When I was six years old I moved to Tucson, Arizona, and lived on Lowell Avenue, little realizing I was on an avenue that led to Mars. It was named for the great astronomer Percival Lowell, who took fantastic photographs of the planet that promised a spacefaring future to children like myself.
Along the way to growing up, I read Edgar Rice Burroughs and loved his Martian books, and followed the instructions of his Mars pioneer John Carter, who told me, when I was 12, that it was simple: If I wanted to follow the avenue of Lowell and go to the stars, I needed to go out on the summer night lawn, lift my arms, stare at the planet Mars, and say, "Take me home."
That was the day that Mars took me home—and I never really came back. I began writing on a toy typewriter. I couldn't afford to buy all the Martian books I wanted, so I wrote the sequels myself.
When I was 15, a Martian disguised as an American boy went to see the film Things to Come, by H. G. Wells, about a dark, war-torn future Earth. In the final scene the protagonist, Cabal, and his friend Passworthy watch the first moon rocket disappear into the heavens carrying their two grown children toward a brighter destiny. Cabal looks toward the dust at his feet then up at the stars, saying to Passworthy and to the audience, "Is it this or that? All the universe or nothing? Which shall it be? Which shall it be?"
This Martian staggered out of the theater inspired to write more stories, because I knew we were going to the stars.
Some years later I made my way to New York City on a Greyhound bus, hoping to find a publisher. I carried a bundle of manuscripts with me, and people would ask, "Is that a novel?" To which I replied, "No, I write short stories." On my last night in New York I got a break. I had dinner with an editor from Doubleday who said to me, "I think that without realizing it, you have, in fact, written a novel."
I asked him what he meant.
He replied, "If you tied all your Martian landscapes together and made a tapestry of them, wouldn't they make a book that you could call The Martian Chronicles?"
I was stunned. The small Martian in me hadn't realized that he'd been putting his hands inside my hands and moving the typewriter keys to write a book. I finished it over the next six months. I was 29—and well on my way to the stars.
In 1976 I was invited to stay overnight at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, waiting for news to come back from the Viking 1 lander, which was going to touch down on Mars and take photographs.
It was incredibly exciting to be there, surrounded by engineers, waiting for the first pictures. There was a tall gentleman standing next to me, who I thought looked familiar. At last I realized it was none other than Wernher von Braun, the man who had fled Germany for America to become the co-inventor of the rocket that took us to the moon and that was now taking us to the planets.
Early in the morning the photographs began to arrive. I could hardly believe I was seeing the surface of Mars! At 9:00 a.m., ABC television put me on the air to get my reaction.
The interviewer said, "Mr. Bradbury, how do you feel about this landing? Where are the Martian cities and where are all the living beings?"
"Don't be a fool," I said. "WE are the Martians! We're going to be here for the next million years. At long last, WE ARE MARTIANS!"
That was the end of the interview.
I like to think of the cosmos as a theater, yet a theater cannot exist without an audience, to witness and to celebrate. Robot craft and mighty telescopes will continue to show us unimaginable wonders. But when humans return to the moon and put a base there and prepare to go to Mars and become true Martians, we—the audience—literally enter the cosmic theater. Will we finally reach the stars?
A few years ago I traveled back to my boyhood home in Tucson. I stood out on the lawn and looked up at the night sky—and realized the stars had never looked closer than right there on Lowell Avenue.