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It is rocket science…

An apposite Jot in view of the recent death of Wurzel soundalike, Professor Colin Pillinger, the space scientist behind the Beagle 2 Mars landing vehicle.  The British Interplanetary Society was actually founded as long ago as 1934, when H. G. Wells was still alive, and is still going strong. I don’t know if Pillinger was a member, but in 1954 Arthur C. Clarke was on the publications committee and Patrick Moore was sitting on the Council. It is notable that although most of Moore’s fellow Council members had a degree, not one of them achieved anything like as much as this college dropout did in the field of astronomy.

The lead article in this January 1954 issue of the Society’s Journal  is a passionate plea by Dr A. V. Cleaver, head of the rocket division at Rolls Royce, for funds to be taken out of Europe’s various military budgets and put into a space programme which would ultimately see a man on the moon, flights to Mars and Venus, and ultimately the establishment of bases on these and other planets. Like many scientists before and since, Cleaver argues that the space race must be seen, not as a huge waste of resources, but as a logical extension of Man’s ceaseless striving to explore, and also a potential opportunity to develop various technological projects.

The writer betrays a political naiveté shared by many scientific visionaries, but his technical knowledge can hardly be faulted. The article ends with some fascinating appendices outlining time scales and costs. Interestingly, although he speculates  vaguely on significant progress occurring in  'generations' ,  he does make some bold predictions. For instance, by 1975 a 'relatively small piloted Earth –satellite- vehicle might take up its orbit'. And perhaps during the 1980s and 90s 'a few expeditions by small ships, carrying human crews of only one or two, might be organised.'

If anything, these predictions were a little conservative. Within just fifteen years of the article appearing, Man had landed on the Moon— in another issue of the Journal, the more cautious Clarke had predicted that this would happen by 1975. [RH]

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Vulcan 2

The second part, from the fascinating forgotten work Oddities: A Book of Unexplained Facts (Allan, London 1928) by R.T. Gould, on the non-existent planet Vulcan. The first part can be found here.

Vulcan Landscape (from Star Trek, the Motion Picture)
 Leverrier, once convinced as to the real character of Lescarbault's discovery, lost no time in performing the necessary calculations which that worthy had found so baffling. He obtained, for the new planet's mean distance from the sun, about 13,000,000 miles, and for its period of revolution 19 days 17 hours. Lescarbault, who had seen Mercury in transit over the sun with the same telescope, and the same magnifying power, on May 8, 1845, considered that the new planet (which he decided to name "Vulcan") had a disc rather less than a quarter as large. Accordingly, Leverrier calculated that Vulcan's volume was probably about one seventeenth that of Mercury. It did not escape him that, supposing its mass to be in anything like the same proportion, Vulcan could not be held responsible for more than a small fraction of the disturbances observed to be taking place in Mercury's orbit.

  He also calculated that Vulcan ought to be in transit on the sun's face on or about April 3rd and October 6th of every year, at which times it should, of course, be visible in the same manner as it had been to Lescarbault. He did not hold out much hope of its being seen at other times, since he computed that its lustre would be so feeble that it might easily remain unseen, even during a total eclipse of the sun.*

  * Proctor has questioned this statement. By his calculations, Vulcan and Mercury, seen during eclipse at their greatest angular distance from the sun, would appear about equally bright.

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