“To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too!”

March 25, 2013 § Leave a comment


Question: What is 150’ in diameter, weights 80 tons, carries 60 scientists, a cannon, a big rooster, an escape pod for women, and makes transcontinental flights?

Answer: nothing.

And so: what is ten times bigger, and carries ten times more people? Bigger but still the same nothing–though a more-magnificent nothingness.

The first example did however live in print as the great balloon La Minerve, the  prankish gesture of the Belgian optico-magician, physics experimenter/exhibitionist and general experimenter (and probable crumbun) “Dr. Roberston”, who was actually Étienne-Gaspard Robert (1763-1837). Robert did have vast experience with balloons—he was Commandant des Aerostiers during the war, serving under General Jourdain in Belgium and Holland in 1803/4, providing valuable observations on the enemy troops and movements from tethered (and not) balloon observing stations; he is also regarded by some as the inventor of the parachute. He had a wide interested in optics and toys, making a very profitable tour with Brewster mirrors, demonstrating all manner of specters and floating bodies and such for a paying audience.

He came up with this sci-fi-ish idea in the early 19th century, and published his dream broadsided swipe at other aeronauts in 1820 under the title of La Minerve, vaisseau aérien, destiné aux découvertes et proposé à toutes les Académies de l’Europe par le physicien Robertson. There was nothing about this balloon that would’ve worked, and Robertson knew it…  read more

ART: Christian Hetzel

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