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Space: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Antiquity to the 19th Century

The Dreamers: Antiquity to the 19th Century


Since man first looked up at the stars there was always a deep of wonder and speculation about what was out there. The first part of this class will discuss some of the early ideas and notions of flight and space travel from antiquity up into the dawn of the Twentieth Century. 

Antiquity-19th Century

Greek Mythology: Daedalus and Icarus

Daedalus worked as an engineer for King Minos of Crete. He is said to have constructed the fabled Labyrinth where the monstrous Minotaur was imprisoned. Minos eventually imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus to prevent them from leaving his service. Daedalus devised two pairs of wings that were covered with feathers held in place by wax. He warned his son not to fly to close to the sea as the wings might get moist and be to heavy to fly. He also warned Icarus not to fly too near the sun as the wax might melt and send him crashing to the sea. Unfortunately, he ignored his fathers instructions and flew too close to the sun. His wings melted and he parished.

Hero of Alexandria 10 AD - 70 AD Invention of the Steam Turbine.

Hero of Alexandria was a talented engineer who invented a number of self-propelled devices. The Aeolipile was a steam turbine engine that used the steam boiled water to spin a turbine with two jet nozzles. The device demonstrates the principal behind the operation of rockets that Sir Issac Newton would later describe in 1679 as his Third Law of Motion (For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction). Hero's device was mainly regarded as more an amusing curiosity and was never developed further.


Lucian of Samos "True" History 120 AD

True History is a fictional travel log describing the authors travels beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar).The ship is carried into the air by a whirlwind and eventually sails to an island that is actually the moon. Lucian and his friends have a series of adventures including alien encounters with beings from the moon, Mars and the Sun. This book is considered to be the earliest account describing a space voyage and is considered the first work in the gendre of Science Fiction. 

Chinese Fire Arrow 904 AD

The first use of rockets in war occurred shortly after the Chinese in invention of gunpowder. The first rockets were essentially arrows with a small rocket attached. As the technology advanced so did the applications of rockets as weapons of war and as fireworks for entertainment.

Wan Hu The First Man in Space?

There is a questionable account of a Chinese Ming Dynasty (16th Century AD) official who had 47 rockets attached to a chair. The rockets were lit by his servants and shortly after Wan Hu and his rocket chair disappeared and were never seen again.  

Invention of the Telescope 1601

The telescope was invented in 1601 by a Dutch eyeglass maker named Hans Lippershey. Within ten years scientists such as Galileo and Kepler were making enormous discoveries about the nature of the solar system and began to understand that the Moon and the planets were places rather than supernatural phenomena. This would lead to speculation about what it would be like on other worlds and how we might visit them. 

Montgolfier Brothers 1783 Hot Air Balloon

The Montgolfier brothers were French paper manufacturers who made invented the hot air balloon. They observed that hot air rises above cooler air. Based on that observation they devised light-weight balloons of increasing size and complexity eventually building one that carry a crew of two. The invention of the the hot air balloon was soon followed by the hydrogen balloon and a century of experimentation and exploration that would lead to the development of airships that could be controlled in flight. 

Sir William Congrieve 1772 – 1828 and "The Rocket's Red Glare"

William Congrieve is one of the first individuals who might be identified as a "Rocket Scientist". When he was serving in India he noticed that the enemy forces were employing rockets with iron casings as artillery. In 1801 he set about on a research project to improve the range and accuracy of these as well as other applicatons for what became known as Congrieve Rockets.

Congreve Rockets

Congreve experimented may different variations of his rockets. His most notable development was the attachment of a long pole that helped stabilize the rocket in flight.  

Congreve Rockets used at the Ft McHenry Bombardment 1814 "In the Rockets Red Glare"

The most memorable use of the Congreve rocket in United States history inspired the lyrics of what would become the national anthem. The rockets could be employed in batteries on land or set to fire from ships at sea. The rockets were often more effective for their "shock and awe" value than their accuracy and destructive potential. The Congreve rocket saw use in British campaigns around the world until the 1860's when advancements in artillery technology had rendered them obsolete.  

Sir George Cayley-First Manned Glider 1841 and 1852

Sir George Cayley was an English engineer and inventor who is considered the father of the science of aeronautics. Cayley was the first person to identify the for basic principles of aircraft flight: lift, thrust, drag and weight. His revelation was that a flying machine could be created using a fixed wing and stabilizer rather than attempting to fly using complex flapping wings. In 1841 he conducted the first known successful flight of a manned glider that carried a ten year old boy. A decade later he flew another glider that flew greater distance with an adult passenger. Cayley's work was the foundation for the work of aviation pioneers such as Otto Lilienthol, Samuel Pierpont Langley, and the Wright brothers.

Reconstruction of Cayley Glider at the Yorkshire Air Museum

Jules Verne "From The Earth To The Moon" 1865


Jules Verne set out to describe in terms of contemporary technology how an expedition to the Moon could be accomplished. Many of his predictions were incredibly accurate when compared to the Project Apollo missions to the moon.  

The Verne Gun

The most celebrated inaccuracy of  Verne's 900 ft deep gun referred to as a "Columbaid" as the primary means of propelling his spacecraft to the moon.The cannon was built in Florida to take advantage of the location for launching a payload in space and for its isolation. Modern science has determined that human beings or other live payloads would not survive such a launch. The air pressure against a giant artillery shell accelerating to supersonic speed would have vaporized the cannon. Verne's use of the Columbaid reflects accurate understanding of the limitations of the rockets of his time vs. the advances in artillery technology.

Jules Verne was the first author to understand that a projectile needs to reach escape velocity to travel to the moon (7 miles per sec or 25,000 mph).

Although Verne did not use rockets as his primary means of propulsion, he did employ them in maneuvering his spacecraft and sending it on a return course to Earth. He correctly reasoned that rockets would operate in the vacuum of space.

Verne was the first author to describe "Weightlessness" in space.

He also correctly predicted that it would take 4 days to reach the moon.

Verne's spacecraft employed a device generate and recycle oxygen. This is done in modern spacecraft and the ISS.



Columbia and Columbaid

It's hardly a surprise that the Apollo 11 command module was named "Columbia" partially honor of Vern's fictional spacecraft. Some other interesting facts are that they were  very close in size and weight. both had a crew of three and  "splashed-down" in the ocean on their return to Earth. Verne's books "From the Earth to the Moon" and its sequel " Around the Moon"  would inspire a generation of scientists to make space travel a reality.

"The Brick Moon" Edward Edverett Hale

This "tongue-in-cheek" novella was the first work to suggest the uses for an earth orbiting satellite and space station. The story relates an effort by a group of investors to place a hollow 200 ft dia. moon into a polar orbit as an aide for longitudinal navigation. The Brick moon is to be put in space by a giant set of water powered fly wheels. Unfortunately an accident causes a group of workers and their wives to be launched into space with the moon. Earth astronomers locate the brick moon and see the people communicating by jumping up and down in Morse code. The work predicts the use of satellites in navigation, geodetics, mapping, communications, surveillance, meteorology and orbital rendezvous.


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