In 1683, Francis Godwin imagined a spaceship. It wasn't the kind we think of today—no fancy rocket engines, no smooth nose cone, no far off planetary designation. Godwin's spaceship, used by his story's protagonist Domingo Gonsales, was headed for the moon. And it was powered by swans. Trevor Owens, at the Library of Congress, explains:
Realizing these birds can carry an extraordinary amount of weight, Gonsales creates a harness system that he uses to fly around an island. He tries to fly back to Spain, but the birds keep flying higher and higher taking him all the way to the moon. When he lands he finds there is a whole new world there, which he refers to as another Earth. It’s a place with plants, animals, and most surprisingly, a Utopian civilization of tall, Christian people. From the moon, Gonsales observes the Earth moving through the sky. This shift in perspective is helpful for thinking about the relationships between heavenly bodies.
Since 1683, the dreamers of the world have come up with many, many more imaginary, space-bound vehicles. Owens runs through just a few, including the 1853 Space Elevator dreamt up by Dr. Andrew Grant, Thomas Edison's Anti-Gravity Ship from 1889 and the Submarine Helicopter Gunship that came from the mind of Marcianus Filomeno Rossi in 1920.
As space travel became more and more a reality, imaginary space ships became more realistic. No longer do swans power even our fake flights to far off space. But today's science fiction writers come up with their own far-out ways of making ships faster, stronger and more amazing—from warp drives to bending space time. As Owens points out, these ships that we've dreamed up tell us a lot about just how badly humans have wanted to travel beyond our own world:
Each of these imaginary space ships one has it’s own intriguing story to tell, but together they illustrate 300 years of thinking through how everything from birds, to fireworks, to static electricity and a really long chain could be used to get people from the earth out to other worlds.
But now that we can, we certainly haven't stopped dreaming of even better ways to do so.
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