Richard-Bessière - The Conquerors of the Universe (1951) - Cover by Brantonne

The Conquest of Space

Contrary to popular belief, Man's conquest of space did not begin in the mid-20th century, but long before. In fact, as this article will show, there are accounts of Man's first, timid steps nto space as early as 160 A.D.!

R.E. Howard's The Tower of the Elephant - Art by Barry SmithThis is not surprising, since man's eyes turned toward the heavens as soon as he stepped out of the caves. Further, reliable accounts from chroniclers such as H. P. Lovecraft and
Robert E. Howard (among others), who thoroughly researched ancient civilizations, show that Man was also visited by a variety of celestial beings. So what would be more natural than wanting to explore the very skies from which they descended?

The accounts of what we shall call "Proto-Space Travel" are many -- as are those of further encouters with alien beings. For example, the notorious Micromegas, a giant alien from Sirius, accompanied by an equally gigantic Saturnian, visited Earth in 1752, and conversed with the highly cartesian, rational writer, François-Marie Arouet, a.k.a.

Yet, the laws of physics and recent astronomic discoveries about other planets would seem to contradict many of these reports.

Voltaire (1694-1778)While it is true that
some reports may only be flights of fancy, delusions, or attempts to cash in on another person's success story, most are written factually, almost in a journalistic style, with great efforts spent to convince the reader of the veracity of the account. Certainly, testimonies from a variety of enlightened figures, such as Johannes Kepler, a founding father of astronomy, or Voltaire, a guiding ligt of the Age of Reason, to name but two, cannot be casually dismissed.

Therefore, if we accept the truth that at least a number of reports of proto-space travel are real, we are then forced to consider the astounding notion that, while the laws of physics remain unchanged, the characteristics of Earth's Outer Space may have been different in the past from what they are today...

But before we engage in speculations, let us first examine the evidence.


In this section, we shall review, in chronological order, the most notorious -- and likely to be real -- instances of proto-space travel.

Laputa (from Gulliver's Travels) - Art by Miyazaki
160 A.D.
Lucian of Samosata wrote the first account of what may well be Man's first journey into space, Icaromenippus, in which a new Icarus, a man named Menippus, told him how he used a sophisticated winged apparatus that combined the wings of eagles and vultures to reach our satellite, or at least a floating object located "three thousand furlongs away"... The place that Menippus reached is described as a rocky spot. All this leads us to speculate that Menippus may not, in fact, have reached the Moon as Lucian believed, but one of the floating islands located in the upper strata of Earth's atmosphere, à la Laputa, later described in great detail by Jonathan Swift in his report on Gulliver's Travels.

Lucian's report was likely poorly received by the masses, for he reworked the same yarn in his later
Vera Historia, but this time making it far more exciting, casting Ulysses as the hero, adding plenty of adventure (flying ships and other worlds in space), and trying to pass it off as a "missing chapter" of Homer's best-selling Odyssey.

Vera Historia is a better read and, in some respects, perhaps a more prophetic one, but it sounds like made-up fiction, while Icaromenippus reads like a true account. Was Menippus the first man to have effectively ascended to the Heavens?... We shall never know for certain...

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)
A far more credible account of proto-space travel is the one written by the noted astronomer Johannes Kepler, who in Somnium reported the story told to him by a mysterious Icelandic man named Duracotus -- a self-proclaimed student of Tycho Brahe -- who claimed to have travelled to the Moon.

In truth, Duracotus revealed to Kepler that he was carried there by winged Selenites, who trafficked with his mother, a notorious witch. But what gives this account an undisputable ring of truth is that Duracotus explained to Kepler that these "demons" had to devise ways to accommodate the human's need for air and his intolerance of extreme cold. These were taken care of through the use of a sleeping potion and moistened sponges pressed against his face. Duracotus also noted his passage through the point where the gravity of Earth and of the Moon balanced each orther.

These details, magnified by the scrutiny of such a renowned scientist as Kepler, make us believe the basic veracity of Duracotus' account, and give us our first glimpses into the reality of Outer Space as it might have been at the time, and the creatures which dwelled therein.

Bishop John Wilkins's A Discourse Concerning a New World and Another Planet acknowledged his debt to Kepler's Somnium. This very successful book, reprinted in 1640, concerned itself with the need to manufacture "flying chariots" to go and colonize our satellite. Wilkins took the idea of space travel very seriously, and approached it with great scientific discipline and unbound enthusiasm and faith in man's ultimate conquest of space, but ultimately it was nothing more than prospective fiction.

