I want to tell you a story about stories.
And I want to tell you this story
because I think we need to remember
that sometimes the storieswe tell each other
are more than just talesor entertainment or narratives.
They’re also vehicles for sowing inspirationand ideas across our societies
and across time.
The story I’m about to tell you is
about how one of the most advanced technological achievements
of the modern era has its roots in stories,
and how some of the most important transformations yet to come might also.
The story begins over 300 years ago,
when Galileo Galilei first learnedof the recent Dutch invention
that took two pieces
of shaped glass and put them in a long tube
and thereby extended human sightfarther than ever before.
When Galileo turnedhis new telescope to the heavens
and to the Moon in particular, he discovered something incredible.
These are pages from Galileo’s book”Sidereus Nuncius,” published in 1610.
And in them, he revealed to the world what he had discovered.
And what he discovered was
that the Moon was not just a celestial object
wandering across the night sky,
but rather, it was a world,
a world with high, sunlit mountains
and dark”mare,” the Latin word for seas.
And once this new worldand the Moon had been discovered,
people immediately beganto think about how to travel there.
And just as importantly,
they began to write stories
about how that might happen and what those voyages might be like.
One of the first people to
do so was actually the Bishop of Hereford,
a man named Francis Godwin.
Godwin wrote a storyabout a Spanish explorer,
Domingo Gonsales, who ended up marooned
on the island of St. Helena
in the middle of the Atlantic, and there,
in an effort to get home,
developed a machine, an invention,
to harness the powerof the local wild geese
to allow him to fly —
and eventually to embark on a voyage to the Moon.
Godwin’s book,” The Man in the Moone,
or a Discourse of a Voyage Thither,”
was only published posthumouslyand anonymously in 1638,
likely on account of the number
of controversial ideas that it contained,
including an endorsementof the Copernican view of the universe
that put the Sun at the centerof the Solar System,
as well as a pre-Newtonianconcept of gravity
that had the ideathat the weight of an object
would decrease with increasingdistance from Earth.
And that’s to say nothing of his idea
of a goose machine
that could go to the Moon.
And while this idea
of a voyage to the Moon by goose machine
might not seem particularly insightfulor technically creative to us today,
what’s important is
that Godwin described getting to the Moon not by a dream
or by magic, as Johannes Keplerhad written about,
but rather, through human invention.
And it was this ideathat we could build machines
that could travel into the heavens,
that would plant its seed in minds across the generations.
The idea was next taken upby his contemporary, John Wilkins,
then just a young student at Oxford, but later,
one of the founders of the Royal Society.
John Wilkins took the idea of space travel
in Godwin’s text seriously
and wrote not just another story
but a nonfiction philosophical treatise,
entitled,”Discoveryof the New World in the Moon, or,
a Discourse Tending to Prove
that’tis Probable There May BeAnother Habitable World in that Planet.”
And note, by the way,that word”habitable.”
That idea in itself would havebeen a powerful incentive
for people thinking about how to build machines that could go there.
In his books, Wilkins seriously considereda number of technical methods
for spaceflight, and it remains
to this day the earliest known nonfiction account
of how we might travel to the Moon.
Other stories would soon follow,most notably by Cyrano de Bergerac,
with his”Lunar Tales.”
By the mid-17th century,the idea of people building machines
that could travel to the heavens
was growing in complexityand technical nuance.
And yet, in the late 17th century,
this intellectual progresseffectively ceased.
People still told storiesabout getting to the Moon,
but they relied on the old ideas or,
once again, on dreams or on magic.
because the discoveryof the laws of gravity by Newton
and the invention of the vacuum pump
by Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle
meant that people now understood that a condition
of vacuum existed between the planets,
and consequentiallybetween the Earth and the Moon.
And they had no way of overcoming this,
no way of thinking about overcoming this.
And so, for well over a century,
the idea of a voyage to
the Moon made very little intellectual progress
until the rise ofthe Industrial Revolution
and the developmentof steam engines and boilers
and most importantly, pressure vessels.
And these gave people the tools to think
about how they could build a capsule
that could resist the vacuum of space.
So it was in this context, in 1835,
that the next great storyof spaceflight was written,
by Edgar Allan Poe. Now,
today we think of Poein terms of gothic poems
and telltale hearts and ravens.
But he considered himselfa technical thinker.
He grew up in Baltimore,
the first American city with gas street lighting,
and he was fascinatedby the technological revolution
that he saw going on all around him.
He considered his own greatest work
not to be one of his gothic tales
but rather his epic prose poem”Eureka,”
in which he expoundedhis own personal view
of the cosmographical natureof the universe.
In his stories, he would describein fantastical technical detail
machines and contraptions,
and nowhere was he more influential
in this than in his short story,
“The Unparalleled Adventureof One Hans Pfaall.”
It’s a story of an unemployedbellows maker in Rotterdam, who,
depressed and tired of life —
this is Poe, after all —
and deeply in debt,
he decides to build a hermetically enclosed balloon-borne carriage
that is launched into the air by dynamite
and from there, floatsthrough the vacuum of space
all the way to the lunar surface.
And importantly, he did notdevelop this story alone,
for in the appendix to his tale,
he explicitly acknowledged Godwin’s”A Man in the Moone”
from over 200 years earlier as an influence
calling it”a singular and somewhatingenious little book.”
