spaceSpace and Physics

A Book From 1952 Predicted An "Elon" Would One Day Rule Over Mars

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockMay 24 2021, 16:24 UTC
Elon Musk in tuxedo

The first space pope? Image credit: Kathy Hutchins/

One of the leading developers of rocket technology for the Nazis during World War II appears to have predicted the rise of an "Elon" that would one day rule over human colonies on Mars.

Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun was an engineer born in Germany shortly before the beginning of the First World War. As a teenager, he became passionate about space flight and ended up working on liquid-fuel rockets for the German army in 1932.


He continued his work on rockets under Nazi German rule, with his team instrumental in creating the V-2 rocket. The rockets – aka Vengeance Weapon Two – would go on to kill thousands of people, though the greatest toll was on the 20,000 concentration camp prisoners who died while constructing them under brutal conditions.

During his time developing rockets for Germany, he visited where they were being built, and knew of the awful conditions and deaths of the slave laborers, though he claimed to not know how awful conditions truly were. It's unclear how enthusiastic he was about working for the Nazis, but he signed up to the party in 1937 (he would later claim it was 1939) and became an SS officer. Before the war was over, he surrendered himself to US forces, and went on to have a long career at NASA, eventually becoming director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where he would work on rockets that would take humans to the Moon.

During his career, he earned a reputation as someone whose love of rockets came above all else, including where those rockets came down.


Braun put a lot of thought into space travel and its implications that went well beyond merely how to get there. In 1952, he wrote a non-fiction book, The Mars Project, outlining how he believed an expedition to Mars would go. He optimistically thought that a mission could take place in 1965 (spoilers for anyone who hasn't read it, it didn't) and that the best option for the mission would be to launch a crew of 70 to the surface using craft assembled in low Earth orbit.

However, the part that's caught people's attention of late, featuring in the second half of the book which strays more into science fiction, is the bit that talks about an "Elon" ruling over Mars.


When the human crews arrive on the planet, they find that it is ruled over by an "Elon", which refers not to someone's name, but to their role, much like Ceasar or Emperor.


"The Martian government was directed by ten men, the leader of whom was elected by universal suffrage for five years and entitled "Elon," the book reads. "Two houses of Parliament enacted the laws to be administered by the Elon and his cabinet.

"The Upper House was called the Council of the Elders and was limited to a membership of 60 persons, each being appointed for life by the Elon as vacancies occurred by death. In principle, the method was not unlike that by which the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church is appointed."

Essentially, the "Elon" referenced in the book is kind of like a space pope, which, as far as we're aware, is not part of Elon Musk's plans for space dominion.


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