Robert Heinlein's book Space Cadet featured a setting where the Earth is still politically divided into different nation-states (one is named as the 'North American Union'), but all space travel is overseen by a single body, the "Interplanetary Patrol", which also has a monopoly on atomic weapons and enforces peace on Earth with the threat to drop atomic bombs on any nation that launches war on its neighbors (they also have 'space marines' to deal with other types of crises where atomic bombs would be overkill). As one character says, "your purpose is not to fight, but to prevent fighting, by every possible means. The Patrol is not a fighting organization; it is the repository of weapons too dangerous to entrust to military men."

We don't learn a lot about the history of how the Patrol developed beyond the stories of some key people that played a role early on (see this question for two quotes), along with a comment by one character that "It hasn’t been necessary for the Patrol actually to use a bomb since they got it rolling right", and a comment elsewhere about "the past hundred years of Patrol-enforced peace". But we do learn that the Patrol draws people from many nations--in an opening speech to new recruits, they are told that "You come from many lands, some from other planets. You are of various colors and creeds. Yet you must and shall become a band of brothers." They also seem to oversee other forms of space travel that aren't part of the Patrol, like the "merchant service"--at one point in the book, a member of the merchant service is arrested by a Space Cadet for violation of "colonial codes" after using illegal force against some intelligent natives of Venus.

So I was curious about the earliest story that featured a political setup somewhat like this--not necessarily the part about threatening the nations of Earth with destruction to keep the peace, but at least the idea that all space travel is regulated by a single independent organization not under the control of any of the nations on Earth. I'd also want to include the idea that the Earth nations and the space organization co-exist peacefully for the most part (as opposed to a story about a war between Earth and a space power), that this organization is at least primarily human rather than being governed/founded by aliens or A.I.s (and I'd also like to rule out organizations founded by advanced lost civilizations like Atlantis). I'm sure there are plenty of older stories with a single "space navy" type organization controlled by a united Earth government, but I wonder if this sort of variation was already a common trope when Heinlein wrote his book. I have found one pre-Space Cadet story along these lines, I'll add it as an answer it if no one else finds anything earlier.

  • 1
    Space Cadet was published in 1948, for those interested. Lensman Series (EE Smith) was started in the same year.
    – bob1
    Apr 6, 2022 at 22:40

3 Answers 3


I mentioned in my question I had found one earlier example, since no one has posted one that predates it I'll add it as answer. The story is "Orbit XXIII-H" from the September 1938 issue of Astounding, by the science writer Willy Ley, written under the pseudonym "Robert Willey" (Ley was a prominent early popularizer of rocket travel who was a consultant for Fritz Lang's movie Woman in the Moon and the TV show Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, and he also authored the influential 1949 book The Conquest of Space).

The story can be read in full on archive.org here, with the history of the international organization the "Space Guards" given on p. 27-28:

“Please tell us off-hand what you remember of the international treaty that is the legal basis for the existence of the Space Guards.”

He could not have asked a question that surprised Houghton more than this one. Every schoolboy had to know this treaty.

“The Treaty provided,” he said stiffly, “that no national law shall be valid outside the stratosphere of Earth, but that anything occurring beyond the thirty-mile altitude shall be judged by Interplanetary Law. Neither shall there be any difference of creed, color, race, religion and nationality before Interplanetary Law. Neither shall there be any restriction or customs for trades between residents of the various worlds of the Solar System if said trade does not touch Earth.”

“Right,” nodded Farrington. “Now, where do we come in?”

“To maintain order and peace, even in case of war on Earth,” recited Houghton, “an international force called Space Guards shall be created, with a special law-book valid for any planet, moon and asteroid, also comet and large meteorite, within the boundaries of the orbit of Jupiter, or outside the orbit of Jupiter if a permanent centre of said force, called Space Guards of the Solar System, is established beyond the aforesaid orbit.”

“Enough!” said Farrington. “It’s not exactly the wording, but so near to it that there is no difference in meaning. Now tell us who signed this treaty?”

“All the powers of the Americas, of Europe and of Africa, also Australia and the majority of the powers of Asia.”

And p. 29 also says:

The law of the Space Guards read that outside the stratosphere of Earth they were not French, or American, or German, or anything else—except by language—but simply Space Guards, sworn to uphold the Interplanetary Laws and to help and aid other humans in any conceivable way.