And although this idea
of a balloon-borne voyage to the Moon may seem
not much more technically sophisticatedthan the goose machine,
in fact, Poe was sufficiently detailed
in the descriptionof the construction of the device
and in terms of the orbitaldynamics of the voyage
that it could be diagrammedin the very first spaceflight encyclopedia
as a mission in the 1920s.
And it was this attention to detail,or to”verisimilitude,” as he called it,
that would influence the next great story:
Jules Verne’s”From the Earthto the Moon,” written in 1865.
And it’s a story that hasa remarkable legacy
and a remarkable similarityto the real voyages to the Moon
that would take placeover a hundred years later.
Because in the story,
the first voyage to the Moon takes place from Florida,
with three people on board,
in a trip that takes three days —
exactly the parameters that would prevailduring the Apollo program itself.
And in an explicit tributeto Poe’s influence on him,
Verne situated the group responsible for this feat
in the book in Baltimore,
at the Baltimore Gun Club,
with its members shouting,”Cheers for Edgar Poe!”
as they began to lay out their plans for their conquest of the Moon.
And just as Verne was influenced by Poe, so,
would Verne’s own story go on to influence and inspire
the first generation of rocket scientists.
The two great pioneers of liquid fuel rocketry
in Russia and in Germany,
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Hermann Oberth,
both traced their own commitmentto the field of spaceflight
to their reading”From the Earthto the Moon” as teenagers,
and then subsequentlycommitting themselves
to trying to make that story a reality.
And Verne’s story was not the only one
in the 19th century
with a long arm of influence.
On the other side of the Atlantic, H.G.
Wells’s”War of the Worlds”directly inspired
a young man in Massachusetts,Robert Goddard.
And it was after reading”War of the Worlds”
that Goddard wrote in his diary, one day
in the late 1890s, of resting while trimming
a cherry tree on his family’s farm
and having a vision
of a spacecraft taking off from the valley below
and ascending into the heavens.
And he decided then and there
that he would commit the rest of his life
to the development of the spacecraft that he saw in his mind’s eye.
And he did exactly that.
Throughout his career,he would celebrate that day
as his anniversary day,his cherry tree day,
and he would regularly read and
reread the works of Verne and of Wells
in order to renew his inspirationand his commitment
over the decades of laborand effort that would be required
to realize the first part of his dream:
the flight of a liquid fuel rocket, which he finally achieved in 1926.
So it was while reading”From the Earthto the Moon” and”The War of the Worlds”
that the first pioneers
of astronautics were inspired to dedicate their lives
to solving the problems of spaceflight.
And it was their treatisesand their works in turn
that inspired the firsttechnical communities
and the first projects of spaceflight,
thus creating a direct chain of influence
that goes from Godwin to Poe to Verne
to the Apollo program and to the present-daycommunities of spaceflight.
So why I have told you all this?
Is it just because I think it’s cool,
or because I’m justweirdly fascinated by stories
of 17th- and 19th-century science fiction?
其实 说实话 有一部分吧
It is, admittedly, partly that.
But I also thinkthat these stories remind us
of the cultural processesdriving spaceflight
and even technologicalinnovation more broadly.
As an economist working at NASA,
I spend time thinking about the economic origins
of our movement out into the cosmos.
And when you look before the investmentsof billionaire tech entrepreneurs
and before the Cold War Space Race,
and even before the military investments in liquid fuel rocketry,
the economic origins of spaceflight are found in stories and in ideas.
It was in these stories that the first concepts for spaceflight were articulated.
And it was through these stories that the narrative
of a future for humanity in space
began to propagate from mind to mind,
eventually creating an intergenerationalintellectual community
that would iterateon the ideas for spacecraft
until such a timeas they could finally be built.
This process has now been going onfor over 300 years,
and the result isa culture of spaceflight.
It’s a culture that involvesthousands of people
over hundreds of years.
Because for hundreds of years,
some of us have looked at the stars
and longed to go.
And because for hundreds of years,
some of us have dedicated our labors to the development of the concepts and systems
required to make those voyages possible.
I also wanted to tell youabout Godwin, Poe and Verne
because I think their storiesalso tell us of the importance
of the stories that we tell each other about the future more generally.
Because these stories don’t justtransmit information or ideas.
They can also nurture passions,
passions that can lead usto dedicate our lives
to the realization of important projects.
Which means that these stories can and do
influence social and technological forces
centuries into the future.
I think we need to realize this and
remember it when we tell our stories.
We need to work hard to write stories
that don’t just show us the
possible dystopian paths we may take for a fear
that the more dystopian stories we tell each other,
the more we plant seedsfor possible dystopian futures.
Instead we need to tell storiesthat plant the seeds,
if not necessarily for utopias,
then at least for great new projects of technological, societal
and institutional transformation.
And if we think of this idea
that the stories we tell each other
can transform the future is fanciful or impossible,
then I think we need to rememberthe example of this,
our voyage to the Moon, an idea from the 17th century
that propagated culturallyfor over 300 years
until it could finally be realized. So,
we need to write new stories,
stories that, 300 years in the future,
people will be able to look back upon and remark
how they inspired usto new heights and to new shores,
how they showed us new pathsand new possibilities,
and how they shapedour world for the better.