quarta-feira, 19 de setembro de 2012

Dreams of Space Travel from Antiquity to Verne by Frederick I. Ordway III




Gustave Dove’s depiction of Lukian’s True History, in which a sailing ship carrying Greek athletes is lifted by a “most violent whirlwind” to the Moon. Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center.

   We don’t know when the idea of flying into space first occurred to a human being. In the remote past a story-teller may have woven a tale of gods, or god­like men, soaring into the heavens. That they could attain such mysterious realms would surely have awed primitive listeners and set them to wondering about the lights in the skies above.

The concrete beginnings of the cosmic travel theme are not found in legends—though they may be based, in part at least, on legendary materials— but in the written literature. A fictional trip to an­other world could not be conceived until astronomy had given man some sort of notion of the universe and a tentative feeling for his approximate relation­ship to it.

Imaginative flights into the skies occurred long before Galileo Galilei’s early-seventeenth-century telescopic observations of the Moon and planets.
But they were flights of fantasy using the journey itself and the Moon as allegory. And the craft em­ployed were little different from routine contempo­rary modes of transportation: in one story, someone even walked to the Moon! For centuries, there was no particular reason to suppose that the Moon—or the planets, for that matter—were in any way “real” in the sense the Earth was. There was no more need to invent a special device to visit the lunar sphere than there was to visit Heaven or Mount Olympus. The Moon, like Heaven and Olympus, was suitable only as a setting for allegory.

Allegory or otherwise, a few visionaries suspected that the Moon, and perhaps the planets, might be visited and might even be populated. When this happened the stage was set for the appearance of the first works of space fiction.
If interpretations of astronomical observations and the development of imaginative literature did not advance along parallel tracks, they were at least dis­torted reflections of one another. The astronomical relationship between, for example, the Earth and Moon was for centuries believed to be such that a voyage between them would not entail severe hard­ships. To be sure, the precursors of latter-day space fiction writers had to stretch their sense of reality; but, seen in the context of their intellectual heritage, the solutions they proposed for heavenly travel were more plausible than they appear today.
   We know of no pre-Christian-Era work that devel­ops a tale wherein the hero departs from the Earth, makes a voyage, lands on another world, experiences adventures there, and returns—the minimum re­quirements of a proto-space fiction adventure. The arguments of Aristotle and other philosophers con­vinced most Greeks that there could be no Earth­like worlds in the universe; however, there were a few who suspected the Moon at least might be something like our planet. One was Plutarch (C. A.D. 46-120), who, in his De facie in orbe lunae (On the Face That Appears in the Orb of the Moon), countered that the Moon is similar to the Earth, though smaller, and is inhabited by a species of intelligent beings. The seed of space travel is seen in his view that before birth and after death souls may wander off to our satellite and gaze upon its mysteries. Plu­tarch suggested that the Moon shines by reflected sunlight and that it revolves around the Earth as the Earth revolves around the Sun—an opinion almost unique in his day.

Even before Plutarch, the Latin statesman and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero had written Somnium Scipionis (Scipio’s Dream), in which Scipio ponders the universe and the true insignificance of the Earth. He conjectured, “Below the Moon is nothing that is not mortal and perishable, except the minds given by the gods to the human race, and above the Moon all things are eternal.” Such ideas were stirring the imagination, paving the way for cosmic adventures.

Within half a century of Plutarch (around A.D. 165), the Syrian sophist and satirist Lukian (in Greek, Loukianos) of Samosata composed the Alethes historia, (commonly known by its Latin title Vera historia, in English True History). Here we find what is probably the first work of space fiction offer­ing the essential ingredients noted above: the trip, the landing, descriptions of and adventures on the world being visited, and, hopefully, the safe return.

Before commencing this tale of great adventure beyond the Pillars of Hercules, the author warns us that “I shall at least say one thing true, when I tell you that I lie, and shall hope to escape the general censure, by acknowledging that I mean to speak not a word of truth throughout.” We are told of bizarre adventures befalling a crew of 50 Greek athletes homeward bound in a sailing vessel. “About noon ... a most violent whirlwind arose, and carried the ship above three thousand stadia, lifting it up above the water, from whence it did not let us down again into the seas but kept us suspended in mid-air. In this manner we hung for seven days and nights, and on the eighth beheld a large tract of land, like an island, round, shining, and remarkably full of light; we got on shore, and found on examination that it was cultivated and full of inhabitants, though we could not then see any of them.” Called Hippogypi, they ride around on three-headed vultures adorned with feathers “bigger than the mast of a ship.”