Ley was friends with Heinlein (a bunch of letters between them are quoted in the book Willy Ley: Prophet of the Space Age), so it's possible the Space Guards in this story might have influenced the similar organization in Space Cadet, or that both were influenced by discussions with Astounding editor John W. Campbell (as mentioned here, discussions between Heinlein, Campbell, and L. Ron Hubbard may have influenced the idea in Space Cadet and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress that space would provide an ideal military high ground to launch weapons down Earth's gravity well).


An earlier story by Heinlein, "Requiem" (1940) shows the various nations of Earth to be still separate, but all space travel is controlled, not by a military force, but by a multi-national corporation, Spaceways, Ltd. Spaceways sets licensing standards for ships, and medical standards for who may travel off-earth. The background for this story was further developed in the later stories "Blowups Happen" (1940) and "The Man Who Sold the Moon" (1950)

Heinlein's 1941 story "Solution Unsatisfactory" describes the creation of an international military organization.It controlled airplanes and radioactive dust, not space ships and nuclear weapons, but is in other ways similar to the Patrol described in Space Cadet. Indeed one could imagine the patrol of "Solution Unsatisfactory" becoming, over the course of 100-200 years, the Patrol of Space Cadet.


I think the concept of a united non-national space control is a fairly old trope; there are many stories from earlier SF with planetary councils and united (planetary) systems, which wouldn't necessarily fit your criteria, but serve as a basis for it. I've put some of these examples here:

The Weapon Too Dreadful to Use (Asimov) published in Amazing Stories 1939 has a planetary council:

Karl,” he said, “we have been friends, so I wish to give you a bit of friendly advice. You are going to leave for Earth next week. I know your father is high in the councils of the Planetary President. You yourself will probably be a personage of importance in the not-too-distant future. Since this is so, I beg you earnestly to use every atom of your influence to a moderation of Earth’s attitude toward Venus. I, in my turn, being a hereditary noble of the largest tribe on Venus, shall do my utmost to repress all attempts at violence.

Asimov also had a few early stories (collected in "The Early Asimov, vol. 1"), which had interplanetary navies and collective governments. Examples of this are "Black Friar of the Flame" (1942) and "Homo Sol" (1940).

Arthur Zagat had an Astounding Stories 1932 publication, "The Great Dome on Mercury" with an Interplanetary Trading Association and an Earth government:

Darl was his friend as well as Chief, and together they had served the Interplanetary Trading Association, ITA, for years, working and fighting together in the wilds of the outer worlds.

M-I-T-A was signalling again, and now came the message: "S-W-A. All trading posts, mines and colonies are warned to prepare for possible attack. The Earth Government has just announced the receipt of an ultimatum from—"

I give these examples, as a means of showing that the concepts, while perhaps not completely developed into an "international governing body", were certainly there as collective ideas and concepts.

  • In terms of evolution towards a Space Cadet style setting, even if we're considering stories with a single unified Earth government rather than multiple nations (or multiple independent planetary governments), do you know any prior stories with space-patrolling organizations that weren't controlled by an Earth government? (as opposed to something like a space navy acting under orders from Earth, or a trading association that followed laws set by an Earth government)
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 7, 2022 at 2:08
  • @Hypnosifl I'll have a think and a dive through some of the older stories. Triplanetary of EE Smith has the tri-planetary council and space navies controlled by that, which evolves into the lensmen, who are independent and don't control space as such, more acting as police and soldiers, but that was published in the same year as Space Cadet.
    – bob1
    Apr 7, 2022 at 4:15
  • The lensman organization was founded by the alien Arisians according to the wiki series, I'm looking for stories with an independent space-based organization founded and run by humans. I know the original Triplanetary stories from 1934 didn't include the lensman background until he revised them into a novel in 1948, but I don't know what the political setup in those stories was.
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 7, 2022 at 18:54
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    I picked up a searchable version of the original 1934 Triplanetary stories from Amazing Stories, there isn't much detail about the nature of the Triplanetary Council but there is one line that refers to the "Triplanetary Council--the government of three of the planets of our solar system". The singular "government" seems to indicate all three planets have one unified government which would also run the Patrol, though the sentence is a bit ambiguous so it could be more like a League of Nations/United Nations style organization that three different planetary governments take part in.
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 7, 2022 at 20:23
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    In Triplanatary Senator Morgan "Chair of the Pernicious Activities Committee of the North American Senate" makes a brief appearance The directl sequel First Lensman (1950, last of the Lensman books published) Shows readers that each continent is a separate nation at that time, and the Triplanatary council had been created by an international treaty. It also has Morgan as a major bad guy. Apr 8, 2022 at 23:54

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