When we look back in
time, a lot of what is science fiction at one time has become a reality. Back in 1860, the very thought of humans
being able to fly in machines or the horseless carriage were the very things
out of any science fiction novel. If you
compare the works of Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote “War of the Worlds” and
Jules Verne who wrote “Around the World in 80 Days”, we know at the time that
they are both works of science fiction.
However, only one has become a reality, sort of. We know now that we can around the world in
far less than 80 days using different modes of transportation such as an
airplane, 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 middle
part of the nineteenth century, not many folks had even thought about the
technology we have now as a reality, but, science fiction. Things of “tomorrow” or in the very distant
future. Jules Verne got a lot of things
correct and even today, baffle scientists as to how he was able to predict such
things. Certain things we can safely say
he hit the mark while others, were so far off as to be laughable.
Take “From the Earth To
The Moon” which was published back in 1865.
Humans would not make this a reality until a mere 104 years after his
published novel, but set the stage for many of us to ponder the thought of
space travel and much of what we knew as science fiction at that period. Jules Verne’s novel envisioned a spacecraft
that would launch from a giant cannon with people inside the craft shaped like
a large bullet. Seems crazy, but there
weren’t any rockets in the 1860’s that would produce enough force to launch any
type of vehicle into orbit. The amazing fact is that there are a whole lot of
similarities between the novelists’ vision and Apollo 11. Also, it’s worth
mentioning that he made some calculations which he mentions in the book, and
which are amazingly accurate for a time when nobody had even considered this.
The dimensions of his projectile are very close to those of Apollo 1, and both
crews consisted of 3 people. Also, the name of his spacecraft was the
Columbiad, while the command module for the American mission was called
Columbia, and he also launched from Florida, where all the Apollo missions were
launched. The people were then returned by parachuting in the sea, which was
also surprisingly accurate. Now, for the
past 50 years or so, we have manned space travel which began with the former
Soviet Union to the United States’ moon landing and we even have China, Japan,
France, Germany and Israel in the space program. Best of all, there is new technology making a plan to colonize space a
future reality. NASA has been experimenting with new types of propulsion 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 good plan, if humanity is lucky
enough to survive the next 5.5 billion years and the sun expands enough to fry
the Earth. I can also sit here and tell you all those things: 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 the moons of Jupiter. All the
reasons we should, if we manage that, look out at the stars 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 travel
of HIS future.
Next, imagine being at
the World’s Fair and being presented with a machine that can travel underwater
for lengths at a time and travel thousands of miles. Verne made this know in his novel “20,000
Leagues Under the Sea”. Keep in mind
that, Verne used the term “league” as in not to represent depth, but the
distance traveled. The machine that was
used? Well, the submarine of
course. Even though a few folks have
pondered this concept of a submarine, Verne was one of the first to actually
publish this notion thus obviously becoming a reality around the end of the
first world war.
Humans have always wanted
to take to the skies. We know from
history and many works of literature for this to be true. From the legend of Icarus to the most
sophisticated fighter jet in the world, humans have always been fascinated with
being able to fly. That’s when two young
brothers from North Carolina made that crazy idea a reality.
The Wright Brothers were
inspired by a toy their father had brought home from the World’s Fair in
Philadelphia in 1876 and soon began pondering ways to make this idea a
reality. As young boys, we can imagine
how their imaginations ran wild with this idea.
They struggled for a few years to get the first successful airplane off
the ground, but with the
major aerodynamic and control problems behind them, the brothers pressed
forward with the design and construction of their first powered machine. The rest is history as they say but it safe
to say that, once a pipe dream of an idea has changed the world forever in the
forms of air travel. There is perhaps no
better epitaph for both of the Wright brothers than the words crafted by a
group of their friends to appear as a label identifying the 1903 Wright
airplane on display at the Smithsonian: “By original scientific research, the
Wright 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 to
communicate with a friend or family member several miles away without riding a
horse seemed silly, impossible and just plain absurd. Before the telephone, people sent letters
which took forever to deliver one letter, normally via the Pony Express. Other cultures had used fire and smoke
signals, others beat war drums to communicate.
Antonio Meucci, an Italian
inventor, is credited with the invention of the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell is credited with it
throughout history, because he was the first to receive the US patent for his
device and thus received nationwide recognition and even went as far as
mentioning it to the President at the time, Rutherford B. Hayes who was quoted
as saying, “That’s
an 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 voice
over telegraph wires. We found that the voice is very weak and indistinct, and
grows even weaker when long wires are used between the transmitter and
receiver. Technically, we do not see that this device will be ever capable of
sending recognizable speech over a distance of several miles.”
What would both inventors think of their invention by today’s
standards? We have cellular and the
ability to do things “hands free” via wireless connections and even as far as
satellites. Within the first several
years of the telephone, it had become a household tool and in the late 19th
century, people raved about its positive values but also what negative values
it may bring along with it.
For example, people thought the telephone might help
spread democracy, a tool for organizers, new job opportunities, obvious
advancements 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 your
calls and most homes weren’t wired together so anyone could listen in on your personal
business. The early systems. This brings us to today with privacy as
surveillance and wiretapping are an issue.
We also have unwanted sales calls known as telemarketers. But, for what it is known as today, imagining
such technology back in 1860 would have thought to have been nothing but
It is safe to say, we have come a long way as a
civilization that dreamed and fantasied about space travel, communication
devices or even the fact of flying like a bird.
Looking back throughout history, we’ve come a long way and the human
race has only the future to look forward to and many other ways of making what
was once science fiction, a reality.