Trading with aliens was once thought to be the obvious thing to do to make your country prosper, according to John Wilkins, a confident white man born in 1614. An English scholar, Anglican clergyman, and one of the originators of the Royal Society (a learned society still functioning in London), Wilkins sought to bridge science and religion together, making him a controversial-as-heck figure. As we all know, what better way to do that than to devise a plan to send a flying machine to the moon and- wait for the religion part- let the angels take it from there? Yup, he was sure that the pure breath of angels would allow humans to inhale in space and could maybe help guide the moon-bound vehicle, too. 

Amongst the stars, Wilkins’s delusional confidence led him to think that, “We only feel hunger because of the Earth’s constant pull on our stomachs,” so naturally, food wouldn’t be an issue for the humans flying towards the moon. What about sleep? Well, Wilkins advised the use of a slightly damp sponge to make the passengers comfortable on their ride. And this was considered “advanced science” for its time.

The only problem? Moon pirates.

During this period, scientific discovery was in, and Wilkins was keeping up with the trend. In trying to send people to the moon, he argued that there may be life inhabiting space, perhaps Selenites, a term derived from Selene, the Greek moon goddess. Wilkins’ eyes flashed dollar signs as he imagined it possible to establish a profitable relationship with the aliens (who’d surely love to trade their UFOs for cows.)  

At this point, one might think- “wasn’t Wilkins kind of onto something?” Well, sure, he was. Despite his reliance on the grace of godly creatures to do some serious heavy lifting for his little science fair project, he did, in fact, play a role in the scientific realization that space travel could happen. His vision would advance the idea of gravity, as Isaac Newton witnessed that apple drop pretty soon after in the late 1600s. 

If you’re suspecting that Wilkins’ chariot, in fact, never took off, you’d be correct. How come? Here’s the thing- as he started collaborating with Robert Hook (that one guy who discovered cells), it was confirmed that space was a vacuum, and no human would survive in it. This gave Wilkins the hint he was missing; a DIY chariot with crafted wings may not be the way to go. Space travel was simply not ready for us in the 17th century, with or without the help of angels.  

At least Wilkins did break some ground. He got scientists after him to consider what flying to the moon might be like. Maybe aliens would want to engage in trading with us because ... why not? 

One thing’s for sure, this failed experiment may have set us back several steps from having aliens think we’re cool. But hey, space travel is a thing now

For more of Oona’s sarcasm and attempted wit, visit her humor site, www.oonaoffthecuff.com.

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