There is a core collection of the early works on rocket travel from the 1920s that can be read in English. These include:
- Robert Goddard: A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes
- Herman Noordung: The Problem of Space Travel: The Rocket Motor
- Hermann Oberth: The Rocket into Planetary Space
- Nikolai Rynin: Interplanetary Communications
- F. A. Tsander: Problems of Flight by Jet Propulsion
- Konstantin Tsiolkovsky: Selected Works
- And, of course: Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon
Remember, it is okay to ignore the equations! But when you come across thoughts like this: Liquid oxygen as well as liquid hydrogen, pumped from their containers and supplied at a definite rate to the narrow beginning of the tube and mixed in small quantities, could give us an excellent combustible material. (Tsiolkovsky) Stop. Pause. Reflect. Consider and enjoy that sentences like these reflect the basic mechanics of rocket travel being expressed for the very first time. True for the thoughts and musings of all the other rocket travel pioneers as well.
The honor of creating the first rocket travel film seems to belong to the French director, Georges Méliès, for his Voyage dans la Lune (Trip to the Moon) which was filmed in 1902. Today it is best remembered for the cool shot of the rocket hitting the “Man in the Moon’s” right eye.
The film is just under 15 minutes in length, so no excuse not to watch. What makes it so interesting is that Méliès uses both Jules Verne’s’ long gun rocket-launcher and rocket.
Another interesting detail is that the launch of the rocket is done with pomp and ceremony, much like human launches still to this day. Okay, the launch crew looks like circus performers but nonetheless there is an impressive send-off involving military guards that speaks to the seriousness of space travel that continues in our era.
Himmelskibet, (A Trip to Mars) was released in 1918. The Danish film is seen as setting the cinematic stage for the later, more influential space travel silent films. Not realistic but worth noting.
The French director Segundo de Chomon’s Voyage sur Jupiter (Trip to Jupiter) should not be overlooked. Released in 1909 it has some very cool scenes of the explorer climbing up a space ladder, past a young woman sitting on the Moon, past Saturn and up to the very impressive battle on Jupiter. Great imagery. Worth watching for the coming together of an immature medium (film) with an immature undertaking (space exploration) brought together in a campy style.
And finally, of course, the two most influential silent films on space travel, Aelita, Queen of Mars and Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon.) Aelita (Аэли́та) helped propel the Russian space craze and Woman in the Moon was a key influencer for the German space eco-system of the 1920s.
Missing, of course, is any American silent film worth noting on rocket travel. For that, we must wait at least another decade.