Hundreds of years pass and there is no repetition of adventures such as this in world literature. People may occasionally dream of going to the Moon; they do not write about it. Then, in 1010, Firdausi’s great Persian epic poem Shãh-Nãma appeared following 40 years of labor. Among its 60,000 verses covering the legendary history of Persia are lines that tell of a marvelous flight into the heavens. The poem pre­serves ancient legends of which no earlier records exist:

The soul of that king was full of thought as to how he should rise into the air without wings.
He asked many questions of the learned as to how far it was from this Earth to the sphere of the Moon . . . 
Then he fetched four vigorous eagles and bound them firmly to the throne
   Kai-Kã’us seated himself on the throne having placed a goblet of wine in front of him.
When the swift eagles grew hungry they each of them hastened toward the meat [legs of lamb suspended from lances fastened to the side of the throne].
They raised up the throne from the face of the Earth; they lifted it up from the plain into the clouds.

    During medieval times in Europe there were no true tales of travel to other worlds as such, though dreams and fantasies involving roving spirits were fairly common. In the Italian poet Ludovico Ario­sto’s Orlando Furioso (1532), however, St. John the Evangelist proposes to Astolpho that he “a flight more daring take/To yonder Moon, that in its orbit rolls,/The nearest planet to our earthly poles.” So off Astolpho goes to the Moon in a chariot drawn by four red horses in quest of the lost mind of Or­lando. The mind turns up in a flask, but that is not all our lunar neighbor offers. “Swell’d like the Earth, and seem’d an Earth in size,” not only does it pos­sess most of the natural features of our world but cities, towns, and castles as well.

Statue of the great Persian poet and author of the Shah- Nama, Firdausi (A.D. 955-1025), a gift from the city of Teheran to the city of Rome. Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center.

    Before Galileo, little was known of the Moon, and the planets were merely objects that move regularly across the skies. In fact, the word "planet" comes from the Greek word for "wanderer", which before Galileo’s time did not have the same significance that it has today.

Overnight, Galileo forever changed mankind’s view of the universe. The Moon, he explained in Sidereus nuncius (1610), “does not possess a smooth and polished surface, but one rough and uneven, and just like the face of the Earth itself, [and] is ev­erywhere full of vast protuberances, deep chasms, and sinuosities.” To be sure, many of the ancient Greek philosophers had speculated what the Moon might be like, but Galileo was the first to know: he had seen it with his own eyes through a telescope. He then turned his newly invented instrument on the planets. Jupiter, he discovered, was not a point of light like the other stars, but was instead a pale, golden globe with—miracle of miracles!—four tiny planets circling it.

   Eventually, Galileo was forced by the Church to recant his discoveries, his interpretations of them, and most important his support of the Copernican Sun-centered solar system. But the damage was done. When men looked skyward, they no longer saw abstract points of light; instead, they saw worlds comparable to their own. Not surprisingly, such dis­coveries inspired speculation that these new worlds might even be inhabited.
   Meanwhile another astronomer, no less a figure than Johannes Kepler, gave to civilization an unusual piece of literature that helped set a new tone to man’s yearnings to leave the Earth and explore what is beyond, inspired, he wrote a friend, by his translation of Lukian’s True History from Greek into Latin. Mathematician and science adviser to the Habsburg Emperor Rudolph II in Prague, Kepler began to consider voyages beyond the Earth in the very summer of 1609 during which his laws of plan­etary motion were printed. He communicated his ideas to Galileo in 1610 and talked of “celestial boats with golden sails” manned by “people who will not fear the vastness” of space. Kepler had to be careful about what he said, for his Lutheran church was as adamant about preserving an Earth-centered uni­verse as Galileo’s Catholic counterpart. Moreover, Habsburg political sensitivities had to be considered. Accordingly, Kepler wrote what he called his “lunar geography” in the form of fiction.

The Somnium (Dream) was composed as an alle­gory in 1609, footnoted between the early 1620s and 1630, and published in 1634 (four years after Kepler’s death). It is a strange work not only in itself but because it was written by a renowned astronomer, an unlikely author of such a fantastic tale. Somnium is about a voyage to the Moon couched in supernat­ural terms in which demons can, on occasion, carry humans from Earth (Volva) to the Moon (Levania). Kepler hoped that scholars might recognize in the word daemon a supposed relationship to the Greek daiein (to know), though philologically the relation­ship is not, in fact, correct. In any event, daemon, more commonly spelled demon, retained in Somnium its common meaning of evil spirit.

   It turns out that demons abhor sunlight but can travel during the night. Normaly, it is impossible for them to pass between the two worlds, but from time to time, when the shadow of the Earth intersects the Moon, they are able to cross.

The first two notes prepared by Kepler for his Somnium, which was published posthu-mously in 1634. In the first note he referred to the name Duracrotus (the book’s hero) and to the fact that “The sound of this word came to me from a recollection of names of a similar sound in the history of Scotland, a land that looks out over the Icelandic Ocean.” In the sec¬ond note he begins by explaining that Iceland, Duracrotus’s home, “means ‘land of ice1 in our German language. I saw in this truly remote island a place where I might sleep and dream and thus imitate the philosophers in this kind of writing. . . .” Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center.

