other planets. Von Braun’s theories have stood the test of time, with many having been adopted into the current space race to the red planet. Musk’s interest in Mars began in 2002 when he looked to NASA for information on plans for Mars, but failed to find any.
Similar to von Braun who spearheaded the Saturn V project under the Kennedy administration, Musk envisioned a mission to Mars in order to “spur the national will.” Undoubtedly, Musk must have been influenced by von Braun in the creation of his private Mission to Mars, an ambitious enterprise designed to build a “thriving city and self-sustaining civilization” that are eerily similar to von Braun’s writings.
Beyond the quest to travel to Mars, both seem to share similar ideas around the existence of extraterrestrial species. In his 1969 Mars proposal, von Braun posed this question: “Perhaps the single, most consuming scientific question of the space program is: ‘Does extraterrestrial life exist in our solar system?’” Elon Musk has stated that academic studies on aliens have made him consider the push to colonize Mars, and other planets, even more important.
It has also been noted that the illustrations on the cover of Project Mars bear a strong resemblance to Musk’s Interplanetary Transport System. Others have noted both von Braun’s and Musk’s shared quest for “giant leaps” and the shared desire to scale enormous steps that often result in failure. Musk has been often quoted as saying, “If things are not failing, you are not innovating”; von Braun once declared that “I have learned to use the word ‘impossible’ with the greatest caution.” In 2009, Elon Musk was awarded the National Space Society’s Von Braun Trophy for his contribution and leadership in the space industry.
Will Elon Musk succeed where Wernher von Braun only dreamed? Will we see a city established on Mars in our lifetime? If Musk has anything to do with it, the answer lies in his bold timeline for Mars colonization, one that is set to take place by 2050.
While von Braun and Musk never met in real life, one would be hard-pressed to ignore the many alignments between the two. Unless a secret space program happened to exist…