The Consequences Of A Deviation

: From The Earth To The Moon

Barbicane had now no fear of the issue of the journey, at least

as far as the projectile's impulsive force was concerned; its

own speed would carry it beyond the neutral line; it would

certainly not return to earth; it would certainly not remain

motionless on the line of attraction. One single hypothesis

remained to be realized, the arrival of the projectile at its

destination by the action of the lunar attraction.

It was in reality a fall of 8,296 leagues on an orb, it is true,

where weight could only be reckoned at one sixth of terrestrial

weight; a formidable fall, nevertheless, and one against which

every precaution must be taken without delay.

These precautions were of two sorts, some to deaden the shock

when the projectile should touch the lunar soil, others to delay

the fall, and consequently make it less violent.

To deaden the shock, it was a pity that Barbicane was no longer

able to employ the means which had so ably weakened the shock at

departure, that is to say, by water used as springs and the

partition breaks.

The partitions still existed, but water failed, for they could

not use their reserve, which was precious, in case during the

first days the liquid element should be found wanting on lunar soil.

And indeed this reserve would have been quite insufficient for

a spring. The layer of water stored in the projectile at

the time of starting upon their journey occupied no less than

three feet in depth, and spread over a surface of not less than

fifty-four square feet. Besides, the cistern did not contain

one-fifth part of it; they must therefore give up this efficient

means of deadening the shock of arrival. Happily, Barbicane,

not content with employing water, had furnished the movable disc

with strong spring plugs, destined to lessen the shock against

the base after the breaking of the horizontal partitions.

These plugs still existed; they had only to readjust them and

replace the movable disc; every piece, easy to handle, as their

weight was now scarcely felt, was quickly mounted.

The different pieces were fitted without trouble, it being only

a matter of bolts and screws; tools were not wanting, and soon

the reinstated disc lay on steel plugs, like a table on its legs.

One inconvenience resulted from the replacing of the disc,

the lower window was blocked up; thus it was impossible for

the travelers to observe the moon from that opening while

they were being precipitated perpendicularly upon her; but they

were obliged to give it up; even by the side openings they could

still see vast lunar regions, as an aeronaut sees the earth from

his car.

This replacing of the disc was at least an hour's work. It was

past twelve when all preparations were finished. Barbicane took

fresh observations on the inclination of the projectile, but to

his annoyance it had not turned over sufficiently for its fall;

it seemed to take a curve parallel to the lunar disc. The orb

of night shone splendidly into space, while opposite, the orb of

day blazed with fire.

Their situation began to make them uneasy.

"Are we reaching our destination?" said Nicholl.

"Let us act as if we were about reaching it," replied Barbicane.

"You are sceptical," retorted Michel Ardan. "We shall arrive,

and that, too, quicker than we like."

This answer brought Barbicane back to his preparations, and he

occupied himself with placing the contrivances intended to break

their descent. We may remember the scene of the meeting held at

Tampa Town, in Florida, when Captain Nicholl came forward as

Barbicane's enemy and Michel Ardan's adversary. To Captain

Nicholl's maintaining that the projectile would smash like glass,

Michel replied that he would break their fall by means of rockets

properly placed.

Thus, powerful fireworks, taking their starting-point from the

base and bursting outside, could, by producing a recoil, check

to a certain degree the projectile's speed. These rockets were

to burn in space, it is true; but oxygen would not fail them,

for they could supply themselves with it, like the lunar

volcanoes, the burning of which has never yet been stopped by

the want of atmosphere round the moon.

Barbicane had accordingly supplied himself with these fireworks,

enclosed in little steel guns, which could be screwed on to the

base of the projectile. Inside, these guns were flush with the

bottom; outside, they protruded about eighteen inches. There were

twenty of them. An opening left in the disc allowed them to light

the match with which each was provided. All the effect was

felt outside. The burning mixture had already been rammed

into each gun. They had, then, nothing to do but raise the

metallic buffers fixed in the base, and replace them by the

guns, which fitted closely in their places.

This new work was finished about three o'clock, and after taking

all these precautions there remained but to wait. But the

projectile was perceptibly nearing the moon, and evidently

succumbed to her influence to a certain degree; though its

own velocity also drew it in an oblique direction. From these

conflicting influences resulted a line which might become

a tangent. But it was certain that the projectile would not

fall directly on the moon; for its lower part, by reason of

its weight, ought to be turned toward her.

Barbicane's uneasiness increased as he saw his projectile resist

the influence of gravitation. The Unknown was opening before

him, the Unknown in interplanetary space. The man of science

thought he had foreseen the only three hypotheses possible-- the

return to the earth, the return to the moon, or stagnation on

the neutral line; and here a fourth hypothesis, big with all the

terrors of the Infinite, surged up inopportunely. To face it

without flinching, one must be a resolute savant like Barbicane,

a phlegmatic being like Nicholl, or an audacious adventurer like

Michel Ardan.

