When we look back intime, a lot of what is science fiction at one time has become a reality. Back in 1860, the very thought of humansbeing able to fly in machines or the horseless carriage were the very thingsout of any science fiction novel. If youcompare the works of Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote “War of the Worlds” andJules Verne who wrote “Around the World in 80 Days”, we know at the time thatthey are both works of science fiction. However, only one has become a reality, sort of. We know now that we can around the world infar less than 80 days using different modes of transportation such as anairplane, boat and in some odd cases, walking.
But, there hasn’t been or ever will be, any “war of the worlds”. At least not in our lifetime. Living towards the middlepart of the nineteenth century, not many folks had even thought about thetechnology we have now as a reality, but, science fiction.
Things of “tomorrow” or in the very distantfuture. Jules Verne got a lot of thingscorrect and even today, baffle scientists as to how he was able to predict suchthings. Certain things we can safely sayhe hit the mark while others, were so far off as to be laughable.
Take “From the Earth to theMoon” which was published back in 1865. Humans would not make this a reality until a mere 104 years after hispublished novel, but set the stage for many of us to ponder the thought ofspace travel and much of what we knew as science fiction at that period. Jules Verne’s novel envisioned a spacecraftthat would launch from a giant cannon with people inside the craft shaped likea large bullet. Seems crazy, but thereweren’t any rockets in the 1860’s that would be able to launch any vehicle intoorbit. Theamazing fact is that there are a whole lot of similarities between thenovelists’ vision and Apollo 11. Also, it’s worth mentioning that he made somecalculations which he mentions in the book, and which are amazingly accuratefor a time when nobody had even considered this. The dimensions of hisprojectile are very close to those of Apollo 1, and both crews consisted of 3people. Also, the name of his spacecraft was the Columbiad, while the commandmodule for the American mission was called Columbia, and he also launched fromFlorida, where all the Apollo missions were launched.
The people were thenreturned by parachuting in the sea, which was also surprisingly accurate. Now, for the past 50 years or so, we havemanned space travel which began with the former Soviet Union to the UnitedStates’ moon landing and we even have China, Japan, France, Germany and Israelin the space program. Best of all, there is new technology making a plan tocolonize space a future reality. NASA has been experimenting with new types ofpropulsion and engines that could produce remarkable speeds. I can sit here and tell you that moving farther out into the solar system might be a goodplan, if humanity is lucky enough to survive the next 5.5 billion years and thesun expands enough to fry the Earth. I can also sit here and tell you all thosethings: all the reasons we should find some way to live away from this planet,to build space stations and moon bases and cities on Mars and habitats on themoons of Jupiter. All the reasons we should, if we manage that, look out at thestars beyond our sun and say, “Could we go there? Maybe we could go there.
” I wonder how many NASA engineers read Jules Verne? Maybe we should credit him for space travelof HIS future.Next, imagine being atthe World’s Fair and being presented with a machine that can travel underwaterfor lengths at a time and travel thousands of miles. Verne made this know in his novel “20,000Leagues Under the Sea”. Keep in mindthat, Verne used the term “league” as in not to represent depth, but thedistance traveled. The machine that wasused? Well, the submarine ofcourse. Even though a few folks havepondered this concept of a submarine, Verne was one of the first to actuallypublish this notion thus obviously becoming a reality around the end of thefirst world war.
Humans have always wantedto take to the skies. We know fromhistory and many works of literature for this to be true. From the legend of Icarus to the mostsophisticated fighter jet in the world, humans have always been fascinated withbeing able to fly. That’s when two youngbrothers from North Carolina made that crazy idea a reality. The Wright Brothers wereinspired by a toy their father had brought home from the World’s Fair inPhiladelphia in 1876 and soon began pondering ways to make this idea areality. As young boys, we can imaginehow their imaginations ran wild with this idea. They struggled for a few years to get the first successful airplane offthe ground, but with themajor aerodynamic and control problems behind them, the brothers pressedforward with the design and construction of their first powered machine. The rest is history as they say but it safeto say that, once a pipe dream of an idea has changed the world forever in theforms of air travel.
There is perhaps nobetter epitaph for both of the Wright brothers than the words crafted by agroup of their friends to appear as a label identifying the 1903 Wrightairplane on display at the Smithsonian: “By original scientific research, theWright brothers discovered the principles of human flight. As inventors,builders and flyers, they further developed the aeroplane, taught man to fly,and opened the era of aviation.”In the late 1860’s, the thought of being able tocommunicate with a friend or family member several miles away without riding ahorse seemed silly, impossible and just plain absurd. Before the telephone, people sent letterswhich took forever to deliver one letter, normally via the Pony Express. Other cultures had used fire and smokesignals, others beat war drums to communicate. Antonio Meucci, an Italianinventor, is credited with the invention of the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell is credited with itthroughout history, because he was the first to receive the US patent for hisdevice and thus received nationwide recognition and even went as far asmentioning it to the President at the time, Rutherford B.
Hayes who was quotedas saying, “That’san amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?” Western Union was also credited for saying, “The Telephone purports to transmit the speaking voiceover telegraph wires. We found that the voice is very weak and indistinct, andgrows even weaker when long wires are used between the transmitter andreceiver. Technically, we do not see that this device will be ever capable ofsending recognizable speech over a distance of several miles.” What would both inventors think of their invention by today’sstandards? We have cellular and theability to do things “hands free” via wireless connections and even as far assatellites. Within the first severalyears of the telephone, it had become a household tool and in the late 19thcentury, people raved about its positive values but also what negative valuesit may bring along with it. For example, people thought the telephone might helpspread democracy, a tool for organizers, new job opportunities, obviousadvancements in telecommunications, changing the way we do marketing, politics,increase contact between states and even nations for that matter, crime,decrease loneliness and overall, bring people closer together.
Privacy was also a concern for most people. Switchboard operators could listen in on yourcalls and most homes weren’t wired together so anyone could listen in on your personalbusiness. The early systems. This brings us to today with privacy assurveillance and wiretapping are an issue.
We also have unwanted sales calls known as telemarketers. But, for what it is known as today, imaginingsuch technology back in 1860 would have thought to have been nothing butscience fiction.It is safe to say, we have come a long way as acivilization that dreamed and fantasied about space travel, communicationdevices or even the fact of flying like a bird. Looking back throughout history, we’ve come a long way and the humanrace has only the future to look forward to and many other ways of making whatwas once science fiction, a reality.