Jules Verne – Visionary Extraordinaire

In recent days, during an extended conversation on antiquarian books which I had with my daughter, I mentioned that I had two such volumes.

I took one of the books down from the book shelf. Its dark green cover clearly time soiled and page edges now almost orange in colour, belying its true value. On opening the cover I noted the handwritten date: 25th January 1911. I have no way of knowing the exact date of publication, because the single page which would normally contain such information was missing. The title of the book is: FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON by Jules Verne (on the left in the above image). The book is at least 101 years old.

As I turned to show it to my daughter I picked up my Kindle and though, what a contrast, the very old in my left hand, and the very new in my right hand. As Kindle owners will know, there are many screen saver images in the Kindle which randomly alternate in display, when the device goes into power saving mode. When I opened the leather jacket cover of my Kindle, both my daughter and I gasped in amazement. Who was looking out from the screen saver display? Yes, you have guessed it: Jules Verne. Pure coincidence maybe, but at that moment I knew I simply had to write a short piece in honour of this extraordinary visionary writer.

The scope of human imagination is astounding and when such imagination is acted upon, particularly through the actualising skills of many, the outcome can be the profound changing of reality. Pushing the frontiers of scientific knowledge and the addressing of seemingly impossible challenges seem germane to the human spirit. I have seen the following quotation many times and noted its attribution to different people. However, I think it encapsulates the role of the human imagination as the creative cradle from which all technologies eventually spring: “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe; it can achieve.”

FROM EARTH TO THE MOON was written in 1865 (147 years ago) by Jules Verne, a French pioneering author in the then embryonic genre of science fiction. The main protagonist in Verne’s novel is one:  Impey Barbicane, the President of an American Gun Club, who has developed a deathly explosive with an effect akin to what we would know today as nuclear. Barbicane’s plan is to use the explosive in shells sufficiently large and powerful enough that they can be fired across continents. He needs to test the explosive but cannot risk doing so on the Earth. Instead he proposes using the Moon as a test site and sets about overseeing the design and firing of a  projectile large enough to make the journey around the Moon and back to Earth.

In his 1865 novel FROM EARTH TO THE MOON, Jules Verne foreshadowed: Nuclear Explosives, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and Space Flight. In 1958 Warner Brothers made a film based on Verne’s novel entitled: From the Earth to the Moon. The film is available, in a number of parts, on YouTube. Why not take a look at Part1.

Having looked at the film From Earth to the Moon, now take a look at excerpts from the speech made by President John.F.Kennedy in1962 at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Seven years later, on 20th July 1969 mankind took its first tentative step on to the surface of the Moon.

One of the greatest technical challenges in the history of mankind was placed before a nation (interestingly the same nation which features in Jules Verne’s book), and through communal skill, creativity and team work the challenge was met. It was the most awe inspiring achievement of human ingenuity ever, which placed an indelible mark on the memories of those who witnessed the evolving Apollo Space Programme.

The now immortal words of Apollo 11 Astronaut Neil Armstrong: “one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind” are etched into history as a marker for the end of the beginning of the exploration of other worlds, by human kind.

Visionary writers such as Jules Verne and later era Arthur.C.Clarke and their like told us what they saw and in so doing stimulated the imaginations of their readers, in many cases generations of young engineers, who themselves went on to transform what they had read into reality and so it continues.

If you are living in Dublin, Ireland and have an interest in Astronomy then you might consider joining Astronomy Ireland. This group, which meets regularly in the Phoenix Park, holds talks, lectures, observing sessions and organises many other Astronomy related events.


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About dubmantalks

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