“The Big Read: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Classic Science Fiction”
After the Montgolfier Brothers made their first balloon flight in 1783, balloons became all the rage and for the next half century almost all lunar flights [portrayed in science fiction] were by balloon. The first was Le Char Volant [The Flying Chariot] written the same year by the Belgian Baroness de Vasse. When her travellers reached the Moon they discovered it was a utopia, ruled by women, unlike the hell of Earth, ruled by men.
It had been speculated that space was a vacuum since the 1640s but no one could quite believe it, and hardy space travellers took little precaution. Edgar Allan Poe was more practical. When his hero went to the Moon by balloon in “Hans Phaall” in 1835 he took the precaution of placing him in a sealed basket with an air condenser.
Poe’s planned sequel to “Hans Phaall” was frustrated when just weeks after it was published his thunder was stolen by a several articles in the New York Sun newspaper claiming that the great astronomer, Sir John Herschel, had discovered life on the moon. They described trees, seas and a host of creatures including bat-winged humans. Englishman Richard Adams Locke, then living in New York, later admitted writing the pieces as a hoax. But it convinced many around the world, finding a particularly gullible readership in France. It has been known as the Great Moon Hoax ever since, and triggered people’s interests in the possibility of life beyond Earth.
The Sunday Herald, April 7, 2018