About a month ago I joined Team Cringely, a group of volunteers looking to put a rover on the moon as a part of the Google Lunar X Prize. This group is a loose organization of volunteers who want to participate in space but haven’t the opportunity to do so. Growing up, only two careers interested me. One was to be an astronaut. I loved to see pictures of space and wistfully dreamed of space travel to see those sights in person.
I remember disappointment upon discovering that I would need to have multiple doctorates and being lucky to get a place on a NASA shuttle.
Talk about a depressing day.
Now I can live my dream vicariously through this mission. But those of us consisting of Team Cringely (and our opponents) weren’t the first to desire the opportunity to go to the moon. NASA wasn’t the first organization either. For more than a century, men like Jules Verne looked at the mistress of the night and wondered what men would find on the moon.
In this classic pair of stories, Barbicane, Ardan, and Nicholl overcome cultural and personal grievances to join forces as emissaries to the moon. It all began with the bored members of the Baltimore Gun Club. The Baltimore Gun Club consisted of men who had studied (invented and experimented) gunnery during the Civil War; now, bored, they sought a new challenge. This new challenge was to launch a cannonball at the moon. Eventually, the Frenchman, Michelle Ardan, decided that he wanted to fly to the moon and sailed to Florida to enter the projectile.
This action of Ardan, led to a prolonged discussion about the habitability of the moon and the precautions necessary for a man to travel in space. Much of the story lies in discussions about the nature of the moon, it’s past and present state of habitability, and the nature of space travel. Much of this will probably be a tad bit tedious for some, but I found it somewhat interesting. Given that hindsight is 20-20, it is easy to see the errors being made. But, when one tries to look at it from the perspective of an author writing in 1865, the science and reasoning is much less comical and far more impressive. Verne had many facts correct or at least close to correct.
As an aside, one flaw that I have noticed with the reasonings of this generation of authors is this: They made many assumptions that appeared reasonable at first blush, and never challenged them. In this work, the assumption of the three was that Selenites must exists. Ardan was very typical of the thinking. He wanted it to be so and so it was.
But, that was typical Verne. He lived in a world decades or centuries ahead of his time. Verne obviously had great respect for the Americans. Though often in a backhanded manner, Verne continuously praised the American people for their ingenuity, skillfulness and bravery. It was his opinion (as seen in this work) that only Americans would be brave and foolhardy enough to pull off an endeavor of this magnitude.
And that brings me back to the present: Can a disparate team of men and women put a rover on the moon for less than $4 million? Normal people say no. Team Cringely begs to differ.
This is not one of Verne’s better stories, but worth reading if for no other reason than that it is Verne.
Here are the links:
Amazon: From Earth to the Moon; Round the Moon
Gutenberg: From Earth to the Moon (text)
Librivox: From Earth to the Moon (audio)
Gutenberg: Round the Moon (text)
Librivox: Round the Moon (audio)