The “mystery aeroship” sightings yet remain as true materializations of dream and reality, myth and engineering, archetype and design. Space-projected dream fragments have a curious way of moving through the stimulating revolutions, which they materialize. With the expression of the aeroships now in material form, all thoughts of apparitional aeroships were dispatched to the world of dreams and dreamers.
Designers and builders undertook mighty works toward these more material ends, fabricating the grandest, most elaborate renditions of dirigibles. They were one latest wonder in a Century, which produced so very many wonders. But those who watched the skies for passing dirigibles made of wood, canvas, glass, tin, and gas were suddenly taken aback. For there, there above the clouds where dirigibles puttered along, new aerial manifestation began appearing.
Dreamy in appearance when first sighted, earth-bound watchers were almost afraid to report them for fear of public ridicule. The apparitions which thousands began seeing and reporting were called “ghost rockets”. These cloudlike apparitions were cylindrical with tapered ends. They sprouted prodigious quantities of smoke, while traveling straight across the sky at velocities, which seemed fantastic. Like the first aeroship apparitions, these ghost-rockets were absolutely ill defined and silent.
These crafts, if dirigibles, seemed totally advanced to those who beheld them. Wingless, rudderless, and silent; these devices defied all inventive reason. The ghost-rockets were seen in every nation. Their gradual “acquisition of details” is now a matter of the indelible historic record. Portholes, fins, wings, humans, each appeared in graded successions. In the same developmental manner as was experienced with mystery aeroships, human stimulations determined to build what they sensed. The dream sea, surging, suffused the world-mind with a new quest.
It was no wonder when the idea of space flight seized the imagination of all whose parents previously beheld the silent armadas of mystery aeroships. Edgar Rice Burroughs lived through the days when mystery aeroships were making their inexplicable journeys through both the night sky and the mind of society. A true visionary of his day, he thrilled readers with his Mars Adventure series.
John Carter, his central theme hero, was the earthman that was mystically “translated” to Mars after accidentally walking through a certain “forgotten cavern” of the Arizona deserts. The interplanetary gateway, an artifact of archaic magick, was indeed the most gloriously advanced means for travel among the distant planets. The beauty of this mythic dream portrays the archetypes well, as magickal doorways into other worlds consistently flood the symbolic lexicon of fables and legends the world over.
The Mars Series exposed young readers to the possibilities of interplanetary travel and contact with other civilizations. The extremely sublime dream-forms portrayed and represent by Edgar Rice Burroughs required another thirty years for their realization. Legendary experiments dealing with inter-dimensional travel continued to haunt American scientific society throughout the remainder of their Twentieth Century, mostly among privateers and natural philosophers. Among the works of several independent researchers it is said that these wonders were approached and actually achieved. In the inability to immediately realize the “gateway” symbol in material form, a mythic theme more capable of bridging gaps from existing technology toward possible new ones was forged. John Carter’s mystery caverns and their magickal technology was forgotten. The modified dream quest, the image and frame of desire in the early Twentieth Century, became Rocketry.
Space was opened, a portal pouring forth its dream floods. The great rush of activities focused all technological attention on rockets and their potential. Rockets into space! Even the heroic tales shifted their focus for the new theme. Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon appeared, embracing their young readers with a fresh new dream whose power derived from more mechanically accessible sources.
Rockets were not being developed by academicians. Too many physical laws taught them to be “impractical and futile”. American academicians had difficulty with accepting the rocket as a viable propulsive mode for travel. But these “laws and restrictions” did not stop young enthusiasts bent on making history. Rockets were being made and tested by numerous rocket clubs in Europe. Experience taught that rockets (whether strapped on to sleds, trains, cars, boats, planes, or human rocketeers) were too unstable and dangerous to be taken seriously. Rockets were indeed unpredictable.
Films of the early rocket era reveal the often-frightening scenarios of explosions, flying wheels, spinning sleds, and burning coveralls. Solid fuel rockets were too uncontrollable. Once ignited, there was “no turning back”. One rocket train experiment was heavy enough not to fly away, but its acceleration was so extreme that the passengers simply blacked out after ten seconds’ travel time. Some way had to be found by which rocket thrust could be “throttled”.
Here, in America, science writers were busy upbraiding the designs of one Robert Goddard, a high school physics teacher who had been developing liquid chemical rocket engines of superlative power and performance. Goddard’s liquid fuel rockets demonstrated the critical control feature so obviously missing in solid rockets. This was achieved through valves, which could be applied or shutdown as thrust was desired. Numerous articles appeared in Scientific American, refuting the very ability of rockets to operate in vacuum … in space. The writers of such outrageously non-scientific articles each offered their “reasons” why Goddard’s scheme would fail. Such pen and ink assaults “proved” that rockets would not work in vacuum. It was said that rocket engines would self-extinguish in vacuum.
Among the carnival of ill-informed academic statements we find that singular “proof’ which taught that rockets could not long travel through vacuum … not having “anything against which to push”. No doubt, this onslaught came just as Goddard was about to receive a sizable research grant! With monies of his own, Dr. Goddard developed guidance systems, fuel pumps, nozzle-coolant systems, directional stabilizers, and every fundamental component, which appears in modern liquid chemical rockets. Government agencies were now thoroughly convinced that rocketry was an impractical scheme.
But the dream travelled among honest dreamers. It settled on a European rocket club, which enjoyed their Sunday afternoon lectures. Theirs was a celebration of rockets, space dreams, beer, song, and pretty girls. This club gained prominence in accomplishments, which sounded across their land. Their fame was very unfortunately discovered by their own now-fascist government. Despite an overwhelmingly enthusiastic endorsement from one Charles Lindbergh, the U.S. Government failed to deliver Goddard’s grant. Interest in his complete patent collection went elsewhere: to Nazi Germany, to be exact.
- ENDLESS LIGHT: Dr. Thomas Henry Moray
- DEADLY SOUND: Vladimir Gavreau