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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Le Tour du Monde...

Posted 10/20/15 (Tue)

One-hundred-fifty years ago French author Jules Verne wrote a book titled, “De la Terre a la Lune, which means “From the Earth to the Moon” in English.

That was the same year the Civil War in the United States ended and not much more than a year after the Union Army began experimenting with hot air balloons to place the Confederate Army under surveillance.

Five years later, in 1870, Verne came out with a sequel titled, “Autour de la Lune,” or “Around the Moon.”

During that time, most people thought Verne was a whack job and his books were so out of line, French society didn’t think he’d ever sell a copy.

But he did. He sold hundreds of thousands of copies of both books primarily because of human curiosity and the need to “discover.”

Even though Verne was “dreaming” when he wrote both of his books, people around the world, including the United States, took an interest. In fact, both books were translated into English.

Thirty-two years after “Autour de la Lune,” the French continued to be so intrigued with Verne’s now classics, that the French film industry created “Le Voyage dans la Lune,” “A Trip to the Moon.”

Oddly enough, this was 25 years before “talkies” and “La Voyage dans la Lune,” remains one of the greatest films of the 20th century, ranked 84th of 100.

But there is more to this intriguing author who wrote 85 books, most notably “Le Tour du Monde,” or “Around the World,” which later became known as Around the World in 80 Days.

Verne’s fascination with space and the moon wasn’t as whacky as the French thought at the time.

“De la Terre a la Lune” and “Autour de la Lune,” were incredibly accurate by today’s standards that have actually placed men on the moon and have spent unmanned spacecraft into deep space.

In fact, if you analyze Verne’s work, you’ll find that he used real calculations in his writings that were found to be fairly accurate by NASA.

Verne’s spaceship Columbiad, was actually the namesake for the command module Columbia, which was part of the actual moon landing in 1969.

In addition, in “De la Terre a la Lune,” Verne writes about the men who hadn’t gone to the moon yet, but were considering 12 locations from which to launch their capsule that resembled a large bullet in drawings.

In the end, they chose to launch from Tampa, Florida, which, at the time, was a small town of 800, but less than two hours away from present day Cocoa Beach where all spacecraft are launched, including Apollo 11, the first to land on the moon.

Remember, this guy was French and in his fiction, chose a spot in the United States for “Columbiad” to launch from a large cannon. He could have chosen a spot in France or Portugal, but didn’t.

How could Verne have possibly known about central Florida, the optimum place to launch rockets? What did he know about physics that compelled him to use accurate caluculations for his fictional trip to the moon? And how did Verne arrive at putting three men in that spaceship instead of one or four or five, which incidentally was the same number of astronauts who went up in Apollo.

There were, of course, a lot of things that Verne didn’t account for such as lack of gravity or oxygen, or that the moon is a surface like earth and nothing is going to make a “soft” landing without some kind of aid, as the book suggested.

The Russians apparantly found that out the hard way when two cosmonauts were alleged to have crashed into the moon at 2,000 miles per hour.

So Verne didn’t get the whole picture, but it’s a marvel that even some of his information was accurate by today’s standards some 150 years ago, or 104 years before the first moon landing.

Apparently Verne was obsessed with travel and geography as a child, and as he grew up that developed into many of the works he produced.

His focus was obviously science fiction and some columnists have labeled Verne “the father of science fiction.”

He began a craze that faded for a time but picked back up and remains today as a profitable form of literature.

We’ll probably never know how Verne came up with such accurate information so long ago. Did this information just roll off the top of his head to fill space in a manuscript, or was he actually on to something without having the means to make it happen? The mystery may never be solved.