Fly Me to the Moons
Lagari Hasan Celebi is probably the first person to have flown. He built a rocket, packed it with 25 kilos of gunpowder and put on top a conical wire cage, into which he climbed. A friend then lit the fuse and a great explosion threw Celebi from his launch pad on the banks of the Bosphorus 300 meters into the air. At his apogee, he opened some homemade wings and drifted safely back to Earth. Or so it is claimed.
The year was 1623. Celebi performed the stunt to impress Sultan Murad IV on the occasion of his daughter Kaya's birth. “Your Majesty, I leave you in this world while I am going to have a talk with the prophet Jesus,” he told the sultan before boarding his rocket. “Your Majesty, Prophet Jesus sends his greetings to you,”1 The crowds went wild. So, too, did the sultan, who awarded Celebi a pouch of gold and a commission in the cavalry.
On that first manned rocket mission, two important principles of space travel were established. The first was that the heavens are always more impressive in the imagination than in reality. The second was that exploits in outer space are important primarily for what they achieve back on Earth.
In 1869, Edward Everett Hale, a Unitarian minister, wrote an article for the Atlantic Monthly entitled “The Brick Moon.” In the story, a group of idealistic students devise a plan to build a satellite to serve as a navigational aid to those back on Earth. As the title implies, their satellite was constructed entirely of brick, in order to withstand the heat of passing through the atmosphere. It was propelled into orbit by being rolled down a huge groove cut on a mountainside. At the end of the groove were two water-powered flywheels that flung it into the heavens.
Once in orbit, the Brick Moon exceeded wildest expectations. Not only did it help stranded sailors and explorers, it also provided an example of a harmonious community—the kind of peace and goodwill missing back on Earth.