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What was the first science fiction story to mention that the Moon has a lower surface gravity than the Earth?

I'm sure that was mentioned many times in science fiction before the Space Age began in 1957.

  • Did the movie Destination Moon (1950) mention the lower lunar surface gravity?

  • What about Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo (1947)?

  • What about Maza of the Moon (1929,1930) by Otis Adelbert Kline?

  • What about the children's fantasy Dr. Doolittle on the Moon (1928) by Hugh Lofting?

  • What about The Moon Maid (1926) by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who did mention the lower surface gravity of Mars in A Princess of Mars (1912).

  • What about The First men in the Moon (1900,1901) by H.G. Wells?

  • What about From the Earth to the Moon (1865) by Jules Verne?

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    @drewbenn If you have that information, you should post it as an answer rather than answering in comments. – Zeiss Ikon Aug 2 at 21:19
  • Every "earliest example" question I recall seeing winds up as a (more or less gradated) list of progressively older examples. That seems to be the way "history of" questions work. I've got an answer in with 1958; you've got one for 1926. Put it in, so it can get votes, and then someone else might beat you with an older one (the Wells and Verne entries in the question are good candidates, in my opinion). – Zeiss Ikon Aug 2 at 22:48
  • What about "The Brick Moon" (1869) by Edward Everett Hale? OK, it's not the moon, but it's a moon, and the author definitely takes note of the lower surface gravity of that artificial earth satellite, see this old answer. – user14111 Aug 2 at 23:57
  • Destination Moon (the Tintin comic), published 30 March 1950, shows lower surface gravity on the moon. – marcellothearcane Aug 3 at 8:25
  • So apparently, Lucian of Samosata didn't say anything about things weighing lighter on the Moon. – Spencer Aug 4 at 18:45
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1827: A Voyage to the Moon, a novel by George Tucker, available at Project Gutenberg.

All bodies are much lighter on the moon than on the earth; by reason of which circumstance, as has been mentioned, the inhabitants are more active, and experience much less fatigue in ascending their precipitous mountains. I was astonished at first at this seeming increase in my muscular powers; when, on passing along a street in Alamatua, soon after my arrival, and meeting a dog, which I thought to be mad, I proposed to run out of his way, and in leaping over a gutter, I fairly bounded across the street. I measured the distance the next day, and found it to be twenty-seven feet five inches; and afterwards frequently saw the school-boys, when engaged in athletic exercises, make running leaps of between thirty and forty feet, backwards and forwards. Another consequence of the diminished gravity here is, that both men and animals carry much greater burdens than on the earth.


1638: The Man in the Moone, a novel by Bishop Francis Godwin, available at Project Gutenberg.

The manner of our Travel to the Palace of Pylonas was more strange and incredible than any thing we have related, for at our first setting forth there were delivered to each of us two Feather Fans, like those our Ladies in Spain cool themselves with in Summer: You must understand, that the Globe of the Moon has likewise an attractive Power, yet so much weaker than the Earth, that if a Man do but spring upward with all his Strength, as Dancers do in shewing their Tricks, he will be able to mount fifty or sixty Foot high; and being then above all Attraction from the Moon's Earth, he falls down no more, but by the Help of these Fans, as with Wings, they convey themselves in the Air in a short Space, (though not quite so swift as Birds) whither they please. In two hours Time (as I could guess) by the Help of these Fans, we were carried through the Air those five Leagues, in all about sixty Persons.

If Bishop Godwin's gravity is not quite correct, please cut him some slack, seeing as he wrote this story before Isaac Newton was born.

  • Well! I expected 19th century, wouldn't have been the least surprised by 18th -- but early 17th!? Nice find! – Zeiss Ikon Aug 4 at 20:55
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    How can this be explained? How did this author understand the effect of mass on gravity prior to Newton? – tbrookside Aug 5 at 17:10
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    @tbrookside That might be a good question for the History of Science and Mathematics Stack Exchange. – user14111 Aug 5 at 17:23
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    @tbrookside But maybe you don't have to be Isaac Newton to surmise that a smaller celestial body will have a weaker "attractive power" than a bigger one. It's a long way from there to a force directly proportional to the product of the masses and inversely to the square of the distance. – user14111 Aug 6 at 2:35
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Here is a partial answer to my own question:

Zeiss Ikon's answer says that there was lower gravity on the Moon in Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel (1958).

