America has an undeniable penchant for exploration, one that has led to some remarkable achievements. The latest of these was America’s harrowing landing of a car-sized robot, Curiosity, on the surface of Mars. But while Curiosity’s exploratory pedigree is impressive, she isn’t a Martian memorial. She’s a rolling science laboratory.
America has always been a future-oriented country, straining at the leash to explore new places, do new things and unravel old secrets. But now we have reached a moment in our history where the future evokes as much anxiety as anticipation. Perhaps that’s why the movement to rededicate Columbus Day as Exploration Day is so timely. It reminds us that while celebrating our past is important (justifiable controversy about Columbus aside), leaning into a future of our own creation is far more important. Exploration Day lionizes past triumphs while fixing its gaze firmly on the horizon.
In America, the horizon is where the action is. If you need proof, just ask the man widely credited with inventing science fiction, Jules Verne.
In 1865 the American Civil War was drawing to a close. Orville and Wilbur Wright were 38 years away from the first sustained heavier-than-air powered flight. The first man-made object to reach space, the German V-2, wouldn’t do so for another 39 years beyond that.
That same year, French author Jules Verne published a book called From the Earth to the Moon. In it, he launched an extraordinary vision of future exploration. The idea that humans, who had yet to even conquer powered flight, could travel to the moon was revolutionary to say the least. But for Verne, this was more than just a fantasy. He wanted his book to be plausible, so he did his homework.
For example, Verne worked out, with an extraordinary degree of precision, the 25,000 mph escape velocity required to break free from Earth’s gravity. It took another 94 years before Russia’s Luna 1 became the first man-made object to leave Earth orbit.
More than that, Verne wrote that reaching the moon would cost the equivalent of some $12 billion (in 1969 dollars). Up to Apollo 8, the first human flight to the moon, America spent $14 billion. Verne’s budget forecasting, a century in advance, shames the Congressional Budget Office.
But who would accomplish this feat of exploration? At the time of his writing, hot air ballooning was the only route to explore the skies, and Verne’s French countrymen were pioneers in ballooning. Germany was making important contributions in science. In terms of raw power, Pax Britannica kept order in the world, while the Royal Navy ruled the waves unchallenged.
But Verne calculated that if a mission of exploration to the moon could be accomplished, the Americans would most likely do it. He even came pretty close to figuring out where such a mission would be launched. After considering several sites in Texas and Florida, Verne chose Stone Hill, Florida, just south of Tampa as the departure site for America’s moon shot. A century later, NASA considered many similar sites, before choosing Merritt Island, Florida, now home to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.
Verne’s prescience was astonishing, but not flawless. The giant cannon he predicted would shoot a capsule to the moon (instead of a rocket) would have turned its occupants into salsa. But his insight into America’s spirit and capacity for the extraordinary was right on target.
In 2012, a Plutonium-powered American SUV on Mars is writing a new chapter in this country’s story of exploration and sheer audacity.
I have to think that if only Verne had broadband, he would have visited explorationdayusa.org and signed the petition. Since he didn’t, I hope you’ll join me in doing so.
Mack Bradley – Mack A. Bradley is the founder and Principal of StandPoint Public Affairs. He has developed a reputation for excellence as a thoughtful strategic partner, specializing in strategic communications, crisis management, public affairs and media relations. His professional focus is on solving complex communications problems through thoughtful planning and considered implementation. His client experience includes Fortune 100 companies, government agencies at the local and regional level, charitable foundations, not-for-profits and religious organizations.
Mack has designed, managed and executed communications programs earning clients millions of dollars in publicity value over the past several years. His expertise ranges from complex public education programs to large festivals, drawing hundreds of thousands, to major real estate development projects, to complex public policy issues.
An accomplished trainer and speaker, Mack has conducted media training for hundreds of participants in North America and Europe in various industries, including crisis and emergency risk communications training to prepare Missouri to respond to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threats. Part of his curriculum, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, focuses on the psychology of Risk Communications in a public crisis.
Mack is an active member of the community. He currently serves on St. Patrick Center Communication Committee, the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association Public Policy Council, Cardinal Glennon Foundation Development Board, and the Mardi Gras Foundation Board. He is past president of AmeriCorps St. Louis, and a past board member of Mid-America Transplant Services.
Mack earned a BA in political science from Illinois Wesleyan University and is currently is a Master’s candidate in international affairs from Washington University. He was a National Security Forum Fellow at the Air War College, and a Coro Public Affairs Fellow. He has been named one of St. Louis’ “40 Under 40″ business and civic leaders.