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From the Earth to the Moon

From the Earth to the Moon
Cover of an early English translation
Author Jules Verne
Original title De la terre à la lune
Translator Anonymous (1867)
J. K. Hoyt (1869)
Louis Mercier & Eleanor Elizabeth King (1873)
Edward Roth (1874)
Thomas H. Linklater (1877)
I. O. Evans (1959)
Lowell Bair (1967)
Jacqueline and Robert Baldick (1970)
Harold Salemson (1970)
Walter James Miller (1996)
Frederick Paul Walter (2010)
Illustrator Henri de Montaut
Country France
Language French
Series Voyages Extraordinaires #4
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print (Hardback)

From the Earth to the Moon (French: De la terre à la lune) is an 1865 novel by Jules Verne. It tells the story of the Baltimore Gun Club, a post-American Civil War society of weapons enthusiasts, and their attempts to build an enormous sky-facing Columbiad space gun and launch three people — the Gun Club's president, his Philadelphian armor-making rival, and a French poet — in a projectile with the goal of a moon landing.

The story is also notable in that Verne attempted to do some rough calculations as to the requirements for the cannon and, considering the comparative lack of any data on the subject at the time, some of his figures are surprisingly close to reality. However, his scenario turned out to be impractical for safe manned space travel since a much longer muzzle would have been required to reach escape velocity while limiting acceleration to survivable limits for the passengers.

The character of Michel Ardan, the French poet in the novel, was inspired by the real-life photographer Félix Nadar.


  • Plot 1
  • Technical feasibility of a space cannon 2
  • Technological aspects of the novel 3
  • Influence on popular culture 4
    • Disneyland Paris 4.1
    • Project Epicus version 4.2
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The projectile, as pictured in an engraving from the 1872 Illustrated Edition.
The firing of the Columbiad.

It has been some time since the end of the American Civil War. The Gun Club, a society based in Baltimore and dedicated to the design of weapons of all kinds (especially cannon), meets when Impey Barbicane, its president, calls them to support his idea: according to his calculations, a cannon can shoot a projectile so that it reaches the moon. After receiving the whole support of his companions, a few of them meet to decide the place from where the projectile will be shot, the dimensions and makings of both the cannon and the projectile, and which kind of powder are they to use.

An old enemy of Barbicane, a Captain Nicholl of Philadelphia, designer of plate armor, declares that the enterprise is absurd and makes a series of bets with Barbicane, each of them of increasing amount over the impossibility of such feat.

The first obstacle, the money, and over which Nicholl has bet 1000 dollars, is raised from most countries in America and Europe, in which the mission reaches variable success (while the USA gives 4 million dollars, England does not give a farthing, being envious of the United States in matters of science), but in the end nearly five and a half million dollars are raised, which ensures the financial feasibility of the project.

After deciding the place for the launch (Stone's Hill in "Tampa Town", Florida; predating Kennedy Space Center's placement in Florida by almost 100 years; Verne gives the exact position as 27°7' northern latitude and 5°7' western longitude, of course relative to the meridian of Washington that is [1]), the Gun Club travels there and starts the construction of the Columbiad cannon, which requires the excavation of a 900-foot-deep (270 m) and 60-foot-wide (18 m) circular hole, which is made in the nick of time, but a surprise awaits Barbicane: Michel Ardan, a French adventurer, plans to travel aboard the projectile.

During a meeting between Ardan, the Gun Club, and the inhabitants of Florida, Nicholl appears and challenges Barbicane to a duel. The duel is stopped when Ardan—having been warned by J. T. Maston, secretary of the Gun Club—meets the rivals in the forest where they have agreed to duel. Meanwhile, Barbicane finds the solution to the problem of surviving the incredible acceleration that the explosion would cause. Ardan suggests that Barbicane and Nicholl travel with him in the projectile, and the offer is accepted.

In the end, the projectile is successfully launched, but the destinies of the three astronauts are left inconclusive. The sequel, Around the Moon, deals with what happens to the three men in their travel from the earth to the moon.

Technical feasibility of a space cannon

In his 1903 publication on space travel, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky refuted Verne's idea of using a cannon for space travel. He concluded that a gun would have to be impossibly long. The gun in the story would subject the payload to about 22,000 g of acceleration (see formula). However, he was nevertheless inspired by the story and developed the theory of spaceflight.

