Forgotten? Heinlein: Rocket Ship Galileo

Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein, juvenile sf #1.  Scribner’s 1947, hardcover and paperback.

first edition cover

Another in my series of reading the Heinlein juvenile SF novels. Last time it was Citizen of the Galaxy, this time it’s the first of his juveniles, Rocket Ship Galileo. Again, though these aren’t forgotten, they are of interest to science fiction readers.

It was the first in the Heinlein juveniles, a long and successful series of a dozen science fiction novels published by Scribner’s. The novel was originally envisioned as the first of a series of books called “Young Rocket Engineers” but was initially rejected by publishers, because at the time going to the moon was considered unlikely. Thus each of the novels has separate characters, locations, themes and plots.


The Plot
Rocket Ship Galileo 2After World War II, three teenage boy rocket experimenters are recruited by one boy’s uncle, Dr. Cargraves, a renowned physicist. They buy a conventionally powered surplus “mail rocket” and convert it to run on a thorium nuclear pile which boils zinc as a propellant. In a desert test range, which has been cleared of WWII military test weapons, they set up shop and get to work, despite prying and sabotage attempts by unknown agents.

Upon completion of the modifications, they stock the rocket, which they name Galileo, and take off for the Moon, taking approximately three days to arrive. After establishing a semi-permanent structure based on a Quonset hut, they claim the Moon on behalf of the United Nations.

As they set up a radio to communicate with the Earth they pick up a local transmission, the sender of which promises to meet them. Instead, their ship is bombed. However, they are able to hole up undetected in their hut and discover that there is a Nazi base on the Moon. They are able to capture one of the enemy ships and bomb the base. One survivor is found, revived, and questioned.

Using the unwilling Nazi leader’s instructions on how to fly the ship back to earth, they are able to radio Earth of the location of the hidden Nazi base, leading to its destruction; they return as heroes.

My Take
This, the first of Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels is the weakest of those I’ve read so far. It had a Rick Brant, Tom Swift Jr. feel to it that made me take it lightly, which is about right. The books get much better after this. I’ll do a wrap-up of the novels at the end of my series of post on them, but I’m pretty sure this one will land at the bottom. Next time: Space Cadet.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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13 Responses to Forgotten? Heinlein: Rocket Ship Galileo

  1. My memories of ROCKET SHIP GALILEO parallel your reaction. It did have a Rick Brandt, Tom Swift, Jr. feel to it. Well said! I’ll be interested in your ranking of Heinlein’s juveniles. I consider CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY and TUNNEL IN THE SKY my favorites. I’m still searching for STAR MAN JONES which you enjoyed and I don’t recall reading.

  2. tracybham says:

    This plot definitely seems less interesting than the others you have described. But based on the time it was published, I can see it could have been attractive to the audience it was intended for.

  3. Jerry House says:

    Definitely the poorest of the lot, Rick, written before Heinlein had a handle on how to write a decent juvenile. The fact that it was first envisioned as a series probably had a lot to do with its low quality.

  4. Steve Sarafian says:

    Okay, “It had a Rick Brandt, Tom Swift Jr. feel to it”. But let’s remember that those series of ‘boy’s books’ had siblings that were a cut or two above those you mention; for example ‘Dig Allen’ and ‘Brains Benton’. Fans of the latter are STILL writing and publishing new entries in the series (of varying quality, of course). As an adult, I find the Tom Swift Jr. books I enjoyed as a boy to be now entirely unreadable. The two mentioned above can still be enjoyed. Rick Brant is in between. (And it is Brant, not Brandt–I just pulled one off the shelf to check.)

    • Thanks, Steve, I typed that w/o checking the spelling. I’ll correct it.

      I liked both Brant and Swift Jr. when I was 10 or 11, but having done a little rereading, Brant is superior. This Heinlein was, as Jerry pointed out, intended to be the beginning of a series, but that idea was quashed by Scribner’s. It’s definitely the weakest of those I’ve read so far.

      • Mark R McSherry says:

        RSG may be one of the weaker Heinlein juveniles to read but it was the most influential culturally. This book, with initial help from Fritz Lang, lead to the release of the movie DESTINATION MOON in 1950. You may have already seen the youtube video (DESTINATION MOON 1950: ON THE SET WITH GEORGE PAL – 1949). RAH appears at the 11:50 mark. And it was during the waiting times while filming that Heinlein worked on FARMER IN THE SKY.

  5. Evan Lewis says:

    I read all the sci-fi juveniles in my grade school and junior high libraries, so it’s likely I read these, too. Wish I could remember.

    • My city library had all of the Heinlein books together in the science fiction section, considered “adult fiction”, so I had to wait until the allowed age (whatever that was, I don’t remember) before reading any of them. The school library had no SF that I remember.

  6. Pingback: The Heinlein Juveniles | Tip the Wink

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