Science, SciFi & Voyages Extraordinaires.

It is always intriguing to ponder on different versions of “What.. if...” question. What would happen if time travel is invented? What would happen if people could live as much as they’d like to? What would happen if those long gone could come to life with the memory of their previous experience?... The possibilities are endless and captivating. Appreciating the era of innovation and far-reaching progress in the last century, a genuinely interesting “what if” tale would illustrate a collision of a great storyteller of the XIX century with scientific discoveries of the present? What if Jules Verne materialized today to observe the unraveling of the year of 2019 into 2020?

“I ask no more than to live a hundred years longer, that I may have more time to dwell the longer on your memory”

Jules Verne in 20000 Leagues Under the Sea

Jules Verne, the French author born in Nantes on February 8, 1828, died on March 24, 1905, in Amiens. Next to literary masters Lucian of Samosata, H. G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Hugo Gernsback, he is thought of as one of the leading narrators who set the grounds of the modern-day science fiction genre. Jules Verne was a keen spectator of contemporary inventions and discoveries. He often socialized with scientists and engineers. The beauty of Jules Verne's stories was, not only in the incredible worlds he created but, in the fact that his envisions had a foundation in the science of his days. He explained the concepts, based on which his designs worked, with great care.

In a famous novel 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, published in 1870, Verne describes the electric submarine Nautilus. Electricity to power Nautilus is generated from sodium/mercury batteries, while sodium is derived from the seawater. In the short story In the Year 2889 (pub. 1889.) Verne described the so-called "atmospheric advertisement", "phonotelephote", and the phenomenon of “morning news being spoken to subscribers", who also can “converse with reporters, statesman and scientists”. All three creative concepts are equivalent to nowadays skywriting, videoconferencing, and TV news or internet chats. Jules Verne imagined the light-propelled spacecraft and the projectiles with adequate force to break through gravity and carry passengers to the Moon, in 1865. He described them in the novel From the Earth to the Moon; both concepts exist today as the Solar Sails and the Lunar Modules. A fictional idea of the light-propelled spacecraft was based on the principle physicist James Clerk Maxwell presented in a theory of electromagnetic fields and radiation. He showed that light-particles, photons, have momentum. Accordingly, light exerts pressure on objects, inducing motion. Maxwell's equations (1861-1864.) laid a theoretical foundation for space sailing using solar radiation as a mechanical agent.

Unlike typical sailboats, which use the wind pressure to induce movement across the waters, solar sails use reflective properties of large sails and momentum of photons to thrust a spacecraft through space. When photons hit the mirror-like surface of the sail they push it away from the light source (Sun). Photons then reflect off the sail while transferring its momentum and pushing the sail once again. The angle between the sail and the light source determines the spacecraft's directions. Seeing that spacecraft is floating in a vacuum, there's nothing to slow it down; moreover, as long as the source of photons is powerful, the sail will proceed to advance.

A hundred and fifty years passed before the space-sail idea became a reality. In 2010, the first interplanetary solar sail, IKAROS, launched from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It was the first spacecraft entirely propelled by sunlight and headed towards Venus. A few months later, NASA deployed NanoSail-D in a low earth orbit. A science educator Bill Nye started a charming project on Kickstarter in 2015. LightSail: A Revolutionary Solar Sailing Spacecraft, as they named it, collected $1,241,615 and made a liftoff on June 25, 2019. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Thanks to the technology of continual acceleration, a solar-propelled spacecraft could reach a distant space more quickly than a rocket-propelled one. When perfected, the technology will enable genuine Voyages Extraordinaires and explorations far beyond our solar system and into the interstellar space.