9

Some eighteen months or so before Apollo 11, Larry Niven wrote a story in which he predicted that Neil Armstrong would be selected by NASA to be the first man on the moon.

He also, some years after the event, wrote an essay describing the reasoning by which he reached that conclusion.

In the essay Niven describes how he analyzed the character attributes, in particular of Glenn and Shepard, that NASA looked for in its pioneers, and applied that process to the Apollo candidates to attempt a duplication of their reasoning.

I was flabbergasted when I first read the story in the early-mid 1970's and re-checked the copyright date, and then the printing date, before realizing that it was not a retroactive edit. Then several years later again I came across the explanatory essay.

Can anyone tell me the name of the first story and/or the subsequent essay?


To be clear - there are two works, a story/novel and a subsequent essay.

The initial story/novel makes a passing reference to Armstrong - I forget just why. Only several years later, in the 1970's or possibly 1980's, does Niven write the essay explaining how he made the determination and prediction.

As I cannot remember the works, it is of course possible that I have misremembered the author - but I believe not.

  • 3
    Interesting. I've never heard of this. Niven only started publishing in 1966, so there are not a lot of works before July 1969 to consider; I don't see anything obvious there... – DavidW Jul 21 at 16:55
  • 1
    @DavidW: I was flabbergasted when I first read the story in the early-mid 1970's and re-checked the copyright date. Then several years later again I came across the explanatory essay. Unfortunately my ex "lost" most of my classic SF paperbacks - so I can no longer research this myself. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 21 at 16:58
  • It seems Niven doesn’t have a Twitter or Facebook (the Facebooks I found weren’t verified or anything) that I can send this question to. – Stormblessed Jul 21 at 17:46
  • 2
    @Randal'Thor: Why not? Eighty nine year old Buzz Aldrin is on Twitter. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 21 at 18:22
  • 1
    I'm not sure if OP will be notified about a comment on an answer, so I'm adding my existing comment here: I think that the essay is indeed the Larry Niven/Riverside essay, but that the story you remember as a Larry Niven short is in fact Lester del Rey's "Rocket Jockey", published a long time before 1969, and beginning with the words "When Major Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969". – AJM Jul 22 at 15:10
6

Looking through the list of Niven's works, the most likely possibility seems to be his letter/essay in Riverside Quarterly Vol 3 No 1, published August 1967. That's less than 2 years before the Apollo 11 landing, as you said, and still a few months before its crew was announced on 20 November 1967.

There are fairly few Niven works from the 1960s, and most of them are fiction stories. This one stands out as being in the "Essays" category and not clearly related to any of his fictional works. It's also promising because the text is apparently not available online. Search engines aren't finding anything useful regarding Larry Niven and Neil Armstrong, so the story you remember seeing in hard copy might be one that never made it to the internet. Perhaps one of our users with an exhaustive sci-fi library will have a copy of this volume of Riverside Quarterly lying around?

  • No. Reread my question. There are two works, a story/novel and a subsequent essay. The initial story/novel makes a passing reference to Armstrong - I forget just why. Only several years later, in the 1970's or possibly 1980's, does Niven write the essay explaining how he made the determination and prediction. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 21 at 17:35
  • 2
    I have a theory about this. Niven's essay would indeed be the one in this answer. But as for the short story, I think you're confusing Lester del Rey's "Rocket Jockey" with a Larry Niven short. It opens with the words "When Major Armstrong landed on the Moon in 1969" - and was written well before 1969. – AJM Jul 22 at 10:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.