From the earth to the moon

The crescent moon with a long exposure to show the dark side lit only by reflected light from the earth. Photo by Dan Mundt

“Jules Verne’s famous old story, ‘Around the World in Eighty Days,’ was relegated to the class of tame stuff by the submarine of the recent war. From the way aviation is progressing it looks as if his story ‘From the Earth to the Moon,’ may soon suffer a similar fate,” wrote “Uncle Bud” in his “Column of Bubble Stew” for the June 18, 1919, Denison Bulletin and Herald.

Uncle Bud’s column appeared in the Bulletin and Herald in 1918 and 1919.

The quote above was originally published 100 years ago on Tuesday.

The first thing to note is that Uncle Bud probably meant “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” rather than “Around the World.”

“Twenty Thousand Leagues” is famously about Captain Nemo’s steampunk submarine, “Nautilus.” There are no submarines in Verne’s novel about Phileas Fogg’s attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

It’s probably a little late, but please consider this to be the official correction.

The second item of note is that Uncle Bud’s column was printed almost exactly as long before the first human landing on the moon as we are now ahead of it.

He was speculating about something that would not happen for another 50 years. July 20 of this year will mark 50 years since the feat was accomplished.

Travel to the moon was very much relegated to the realm of science fiction in 1919.

“From the Earth to the Moon,” which was written about 50 years before Uncle Bud’s column, was about a flight to the moon that started in the barrel of a very large canon.

Uncle Bud was writing not long after the end of World War I, in which aircraft were still covered with fabric and held together with wire.

Humans have likely been dreaming of traveling to the moon since the first time we noticed it in the sky.

Discussions of the moon popped up regularly in the Denison Bulletin and the Denison Review long before Uncle Bud’s column appeared.

One of the earliest I came across was titled “The Moon; Theories as to How It Affects Human Beings” from Page 6 of the July 6, 1883, Denison Review. The story is full of dubious claims about the moon, ranging from the effect on people born when the moon is rising to the effect of “moon beams at certain seasons” on the insane.

A story in the January 8, 1896, Review took a more scientific approach. “To the casual observer the motions of the moon appear to be exceedingly whimsical and irregular. If its place in the sky is watched it will be found that it is first north and then south of the sun’s path and that it is sometimes east and sometimes west of that luminary.”

This is not rocket science, but rocket science was in its infancy in 1896.

Two years later, in the March 3, 1898, Review, in a section called “Current Notes of Discovery and Invention,” a passage about the moon had this to say:

“Among the theories of scientists is one regarding the original unity of the moon and the earth. It is believed that out of a mass of rapidly revolving elements molten fluid or gaseous, the earth and the moon took such shape that the mass was divided into two parts. They continued their revolution and became the earth and the moon. Each had its own axis on which it spun, each also revolving about the other.”

This is an interesting piece because the Apollo missions 70 years later would provide evidence for and against the hypothesis (not a theory, as the author called it) that the earth and the moon were once part of the same body.

In science, a theory is a well-substantiated explanation that is based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.

So that’s another overdue correction.

The Giant Impact Hypothesis (GIH) argues that about 4.5 billion years ago the earth and moon were a single body that was blasted apart by an impact with another body about the size of the planet Mars.

The composition of the moon’s crust and mantle and the unusually small size of the moon’s core (compared to those of other rocky bodies in the solar system) lend evidence to GIH. Other evidence collected by the Apollo missions, such as data about the composition of certain isotopes and the abundance of water in lunar volcanic glass samples, does not support GIH in its current form, so debate goes on about the origin of the moon.

Nonetheless, the Apollo missions revolutionized our understanding of our closest neighbor in space.

We still benefit from the technological advances that were sparked by the lunar landing program.

Although technology has advanced rapidly since 1969, we share many of the same problems today with those of that era.

A story published in the June 14, 1969, Denison Review (50 years ago last Friday) had this to say:

“Mrs. Mark Rutledge says she wants the moon to seem “familiar and homelike” to the Apollo 11 astronauts if their mission to the moon is successful next month. So she sent a package containing cigarette butts, a broken beer bottle, an egg shell, candy wrappers and a plastic bag. The litter kit, Mrs. Rutledge says, should be placed on the moon as “the most appropriate possible indication of human arrival.”

I’ll be writing more about the Apollo 11 mission, and the reaction at home, in the next few weeks.

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