Journey Into Space 1874, chapter one by Steve Turnbull


SEPT 3RD, 1874, 04:00

I cannot sleep. The excitement is such that, though sleep would be a welcome companion, I find the gift of Morpheus eludes me. In just two hours we embark on a journey beyond the confines of our planet’s atmosphere. We will be the first: should all our preparations satisfy the demands of this adventure.

Beyond my official role as computationer and navigator, I am assigned as journalist for this endeavour, so let me put down in words what has been done to prepare for this day.

The modification and outfitting of the Sea Eagle air-plane constructed by the Brunel Company, which we have christened Albatross, has been something of a labour of love, though a serious business proposition. Lord Brunel’s seal of approval on the project meant we were not short of funds or equipment. Unfortunately the secrecy of the project meant very few people were aware of what we were doing in the hangar on the edge of Croydon field.

It has been almost six months since the air-plane was first delivered. It was identical to the production craft manufactured for the Royal Navy when it arrived and, though we have slaved over it, there has been no one we could confide in. It has been most difficult keeping the news from my aunt with whom I lodge, and even more so from my dearest Beloved. I know it is the same for my compatriots but I cannot dwell on such personal matters.

Perhaps you may question our choice of name for our vessel, but “Albatross” is a name of good omen. Mr Coleridge’s poem is always misunderstood. And besides, with the additional wingspan given to our bird, it is an appropriate name: The Albatross soars through the skies of the world never touching the ground.

Let us consider the physics of the problem we are to solve.

It is, of course, known that the atmosphere thins with altitude. Such high-altitude trips as have been made by other craft, whether fixed wing or balloon, have shown that beyond even 10,000ft the air becomes thin and the temperature drops steadily. Dr Cholmondley, our Scientist-in-Charge for this experiment, has indicated that the fall in temperature is a product of the reduced air pressure and I understand to some extent. Suffice it to say that, where we are going, it will be damnably cold with no air whatsoever.

Dr Cholmondley has demonstrated for us the effect of vacuum on small animals. It is not pleasant.

Naturally we have sealed the vessel against air loss and insulated it against the cold. But we cannot say what effects these extreme conditions may have on our external devices, though we have tested them as best we are able in a large vacuum chamber. Who knows whether Dr Cholmondley is correct in his estimation?

Now you may ask, if we are sealed inside our bottle, how will the steam engines be driven? We cannot light a fire unless we intend to take all our air with us. But fear not, another miracle of science saves us: It was a Spanish inventor that held the key. He determined a particular selection of chemicals which, when combined, solve two of our problems in one. These chemicals generate copious quantities of heat, plenty for the generation of steam to drive our electrical generators and, as a by-product of this action, the reaction produces oxygen with which we can breathe. He utilised this for a sub-marine vehicle; we will use it for a super-atmospheric one.

Normal fixed wing and even dirigibles utilise the air of the atmosphere for both motive power and manoeuvring. Once we exceed an altitude of 75,000ft even the extended wingspan of our vessel and our Faraday system operating to its maximum potential will be insufficient to provide further lift and our manoeuvrability will be seriously impaired.

For stability we have installed large gyroscopes both fore and aft. Motive power was a matter of debate for the longest time. In the end the simplest choice was made: we would tie fireworks to the exterior of the vessel. I hope you are not offended by my facetiousness. Of course it is not actual fireworks but the theory is the same: fifteen rockets 20ft in length mounted around the hull of the vessel, electrically activated in groups of three. Each group will burn for one minute. Once we reach 75,000ft we use these rockets to propel ourselves into the Void with the aim of reaching an orbit at around 100 miles altitude. It seems such a short distance. I could jump on an atmospheric train and travel that distance in less than 90 minutes. Yet to travel that distance upwards and into the Void has taken the work of six months and many novel ideas.

There has been a knock on my door. It is time.

To the person reading this, if I do not return, please convey my kindest regards to my aunt and my dearest love to my Beloved. In my last hours on this Earth, I thought of them.

Lawrence Finley-Blythe

This is the first part of the book by Steve Turnbull. Bookmark Steampunk Journal to keep up to date with the latest news, reviews, articles and previews.

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