Space flight salutes the father of sci-fi, Jules Verne

He lit the imagination of countless youngsters with tales of derring-do — of submarines that explored the depths of the oceans, of adventurers who crept to the centre of the Earth, of doughty pioneers who travelled to the Moon.

More than a century after his death, Jules Verne is about to get a double recognition from the space community that he indirectly helped create through the inspiration of science fiction.

About three months from now, Europe will launch a robot spacecraft, named after the French author, which is designed to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

Aboard the craft will be two Verne manuscripts as well as a book that will be a cornerstone of the ISS library — a beautiful illustrated double-edition of From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon.

United States and European astronauts were on hand on Thursday at the Turin site of the Franco-Italian firm Thales Alenia Space to receive the precious objects, which — if all goes well — will be sent aloft in January, when the supply ship makes its maiden flight atop an Ariane-5 rocket.

Protected by a plastic cover emblazoned with the label “do not unseal”, the manuscripts, normally housed in a city library in Amiens, northern France, comprise a celestial map by Verne and a note on “distances in astronomy”.

The latter document speaks tellingly of the romance and innocence of the 19th century, when the fastest form of transport was a steam locomotive.

Just as evocative of the 19th century — a time of enormous faith in advancement through science — is Verne’s dedication in a copy of Journey to the Moon that he presented to American friends in 1881.

“Forwards … that should be humanity’s slogan,” he wrote.

The two original manuscripts and the reproduction of Verne’s dedication are scheduled to return to Earth when crew numbers are rotated on the ISS, an outpost that orbits at an altitude of 400km.

For the spaceship Jules Verne, though, a fiery end is promised. After detaching from its launcher, the craft will dock with the ISS, where its supplies will be unloaded.

It will then be laden with the ISS’s trash, detach from the space station and sent plummeting to Earth, where it should be consumed in a fireball through friction with the atmosphere. — AFP

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