Francis Godwin's notorious
The Man in the Moone, coincidentally published the same year, and released under the pseudonym of "Domingo Gonzales" (the name of the story's hero), in which the protagonist use trained swans to fly to the Moon, was pure and simple fiction, with no pretense otherwise.


Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655)Duracotus was abducted by aliens, and therefore did not travel to the Moon under his own power. The honor of being Mankind's first envoy to the Outer Worlds therefore fell to French nobleman
Hercule Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac.

(The fact that Cyrano de Bergerac indeed deserved that honor was attested by Robert Heinlein in several of his works.)

In his
Histoire des Etats et Empires de la Lune (History of the States and Empires of the Moon), published posthumously in 1657, followed by Histoire des Etats et Empires du Soleil (History of the States and Empires of the Sun) (1662), both eventually collected as L'Autre Monde (Other Worlds), De Bergerac developed the concepts of rocket power, and not only of rockets, but of the use of second-stage rockets. His account is, in fact, the first description of a manned rocket flight in literature.

An English translation of Cyrano's account by Don Webb can be found on the Bewildering Stories site.)

One of the fanciful methods of space travel devised by De BergeracDe Bergerac also lavishly detailed other fanciful "methods" of space travel, but undoubtedly these were included in the novel purely to obfuscate the nature of the real means employed to reach the Moon, and perhaps also to make the book more entertaining, and therefore more commercial.

Another remarkable feature of De Bergerac's account, which gives it additional weight, is his elaborate description of the alien societies that he encountered on his journeys, such as that of the Bird-Men who live on the "dark side" of the Sun and hate men. (Very likely an alien colony established on Mercury -- could these be related to the winged, space-faring aliens described by Howard in
Tower of the Elephant?)

Thanks to De Bergerac, we first learned that Man was not only no longer the sole sentient species in the universe, but that in fact he was not even the most important one!

This stunning revelation, taken in the religious context of the times (let us remember that 500 persons suspected of witchcraft and heresy were burned at the stake in Rouen in 1670!), help explain why the wise De Bergerac embellished the true story of his space journey with many fantasyish details
à la Godwin, and why he waited until after he was dead to have his accounts published.

As a footnote here, we should mention that Charles Sorel, a contemporary of Cyrano de Bergerac, who reportedly knew him and may have been in on the real nature of his journeys, wrote in his
Récit du Voyage de Brisevent (Tale of Brisevent's Journey) in 1642 (just about the time when De Bergerac travelled to Outer Space): "Some men have affirmed that there are many worlds, which some have placed in the planets, and others in the fixed stars; for my part, I believe there is a world on the moon." And further predicted that a "Prince as ambitious as Alexander, who shall come to conquer this world," would do so using "great engines, to descend or ascend."

After De Bergerac, space travel became more common, but it is often hard to separate real accounts from fanciful ones.

Margaret Cavendish in The Blazing World wrote about the first woman space traveller, who made the round of the Moon and the other planets, but I don't know enough about her work to properly assess its veracity.

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657-1757)
It would not be, however, too surprising if Ms. Cavendish's account (and indeed, others we know nothing of) were indeed true, since Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle wrote his ground-breaking Entretiens sur la Pluralité des Mondes (Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds), a documentary treatise about life on other planets which speculated on what the inhabitants of each world might be like. Certainly, a research like that could only be of use to starfarers...

As further evidence of secret and not-so-secret space travel, let us note that France, Germany (in 1668) and Russia (in 1680, when Czar Peter the Great established a rocket factory in Moscow) all began to experiment with rockets after De Bergerac's journeys. And of course, the year De Fontenelle wrote his treatise was also the year when Isaac Newton published his
Principia, in which the laws of motion and gravity were outlined...

The space race had begun.


We should skip Jesuit Gabriel Daniel's purely polemical
Voyage du Monde de Descartes (1690). and David Russen's Iter Lunaire (in which a combination of springs and pullies was used to reach the Moon!), for the clearly-labeled fantasies they were. (Either that or Russen worked hard to make people believe De Bergerac's accounts were a farce.)

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)
Far more interesting, and fully consistent wih the notion of a space race, journalist Daniel Defoe, chronicler of the adventures of the notorious Robinson Crusoe, in The Consolidator, described the discovery of the eponymous spaceship, invented 2,000 years before the Flood by a Chinese scientist named Mira-cho-cho-lasmo. The Consolidator is a flying machine powered by an internal combustion engine, that also featured hibernation capsules to ease the tedium of long, dangerous space flights. The Consolidator is the Roswell of the 18th century.