   And, under seldom-met conditions, these same de­mons transport humans, who, to prepare them for the journey through the vacuum of space, have been given an anesthetic potion (“sleeping draught”) and “moist sponges” held to the nostrils. Since the Moon is so far away (50,000 German miles—1 such mile equaling about 4.6 modern miles), Kepler wrote that “no sedentary persons are accepted into our company; no fat ones; no frail ones; we choose only those who have spent their lives on horseback . . . and are accustomed to eating . . . unpalatable food.” In short, a trip to the Moon was only for the well trained and hardy.

    Kepler further postulated that voyagers to the Moon “must . . . circulate aloft for several days in the cone of the Earth’s shadow in order that . . . [they] be on hand at the moment of the Moon’s entry into this shadow.” From then on, “The whole journey [to the Moon] is accomplished in the space of four hours.” Explained the allegorical demon, “On such a headlong dash we can take few companions—only those who are most respectful of us.”

   During the time that Galileo and those who fol­lowed him were sighting new worlds in the skies, others were finding new lands on the other side of the Adantic Ocean. Only a century had passed since Columbus had sailed for China, bumping instead into a new continent. Since then, John and Sebas­tian Cabot had explored the coasts of North Amer­ica for Britain while the Portuguese and Spanish had laid the groundwork for a vast empire in the south. Between 1519 and 1522, Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastian del Cano had made their epic voyage around the now undoubtedly spherical Earth. By the time of Galileo, hundreds of ships and thousands of explorers, missionaries, colonists, soldiers, and ad­venturers had made the journey to amazingly rich and strange new lands. Not only did our planet har­bor unsuspected worlds; but, it seemed, skies were full of them, too.

    The situation was indeed bizarre. The new worlds of America, which could not be seen from Europe and whose existence relied on travelers’ tales and evocative maps, nevertheless could be visited by any­one possessing the funds, connections, and courage. But now there were other worlds in the skies visible to anyone. It was tantalizing to imagine that they— like the recendy discovered New World on Earth— might contain unknown civilizations and empires. Yet there was no apparent way to reach, explore, and perhaps even conquer them.

    Galileo’s discoveries, and those of astronomers who followed him (the rings of Saturn, that world’s giant moon Titan, the illusive markings on Mars, even a new planet, Uranus), influenced the evolu­tion of the idea of traveling in space. Since the Moon and planets were now known to be real worlds, it was no longer possible to think of them stricdy as metaphorical symbols.
The title page of the exceedingly rare first edition (1638) of Francis Godwin’s Man in the Moone: or a Discourse of a Voyage Thirther, which was written under the pseudonym Domingo Gonsalez. Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Discourse of a Voyage Center.

   It was one thing to speak of visiting a shining disk in the skies that, so far as anyone knew, might not possess solid, Earthlike attributes. It was now quite another thing to deal with the Moon or a planet as a tangible world with its own landscapes, scenery, perhaps even flora and fauna. To visit such real places, it was no longer sufficient to propose some miraculous happening like a chance whirlwind. If one were going to visit the Moon or planets, at least somewhat plausible transportation means had to be devised.

Seventeenth-Century Narratives of Space Travel

    The shape of things to come is seen in Francis Godwin’s charming story of Domingo Gonsales, the “Speedy Messenger,” The Man in the Moone: or a Discourse of a Voyage Thither (1638). Godwin (later a bishop in the Church of England) relied on bird power while offering such materialistic de­tails as the construction of harnesses, the frame­work that bound them together, and the velocity of ascent. Gonsales, a Spaniard of good but poor family, leaves his country to seek fortune overseas. Eventually, he ends up in the East Indies, where he does so well that he proudly sets sail for his native land. But on the way home he becomes so sick that he is taken off the ship and left, with his servant Diego, on St. Helena Island. As the adven­ture unfolds, we are alerted that we shall “have notice of a new world, of many rare and incredible secrets of Nature, that all the Philosophers of former ages could never so much as dreame of.”

    To escape from the island, our hero trains some young swanlike birds called gansas and yokes them to a mechanical device of his invention. After a short test flight, he instructs them to take him to another location on the island, but all does not go according to plan. The birds fly onward, carrying Gonsales to a strange land somewhere between the Earth and the Moon. There, “the Gansa’s began to bestir them- selues, still directing their course toward the Globe or body of the Moone,” speeding along at about “Fifty Leagues in every hower.” (Godwin estimated the Moon to be about 50,000 miles distant, a figure perhaps taken from Kepler and thus meaning Ger­man miles, and stated that the trip took some 11 days. Thus, he traveled about 4,545 miles a day or nearly 190 miles an hour. Since a league ranged from 2.4 to 4.6 statute miles, and since we don’t even know what kind of miles Godwin was thinking about, it is impossible to pin down the actual speed in modern terms.) 

    As the hard-flying birds carried Domingo Gonsales ever onward the Earth grew smaller, whereas "still on the contrary side of the Moone shewed her selfe more and more monstrously huge.” Then, “Af­ter Eleven daies passage in the violent flight, I per­ceived that we began to approach neare unto another earth, if I may so call it, being the Globe or very body of that starre which we call the Moone.” The rest of the book describes his adventures there and return to Earth.

