rockets, missiles and space travel chapter 1


by willy ley

viking press – 1951

aaron gave me this book for my birthday last year

[according to the page opposite the title page, willy ley also wrote a book titled THE LUNGFISH, THE DODO AND THE UNICORN.  i should look for a copy.]


there are four-several ways whereby this flying in the air hath been or may be attempted: (1) by spirits or angels. (2) by the help of fowls.  (3) by wings fastened immediately to the body.  (4) by a flying chariot.

a fantastic quote from bishop john wilkins to begin the book, but where would rockets and missiles fit in the bishop’s schematic?  while flying chariots seems the obvious answer, bishop wilkins most likely had in mind the chariots mentioned in ezekiel—chariot that fly of their own (or god’s?) volition.  so, “wings fastened immediately to the body”?  possibly, considering how astronauts are embedded so tightly within the structure of the rocket that the movements of the cosmonauts create movements of the space-ship.

but is that true?

thinking back to mrs. hodge’s class in second grade . . . there was a substitute-teacher the day the challenger exploded . . . we watched it live in school . . . i was busily filling out these sheets of papers with 100 spaces separated in 10×10 graphs . . . we were assigned to fill-up 10 pages of these spaces with different numbers, 1 to 1000 . . . or that’s how i remember it now.

i’m not a rocket scientist, but i don’t think the cosmonauts themselves launch the rocket.  i imagine the astronauts are not much more than passengers on an automated journey, at least until they reach space.  with the trajectory separately accounted for and the automatic firing and discharging of the rockets, can they said to be an extension of the space-ship in the same way as a driver of an automobile?  maybe a flying chariot after all.

“one cannot conceive of a trip away from earth unless there exists a previous concept of other worlds.”

the beginnings of this idea—the idea of space-travel—can only be said to exist if their first exists other ideas, each with their own genealogies . . . ley attempts to identity the first notions of other worlds by listing numerous historical cultures who, while having a sophisticated mapping of the stars and their movements, lacked, in ley’s judgment, an idea of worlds other than earth.  “then cames pythagoras of samos . . .”

everything was going great until aristotle and his antikhthon or counter-earth—a counter-part to earth in every respect (“including inhabinats”).  the antikthon follows the exact course of the earth but is always blocked from the earth’s view by the central fire (which, even though not specified by ley, i assume is the sun).

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