Let us further ponder the fact that, on
May 2, 1726, the following advertisement was placed in the Country Gentleman of London:

The famous Planetarey Caravan, which I spoke of before, being now entire finish'd and render'd convenient for all such Persons who have any Desire to visit the Moon, Venus, Mercury, or any other of the Planets.." (the ad goes on to state where the Caravan presently is located, then mention the fares, based on the distances travelled) "In the same Place also, may be seen the Planetarey Curricule, which is a Vehicle prepar'd only for Two Persons..."

The most interesting feature of this advertisement is that, when the distance to the Moon is worked out, based upon the fares given, it comes exactly to 240,000 miles!

Murtagh McDermot's A Trip to the Moon was a bizarre return to the theme of alien abduction, in which a man was taken to the Moon by an artificial whirlwind. Once there, however, friendly Selenites helped him return to Earth in a barrel-shaped ship, launched from a gun barrel dug one-mile deep into the lunar soil, and using a powder train a mile long to ignite it. One is easily led to speculate that such technology was then adapted and reused 137 years later by the pioneers of the American Gun-Club.

The anonymous A New Journey to the World in the Moon described a spaceship clearly built according to the specs of the Consolidator, and went on to detail the conditions of Outer Space and the difficulties of travelling through it.

Kindermann's space galley
German writer Eberhard Christian Kindermann's Swift Journey by Airship to the Upper World may have been intended to record the first German space travel to the Moon, and then to Mars, but because it used a balloon-powered gondola, one is inclined to dismiss it as pure fiction, unless it was purposefully camouflaged as such. (One may want to add in this category Rudolph Erich Raspe's notorious travels of his fictional Baron of Munchausen from 1785.)

On the other hand, De Listonal's space "galley" described in
Le Voyageur Philosophe dans un Pays Inconnu aux Habitants de la Terre (The Philosophical Traveler In A Country Unknown From The Inhabitants Of Earth) was secretly assembled by an international crew in an undisclosed location, and featured a full crew, complete with pilot and astronavigator. The purpose of its journey was more commerce with the Selenites.

By the mid-to-late 18th century, alien encounters, either on Earth or in Outer Space, had become fairly frequent. Among these, we should record the Chevalier de Béthune's
Relation du Monde de Mercure (Tale Of The World Mercury) (1750), another description of the colony of immortal, winged beings inhabiting the planet Mercury; Voltaire's own close encounter with the alien Micromegas from Sirius (1752); Charles-François Tiphaigne de la Roche's traffics with Zamar the Selenite, detailed in In Amilec (1754); Marie-Anne de Roumier-Robert's Voyage de Milord Céton dans les Sept Planètes (Voyage Of Lord Ceton In The Seven Planets) (1765), in which Lord Ceton and his sister Monime travel to seven different planets "on the wings of the angel Zachiel."

Scintilla's spaceship as recreated by De La FollieIn 1775, chemist Louis-Guillaume de La Follie's
Le Philosophe sans Prétention (The Philosopher Without Pretention) recorded the visitation of Earth by a crew of Mercurian scientists led by one Scintilla (who had been in telepathic contact with Earthmen before), who came to our planet in an electric-powered starship, using static electricity, not unlike the infamous Daleks).

Until then, space travel had been the exclusive province of scientists and philosophers, who had meekly approached other species, aware of Earth's lower status. This was going to change during the course of the 19th century...

As the 18th century ended, the French Revolution crippled space travel in France. In the early 1790s, the noted utopist, playwright, and journalist Louis-Abel Beffroy de Reigny, better known as "Cousin Jacques", wrote a number of plays taking place on other planets, but these were merely satires, bitter-sweet dreams of what once was or might have been... The future of space travel in the 19th century was to be found in England, and America.


The 19th Century showed the beginning of an aggressive push by Mankind into Outer Space, driven by the same type of impulses which had compelled the European powers to colonize most of Asia and Africa. However, it is worth noting that space travel remained, for the most part, the province of individuals or companies, not governments.

Edward Francesca Burney's account,
Q.Q. Esq.'s Journey to the Moon, reported on a journey to the Moon undertaken by a man known only as Q.Q. in a conical capsule launched by four cannons. Undoubtedly, this can be seen as a prelude to the famous Gun-Club enterprise, fifty years later.

America entered the space race in a big way, and yet the events we are about to record would lead to two divergent paths for space travel.

A professor at the University of Virginia, George Tucker (who taught Edgar Allan Poe), writing under the pseudonym of "Joseph Atterley", recorded the first American trip to the Moon in
A Voyage to the Moon. A truncated, cubic spaceship, propelled by the newly-discovered, gravity-repulsing substance, Lunarium, was used to dispatch a crew to the Moon. More about the origins of Lunarium below...