    We cannot be harsh on Domingo Gonsales’s cre­ator, Bishop Godwin, from the safe vantage point of a later age, for his was a clear attempt to describe in detail a mechanical method of travel. During the years that followed, many writers, great, mediocre, and insignificant, were to imitate, in one way or an­other, the theme of Domingo Gonsales.

    One inspired by Gonsales was the Restoration poet, novelist, and playwright Aphra Behn, often considered to be the first Englishwoman to become a professional writer. Her 1687 play The Emperor of the Moon: A Farce enthusiastically brings forth mem­ories of the then half-century-old tale:

Doct. [Doctor Baliardo] That wondrous Ebula [a magic stone], which Gonzales had?
Char. [Don Charmante, one of the suitors to the Doctor’s daughter and niece] The same—by Vertue of which, all weight was taken from him, and then with ease the lofty Traveller flew ... to Olympus Top, from whence he had but one step to the Moon. Dizzy he grants he was.
Doct. No wonder, Sir, Oh happy great Gonzales'.

Godwin’s Domingo Gonsales en route to the Moon, carried aloft by trained swanlike birds called gansas. Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center. 

The title page of Apbra Behn’s The Emperor of the Moon: A Farce (1687). The play was inspired in part by Godwin’s Man in the Moone. Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center.

    In the same year as Godwin’s tale—1638—another and quite different kind of book was published in London. This one was by John Wilkins—also a fu­ture bishop—and, like many works of its era, had a long title: The Discovery of a World in the Moone; or, A Discourse Tending to Prove, that ’tis probable there may be another habitable World in that Planet. Unlike Godwin’s, Wilkins’s work was presented not as fic­tion but rather as a story based on scientific facts as they were then surmised (a half-century before New­ton published his Principia Mathematica with its laws of planetary motion).

    Wilkins was convinced that the main problem to be resolved for lunar travel was how to loft the flyer to that point between the Earth and Moon where the former’s influence ends. This point was believed to be not much farther “than that orb of thick va­porous air, that encompasseth the earth,” or about 20 miles. Once that altitude is attained—and Wilkins was convinced it could be quite easily—the rest be­comes simple. And since “our bodies will ... be de­void of gravity,” no efforts would be exerted and hence no food would be required en route to the Moon. Wrote Wilkins: “You will say there can be no sailing thither [to the Moon] . . . We have not now any Drake, or Columbus, to undertake this voyage, or any Daedalus to invent a conveyance through the air. I answer, though we have not, yet why may not succeeding times raise up some spirits as eminent for new attempts, and strange inventions, as any that were before them? ... I do seriously, and upon good grounds affirm it possible to make a flying-chariot.”

    The next major work of space fiction was by a Frenchman, none other than Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac. Wit, playwright, author, swordsman, phi­losopher, and satirist, he found time to write two “comical histories”: Histoire comique des États et Em­pires de la Lune (1656) and Histoire comique des États et Empires du Soleil (1662). The former appeared in English translation by Thomas St. Serf in 1659 and the two books together in 1687 by A. Lovell under the title The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Worlds of the Moon and Sun. Both books are parodies on the theme of travels to other worlds, and both enjoyed some credibility because their au­thor was aware of the latest advances in seventeenth- century science. Though his motive was in part to burlesque the concept, Cyrano felt constrained to limit himself to at least somewhat plausible methods of spaceflight. Knowledge of scientific discoveries was becoming increasingly diffused and it was no longer acceptable to rely solely on supernatural means to transport adventurers to the new worlds in the skies.

John Wilkins’s The Discov-ery of a World in the Moone . . . was published in the same year as Godwin’s fantasy but was quite different in approach. As its subtitle indicates, Wilkins inquired as to whether there might be “another habitable World in that Planet.” Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center.

   Cyrano carefully explains his attempts to reach the Moon. Knowing that the Sun “draws” dew upward at dawn, he surrounds his waist with vials filled with the liquid. The idea works: the Sun causes the dew to rise, vials, Cyrano, and all, “above the middle Region of the Air.” Lest his speed be so great that he might bypass the Moon altogether, he breaks several vials “until I found my weight exceed the force of the Attraction.” But he breaks too many vials, the Earth’s attraction dominates that of the Moon, and he ends up in New-France—French-speaking Canada.

