From the Heinlein Prize Trust archive: Robert Heinlein’s “remarkable” 1947 letter about his life, career

Robert Heinlein at his writing desk in the 1940s Photo courtesy of Heinlein Trust archives

Art Dula, primary trustee of the Heinlein Prize Trust, spoke eloquently about the life and legacy of Robert Heinlein during the 43rd  annual Prometheus Awards ceremony.

During his acceptance speech for the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Heinlein’s story “Free Men,” Dula read excerpts from – and commented on – one of the Grand Master’s most interesting but little-known letters, written over several months but completed Feb. 27, 1947.

“It’s a remarkable early document in Heinlein’s life,” Dula said.

Page 1 of a1947 Heinlein letter from the archives (Click on image to expand)

The letter, sent to a Mr. Abbott (apparently a reporter for a local Los Angeles newspaper, who had expressed interest in writing a feature profile of Heinlein), was written at a key transition in Heinlein’s early career.  Thus, the letter reveals a great deal about Heinlein’s life, coming of age, short-lived military career and fledgling success as a science-fiction writer.

“I was an avid reader of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, H. Rider Haggard and the like as a kid and as a young man,” Heinlein wrote.

“Tried my first story, more or less by accident, in 1939, a science fiction time(-travel) story. It sold, as did the ones that followed it and I was hooked,” Heinlein wrote.

“I had planned, as a kid, to be an astronomer, because of a deep interest in other planets and the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. This interest continues in my stories,” he wrote.

By 1947, Heinlein had published several stories but no novels – and was looking forward to seeing his first novel published soon.

“He typed the title of that novel in the letter, then overstruck it and inserted “Rocket Ship Galileo.” Read the letter to find out what his original title was,” Dula said.

In the letter, Heinlein writes that he’s taking advantage of the fact that “the market in science fiction is booming as a result of the (2ndworld) war.”

He mentions that Rocket Ship Galileo, his first juvenile sf novel, will be coming out on Scribners’ 1947 fall list, and describes it as “a boy’s interplanetary adventure book.”


Page 2 of Heinlein’s 1947 letter. (Click on it to enlarge.)


Page 3 of Heinlein’s 1947 letter (Click on it to enlarge)

Here are inspiring and revealing excerpts from Heinlein’s 1947 letter, which conveys his vision of the future – especially about our expansion beyond Earth, into the solar system and beyond.

Robert Heinlein in 1960 at the controls of a plane (Photo courtesy of Heinlein Trust archives)

“Space flight will at least open new frontiers, a good thing in itself in relieving our tensions. New frontiers might ease the economic tensions now building toward war for a sufficient period for us to build the global political controls which could prevent war.”

“But I think it could have another, greater effect on us: Space travel could make us all, white, black, yellow and brown, aware of the rest of the universe and therefore aware that we are all sons of Terra, our planet. We may see the development of planetary patriotism, pride in this globe as contrasted with others.”

Page 4 of Heinlein’s 1947 letter (Click on it to enlarge) Courtesy of Heinlein Prize Trust archive
Page 5 of Heinlein’s 1947 letter. (Click on it to enlarge) Courtesy of Heinlein Prize Trust archive

Later in the letter, Heinlein makes a prediction.

Writing in 1947, he says: “All reasons combined and present technology being what it is, I’m willing to bet on space flight within ten years. Anybody want to put up any money against that prediction? I feel very sure of it.”

Ginny and Robert Heinlein visit a NASA space capsule, likely in the late 1960s or early 1970s (Photo courtesy of Heinlein Prize Trust archive)

Heinlein’s 1947 prediction proved prophetic.

For just a decade later, on Oct. 4, 1957, human beings began venturing into space when the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth.

In his letter, Heinlein outlined both the economic and military reasons for space flight – and in doing so, anticipates “weather observation stations in permanent orbits around the globe.”

But he also was wise enough to know that the future remains unpredictable.

“I’m betting that the most important economic reward in space travel is not yet guessed – and I can’t guess it,” Heinlein wrote.

Coming up: Some exciting news updates about Heinlein Prize Trust projects, publications and progress.

Read the Prometheus Blog appreciation of “Requiem,” the 2003 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner, about an aging tycoon using private enterprise to fly to the moon, realizing a lifelong dream.

Here are the Prometheus-blog Appreciations of many of Heinlein’s other Prometheus winners, all Hall of Fame inductees: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough for Love, Red Planet, Methuselah’s Children“Coventry” and Citizen of the Galaxy.


* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.

Watch  videos of past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights, individuality and human dignity.

Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

3 thoughts on “From the Heinlein Prize Trust archive: Robert Heinlein’s “remarkable” 1947 letter about his life, career”

  1. I’ve tried reading that page, blown up as large as I can get it, and I can’t make out the full suppressed title. Can anyone else guess at what it is?

    1. When I read that expanded page from Heinlein’s 1947 letter, I could just barely read the first part of the title for the novel that he renamed Rocket Ship Galileo.
      I could see “The Conquest of”
      But then it took me staring at the rest of the title, crossed out on his typewriter, to figure out the “the” and then the key last word, which I saw was pretty short, just four letters.
      Finally, I figured it out and can now see it clearly:
      The Conquest of the Moon.
      (My guess: Heinlein had second thoughts because he thought his initial title might be too “on the nose” – and might give away the ending.)

  2. What a remarkable story! Heinlein’s letter is a powerful reminder of the power of Story to propel progress; the final page is an anthem to the role of Romance in exploration –

    the wonder of words luring Wandering Spirits to worlds unknown.

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