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Chapter IX. The Consequences of a Deviation
Barbicane had now no fear of the issue of the journey, at least
as far as the projectile’s impulsive force was concerned; its
own speed would carry it beyond the neutral line; it would
certainly not return to earth; it would certainly not remain
motionless on the line of attraction. One single hypothesis
remained to be realized, the arrival of the projectile at its
destination by the action of the lunar attraction.
It was in reality a fall of 8,296 leagues on an orb, it is true,
where weight could only be reckoned at one sixth of terrestrial
weight; a formidable fall, nevertheless, and one against which
every precaution must be taken without delay.
These precautions were of two sorts, some to deaden the shock
when the projectile should touch the lunar soil, others to delay
the fall, and consequently make it less violent.
To deaden the shock, it was a pity that Barbicane was no longer
able to employ the means which had so ably weakened the shock at
departure, that is to say, by water used as springs and the
The partitions still existed, but water failed, for they could
not use their reserve, which was precious, in case during the first
days the liquid element should be found wanting on lunar soil.
And indeed this reserve would have been quite insufficient for a
spring. The layer of water stored in the projectile at the time of
starting upon their journey occupied no less than three feet in
depth, and spread over a surface of not less than fifty-four square
feet. Besides, the cistern did not contain one-fifth part of it;
they must therefore give up this efficient means of deadening the
shock of arrival. Happily, Barbicane, not content with employing
water, had furnished the movable disc with strong spring plugs,
destined to lessen the shock against the base after the breaking of
the horizontal partitions. These plugs still existed; they had only
to readjust them and replace the movable disc; every piece, easy to
handle, as their weight was now scarcely felt, was quickly
The different pieces were fitted without trouble, it being only
a matter of bolts and screws; tools were not wanting, and soon the
reinstated disc lay on steel plugs, like a table on its legs. One
inconvenience resulted from the replacing of the disc, the lower
window was blocked up; thus it was impossible for the travelers to
observe the moon from that opening while they were being
precipitated perpendicularly upon her; but they were obliged to
give it up; even by the side openings they could still see vast
lunar regions, as an aeronaut sees the earth from his car.
This replacing of the disc was at least an hour’s work. It
was past twelve when all preparations were finished. Barbicane took
fresh observations on the inclination of the projectile, but to his
annoyance it had not turned over sufficiently for its fall; it
seemed to take a curve parallel to the lunar disc. The orb of night
shone splendidly into space, while opposite, the orb of day blazed
Their situation began to make them uneasy.
“Are we reaching our destination?” said Nicholl.
“Let us act as if we were about reaching it,”
“You are sceptical,” retorted Michel Ardan.
“We shall arrive, and that, too, quicker than we
This answer brought Barbicane back to his preparations, and he
occupied himself with placing the contrivances intended to break
their descent. We may remember the scene of the meeting held at
Tampa Town, in Florida, when Captain Nicholl came forward as
Barbicane’s enemy and Michel Ardan’s adversary. To
Captain Nicholl’s maintaining that the projectile would smash
like glass, Michel replied that he would break their fall by means
of rockets properly placed.
Thus, powerful fireworks, taking their starting-point from the
base and bursting outside, could, by producing a recoil, check to a
certain degree the projectile’s speed1. These rockets were to
burn in space, it is true; but oxygen would not fail them, for they
could supply themselves with it, like the lunar volcanoes, the
burning of which has never yet been stopped by the want of
atmosphere round the moon.
Barbicane had accordingly supplied himself with these fireworks,
enclosed in little steel guns, which could be screwed on to the
base of the projectile. Inside, these guns were flush with the
bottom; outside, they protruded about eighteen inches. There were
twenty of them. An opening left in the disc allowed them to light
the match with which each was provided. All the effect was felt
outside. The burning mixture had already been rammed into each gun.
They had, then, nothing to do but raise the metallic buffers fixed
in the base, and replace them by the guns, which fitted closely in
This new work was finished about three o’clock, and after
taking all these precautions there remained but to wait. But the
projectile was perceptibly nearing the moon, and evidently
succumbed to her influence to a certain degree; though its own
velocity also drew it in an oblique direction. From these
conflicting influences resulted a line which might become a
tangent. But it was certain that the projectile would not fall
directly on the moon; for its lower part, by reason of its weight,
ought to be turned toward her.
Barbicane’s uneasiness increased as he saw his projectile
resist the influence of gravitation. The Unknown was opening before
him, the Unknown in interplanetary space. The man of science
thought he had foreseen the only three hypotheses possible—
the return to the earth, the return to the moon, or stagnation on
the neutral line; and here a fourth hypothesis, big with all the
terrors of the Infinite, surged up inopportunely. To face it
without flinching, one must be a resolute savant like Barbicane, a
phlegmatic being like Nicholl, or an audacious adventurer like
Conversation was started upon this subject. Other men would have
considered the question from a practical point of view; they would
have asked themselves whither their projectile carriage was
carrying them. Not so with these; they sought for the cause which
produced this effect.