    So he tries again, constructing a machine “which I fancied might carry me as high as I pleased, so that nothing seeming to be wanting to it, I placed my self within, and from the Top of a Rock threw my self in the Air. But because I had not taken my mea­sures aright, I fell with a sosh in the Valley below.” To relieve the bruises resulting from his fall, he anoints himself with beef marrow from head to foot. Meanwhile, some soldiers have attached fireworks to his machine and are about to light them when Cyrano arrives. “I was so transported with Grief,” he exclaims, “to find the work of my Hands in so great Peril, that I ran to the Soldier that was giving Fire to it.” But he is too late, for “hardly were both my Feet within [the machine], when whip, away went I up in a Cloud.” At some point, the firework rockets burn out—“all the combustible Matter being spent”—and the machine falls back to Earth. But Cyrano continues onward, for it seems that when the Moon is in the wane, it sucks up the marrow of animals: “she drank up that wherewith I was an- nointed, with so much more force, that her Globe was nearer to me, that no interposition of Clouds weakened her Attraction.” Soon Cyrano reaches the Moon, landing in a tree.  
In this rendering from a 1710 edition of Cyrano de Bergerac’s lunar tale, an attempt is made to use rocket power to reach the Moon. The attempt fails, and. the device falls back to Earth. Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center.

   After a lengthy sojourn on the Moon, Cyrano re­turns safely to Earth in a day and a half, carried by a whirlwind. Exhilarated by his triumphs, he sets out to build a flying device to take him to the more dis­tant Sun. Soon, he has fashioned a telephone-booth­shaped device in the roof of which he places a large crystal icosahedron, each facet being a lens. The sun­light focused within the icosahedron by the lenses heats the interior, creating a vacuum. The air that rushes into the bottom of the car, to fill the void, carries the car with Cyrano aboard upward with it.

For his part, Wilkins inspired the Italian artist Filippo Morghen to prepare a series of fanciful drawings of what it might be like on the Moon. This is no. 6 in a series published in Naples in 1764. Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center.
He quickly passes the Moon and other bodies, “sometimes on the right, and sometimes on the left, several Earths like ours.” Eventually the air becomes so rarefied that his flying machine starts to fall back toward Earth. But Cyrano continues onward by sheer willpower; 22 months later, “I at length hap­pily arrived at the great plains of Day” whose land­scape appeared “like flakes of burning Snow, so luminous it was.”

   Story after story followed, but most were varia­tions on themes developed earlier. A major event occurred in 1686 when Bernard de Fontenelle pub­lished a popular astronomy book called Entretiens sur la plumlite des mondes (Conversations on the Plu­rality of Worlds). It was read and translated widely throughout Europe, partly because of its style but largely because of its fascinating speculations on the nature and habitability of the worlds in the solar system. Fontenelle tells us that each known planet has its own race of people and something of their appearance, civilization, and habits. Oddly enough, he was not convinced of the Moon’s habitability be­cause the air there was probably too rarefied. More­over, relatively little attention was given to Mars, compared with such unlikely (to us) abodes of life as Mercury and Jupiter.

   Four years after Fontenelle’s book came Gabriel Daniel’s Voyage du monde de Descartes (A Voyage to the World of Cartesius), a novel that broke with the incipient trend toward natural methods of attaining the Moon and introduced the idea of soul or thought travel. The hero’s soul separates from the body and soars out to the globe of the Moon and the universe beyond, finding, among many mysteries, the great master “Monsieur Descartes.” The Moon is described in some detail and is found to be not unlike the Earth.

   In 1698, the renowned scientist Christian Huygens wrote Cosmotheoros, sive de Terris coelestibus earumque omatu conjecturae (translated as Cosmotheoros: or Con­jectures Concerning the Planetary Worlds and as The Celestial Worlds Discover’d: or Conjectures Concerning the Inhabitants, Plants, and Productions of the Worlds in the Planets). No space voyage is described; rather, the author speculates on the habitability of worlds and concludes them to be abodes of rational beings. He sees no hope of visiting other worlds, so “we must be contented with what’s in our Power: we must suppose ourselves there.” Throughout the seven­teenth century we find almost universal agreement that the planets are inhabited. The principal variable is the means chosen to visit them, whether birds, wings attached to humans, dew, magnetic attraction, the projection of disembodied thoughts, or “just supposing.”

Eighteenth-Century Precursors of Space Fiction

    With the publication of David Russen’s Iter Lunare: or Voyage to the Moon in 1703 we find a curious Moon-spring device being employed. “Since Spring­iness is a cause of forcible motion, and a Spring will, when bended and let loose, extend itself to its length,” Russen speculated that a spring of well- tempered steel could be fashioned “wherein a Man, with other necessaries, could abide with safety, this Spring being with Cords, Pullies, or other Engins bent and then let loose by degrees by those who manage the Pullies, the other end would reach the Moon, where the Person ascended landing, might continue there.”

