How we will finally reach the moon (1908)

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This article, written 61 years before we really did launch a rocket that reached the moon, is full of marvelous speculation — and a lot of questionable science. But how could they have known that space was just that — space — and not the “jellylike ether” they were guessing? Read on for more of their offbeat assumptions and enthusiastic suggestions on how man might finally be able to reach the moon… and beyond.

How we will finally reach the moon (1908)

All aboard for the moon!

In a recent number of the Contemporary Review, there appeared an article by Col F N Maude of the British Army, disclosing the fact that there has been built in England a stupendous gun or projectile machine, invented by a Mr Simpson, which by the utilization of certain electrical forces can throw a projectile an initial distance of 300 miles.

With this startling fact in mind, Mr Robert C Auld, F Z S revising editor of the American Supplement of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and contributor to the Encyclopedia Americana, etc; has prepared for the Herald the following article to show that the time may be comparatively near at hand when, with such an apparatus, it will be possible to throw a passenger carrying body similar in form to a naval torpedo so far beyond the influence of the earth’s gravity that it must inevitably reach the nearest body in planetary space, viz, the moon.

by Robert C Auld F Z S

Is another of Jules Verne’s fantastic dreams to come true? Is a message to the moon, once the visionary fantasy of the author of “A Trip to the Moon,” to come within the realm of science?

For centuries, the moon has furnished an endless subject of astronomical conjecture. Only in recent years has it become a certain field of scientific exploration. Its volcanic cones and craters, its dead river beds and verdureless mountains have all come within accurate geodetic survey.

It is only the intervening 239,000 miles of ether that separates it from the world that staggers the imagination of the scientist and layman alike, but if the claims of a London inventor, A S Simpson, are true, even that vast space may be traversed with assurance and safety.

Mr Simpson has invented an electrical gun which he asserts will carry a projectile of 2,000 pounds at the rate of 30,000 feet a second for 300 miles. The actual test has not been made, but military authorities have endorsed the plans, and scientists may rejoice.

A gun with the propulsive power of the Simpson invention, having the muzzle velocity claimed for it, overcomes the chief hindrance to mortal invasion of the moon.

Hitherto the problem that has perplexed scientists has been to penetrate the zone of gravity that encompasses the earth for a distance of some 150 miles. Once outside this atmospheric realm of gravity and air pressure, the problem of reaching the moon, according to scientists, becomes less speculative than in Jules Verne’s time. It is well-known that the celebrated romancer of science founded his stories on actual knowledge of the period in which he lived. Scientific progress in the last 50 years has been great, but it sustains the French author’s idea that the only feasible way of sending a message to the moon is by firing a projectile from a huge gun.

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Jules Verne used 400,000 pounds of nitroglycerin to explode his charge, the concussion being so great that 5,000,000 people who saw it fired were hurled to the ground. Electricity has altered the face and the character of the earth since then, so that the dangers of concussion may be eliminated.

Jules Verne’s gun was mythical; there was no propulsive power known at that time to science that would project a missile beyond the zone of the earth’s gravity. Only recently Professor Ernest Crane Dodge, A M, has stated that “a body relieved of gravity would reach the moon in 10 days.”

How fast would it go?

How much faster would a projectile from an enlarged Simpson gun, a veritable lunar cannon, accomplish the trip from the earth in the direction of the moon?

A lunar cannon based on the Simpson plan could easily hurl its projectile beyond the zone of the earth’s gravity. Through the unknown vacuum, ether and air currents, the projectile, which in its lunar course would be controlled by progressive power, would be an air-tight chamber of the nature suggested by Jules Verne. The novelist had no actual parallel for his invention. Today we have its counterpart in the submarine boat, and in such a car, equipped with every modern device of science for maintaining life, at least five scientists could make the trip in comfort and safety. The possibility that the force of the moon’s gravity would be such that the scientists might never return to earth would not daunt intrepid men, who have undertaken most hazardous experiments in polar and volcanic regions in the interest of the world’s knowledge.

Calculating by known ordnance and speculating by existent forces, the manufacture and the discharge of a lunar gun are not beyond the realm of reason. We have for a basis the 12-inch gun, the accepted limit of an effective naval rifle. The 12-inch gun will carry a projectile weighing 870 pounds a distance of six miles. The cost of this gun is $60,000. To fire, it requires 250 pounds of smokeless powder at 50 cents a pound, or $200, the projectile itself costing $500.

A lunar gun of the Simpson type, large enough to hurl a projectile through the zone of gravity, would need to be thousands of times more powerful than the naval rifle. The amount of steel required in its manufacture would be greater than that used in the largest battleship in the world, and would be equal to that used in the Metropolitan Life Building in Madison Square, New York. In fact, the lunar gun required would be about the size of the Metropolitan Building, which is more than 200 feet square and 700 feet high. The gun would cost $3,000,000, a paltry sum in these days to devote to such an experiment. The cost of firing the lunar gun would not be great, in consideration of the results of such an exploit. The expenditure, if smokeless powder were used, would not exceed the cost of eight volley broadsides of the entire ordnance of 1,011 guns of Admiral Evans’ fleet, a single broadside being estimated at $50,000, making the expenditure for the single charge of the lunar gun $400,000 if smokeless powder were used, which, however, is not anticipated, as will be seen later.

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The moon diskThe recoil of a 50 ton gun would lift the Lusitania out of the water, which would render the discharge by explosion of the lunar cannon of the size described almost impossible, but, assuming the correctness of the electrical explosive power suggested by the Simpson gun, that knotty feature of the problem is eliminated. The explosive principle involved is one that has been figured out and the recoil is so distributed and confined that it imparts the full force of its carrying power to the projectile, and therein must lie the secret of the possibility of a lunar gun that will hurl a huge projectile car of wrought steel beyond the 250 mile limit of the earth’s gravity.

The direction of that projectile, once successfully launched, is a vital element to control. In projecting a missile to hit an objective point on earth, the parabolic curve must be calculated, but in fixing the moon as a target the missile would be fired altitudinously — in direct diametrical line away from the diametrical line of the earth. The matter of direction will solve itself mathematically, physically and mechanically. The force of projection being provided we have only to consider the difficulties in the path of the projectile while traversing the unknown oceans of jellylike ether.

Where there is no atmosphere there is a vacuum — as far as air is concerned, but not insofar as ether is concerned. But where there is a vacuum gravity at such a distance from earth loses its place. But grav ity is one thing and gravitation is an other. Gravitation is universal. It is a mysterious, unknown force that steers the stars in space in their courses, moving them through the ambient ether at the slow rate of 20 knots a second.

The projectile once beyond earth’s gravity, how it act? What analogy in nature have we for supposing that such a body so intruded would conduct itself in an orderly manner in its course? Will the projectile sink or move through this ethereal jelly ocean without obstruction, while the earth, moon and stars are rushing through the ether at 100,000 feet per second?

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