Category Archives: rockets, missiles and space travel

by willy ley

viking press – 1951

aaron gave me this book for my birthday last year

rockets, missiles and space travel chapter 2

the unicorn climaxed the second installment

in 1672, mars happened upon giovanni cassini “who found, to his amazement, that the distance from the sun to the earth had to be more than 80 million miles (actually it is 93 million)”.  (more than) 80 million miles?  that’s like more than double any previous estimation of the difference . . . i mean, distance.

or rather,

mars approached close, gently overcoming her shyness.  mathmagician cassini, among others (astronomonics, star-gazers, electro-geologists), observed—“a truly international venture.” but after, “things had suddenly grown too large, too impressive”.  looks like kepler was right all along . . .

with the imaginable distance between glimmers in the nights sky doubled, the stars could no longer be mapped (cognitively).

1833: sir john (herschel) sails to capetown determined to systematically explore the sky; new york sun staff member, richard adams locke, reports:

a new breakthrough in magnification-technologies now allows for up-closes glimpes of the other worlds in our solar system.  descriptions to follow . . .

but the descriptions of life on mars (and the moon and saturn’s rings) was a hoax.  how did locke pull it off (i mean other than capitalizing on the desire for there to be life on other planets)?

just in case some reader might happen to see through this fallacy, several paragraphs were devoted to loose talk about microscopic reflectors, angles of incidence, properties of rays, ect., until the reader felt he could not follow anyway and was, therefore, ready to accept what he was told.

this growth of astronomical knowledge had also resulted in a literal ‘growth’ of the universe.

why would ley employ ‘scare-quotes’ around the second growth?  obviously this is not a literal growth–a physical/material growth of the universe–caused  by the observations and numbers of some creature on some little planet in some know-nothing galaxy. instead it’s a literal “growth”–the growth itself is not there, it’s in our heads.  at some point the “growth” of the universe, the more zeros ended up after the sizes and spaces of astronomical observations, surpassed the representational capacities of human systems.  between that representational space and the space beyond representation we find a limit, a threshold.

and so, “the answer of the year 1830 to the problem of space travel” is . . .

dependence on their surroundings forced them to remain at home, and the most they could hope for was to see other fish tanks and guess about there surroundings.

but dont get down, science; there still may be things to observe in the night sky . . . like a possible “walled-city” on the surface of the moon.  “it would prove a lot of things–provided only that it’s nature established.”  that’s always the tricky part, establishing nature . . .


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).