   Two years after Iter Lunare appeared Daniel De­foe’s The Consolidator, another tale of lunar travel. In it, we are told how ancient peoples mastered the art of flying to and from the Moon, and how Mira-cho- cho-lasmo came to Earth to visit the emperor of China. Defoe reviews many legends of flights to the Moon and of several types of what today we would call spaceships. Probably the most intriguing is an engine known as the Consolidator, constructed “in the shape of a Chariot, on the backs of two vast Bodies with extended Wings, which spread about fifty yards in breadth, composed of Feathers so nicely put together, that no air could pass; and as the Bodies were made of lunar earth, which would bear the Fire, the Cavities were filled with an ambi­ent flame, which fed on a certain spirit, deposited in a proper quantity to last out the Voyage; and this Fire so ordered as to move about such springs and wheels as kept the wings in most exact and regular Motion.” We cannot fathom what sort of propellant Defoe was thinking of, but he did offer a more technical-sounding approach to space travel than other writers of his time.
Daniel Defoe’s anonymously published The Consolidator describes a strange spaceship propelled by a “certain spirit.” Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center

   Authors are now beginning to provide ever more details: numbers, distances, speeds, construction methods and materials, and the like. But by the time pseudonymous Samuel Brunt’s A Voyage to Cacklogallinia (1727) and Murtagh McDermot’s A Trip to the Moon (1728) appear, we find the lunar world once again, albeit temporarily, being reached by well-tried bird and whirlwind methods. Brunt’s tale was inspired in part by Godwin and in part by spec­ulative fever related to the early-eighteenth-century “South Sea Bubble” scandal involving the South Sea Company and English trade with the Spanish West Indies. Brunt decided to invent his own speculative enterprise, one that would offer great economic re­ward with minimal risk: the hunt for gold on the Moon. After many and varied adventures, Brunt finds himself on a remote island inhabited by an in­telligent race of bird people. From there, he and his new Cacklogallinian friend Volatilio set off for the lunar world “with incredible swiftness” in a palan­quin lofted by other Cacklogallinians. But the voy­age nevertheless takes time: “We were about a Month before we came into the Attraction of the Moon, in all which none of us had the least inclina­tion to Sleep, or Eat, or found our selves any way fatigued, nor, till we reach’d that Planet, did we close our Eyes.” While they do find gold on the Moon, the local inhabitants refuse to part with it and the trip is an economic failure.

    McDermot’s tale tells of a visit to the Canaries during which he ascends the Peak of Teneriffe. While resting at the summit and meditating “on my own corrupt Nature, a sudden Whirlwind came, that rais’d me from the Place I stood on.”Up, up, up he is carried, “so that I was quickly remov’d into the Sphere of the Moon’s Attraction, more than I in­tended, for two thirds of my Body being attracted by the Moon, the rest soon follow’d, so that I was carried with incredible swiftness, which still increas’d in my fall towards that Planet.” That fall led McDer- mot directly into “a Fish-pond, which our sharp- sighted Philosophers mistake for a Part of the Sea, and call it Sinus Rorum ... It is call’d in the Lan­guage of the Moon Brugg Quqns because it belongs to the King of Quqns.” The return required considerable ingenuity on McDermot’s part.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Like Godwin nearly a century earlier, the pseudonymous Samuel Brunt chose bird power in his A Voyage to Cacklogallinia (1727), of which the frontispiece is illustrated here. Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center.

Convenient whirlwinds will no longer do, so “Gun-Powder” is called into play. Knowing that it “will raise a Ball of any Weight to any Height: Now I design to place myself in the Middle of ten wooden Vessels, placed one within another, with the Outermost strongly hooped with Iron, to prevent its breaking.” In the tradition of Godwin and Defoe, details flow: an un­specified amount of gunpowder is not enough; it has to be pointed out that there are exactly 7,000 barrels of it. Nor can McDermot gloss over his land­ing back on Earth: his fall must be abated by wings during the final descent. 
Rather tame compared to McDermot but worked out in almost painful detail is Ralph Morris’s 1751 novel A Narrative of the Life and Astonishing Adven­tures of John Daniel. With his son Jacob, the hero finds himself stranded on a faraway island with no way to return home. Together they construct a de­vice from materials salvaged from a shipwreck and made to fly by pump-operated calico cloth wings supported by iron ribs—as the pump goes up anddown, so do the wings. So efficiendy does the de­vice work that the adventurers land not on some civilized country on Earth but—of course—on the Moon.
In developing his tale of spaceflights, the French philosophe François Marie Arouet de Voltaire had a rather different objective in mind. He broke with the trend of offering at least quasi-technical explanations as to how space travelers reach their destinations, using his Micromégas (1752) to satirize man’s pompos­ity and the widespread belief of his importance in the universe. First of all, Voltaire does not start his tale here on Earth, as virtually all previous writers had done, or even in the solar system, but on giant Sirius. Because of the star’s size, Sirians are logically enormous, our hero Micromégas standing 120,000 royal feet high! A precocious lad only 250 years old, he has mastered geometry and is busily studying and writing about the possibility of life on other worlds. Convicted for heretical beliefs, he is banished for a mere 800 years, a sentence Micromégas puts to good use. Instead of moping in some distant realm of his own world, he decides to explore the universe. Using sunbeams, comets, and a sure knowledge of gravita­tion, he easily travels from star to star across the Milky Way to our solar system.

