Monday, February 22, 2016

All Around the Moon

 I loved science fiction as a kid and I remember being given a bunch of old books and devouring them in the 1950's. My favorite was Jules Verne's All Around The Moon. Published in 1870, I have a copy printed in Philadelphia.

 I always though this book was one of my grandfather's (Elwood M Schmidt) but I wonder now whether it came instead from my uncle (Joe Huesman)? The title page explains why ...

 The book was a Christmas gift from "Penelope" to Ward A Blossom. The Blossom family lived in a brick house (long gone) at the northeast corner of Miami Avenue and Linden Avenue in Miamisburg. My uncle lived just a few doors south of there. Uncle Joe was also interested in science and the book certainly seems like one he'd have acquired. I'll bet he picked it up during an estate auction.

 Jules Verne certainly presented a scientific treatise, trying to use the then-known laws of nature to describe this circumnavigation of the moon. Shades of Apollo 8!.And he placed the beginning of the flight in Florida and the splashdown in the Pacific. That's exactly what happened with all of the Apollo flights in the 1960's and early 1970's. How could Verne have set the scene so accurately a century before the program unfolded (and sadly, ended)?

Page 114

 I especially love the engravings in the book. I particularly remember this one as it affected me most during my childhood. One of two dogs on the flight ("Satellite") died after the launch and had to be dumped into space. The body followed the trajectory of the "bullet" throughout the flight. You nailed that one, Jules.

 Only, can you imagine the bottom "light" being opened in the vacuum of space? The incredibly cold temperature? And only when the spacecraft is at a neutral gravitational spot between the Earth and the Moon are the crew weightless. Verne missed a lot, too.

Page 217

 Or, can you imagine standing at a "widow" constructed as one you'd find in a house, replete with nails in the frame? How did the glass survive being shot out of a cannon? For that matter, how did the crew survive such a blast?

Page 294

 Ah, the moon! There was so much talk about the "Selenites", moonlings! And descriptions of forests and water and even cultivated fields. All imagination? Above is a fanciful illustration of "aqueducts". And yet as the spacecraft circles the moon, Verne correctly identifies craters and mares, all visible, of course, from Earth.He also concludes with a lifeless moon, at least at the present.

Page 415

 If the launch wasn't violent enough, what about the landing? The bullet, without the help of any retrorockets, plows into the Pacific Ocean at 25,000 miles per hours. The crew is found safe much later, bobbing about, having extended an American flag on the top of the craft.

 A note about the engravings: they were often placed a bit crookedly on the page and they're reproproduced here just as I saw them.
 The entire book, by the way, is presented free of charge on Project Guttenberg. Click here for details. All of the engravings are provided, too.

 While the book abounds with scientific errors, how is that different from today's science fiction? We know what we know and we guess at the rest. Verne did the same and he came eerily close much of the time. At the very least, All Around The Moon is a very entertaining read and well worth the time.

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