Ray Bradbury Reads Moving Poem, “If Only We Had Taller Been,” on the Eve of NASA’s 1971 Mars Mission

Pow­er­ful. Sim­ply pow­er­ful. In Novem­ber, 1971, the Mariner 9 space orbiter was about to make his­to­ry. It was rapid­ly approach­ing Mars, mak­ing it the first space­craft to orbit anoth­er plan­et. There, it would pro­duce a glob­al map­ping of the Mar­t­ian sur­face and cap­ture “the first detailed views of the mar­t­ian vol­ca­noes, Valles Mariner­is, the polar caps, and the satel­lites Pho­bos and Deimos.” This marked a major mile­stone in the great era of space explo­ration. The excite­ment lead­ing up to the moment was pal­pa­ble.

Just days before the Mariner 9 reached Mars, two of our great­est sci-fi writ­ers, the dear­ly depart­ed Ray Brad­bury and Arthur C. Clarke, shared the stage with two emi­nent sci­en­tists, Carl Sagan and Bruce Mur­ray, at a sym­po­sium held at Cal­tech. At one point, Brad­bury cap­ti­vat­ed the audi­ence when he read his poem, “If Only We Had Taller Been,” and gave an almost spir­i­tu­al inflec­tion to the Mariner 9 mis­sion, remind­ing us of some­thing that Neil deGrasse Tyson once said: the line sep­a­rat­ing reli­gious epiphany and feel­ings cre­at­ed by space explo­ration is awful­ly, awful­ly thin.

The video, which comes to us via Boing­Bo­ing, was put online by NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­to­ry.

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