Upon arrival, Micromégas strikes up a warm rela­tionship with the Secretary of the Grand Academy of Saturn, and the two argue about, and philoso­phize on, all manner of subjects. Finally they decide together to visit the rest of the solar system, flying first to the rings and moons of Saturn, then to Jupi­ter and Mars. Helpful comets are used, an imagina­tive new transportation means that had not occurred to earlier and more serious space writers. Finally, and inevitably, Earth is reached, a tiny world the Sirian and Saturnian are certain is uninhabited. But events cause Micromégas to peer lazily through one of a chain of diamonds hanging around his neck. The microscopic effect shows a whale to be swim­ming through an ocean he had considered a mere puddle. Then a ship carrying polar explorers leaps into view. Reluctantly, Micromégas acknowledges that even so insignificant a world as Earth can har­bor intelligent creatures.

 A ladder may sound like a particularly absurd way to get to the Moon, but that is how it is done in the mid-eighteenth-century booklet Man in the Moon, probably composed by Miles Wilson, an English curate. In a longer book published in 1757, The His­tory of Israel Jobson, the Wandering Jew, the hero chooses an easier way: the chariot, a well-proven device of cosmic fiction. 

Louis Guillaume de La Follie’s “electrical” flying device, which was described in his 177s work Le Philosophe sans prétension, ou l`homme rare... (The Unpretentious Philosopher, or the Unusual Man). Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center.

Some of the characteristics of the modern science fiction novel appeared in a 1775 French work by Louis Guillaume de La Follie, Le philosophe sans pré­tention. A strange tale unfolds of a Mercurian who arrives on Earth and relates his adventures to one Nadir, an Oriental. It seems that on the planet Mer­cury an inventor named Scintilla had created a mar­velous flying chariot powered by electricity. Amid scorn and ridicule, he proved that his invention would work in an amazing test flight witnessed by members of the Academy. This unleashes a series of events that leads to Mercury’s first spaceflight. Though doubting the practicality of the invention, a colleague named Ormisais nevertheless tries it out and, to his great surprise, the device functions after all. So he flies away to Earth in Scintilla’s electric chariot and, after a fairly standard trip, crash-lands on our world.
By the time we approach the nineteenth century, scientific knowledge had advanced to the point that fiction writers had to take increasing cognizance of reality. In 1783, the man-carrying balloon was in­vented by the Montgolfier brothers in France. By then, also, the industrial revolution was getting un­der way in England. Whether a blessing or a curse, science and engineering were an ever-growing factor in everyday life. Between 1750 and 1810, steam en­gines, spinning jennys, circular saws, power looms, bicycles, lightning rods, cotton gins, electric batter­ies, and other inventions had appeared. The chang­ing intellectual environment brought about by such progress understandably influenced writers, resulting in the disappearance of some of the romance of ear­lier tales of space travel. More and more often, at­tention was focused on the scientific and technical aspects of lunar and planetary voyages, though once on the target world the hero could do, find, and re­port whatever pleased the author’s fancy.

 Take Joseph Atterley’s A Voyage to the Moon with some Account of the Manners and Customs, Science and Philosophy of the People ofMorosofia and other Lunari­ans, published in 1827. The author (actually Univer­sity of Virginia professor George Tucker) described a modern-sounding device: “The machine in which we proposed to embark, was a copper vessel, that could have been an exact cube of six feet, if the cor­ners and edges had not been rounded off. It had an opening large enough to receive our bodies, which was closed by double sliding pannels, with quilted cloth between them.” A metal called lunarium served to “overcome the weight of the machine, as well as its contents, and take us to the moon.” We have here the anti-gravity concept that would become popular during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, even though it had no more scientific credibility than tethered fowl. Still, it exuded an aura of science, and that had become important.

Eight years later, Edgar Allan Poe—who, inciden­tally, had been a student under Professor Tucker and was certainly influenced by him—sent the character of “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall” on a lunar trip in a homemade balloon. The hero’s reasons for going to the Moon are neither romantic nor commendable: Hans was heavily in debt, and to him the logical escape from creditors was to hide on the Moon. Poe’s description of the Earth as seen from space was surprisingly accurate, evidence of his concern in establishing scientific credibility for his fiction. Interestingly, his balloon and sealed gondola bear striking resemblance to the stratosphere balloons of the 1930s. 

At about the same time, Richard Adams Locke was busily populating that same body with all man­ner of creatures supposedly observed by Sir John Herschel through a telescope mounted in South Af­rica. What came to be known as the “Moon-Hoax” was published as supposedly serious astronomy in the form of installments in the New York Sun during late August 1835. The story enjoyed a large readership and, being presented as fact, was received as fact. Part of the reason it was so accepted was its original title, Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, LL.D., F.R.S., etc. At the Cape of Good Hope; it purported to record facts submitted by Sir John to the august, but (unknown to most) defunct, Edinburgh Journal of Science. One suspects that the skill of the author had something to do with the suc­cess of the hoax, as undoubtedly did the tenor of an epoch when the public was ready to believe almost anything reported as science. In due course the story was found to be a hoax, much to the amusement, or indignation, of the public.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  One of a series of imaginary drawings published by F. Wenzel in Naples in 1836. Inspired by Richard Adams Locke’s Moon Hoax,” which had appeared in installments in the New York Sun in August 183s, it purported to describe discoveries of lunar life made at the Cape of Good Hope by astronomer Sir John Herschel. Ordway Collection Space & Rocket Center.