“So we have become diverted from our route,” said
Michel; “but why?”
“I very much fear,” answered Nicholl, “that,
in spite of all precautions taken, the Columbiad was not fairly
pointed. An error, however small, would be enough to throw us out
of the moon’s attraction.”
“Then they must have aimed badly?” asked Michel.
“I do not think so,” replied Barbicane. “The
perpendicularity of the gun was exact, its direction to the zenith
of the spot incontestible; and the moon passing to the zenith of
the spot, we ought to reach it at the full. There is another
reason, but it escapes me.”
“Are we not arriving too late?” asked Nicholl.
“Too late?” said Barbicane.
“Yes,” continued Nicholl. “The Cambridge
Observatory’s note says that the transit ought to be
accomplished in ninety-seven hours thirteen minutes and twenty
seconds; which means to say, that sooner the moon will not be at
the point indicated, and later it will have passed it.”
“True,” replied Barbicane. “But we started the
1st of December, at thirteen minutes and twenty-five seconds to
eleven at night; and we ought to arrive on the 5th at midnight, at
the exact moment when the moon would be full; and we are now at the
5th of December. It is now half-past three in the evening;
half-past eight ought to see us at the end of our journey. Why do
we not arrive?”
“Might it not be an excess of speed?” answered
Nicholl; “for we know now that its initial velocity was
greater than they supposed.”
“No! a hundred times, no!” replied Barbicane.
“An excess of speed, if the direction of the projectile had
been right, would not have prevented us reaching the moon2. No,
there has been a deviation. We have been turned out of our
“By whom? by what?” asked Nicholl.
“I cannot say,” replied Barbicane.
“Very well, then, Barbicane,” said Michel, “do
you wish to know my opinion on the subject of finding out this
“I would not give half a dollar to know it. That we have
deviated is a fact. Where we are going matters little; we shall
soon see. Since we are being borne along in space we shall end by
falling into some center of attraction or other.”
Michel Ardan’s indifference did not content Barbicane. Not
that he was uneasy about the future, but he wanted to know at any
cost why his projectile had deviated.
But the projectile continued its course sideways to the moon,
and with it the mass of things thrown out. Barbicane could even
prove, by the elevations which served as landmarks upon the moon,
which was only two thousand leagues distant, that its speed was
becoming uniform— fresh proof that there was no fall. Its
impulsive force still prevailed over the lunar attraction, but the
projectile’s course was certainly bringing it nearer to the
moon, and they might hope that at a nearer point the weight,
predominating, would cause a decided fall.
The three friends, having nothing better to do, continued their
observations; but they could not yet determine the topographical
position of the satellite; every relief was leveled under the
reflection of the solar rays.
They watched thus through the side windows until eight
o’clock at night. The moon had grown so large in their eyes
that it filled half of the firmament. The sun on one side, and the
orb of night on the other, flooded the projectile with light.
At that moment Barbicane thought he could estimate the distance
which separated them from their aim at no more than 700 leagues.
The speed of the projectile seemed to him to be more than 200
yards, or about 170 leagues a second3. Under the centripetal force,
the base of the projectile tended toward the moon; but the
centrifugal still prevailed; and it was probable that its
rectilineal course would be changed to a curve of some sort, the
nature of which they could not at present determine.
Barbicane was still seeking the solution of his insoluble
problem. Hours passed without any result. The projectile was
evidently nearing the moon, but it was also evident that it would
never reach her. As to the nearest distance at which it would pass
her, that must be the result of two forces, attraction and
repulsion, affecting its motion.
“I ask but one thing,” said Michel; “that we
may pass near enough to penetrate her secrets.”
“Cursed be the thing that has caused our projectile to
deviate from its course,” cried Nicholl.
And, as if a light had suddenly broken in upon his mind,
Barbicane answered, “Then cursed be the meteor which crossed
“What?” said Michel Ardan.
“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicholl.
“I mean,” said Barbicane in a decided tone, “I
mean that our deviation is owing solely to our meeting with this
“But it did not even brush us as it passed,” said
“What does that matter? Its mass, compared to that of our
projectile, was enormous, and its attraction was enough to
influence our course.”
“So little?” cried Nicholl.
“Yes, Nicholl; but however little it might be,”
replied Barbicane, “in a distance of 84,000 leagues, it
wanted no more to make us miss the moon.”
1Though modern retro rockets are usually liquid-fuel rockets powered by a fuel such as hydrogen combined with and oxidizer such as liquid oxygen, Verne's use of rockets to shed speed from a spacecraft is inspired and the same principle we use today for landings and also for orbital insertions and maneuvers.
2This is another odd gaffe as it is a simple logic error. The speed at which the projectile flies towards the moon determines whether it will meet the moon at the expected location along its orbit. It the speed is excessive, the projectile will cross the moon's orbit before the moon has arrived. Conversely, if the starting speed is too slow, the projectile will arrive to the moon's orbit around the earth after the moon has passed by.
3Verne often misuses measures with wild abandon and this is a clear example. A French league varies between two and four English miles depending on what is being measured.
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