Gerald Bull and the Project HARP proved after 1961 that a cannon can shoot a 180 kg (400 lb) projectile to an altitude of 180 kilometres (110 mi) and reach 32 percent of the needed escape velocity. Additionally, during the Plumbbob nuclear test series, a 900 kg (2,000 lb) capping plate made of steel was blasted away and never found. It has been speculated that the plate entered outer space because its speed was estimated to be between two and six times the escape velocity,[2] but engineers believe it melted in the atmosphere.[2]

Technological aspects of the novel

Jules Verne’s novel is a window to the knowledge of his time and his understanding of the technologies. It has several technical errors, which look unusual to the modern eyes, but reflect the knowledge of 1865-1870. Some of the issues are:

  • The projectile is launched using a large gun. Of course, the largest issue is the resulting acceleration, which is well above the survivable limit for humans. The space capsule also performs a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on the return trip, which also challenges the acceleration limits. Verne did not consider using rocket as the main propulsion method although some small retro-rockets were carried onboard to be used to soften the landing on the Moon. This is somewhat understandable since black powder rockets were rather small at that time and the possibility of using them for space propulsion was considered and described only some 40 years later by Tsiolkovsky. Liquid propellants were invented even later. These modern propellants offer much higher specific impulse than black powder. Verne has used a gun perhaps because he ignored that rockets could work in vacuum.
  • The passengers en route to the Moon are described to be subjected to gravitation all the way to the “neutral point” between the Earth and the Moon. Actual passengers of a free-flight projectile would not feel any gravity anywhere along the journey.
  • When the projectile is behind the Moon, the passengers measure the vacuum temperature while in the shadow of the moon. They "settle" the debate between Joseph Fourier and Claude Pouillet when the “actual” temperature is measured at -140 °C when a special thermometer is sent out of the capsule and retrieved by slightly opening the hatch. The accepted value today is -271 °C.
  • Aether is explained to be the medium by which “heat and light is produced”. This was the standard model of the time. This model was later abandoned as the result of the measurement of the speed of light by Michelson and Morley in 1887, which led later to the Theory of relativity in 1904 by Albert Einstein. This experiment and others disproved existence of aether.

However, the novel also reports some state-of-the-art technologies and new knowledge of the time:

  • The projectile deviates and misses the Moon because it passes close to a large asteroid orbiting the Earth while en route to the Moon. Jules Verne makes a reference to the “discovery” of second Moon by Frédéric Petit in 1846. This theory was dismissed later.
  • The propellant used to shoot the capsule is reported to be guncotton - an explosive discovered in 1846 and later made practical in 1865 and eventually to a smokeless powder.
  • The capsule is made of aluminium, a metal first produced by Hans Christian Ørsted in 1825 but was later improved by two Frenchmen. This metal is common today but was very rare when the book was written. The modern low-cost process for producing aluminum was introduced in 1886, some 20 years after the novel was written.
  • Carbon dioxide removal in the capsule’s atmosphere is accomplished using potassium hydroxide while oxygen production using the ‘Reiset and Regnaut machine’, (see Henri Victor Regnault.) Oxygen euphoria is even experienced along the trip when the oxygen production machine becomes unadjusted.

Influence on popular culture

The novel was adapted as the opera Le voyage dans la lune in 1875, with music by Jacques Offenbach.

In H. G. Wells' 1901 novel The First Men in the Moon (also relating to the first voyagers to the Moon) the protagonist, Mr. Bedford, mentions Verne's novel to his companion, Professor Cavor, who replies (in a possible dig at Verne) that he does not know what Bedford is referring to. Verne returned the dig later when he pointed out that he used gun cotton to send his men to the moon, and one could see it any day. "Can Mr. Wells show me some "cavourite"?", he asked archly.

The novel (along with Wells' The First Men in the Moon) inspired the first science fiction film, From the Earth to the Moon. It was one of the last films made under the RKO Pictures banner. The story also became the basis for the very loose adaptation Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon (1967), a caper-style British comedy starring Burl Ives and Terry-Thomas. The 1961 Czechoslovak film The Fabulous Baron Munchausen combines characters and plot elements from the Verne novel with those of the stories of Baron Munchausen and Cyrano de Bergerac.

The novel and its sequel were the inspiration for the computer game Voyage: Inspired by Jules Verne.

In 1889 Verne wrote a second sequel to the novel, The Purchase of the North Pole, which has the gun club members (led by J. T. Maston) plan to use the "Columbiad" to alter the tilt of the earth to enable the mineral wealth of the Arctic region to be put within reach of exploitation.

Among its other homages to classic science fiction, an issue of Planetary involved the Planetary group finding that the Gun Club had been successful in launching the projectile, but that a miscalculation led to a slowly decaying orbit over the decades with the astronauts long dead from lack of air and food.

Barbicane appears in Kevin J. Anderson's novel Captain Nemo: The Fantastic History of a Dark Genius as an Ottoman official whose chief rival, Robur, designs a number of innovative weapons to counteract him, including an attempt to launch a three-man mission to the Moon.

