Over the Moon


Jules Verne earned his title as the father of science fiction: His 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon contains eerie similarities to the Apollo program that unfolded a century later.

Like Apollo 11, Verne’s story involved a crew of three being launched from the United States on a trip around the moon. The two spacecraft were of similar dimensions and weight, and both were mostly aluminum. (Verne’s craft was shot from a cannon called the Columbiad; Apollo 11’s command module was called Columbia.) Both were launched from the Florida peninsula after a competition with Texas; Congress resolved a similar contest in the 1960s, choosing Houston as home of Mission Control and Florida as the launch site — indeed, Verne’s craft takes off only 136 miles from today’s Kennedy Space Center. Both crews experienced weightlessness and used retrorockets, both missions were monitored by ground crews using telescopes, and both craft splashed down in the Pacific and were recovered by the Navy.

Some of this was guesswork, but some involved careful thought and intelligent speculation. Verne recognized that a vehicle can be launched into space most easily from low latitudes, and he undertook his own engineering analysis to design the projectile and the cannon that fired it. In his other novels, Verne describes antecedents of helicopters, air conditioning, projectors, automobiles, jukeboxes, the Internet, television, and submarines. “What one man can imagine,” he wrote, “another can do.”

“An Ass Cast Away”

In March, 1816, an ass belonging to captain Dundas, R. N. then at Malta, was shipped on board the Ister frigate, captain Forrest, bound for Gibraltar, for that island. The vessel struck on some sands off the Point de Gat, and the ass was thrown over board, in the hope that it might possibly be able to swim to the land; of which, however, there seemed but little chance, for the sea was running so high, that a boat which left the ship, was lost. A few days after, when the gates of Gibraltar were opened in the morning, the guard was surprised by Valiant, as the ass was called, presenting himself for admittance. On entering, he proceeded immediately to the stable of Mr. Weeks, a merchant, which he had formerly occupied. The poor animal had not only swam safely to the shore, but without guide, compass, or travelling map, had found his way from Point de Gat to Gibraltar, a distance of more than two hundred miles, through a mountainous and intricate country, intersected by streams, which he had never traversed before, and in so short a period, that he could not have made one false turn.

The Scrap Book, or, A Selection of Interesting and Authentic Anecdotes, 1825

Silver Bullet

The Lone Ranger’s creed, devised by creator Fran Striker:

I believe:

  • That to have a friend, a man must be one.
  • That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
  • That God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
  • In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.
  • That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
  • That “this government of the people, by the people, and for the people” shall live always.
  • That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
  • That sooner or later … somewhere … somehow … we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
  • That all things change but truth, and that truth alone lives on forever.
  • In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.

Round Trip

A man eats breakfast at his camp, then travels due south. After going 10 miles in a straight line he stops for lunch. Then he sets out again due south. After going 10 miles in a straight line he finds himself back at camp. Where is he?

Click for Answer

“The Continental Salamander”

In the year 1826, one Monsieur Chabert … performed the following feats at the White Conduit Gardens: Having partaken of a hearty meal of phosphorus, washed down with a copious draught of oxalic acid in a solution of arsenic, he drank off a jorum of boiling oil, and with his naked hand helped himself to a serving of molten lead by way of dessert. On another occasion he walked into a fiery furnace, stayed in some considerable space of time, and came out whole and unburned. He represented the furnace as hotter than it really was, though, as a matter of fact, he took in with him a raw beefsteak and brought it out broiled to a turn.

— Albert Plympton Southwick, Handy Helps, No. 1, 1886

“The Keats of Chess”

Rudolf Charousek had been playing chess for only four years when he found himself facing this position against Jakob Wollner at Kaschau in 1893:

charousek-wollner, kaschau 1893

He found one of the most immortally pretty finishes in chess history — to discover it, read Kester Svendsen’s 1947 short story “Last Round,” which the game inspired.

Three years afterward, Charousek defeated Lasker at Nuremberg. “I shall have to play a championship match with this man someday,” the master remarked, but it was not to be — the Hungarian died of tuberculosis in 1900, at only 26.

Twice-Tolled Tails

Mottoes on English bells, collected by John Potter Briscoe in Curiosities of the Belfry, 1883:

  • Fear God and obeai the Qwene. (Artlingworth, Northamptonshire, 1589)
  • Arise and go about your business. (St. Ives, Cornwall)
  • I ring at six to let men know/When too and from thair worke to goe. (Coventry, West Midlands, 1675)
  • A trusty friend is harde to finde. (Passenham, Northamptonshire, 1585)
  • Bee not wise in your owne conceits. (Yardley Hastings, Northamptonshire, 1723)
  • Labour overcometh all things. (Glentham, Lincolnshire, 1687)
  • Rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep. (Orlingbury, Northamptonshire, 1843)
  • When you die/Aloud I cry. (Owmby, Lincolnshire, 1687)
  • I call the quick to church and dead to grave. (Calstock, Cornwall, 1773)
  • When you hear this mournful sound/Prepare yourselves for underground. (Hough-on-the-Hill, Lincolnshire, 1683)

And “Mankind, like us, too oft are found/Possessed of nought but empty sound!” (Bakewell, Derbyshire, 1798)