However, there were various technological problems with the use of Lunarium, as is always the case with emerging technologies. In fact, Lunarium technology would not be perfected until Professor Cavor in the early days of the next century. Also, the huge financial interests of the competing gun manufacturers helped suppress research into Lunarium, to the clear advantage of gun-driven or rocket-powered technologies.

Edgar Allan Poe - (1809-1849)
Edgar Allan Poe's renowned account of The Unparalleled Adventures of Hans Pfaal is capital on several accounts. First, the report is crowded with numerous scientific and astonomical details that attest to its authenticity. While certain key facts were obviously kept hidden, disguised, or obfuscated by Poe, it also provides further evidence that Earth's atmosphere extended, albeit in extreme tenuity, nearly as far as the Moon -- as previously discovered by Kepler.

Finally, one is led to wonder if the protagonist "Hans Pfaal", fleeing his creditors, is in fact none other than Poe himself. Certainly a student of George Tucker would have been greatly motivated to embark on a space journey of his own, and it is equally possible that one of the purposes of this journey was to further develop Lunarium research. In fact, could have Poe been murdered by gun-makers in an attempt to prevent further research into Lunarium?...

We should dismiss here as clearly fictional J. L. Riddell's
Orin Lindsay's Plan of Aerial Navigation (1847), in which the hero was dragged off in space by a comet (unless it is yet another case of alien abduction?); Charles Rumball (writing as "Charles Delorme")'s The Marvellous and Incredible Adventures of Charles Thunderbolt in the Moon (1851), a children's novel which featured a steam-driven spaceship; Louis Desnoyers' Les Aventures Amphibies de Robert-Robert et de son fidèle compagnon Toussaint Lavenette (The Amphibian Adventures Of Robert-Robert And His Faithful Companion Toussaint Lavenette) (1853), and Alfred Drious's Les Aventures d'un Aéronaute Parisien dans les Mondes Inconnus (The Adventures Of A Parisian Aeronaut In The Unknown Worlds) (1856) both of which featured protagonists reaching the Moon via hot air balloon.

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)
More evidence of secret research into Lunarium technology, possibly sent to France by Poe via his renowned translator, poet Charles Baudelaire, can be found in
Alexandre Dumas's novella "Voyage à la Lune" (Trip To The Moon), in which our satellite was reached by a spacecraft powered by an unnamed substance (hint, hint!) "repelled by the Earth". Both Poe and Dumas, as one will recall, were men who had been in contact with the mysterious figure known diversely as Joseph Balsamo, Arthur Gordon Pym and Count of Monte-Cristo, who himself was in possession of alien technology, which may in fact explain the origin of the Lunarium in the first place. (See our companion article, Who Was Nobody?). It is not altogether surprising to find them both, once again, linked in such a fashion.

But the gun and rocket manufacturers would not so easily be disarmed -- no more than lighter-than-air partisans would, until the same man, now known as Nemo or Robur, would prove once and for all the superiority of heavier-than-air flying machines.

Two ground-breaking attempts were going to be ushering a new age in space conquest at the end of the 19th century: one based in France, the other in America.


Coincidentally, both attempts took place in 1865, and were reported by French writers.

The first, and historically least important, was chronicled by Achille Eyraud in his
Voyage à Vénus (Voyage to Venus). In it, a French spaceship propelled by a "reaction engine," which some genre scholars construed as a kind of multi-stage rockets, managed to reach the planet Venus, the seat of peaceful society, in which the sexes were equal and solar-powered robots toiled in the fields. But the technology described by Eyraud proved far too imperfect and problematic, and was abandoned.

Jules Verne (1828-1905)Far more successful was the American Gun-Club's $5 million space travel enterprise described in great detail by
Jules Verne in his De la Terre à la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon). A projectile containing Americans Barbicane and Nichols, and daring Frenchman Michel Ardan, was fired from a giant cannon located in Florida. Their return to Earth was chronicled in Autour de la Lune (Around the Moon), published in 1870.

Because of the huge publicity given to the event by the American business community, the Gun-Club's journey was largely perceived as a huge success, in spite of the fact that it achieved very little. Yet, because of this publicity, there is powerful evidence that the entire history of rocketry and space travel would have continued to remain mired in isolated, even amateurish, attempts, had not this trip taken place.

One might even go as far as stating that it was that first aggressive foray into space by gun-makers and conquerors that was responsible, as we shall speculate below, for events of cosmic magnitude throughout the Solar System.

The Gun-Club's SpaceshipFor, by the time Barbicane, Nichols and Ardan reached the Moon, our satellite had obviously been abandoned by the races that once lived on it. Only ruins remained on the surface. Some Selenites, as Professor Cavor eventually discovered, chose a temporary refuge under the Moon's surface. Others simply retreated to the Outer Planets. One can only assume that such a drastic move was the direct consequence of Industrial Revolution-Man's aggressive push into space.