A generation later the Frenchman Achille Eyraud wrote a modest work, Voyage a Venus (1865), con­taining a description of a spaceship powered by the reaction principle. The scheme would not actually have worked, for Eyraud proposed ejecting water as the reaction mass, to be gathered in a container and then recirculated for further use. But the appearance of the book was an important first in that the role of reaction in space travel had finally been recognized in the fictional literature.1 

With Eyraud and his Venus spaceship we have reached the year of the publication of Jules Verne’s seminal De la Terre a la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon). How this story, along with its 1870 sequel Autour de la Lune (Round the Moon), influenced the future of space fiction and space fact is the subject of the chapter that follows. 


1. The relevant passage states: “There exists, moreover, a motor that borrows no force from the surrounding environment, one that is based on the difference in pressures that act on the interior walls of a body and of which you have frequendy been able to observe the re¬sults in the air. . . . How many times have you not seen raise themselves into the air, not like balloons because of their relative lightness, but because of an internal impulse, these objects, brilliant signs of popular festivities, that illuminate our holidays in all countries, and for all governments: flying rockets?” 

For further reading

 Anderson, George K. The Legend of the Wandering Jew. Providence, 1965: Brown University Press. 
Bailey, J. O. Pilgrims through Space and Time. New York, 1947: Argus Books. 
Boia, Lucien. L’Exploration imaginaire de l’espace. Paris, 1987: Editions La Découverte.
Crowe, Michael J. The Extraterrestrial Life Debate 1750-1900: The Idea of a Plurality of Worlds from Kant to Lowell. Cambridge, 1986: Cambridge University Press. 
Derleth, August, ed. Beyond Time and Space. New York, 1950: Pellegrini & Cudahy. 
Dick, Steven J. Plurality of Worlds: The Origins of the Extraterrestrial Life Debate from Democritus to Kant. Cambridge, 1982: Cambridge University Press. Freedman, Russell. 2000 Tears of Space Travel. New York, 1963: Holiday House. 
Gunn, James. Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1975: Prentice-Hall. 
Guthke, Karl S. The Last Frontier: Imagining Other Worlds, from the Copemican Revolution to Modem Science Fiction. Ithaca, New York, 1990: Cornell University Press. 
Lear, John. Kepler’s Dream. Trans. Patricia Frueh Kirkwood. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1965: University of California Press. 
Leighton, Peter. Moon Travellers. London, 1960: Oldbournc. 
Locke, Richard Adams. The Moon Hoax. Boston, 1975: Gregg Press.
Meadows, A. J. The High Firmament: A Survey of Astronomy in English Literature. Leicester, 1969: Leicester University Press.
Moskowitz, Sam. Explorers of the Infinite. Cleveland, 1963: World; rpt. Westport, Connecticut, 1974: Hyperion. 
Moskowitz, Sam, ed. Masterpieces of Science Fiction. Cleveland, 1966: World; rpt. Westport, Connecticut, 1974: Hyperion. 
Nicolson, Marjorie. Voyages to the Moon. New York, 1948: Mac-millan. 
Philmus, Robert M. Into the Unknown: The Evolution of Science Fiction from Francis Godwin to H. G. Wells. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1970: University of California Press. 
Pizor, Faith K., and T. Allan Comp, eds. The Man in the Moone and Other Lunar Fantasies. New York, 1971: Praeger. 
Rosen, Edward, trans. and commentary. Kepler’s Somnium: The Dream, or Posthumous Work on Lunar Astronomy. Madison, 1967: University of Wisconsin Press. 
Russen, David. Iter Lunare. Introduction by Man' Elizabeth Bowen. Boston, 1976: Gregg Press. 
Tucker, George (pseudonym Joseph Atterley). A Voyage to the Moon. Preface by David G. Hartwell. Boston, 1975: Gregg Press. 
Versins, Pierre. Encyclopédie de l’utopie des voyages extraordinaires et de la science fiction. Lausanne, 1972: Editions L’Age d’Homme. 
Von Braun, Wernher, Frederick I. Ordway III, and Dave Dooling. Space Travel: A History (4th ed. of the von Braun-Ordway History of Rocketry and Space Travel). New York, 1985: Harper & Row. 
Wright, Hamilton, and Helen Wright, eds. To the Moon! New York, 1968: Meredith. 

In: Blueprint for Space. Sicence Fiction to Science Fact. Edited by Frederik I. Ordway III and Randy Liebermann. prologue by Michael Collins. Epilogue by Arthur Clarke. Washington and London, Smithsonian Instituion Press, 1992, pp. 35-48.

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