Friday, July 17, 2009

First plans for a Moon landing?

As we prepare to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the first manned landing on the Moon, which occurred on July 20th, 1969, the Daily Mail reminds us that long ago, inquiring minds were considering just such a possibility.

John Wilkins, a British inventor, drew up plans in the 1640s to send a manned wooden 'chariot' to the Moon propelled by gunpowder, feather wings and springs.

Convinced the Moon was inhabited by a race of people called the Selenites, he was determined to visit them to set up trade links.

Records show that Wilkins, who was Oliver Cromwell's brother-in-law, experimented with flying machines in the gardens of Wadham College, Oxford, around 1654.

Allan Chapman, an academic based at the college, claims Wilkins should be acknowledged for establishing the 'Jacobean space programme'.

'His ingenuity was enormous,' he said. 'He saw his flying chariot as being the space version of Drake's, Raleigh's and Magellan's ships.

'This was a honeymoon period of British science. The vacuum had not yet been discovered. In 1640, flying to the Moon was a heroic possibility.'

Wilkins, who was initially a vicar on the Northamptonshire village of Fawsley, before becoming warden of Wadham College, Oxford, outlined his theories in 'A Worlde in the Moone'.

Discussing his belief that the moon was inhabited, Wilkins said: 'I must needs confesse, though I had often thought with my selfe that it was possible there might be a world in the Moone, yet it seemed such an uncouth opinion that I never durst discover it, for feare of being counted singular and ridiculous.

'But afterward having read Plutarch, Galilæus, Keplar, with some others, and finding many of mine owne thoughts confirmed by such strong authority, I then concluded that it was not onely possible there might bee, but probable that there was another habitable world in that Planet.'

There's more at the link, including a diagram of how he proposed to get there. Fascinating stuff!


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