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The First Part Of This Work, And Serving As Preface To The Second
During the year 186-, the whole world was greatly excited by a
scientific experiment unprecedented in the annals of science. The
members of the Gun Club, a circle of artillerymen formed at
Baltimore after the American war, conceived the idea of putting
themselves in communication with the moon!— yes, with the
moon— by sending to her a projectile. Their president,
Barbicane, the promoter of the enterprise, having consulted the
astronomers of the Cambridge Observatory upon the subject, took all
necessary means to ensure the success of this extraordinary
enterprise, which had been declared practicable by the majority of
competent judges. After setting on foot a public subscription,
which realized nearly L1,200,000, they began the gigantic work.
According to the advice forwarded from the members of the
Observatory, the gun destined to launch the projectile had to be
fixed in a country situated between the 0 and 28th degrees of north
or south latitude, in order to aim at the moon when at the zenith;
and its initiatory velocity was fixed at twelve thousand yards to
the second. Launched on the 1st of December, at 10hrs. 46m. 40s.
P.M., it ought to reach the moon four days after its departure,
that is on the 5th of December, at midnight precisely, at the
moment of her attaining her perigee, that is her nearest distance
from the earth, which is exactly 86,410 leagues (French), or
238,833 miles mean distance (English).
The principal members of the Gun Club, President Barbicane,
Major Elphinstone, the secretary Joseph T. Maston, and other
learned men, held several meetings, at which the shape and
composition of the projectile were discussed, also the position and
nature of the gun, and the quality and quantity of powder to be
used. It was decided: First, that the projectile should be a shell
made of aluminum with a diameter of 108 inches and a thickness of
twelve inches to its walls; and should weigh 19,250 pounds. Second,
that the gun should be a Columbiad cast in iron, 900 feet long, and
run perpendicularly into the earth. Third, that the charge should
contain 400,000 pounds of gun-cotton, which, giving out six
billions of litres of gas in rear of the projectile, would easily
carry it toward the orb of night.
These questions determined President Barbicane, assisted by
Murchison the engineer, to choose a spot situated in Florida, in
27° 7’ North latitude, and 77° 3’ West (Greenwich)
longitude. It was on this spot, after stupendous labor, that the
Columbiad was cast with full success. Things stood thus, when an
incident took place which increased the interest attached to this
great enterprise a hundredfold.
A Frenchman, an enthusiastic Parisian, as witty as he was bold,
asked to be enclosed in the projectile, in order that he might
reach the moon, and reconnoiter this terrestrial satellite. The
name of this intrepid adventurer was Michel Ardan. He landed in
America, was received with enthusiasm, held meetings, saw himself
carried in triumph, reconciled President Barbicane to his mortal
enemy, Captain Nicholl, and, as a token of reconciliation,
persuaded them both to start with him in the projectile. The
proposition being accepted, the shape of the projectile was
slightly altered. It was made of a cylindro-conical form. This
species of aerial car was lined with strong springs and partitions
to deaden the shock of departure. It was provided with food for a
year, water for some months, and gas for some days. A self-acting
apparatus supplied the three travelers with air to breathe. At the
same time, on one of the highest points of the Rocky Mountains, the
Gun Club had a gigantic telescope erected, in order that they might
be able to follow the course of the projectile through space. All
was then ready.
On the 30th of November, at the hour fixed upon, from the midst
of an extraordinary crowd of spectators, the departure took place,
and for the first time, three human beings quitted the terrestrial
globe, and launched into inter-planetary space with almost a
certainty of reaching their destination. These bold travelers,
Michel Ardan, President Barbicane, and Captain Nicholl, ought to
make the passage in ninety-seven hours, thirteen minutes, and
twenty seconds. Consequently, their arrival on the lunar disc could
not take place until the 5th of December at twelve at night, at the
exact moment when the moon should be full, and not on the 4th, as
some badly informed journalists had announced.