During their return journey from the moon, the crew of Apollo 11 made reference to Jules Verne's book during a TV broadcast on July 23.[3] The mission's commander, astronaut Neil Armstrong, said, "A hundred years ago, Jules Verne wrote a book about a voyage to the Moon. His spaceship, Columbia [sic], took off from Florida and landed in the Pacific Ocean after completing a trip to the Moon. It seems appropriate to us to share with you some of the reflections of the crew as the modern-day Columbia completes its rendezvous with the planet Earth and the same Pacific Ocean tomorrow."

In Back to the Future Part III, Clara Clayton asks Emmett Brown if he believes mankind will ever "travel to the moon the way we travel across the country on trains." Being from the future Doc already knows that doesn't happen for another 84 years, but he affirms they will while quoting a passage of From the Earth to the Moon. Clara calls him out on this, and it's from this encounter that the pair discovers their mutual love of Jules Verne novels. However, Dr. Brown mentions that the voyages will be taken in "rockets", whereas a space gun is used in the novel.

The second sequel to the 2008 film Journey to the Center of the Earth and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is loosely based on From Earth to the Moon. It is called Journey 3: From Earth to the Moon, and the script is in development.

In March 1953, the Gilberton Company published a comic-book adaptation of From the Earth to the Moon as issue No. 105 in its Classics Illustrated series. An unidentified scriptwriter combined Verne's From the Earth to the Moon with the sequel, Around the Moon. Gilberton art director Alex A. Blum supplied both the cover painting and the 44 pages of interior art. The title went through twelve printings between 1953 and 1971.[4]

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume III: Century, text-story entitled Minions of the Moon the Americans are from the Gun Club, a society based in Baltimore, suggesting the Baltimore Gun Club.

The fourth opening credit sequence of the anime Uchuu Kyoudai is based on the book.

Disneyland Paris

The first incarnation of the roller coaster Space Mountain in Disneyland Paris, named Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune, was based loosely on this novel, the ambience being that of the book being noted throughout the ride with its rivet and boiler plate effect. The ride includes the "Columbiad", which recoils with a bang and produces smoke as each car passes, giving riders the perception of being shot into space.

The attraction was built after the opening of Euro Disneyland and opened in 1995. The attraction's exterior was designed using a Verne era retro-futuristic influence, in keeping with the rest of Discoveryland.

During 2005, the ride was refurbished and renamed Space Mountain: Mission 2 as part of the Happiest Celebration on Earth. The ride no longer features any of the original storyline based on the novel, with the exception of the name of the cannon (Columbiad) and "Baltimore Gun Club" signs.

In 1995 the BBC made a documentary about the creation of Space Mountain, called Shoot For The Moon. The 44-minute program followed Tim Delaney and his team in bringing the book From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne to life. The program shows the development of the attraction, from conception over construction up to testing and fine-tuning the final attraction, including its soundtrack. The documentary, originally broadcast on BBC Two in the United Kingdom, was also aired on other channels in many countries.

Space Mountain is also located next to the walk-through attraction "Les Mystères du Nautilus" based on Walt Disney's adaptation of Jules Verne's famous literary work Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Project Epicus version

In 2013, a new film version of the story was announced, under the banner of Project Epicus[5] – an online collaborative film project - with the full blessing of Jules Verne’s great-grandson Jean Verne and due for a 2015 release.[6][7]

See also


  1. ^ "Earth to the Moon", Jules Verne, Page by Page books .
  2. ^ a b Brownlee, Robert R (June 2002), "Learning to Contain Underground Nuclear Explosions", USA tests, Nuclear weapon archive, retrieved 2006-07-31 .
  3. ^ "History", JSC (PDF),  .
  4. ^ Jones, William B Jr (2011), Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History (2 ed.), McFarland, p. 329 .
  5. ^ Unknown. "Project Epicus website". Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  6. ^ Project Epicus. "Youtube: Jean Verne Interview, Project Epicus". Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  7. ^ Movie Prop Sites, LLC. "RPF From the Earth to the Moon". Retrieved 23 September 2013. 

External links

  • From the Earth to the Moon; and, Round the Moon at Project Gutenberg — This is the original translation of Mercier and King published by Sampson Low et al. in 1873 and deletes about 20% of the original French text, along with numerous other errors.
  • From the Earth to the Moon, — Gut. text #83 in HTML format with original illustrations.  
  • The Moon Voyage, Project Gutenberg  — This the version of both parts of Earth to the Moon and Round the Moon as published by Ward Lock in London in 1877. The translation is more complete than the Mercier version, but still has flaws, referring to the space capsule as a "bullet".
  • Jules Verne Moon Gun, , an analysis and comparison to Apollo.  
  • A Jules Verne Centennial (images) (Scribner ed.), .  
  • Gioia, Ted, by Jules VerneFrom the Earth to the Moon (review), Conceptual Fiction .
  • Verne, Jules, De la Terre à la Lune ( .
  • From the Earth to the Moon public domain audiobook at LibriVox
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