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]

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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Case Study on Arcturus IV (MIT 1950s) for the year 2951

A rare object, just catalogued...

Case Study on Arcturus IV (Product Design 2.734)

Massachustes Institute Of Technology ( Department Of Mechanical Engineering) Circa 1952-1955 First Edition. Wraps., 1955. 4to. About 100 pages printed recto only. A curious production with the printed monogram of M.I.T. on the cover and stapled at the spine like an official report or script. It is a collection of memos, missives and communication from the years 2951 and 2952, mostly about the Massachusets Intergalactic Traders and concerning opportunities for export business with the newly discovered planet Arcturus IV (in the Methania galaxy 36 light years away). There are diagrams, an illustration of an Arcturus native ('Sub Human type') and detailed plans for a food mixer suitable for 'Methanians' (also a carriage incubator and other machinery. )

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It’s Time you Knew

From a 1944 book It's Time You Knew - a sort of Ripley's 'Believe it or Not' book produced by Bulova and, it seems, given to customers in American watch shops. This copy has the stamp of one Jack Conner, a jeweller from Oroville California.  The answers are below - in the case of Errol Flynn the Bulova answer is wrong- this was a piece of fake publicity dreamed up by the Hollywood studios in the 1930s that seems to have stuck. He was not an Olympian (also he was Australian.)


It is approximately 186,000,000 miles to the Sun and back again.

66 men flew non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean before Lindbergh. Sir John Alcock and Sir A. Whitton-Brown flew from Newfoundland to Ireland, in 1919. Later the same year, the English dirigible "R-34," with 31 men aboard, crossed from Scotland to America and returned. In 1924, the German "ZR-3" flew from Friedrichshafen to Lakehurst, N.J., with a crew of 33 men–totaling 66 men, who flew the Atlantic before Lindbergh, and making Lindbergh the 67th man.

Watch-rate variation recorders, used to test every Bulova Watch upon its completion, take 30 seconds to tell how fast or slow a watch would run in 24 hours.

Errol Flynn represented England, as a boxer, in the 1928 Olympics at Amsterdam.