But an unforeseen circumstance, viz., the detonation produced by
the Columbiad, had the immediate effect of troubling the
terrestrial atmosphere, by accumulating a large quantity of vapor,
a phenomenon which excited universal indignation, for the moon was
hidden from the eyes of the watchers for several nights.
The worthy Joseph T. Maston, the staunchest friend of the three
travelers, started for the Rocky Mountains, accompanied by the Hon.
J. Belfast, director of the Cambridge Observatory, and reached the
station of Long’s Peak, where the telescope was erected which
brought the moon within an apparent distance of two leagues. The
honorable secretary of the Gun Club wished himself to observe the
vehicle of his daring friends.
The accumulation of the clouds in the atmosphere prevented all
observation on the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th of December.
Indeed it was thought that all observations would have to be put
off to the 3d of January in the following year; for the moon
entering its last quarter on the 11th, would then only present an
ever-decreasing portion of her disc, insufficient to allow of their
following the course of the projectile.
At length, to the general satisfaction, a heavy storm cleared
the atmosphere on the night of the 11th and 12th of December, and
the moon, with half-illuminated disc, was plainly to be seen upon
the black sky.
That very night a telegram was sent from the station of
Long’s Peak by Joseph T. Maston and Belfast to the gentlemen
of the Cambridge Observatory, announcing that on the 11th of
December at 8h. 47m. P.M., the projectile launched by the Columbiad
of Stones Hill had been detected by Messrs. Belfast and
Maston— that it had deviated from its course from some
unknown cause, and had not reached its destination; but that it had
passed near enough to be retained by the lunar attraction; that its
rectilinear movement had been changed to a circular one, and that
following an elliptical orbit round the star of night it had become
its satellite. The telegram added that the elements of this new
star had not yet been calculated; and indeed three observations
made upon a star in three different positions are necessary to
determine these elements. Then it showed that the distance
separating the projectile from the lunar surface
“might” be reckoned at about 2,833 miles.
It ended with the double hypothesis: either the attraction of
the moon would draw it to herself, and the travelers thus attain
their end; or that the projectile, held in one immutable orbit,
would gravitate around the lunar disc to all eternity.
With such alternatives, what would be the fate of the travelers?
Certainly they had food for some time. But supposing they did
succeed in their rash enterprise, how would they return? Could they
ever return? Should they hear from them? These questions, debated
by the most learned pens of the day, strongly engrossed the public
It is advisable here to make a remark which ought to be well
considered by hasty observers. When a purely speculative discovery
is announced to the public, it cannot be done with too much
prudence. No one is obliged to discover either a planet, a comet,
or a satellite; and whoever makes a mistake in such a case exposes
himself justly to the derision of the mass. Far better is it to
wait; and that is what the impatient Joseph T. Maston should have
done before sending this telegram forth to the world, which,
according to his idea, told the whole result of the enterprise.
Indeed this telegram contained two sorts of errors, as was proved
eventually. First, errors of observation, concerning the distance
of the projectile from the surface of the moon, for on the 11th of
December it was impossible to see it; and what Joseph T. Maston had
seen, or thought he saw, could not have been the projectile of the
Columbiad. Second, errors of theory on the fate in store for the
said projectile; for in making it a satellite of the moon, it was
putting it in direct contradiction of all mechanical laws.
One single hypothesis of the observers of Long’s Peak
could ever be realized, that which foresaw the case of the
travelers (if still alive) uniting their efforts with the lunar
attraction to attain the surface of the disc.
Now these men, as clever as they were daring, had survived the
terrible shock consequent on their departure, and it is their
journey in the projectile car which is here related in its most
dramatic as well as in its most singular details. This recital will
destroy many illusions and surmises; but it will give a true idea
of the singular changes in store for such an enterprise; it will
bring out the scientific instincts of Barbicane, the industrious
resources of Nicholl, and the audacious humor of Michel Ardan.
Besides this, it will prove that their worthy friend, Joseph T.
Maston, was wasting his time, while leaning over the gigantic
telescope he watched the course of the moon through the starry
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