October 11th, 2004
Writing in the Independent on Sunday, Steve Connor recounts the story of 17th-century clergyman Dr John Wilkins (who just happened to be the brother-in-law of Oliver Cromwell). Dr Wilkins had some … ambitious … plans for space travel:
[...] According to Dr Wilkins, the gravitational and magnetic pull of the Earth extended for only 20 miles into the sky. If it were possible to get airborne and pass beyond this point, it would be easy to continue on a journey to the Moon. Inspired by the discovery of other continents and the great sea voyages of explorers such as Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh, Wilkins conceived an equally ambitious plan to explore space.
Dr Wilkins drew up plans for what he called a flying chariot powered by clockwork and springs, a set of flapping wings coated with feathers and a few gunpowder boosters to help send it on its way. [...]
My favourite part of the article featured Professor Allan Chapman's description of another of Dr Wilkins' theories:
[...] Wilkins also had some other peculiar ideas of space travel that would make it easy to travel the quarter of a million miles to the Moon. He believed, for instance, that in space, men would not have much need for food.
"In space we wouldn't need to eat because the reason why we need to eat on Earth is that the pull of gravity pulls food through our bodies and constantly empties our stomachs," Professor Chapman explained. [...]