In the movie, Destination Moon (August, 1950) (transcript):

Doc, I'll never get use to this.

This must weigh 500 or 600 pounds!

On Earth it does. Gravity here

is about 1/6 as much.

That means things weigh 1/6 as much.

I know it, but I can't believe it.

By coincidence the comment of marecllothearcane says:

Destination Moon (the Tintin comic), published 30 March 1950, shows lower surface gravity on the moon.

..............................................................................

Added 11-13-*19. The children's novel The Voyage of the Luna 1 (1948), by David Cragie (Dorothy Glover), Part Two, Chapter IX, "The New World", page 176:

The force of gravity on the moon being only a sixth as great as on the earth, they could jump six times as high as they were accustomed to, and they were to discover later that they could climb six times as high without getting tired; but as this stage of their adventure it was still part of the great mystery.

..................................................................................

The comment of Drewbenn about The Moon Maid (1926):

The Moon Maid, available through Project Gutenberg, is easy to check, and the characters are well aware of it: "...the natural effects of the lesser gravity of the Moon. We have discussed the matter upon many occasions... yet when we faced the actual condition we gave it no consideration whatsoever. Of course, it's in the context of jumping over a river. So you can remove everything in your question that comes after that

H.G. Wells' The First men in the Moon (1900,1901) Chapter 9, "Prospecting Begins", at Project Gutenberg, says:

As he stepped forward he was refracted grotesquely by the edge of the glass. He stood for a moment looking this way and that. Then he drew himself together and leapt.

The glass distorted everything, but it seemed to me even then to be an extremely big leap. He had at one bound become remote. He seemed twenty or thirty feet off. He was standing high upon a rocky mass and gesticulating back to me. Perhaps he was shouting—but the sound did not reach me. But how the deuce had he done this? I felt like a man who has just seen a new conjuring trick.

In a puzzled state of mind I too dropped through the manhole. I stood up. Just in front of me the snowdrift had fallen away and made a sort of ditch. I made a step and jumped.

I found myself flying through the air, saw the rock on which he stood coming to meet me, clutched it and clung in a state of infinite amazement.

I gasped a painful laugh. I was tremendously confused. Cavor bent down and shouted in piping tones for me to be careful.

I had forgotten that on the moon, with only an eighth part of the earth’s mass and a quarter of its diameter, my weight was barely a sixth what it was on earth. But now that fact insisted on being remembered.

So the search should be for examples published in or before 1900.

[Added 08-04-2019. Edgar Allen Poe's The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall, published in 1835, is mentioned as a possibility by Sean Condon in his answer, although he was a little uncertain how to interpret Poe's words.

I known of another Poe work, published years later, that is a bit more specific about the lunar gravity, "Mellonta Tauta" published in Godey's Ladys's Book, February, 1849, and allegedly written in 2848, which includes this paragraph:

April 7.—Continued last night our astronomical amusements. Had a fine view of the five Neptunian asteroids, and watched with much interest the putting up of a huge impost on a couple of lintels in the new temple at Daphnis in the moon. It was amusing to think that creatures so diminutive as the lunarians, and bearing so little resemblance to humanity, yet evinced a mechanical ingenuity so much superior to our own. One finds it difficult, too, to conceive the vast masses which these people handle so easily, to be as light as our own reason tells us they actually are.

The last sentence seems to be referring to the lower surface gravity on the Moon.

Of course that may not matter since user14111's answer mentions two earlier stories that have people jumping long distances in the lighter lunar gravity.

They are A Voyage to the Moon, by George Tucker (1827) and The Man in the Moone, by Bishop Francis Godwin (1638). Yes, 1638. As user14111 says, Godwin exaggerated the difference in surface gravity but can be forgiven since he wrote before Isaac Newton was born.

It is possible that user14111 found the earliest example, but not entirely certain.

One good candidate to be the earliest work of science fiction to mention the lower surface gravity of the Moon would be Johannes Kepler's (1571-1630) Somnium.

