The Ancients: Jules Verne

Jules Verne was born in 1828 in Nantes, France. Although he went to law school, he was attracted to literature and embarked on a fictional career publishing many science fiction novels. He is known as the father of science fiction. Some of his famous novels include Five Weeks in a Balloon, Around the World in Eighty Days, From the Earth to the Moon, Around the Moon, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Discovery of the Earth.

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Verne was not a scientist, but his novels explored scientific theories that were more plausible and grounded in reality. His publisher, Pierre Jules Hetzel, mandated that he teach science through fiction. His scientific explorations were derived from extensive reading of contemporary publications, discussions with experts among his friends and relatives and his own travels; Verne was an amateur sailor and traveled extensively with his wife. His fictional works include many dream machines, many of them futuristic that leave his readers in awe, transporting them to into extraordinary worlds.

In Around the World in Eighty Days, the protagonist Phileas Fogg and his companions use different modes of transportation available in the 1880s to travel around the world in 80 days. The novel explores the diversity of the Earth’s surface, both physical and cultural and continues to be used as an educational tool. In an analysis conducted it was found that students who “discuss tenets of National Geographical Standards in the context of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days” increased their knowledge as well as their interest in the discipline. In today’s terms 80 days to circumnavigate the Earth is a long time, and this feat can be accomplished in a matter of days using multimodal transportation or in hours such as the record set by Air France Concorde in 1992 or numerous other examples of circumnavigating the Earth using aircraft, balloons, sailplanes, Seacraft, spacecraft, and other transportation modes.

In his novel, From the Earth to the Moon, Verne’s theories of a moon trip including a potential launch site in Southern Florida, eerily match with uncanny precision NASA’s Apollo program almost a hundred years later. The size, shape, weight, material, crew size and the return method all consistent in their accuracy, very evident, in the comparison of an artist rendering of Verne’s lunar craft with the Apollo command and service module.

Spurred by President John F. Kennedy’s proclamation in 1961 that the US would send a man to the moon before the end of the decade, the Apollo program pursued several ambitious goals of developing the capability to transport humans to space, land on the moon, work in the lunar environment, and safely return to the earth. At the time of this announcement, the first American, Alan Sheppard had spent 15 minutes in space and returned safely. On July 21, 1969, NASA achieved this goal when Apollo 11 astronauts step foot on the moon becoming the first and only humans to ever step foot on the moon.

Not only this particular vehicle, National Geographic captures eight Jules Verne inventions that came true, including electrical submarines, newscasts, Solar Sails that resemble an artist rendition of NASA’s NanoSail-D, lunar modules, skywriting, videoconferencing, taser, and spaceship splash down in the ocean similar to the Mercury capsule. Verne did not anticipate that governments would drive moon race, but would be sponsored by private enterprises. However, this too can change with the commercialization of space and private sector companies becoming active participants in the space race.

Jules Verne died in 1905, almost at the advent of the golden age of powered flight and almost fifty years prior to the first spaceflight. He authored more than 60 books and his scientific fiction continues to spark the imagination of his readers be they students, writers, scientists or inventors for more than a century.

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Jules Verne Biography