Conversation was started upon this subject. Other men would

have considered the question from a practical point of view;

they would have asked themselves whither their projectile

carriage was carrying them. Not so with these; they sought for

the cause which produced this effect.

"So we have become diverted from our route," said Michel; "but why?"

"I very much fear," answered Nicholl, "that, in spite of

all precautions taken, the Columbiad was not fairly pointed.

An error, however small, would be enough to throw us out of

the moon's attraction."

"Then they must have aimed badly?" asked Michel.

"I do not think so," replied Barbicane. "The perpendicularity

of the gun was exact, its direction to the zenith of the spot

incontestible; and the moon passing to the zenith of the spot,

we ought to reach it at the full. There is another reason,

but it escapes me."

"Are we not arriving too late?" asked Nicholl.

"Too late?" said Barbicane.

"Yes," continued Nicholl. "The Cambridge Observatory's note

says that the transit ought to be accomplished in ninety-seven

hours thirteen minutes and twenty seconds; which means to say,

that sooner the moon will not be at the point indicated, and

later it will have passed it."

"True," replied Barbicane. "But we started the 1st of December,

at thirteen minutes and twenty-five seconds to eleven at night;

and we ought to arrive on the 5th at midnight, at the exact

moment when the moon would be full; and we are now at the

5th of December. It is now half-past three in the evening;

half-past eight ought to see us at the end of our journey.

Why do we not arrive?"

"Might it not be an excess of speed?" answered Nicholl; "for we

know now that its initial velocity was greater than they supposed."

"No! a hundred times, no!" replied Barbicane. "An excess of

speed, if the direction of the projectile had been right, would

not have prevented us reaching the moon. No, there has been

a deviation. We have been turned out of our course."

"By whom? by what?" asked Nicholl.

"I cannot say," replied Barbicane.

"Very well, then, Barbicane," said Michel, "do you wish to know

my opinion on the subject of finding out this deviation?"


"I would not give half a dollar to know it. That we have

deviated is a fact. Where we are going matters little; we shall

soon see. Since we are being borne along in space we shall end

by falling into some center of attraction or other."

Michel Ardan's indifference did not content Barbicane. Not that

he was uneasy about the future, but he wanted to know at any

cost why his projectile had deviated.

But the projectile continued its course sideways to the moon,

and with it the mass of things thrown out. Barbicane could even

prove, by the elevations which served as landmarks upon the

moon, which was only two thousand leagues distant, that its

speed was becoming uniform-- fresh proof that there was no fall.

Its impulsive force still prevailed over the lunar attraction,

but the projectile's course was certainly bringing it nearer to

the moon, and they might hope that at a nearer point the weight,

predominating, would cause a decided fall.

The three friends, having nothing better to do, continued their

observations; but they could not yet determine the topographical

position of the satellite; every relief was leveled under the

reflection of the solar rays.

They watched thus through the side windows until eight o'clock

at night. The moon had grown so large in their eyes that it

filled half of the firmament. The sun on one side, and the orb

of night on the other, flooded the projectile with light.

At that moment Barbicane thought he could estimate the distance

which separated them from their aim at no more than 700 leagues.

The speed of the projectile seemed to him to be more than 200

yards, or about 170 leagues a second. Under the centripetal

force, the base of the projectile tended toward the moon; but

the centrifugal still prevailed; and it was probable that its

rectilineal course would be changed to a curve of some sort,

the nature of which they could not at present determine.

Barbicane was still seeking the solution of his insoluble problem.

Hours passed without any result. The projectile was evidently

nearing the moon, but it was also evident that it would never

reach her. As to the nearest distance at which it would pass her,

that must be the result of two forces, attraction and repulsion,

affecting its motion.

"I ask but one thing," said Michel; "that we may pass near

enough to penetrate her secrets."

"Cursed be the thing that has caused our projectile to deviate

from its course," cried Nicholl.

And, as if a light had suddenly broken in upon his mind, Barbicane

answered, "Then cursed be the meteor which crossed our path."

"What?" said Michel Ardan.

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Nicholl.

"I mean," said Barbicane in a decided tone, "I mean that our

deviation is owing solely to our meeting with this erring body."

"But it did not even brush us as it passed," said Michel.

"What does that matter? Its mass, compared to that of our

projectile, was enormous, and its attraction was enough to

influence our course."

"So little?" cried Nicholl.

"Yes, Nicholl; but however little it might be," replied

Barbicane, "in a distance of 84,000 leagues, it wanted no more

to make us miss the moon."