Somnium (Latin for "The Dream") is a novel written in 1608, in Latin, by Johannes Kepler. The narrative would not be published until 1634 by Kepler's son, Ludwig Kepler. In the narrative, an Icelandic boy and his witch mother learn of an island named Levania (our Moon) from a daemon. Somnium presents a detailed imaginative description of how the Earth might look when viewed from the Moon, and is considered the first serious scientific treatise on lunar astronomy. Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov have referred to it as one of the first works of science fiction.[1]

Somnium began as a student dissertation in which Kepler defended the Copernican doctrine of the motion of the Earth, suggesting that an observer on the Moon would find the planet's movements as clearly visible as the Moon's activity is to the Earth's inhabitants. Nearly 20 years later, Kepler added the dream framework, and after another decade, he drafted a series of explanatory notes reflecting upon his turbulent career and the stages of his intellectual development. The book was edited by Ludwig Kepler and Jacob Bartsch, after Kepler's death in 1630.

Since Somnium was written in stages, it may be uncertain precisely when various details about the Moon were first included, but it was first published four years before Godwin's book.

So there is a factual question of whether Somnium mentions lower surface gravity on the Moon, and a more subjective question whether one considers Somnium to be an early work of science fiction.

If the answer to both questions is yes, then there should be only a few earlier stories of voyages to the Moon, back to Lucien's True History, to consider as possible candidates.]

  • Excellent! I just looked in on Verne -- doesn't look like his travelers in Columbiad ever landed on the Moon, just slingshotted around it and back to Earth. – Zeiss Ikon Aug 3 at 19:07
  • @Zeiss Ikon Yes, but Verne often had his characters discuss scientific facts about their exotic destinations, so it is quite possible that Verne mentioned the lower surface gravity on the Moon somewhere in the novel. – M. A. Golding Aug 4 at 17:28
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A plausible but confusing case could be made for Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Unparalleled Adventure of one Hans Pfaall' published in 1835.

The work describes an adventurer travelling to the moon using a customised hot air balloon. Poe directly considers the variable gravity of the moon leaving it as an open issue (from the perspective of the explorer) whether it differs from Earth:

I could not be positive either about the gravitation or the atmospheric density of the moon.

Reading between the lines his discussion of the 'atmosphere' of the moon reveals assumptions about its gravity:

In the earliest stage of my speculations upon the possibility of a passage to the moon, the existence, in its vicinity, of an atmosphere dense in proportion to the bulk of the planet, had entered largely into my calculations.

Since the formation of an atmosphere relies heavily on the gravitation of a body this implies that Poe was assuming that the smaller size of the moon would lead to weaker gravity than on Earth.

The archaic and unscientific language and less plausible theories elsewhere in the script (a weak ethereal solar atmosphere extending beyond Venus for example) make the text hard to interpret but it is certainly a very early example if it applies!

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I can give a worst case example: the persistent reduced gravity was part of how Kip Crawford decided he was, in fact, on the Moon after being kidnapped in Have Space Suit, Will Travel (Heinlein, 1958). Heinlein got Pluto's surface gravity wrong later in the same book, but at that time, Pluto was no more than a dot in the best telescopes that existed, so no one was really sure of its size or composition (never mind thinking it had four moons).

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    Heinlein and other writers who described the surface gravity of Pluto didn't get it wrong. They merely described what they thought was reasonably plausible surface gravity according to the science of the day. For decades Pluto was assumed to be the Planet X Lowell had calculated, and so assumed to have the mass Lowell calculated. So if Pluto looked so small it had to be dense and have a high surface gravity. Pluto gradually seemed less likely to be that massive and in 1977 when Charon was discovered Pluto's size, mass, and surface gravity were first measured. – M. A. Golding Aug 3 at 16:45
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    @M.A.Golding He got it "wrong" in the same way that Red Planet got the atmospheric composition of Mars wrong (he assumed all you needed was extra pressure to be able to breathe the air), and Between Planets expected to find oceans and jungles beneath the clouds of Venus. He used the best science of the day, or of a decade or two prior -- but that science was wrong. – Zeiss Ikon Aug 3 at 18:54

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