Second, one might also speculate on the technologies actually employed by the Gun-Club. Verne, who was shown in our companion article to have purposefully (if clumsily) disguised the true records of Arthur Gordon Pym and Captain Nemo (see
Who Was Nobody?) also obfuscated certain facts about some of the top secret methods employed by the Gun -Club, such as the identity of the metal alloys used for the projectile (likely tungsten steel), and the presence of some form of inertia-compensating device.

The launch of the Gun-Club's spaceshipThis secrecy is due to the fact that, as aliens were progressively moving out of the way of the expanding human race, certain physical characteristics of Outer Space (such as the presence of a tenuous atmosphere between Earth and the Moon recorded by Poe and others) were, undoubtedly much to the surprise of human scientists, also changing.

The publicity machine of the Gun-Club, and the Governments behind them, could not have Earth's populace become aware of such realities, and once again, Verne collaborated by publishing a heavily sanitized version of the truth.

As we said at the beginning of this article, the moment has therefore come to reconcile the reality of proto-space travel and early space journeys with the notion that, while the laws of physics remain unchanged, the characteristics of Earth's Outer Space may have been different in the past from what they are today.

We now know that Earth -- indeed the entire Solar System -- actually travels through space. We shall therefore hypothesize that, in centuries past, the Solar System crossed a region of space presenting different physical characteristics, from which it emerged only (and progressively) after, and as a result of, the Gun-Club space travel of 1865.

We shall dub this space: "
Aether Space."


While our knowledge, and understanding, of Aether Space is by force limited, a careful study of the various reports we have just reviewed enable us to form a general idea of its nature.

First and foremost, as we have seen,
Aether Space was inhabited.

Previously in this article, we have reported on numerous instances of recorded contacts between Men and Aliens, dating as far back as the early 1600s.

The Complete Works of Charles FortLet us add that the eminent American writer
Charles Fort long suspected that Earth was not unlike a small primitive island in space, a space inhabited by unimaginable beings, crossed by inconceivable vehicles, who occasionally dumped their refuse on our planet, or interacted with us as we interact with monkeys or cattle.

Similar descriptions of the universe, as we have seen, also arise from the various reports written by H. P. Lovecraft and, as we have already pointed out, Robert E. Howard's accounts of the long-dead Hyborian Age.

The concept of Earth not being alone in a cosmic void devoid of life, but on the contrary sharing its space with a solar system teeming with other lifeforms can also be found in a variety of other research works, from the notorious Madame Blavatsky's
The Secret Doctrine, to Christian author C. S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet, to Maurice Renard's ground-breaking Le Péril Bleu, and more.

Even today, many who believe in aliens, believe that Man is not alone, and is either manipulated by higher beings, or projects upon them a variety of illusions reflecting his inner beliefs rather than true reality.

Maurice Renard's Le Péril BleuAnd, as we have noted, the artefacts of Madame Blavatsky's alien "Dzyan" found in the Antarctic, also played a major part in the life of the man known as Nemo, as outlined in our companion article,
Who Was Nobody?

Aether Space was different from regular space.

Many of the reports we have studied indicate the existence of a form of atmosphere extending beyond Earth's immediate boundaries, as well as the presence of gaseous "pockets" in space. Planetary conditions on Mars, Venus, Mercury, etc. as reported were equally different from the ones found in modern times. Finally, some of the laws of physics did not appear to be identical to what we know, or at the very least seemed to be working differently.

All this leads us to speculate that perhaps certain regions of space may be more "porous" than others... Gravity not being quantic in nature would remain the same for humans bound to the planetary surface, but a weaker gravity would not be as strong a glue once outside of Earth's attraction... Were the Planck's constant ever so slightly different, the speed of light would actually increase, making space travel more practical... Etc., etc.

In short, Aether Space
then may well have been different from Outer Space now.

Our final speculation, by far the most daring, would be to ask whether Aether Space was a natural phenomenon, or an artificial one?

C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent PlanetCould vast, cosmic intelligences, such as, or even beyond Lewis' Eldils, have decided the move Aether Space beyond the confines of the Solar System, once man's incursions into space became both frequent and aggressive?

Could it be possible that, what was once a thriving, planet-spanning, cosmic eco-system just packed its bags and left (with a few exceptions, as we shall see), leaving behind it a barren collection of dead worlds and cold, hostile, airless void, stripped of its wonderful properties?

In effect, has Mankind been effectively quarantined?