Rocket Ship Galileo
When Robert Heinlein first sent his new novel, Rocket Ship Galileo, to publishers in the late 1940s, they all rejected it. The very premise of the story -- a manned trip to the moon -- was simply too absurd to be taken seriously at the time.
Finally, Scribner's agreed to publish Rocket Ship Galileo in 1947, which became the first in a highly successful series of juvenile novels written by Heinlein. Only 22 years later, men did walk on the Moon, proving that Heinlein's vision was not crazy.
Although the idea of Moon voyages was pretty far out at the time, the reluctance of publishers to accept the book may have had a little something to do with the actual story, which is entertaining but has a number of implausible elements.
The novel's plot focuses primarily on three high school students -- Ross Jenkins, Art Mueller, and Maurice "Morrie" Abrams -- who form the Galileo Club to share their interests in space and science. They experiment with rockets as they prepare to go off to college.
One day, Art's uncle, the Nobel Prize winning physicist Charles Cargraves, shows up with an intriguing proposition. Cargraves, who worked on the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb, has a surplus "mail rocket." He wants the boys' help to convert it to a nuclear rocket for a trip to the Moon.
The boys ditch their plans for college and head out to a secret desert location to help Cargraves build his Moon ship. Mysterious acts of sabotage occur as unknown agents seek to prevent them from getting off the planet.
Despite these obstacles and a nearly non-existent budget, they finish the rocket ship Galileo and launch themselves to the Moon. After an 11-day trip, they land on the surface, claim the Moon for the United Nations, and contact Earth by radio to let them know they have landed.
They soon discover that they are not the first to land on the Moon. An alien civilization had existed long ago, but it had been wiped out in a holocaust. The remains of their society lie buried in the lunar dust.
They also discover that they are not alone. Others from Earth got there first. And they are a scourge that everyone in the 1940s feared the most. The Nazis! Some of them had clearly escaped defeat in 1945 and fled to the Moon, where they set up a secret base to plan their second attempt to conquer the world.
The Nazis didn't win World War II on Earth, and they sure didn't win the one on the Moon. Dr. Cargraves and his three young assistants overpower the Nazis. They alert Earth, which destroys the secret base. The physicist and the boys return to Earth in a captured Nazi spaceship as heroes.
Rocket Ship Galileo was loosely adapted by Heinlein and two other writers for the motion picture, Destination Moon, which was released in 1950. It was the first movie made in the United States to deal realistically with the prospects of space travel.