Outer space. Photo: HidingInABunker

(3) “From the Earth to the Moon” by Jules Verne (1865)

Jules Verne’s humorous science fantasy begins when members of the Baltimore Gun Club devise a plan to manufacture a giant cannon that will shoot a “space-bullet” from Florida to the moon.

This is a compelling read and Verne deserves applause for his visionary math. When a moon landing was finally achieved nearly 100 years later, the calculations from his story were startlingly close to the actual specs.

Although Verne is best-known for his classic submarine adventure, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon is one of several books he wrote about space travel. Read Round the Moon for the tale of the gun club astronauts’ journey in the giant cannon.

Related works by this author: The Moon-Voyage, Round the Moon

(4) “The First Men in the Moon” by H.G. Wells (1901)

Impoverished Englishman Mr. Bedford pairs up with Dr. Cavor, a scientist working on a gravity-shielding material he’s calling ‘cavorite’. After discovering a peculiarity in the material’s behavior that makes the air above it weightless, the men build a spherical spaceship and travel to the moon where they’re captured by insectoid moon-people.

Cavorite’s gravity-shielding property is the imaginative result of the advancement of scientific thinking in Wells’ time.

Conflict between human and alien races was also the theme of Wells’ better-known novel, War of the Worlds which had Martian “tourists” traveling to Earth using a space gun similar to the one from Verne’s story.

A classic example of the period’s “invasion literature”, War of the Worlds was dramatized for radio in 1938. Structured as a series of news bulletins chronicling the alien sighting and eventual arrival at the radio station, the play was thought by some to be a real newscast.

Panic ensued, followed by embarrassment and outrage, and the incident secured narrator Orson Welles’ fame.

Wells’ work, which synthesized the adventure, science and satire found in earlier stories, was visionary in his time and helped define the genre of science fiction.

Related works by this author: War of the Worlds.

Further Reading

I also found a story written by Johannes Kepler that was published in 1634 called Somnium. In it, he’s taken to the moon by demons. It stands out to me for a few reasons: Kepler was a key astronomer in the scientific revolution who’s credited with defining the laws of planetary motion. In the story, he describes the rotation of the Earth around the sun; and both Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov have described it as the first work of science fiction.

At around the same time (1638), Francis Godwin published The Man in the Moone, which details the travels of the astronaut Domingo Gonsales, who journeys to the moon with a chariot of trained geese.

Science and supposition power the way we write our space stories. Expect Virgin Galactic’s promise of sub-orbital flight to re-ignite imaginations. What will the first space tourists see?

And what stories will they bring back?