From the Earth to the Moon, and Around the Moon — Jules Verne
I found this tale by way of “The Physics of the Future” by Michio Kaku. Kaku described it as Jules Verne’s vision of the future of space flight and pointed out that in many cases, Verne was accurate in describing the necessities of reaching the moon, in particular, the cost of such an endeavor if taken in today’s dollars. We can worry about Kaku and his opinions later, however.
Verne starts with a war (Civil War) and proceeds to concoct a fancy about a group of guys who decide they want to “shoot for the moon” both literally and figuratively (and facetiously to a certain extent). They are gunsmiths, and artillery men, and ordnance experts. They are dismayed that the war is over and they have nothing left to aim for, until someone points out there is always the moon.Armed with his own specialty, each begins to calculate what it will take to place a projectile on the moon. The amount of powder, the size and mass of the ball (at the outset they planned to use a very large cannonball, a very very large cannonball). They send telegrams to the Cambridge Observatory to get the exact distance, and the best times, and the necessary figures for determining initial velocity. (He does get escape velocity correct, in yards per second, which just made my head hurt.)They determine they need to build a ‘gun’ in Florida perfectly aligned perpendicular to earth, to be fired at the exact time necessary to meet the moon at its perigee. We end up with a cannon which is nothing more than a humongous hole in the ground. (Somewhere in here I quit keeping score about the physics he got right and the physics that eluded him.  After all this is the guy whose imagination took us to the center of the earth and around the world in 80 days.  Sometimes you just have to let the math go.) The cool thing here is he explains in great detail how they build the cannon, how they cast the projectile. There is an extensive discussion of how much gunpowder, etc. etc. It doesn’t really drag you down because it’s all part of an ongoing friendly argument between the characters as each defends his own position.The building and casting and arming is the greatest achievement of mankind to date, and the entire planet is invested in it. Literally. The prime agitator in this has asked that each country help finance this endeavor, and there is a listing of said contributions. (Verne has these little explanations about why certain countries gave more or less, part political observation and part cultural teasing. For instance, the Italians didn’t give very much because they were broke, and the English didn’t give very much because all of this should have been their idea in the first place.)The world watches as the details come together.  Each piece arrives at the exact right time and the data necessary for the expedition to succeed is forwarded from the Cambridge Observatory. (Did they call it data back then?) Finally all is set for lift off.Around the Moon:
When some random French guy shows up and says he’s going to the moon IN the bullet-shaped projectile, everyone cries, “Hooray!”and adjusts accordingly. When the French guy convinces two other guys who were opponents in the War to join him and be the first to the moon, everyone cries, “Hooray!” and adjusts accordingly.

Now this guy, being French and all, feels the need to bring some chickens, for food and eggs, some really good wine (being French and all), some cheese, chess, checkers and cards and a couple of books. Because, you know, they’re going to be gone a couple of days. Then, they decide to take two dogs as well, because you know the moon needs dogs.

There are certain things here that are not always correct as we know it. The little craft (because it’s certainly stopped being just a projectile) has a sitting room, with a recliner for each of them to sleep in, it’s been setup with various contraptions to remove the ‘bad air’ and replace the oxygen. They all get a little oxygen drunk at one point, which made me think of the oxygen bars in the 80s. And they have these portals in the walls that allow them to see out. There’s a portal in the base of the craft allowing them to look down upon the receding planet earth, and three side portals, one for each of them. So far, so good. One of the dog dies (boo, hiss!) and deciding they can’t keep it on board, they open a portal and chuck it out.  The random French guy decides he should  get to go out sightseeing until someone points out he’d freeze solid, which is why they can’t “ride with the windows down”. The concept of space being a vacuum hadn’t quite arrived, although Verne did get the part about how cold it must be. (His thinking was as long as you were in the sun, you’d be okay, but really, we gotta go with what the guy had to work with.) Having been so successful with the dog, they decide they should throw the rest of their garbage out as well. (I can’t decide if this particular failing is laid at the door of the human race or just Americans in general.) Verne points out that whatever they toss continues to accompany them toward the moon since they are all acting under the same gravitational pull and the trash has equivalent velocity and momentum, having just been ejected at said velocity and momentum.

Once we have astronauts, you start thinking to yourself, how are these clowns going to get down from there? It’s funny because the book is only a so-so read, but you spend all your time wondering how this is all going to work out. After all, the 1860s weren’t that big into noir fiction. This was America, we could do anything we set our minds to, and by GOD, we were going to the moon. So you know he’s not going to just leave them up there. (Even if the dog was named HAL. Of course, it wasn’t, but still.)

Verne actually makes a bit of cleverness out of nothing.  They’re nearly rammed by an asteroid. Everyone is too busy shaking in their boots to consider the implications. You and I can see it coming (poor choice of words, maybe), but it isn’t until they realize they’re going to MISS THE MOON!! that they think back to this encounter. Verne gets the gravitational effects more or less right even though he uses a little sleight of hand to explain it and has them splash down in the Pacific where they are later picked up by a steamship.

The rescue isn’t as exciting as it could have been since Verne made sure the displacement of the aluminum craft was sufficient to make it float. Once the Navy figured out where they were, (something about drift, the wrong marker and oops, we were looking over THERE.) they find the three enjoying a bit of tea and cribbage while waiting to be picked up.

There’s a big parade, a whistle-stop tour and a ceremony at the White House. (I told you he wasn’t going to kill them off.)

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