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Forty-some years ago, I read a fact article in Analog magazine that said humans ought to be able to fly with arm-powered flapping wings -- on the Moon, with increased atmospheric pressure/density.

Some time later, I read a story in which the characters did this, in the air storage "cave" in a Lunar settlement, where a character from Earth was identified out of all the Luna-born because she was very cautious with her wings, flying more like a hang glider pilot than someone who grew up with them.

I don't know that this was the first fictional example of winged flight in a (man-made) Lunar environment, but it was surely one of the early ones. What was the first?

I'm not interested in writings old enough that the author couldn't have known what was actually required in terms of wing loading and power for a human to fly -- so Leonardo daVinci's flying machine is out, as are those of Captain Robur from Verne's novels of the 1860s. I'm going to suggest anything written before 1900 is too early to have the scientific backing I'm seeking. By then, scientists knew there was no air on the Moon's surface, and people were close enough to heavier than air flight that some of them (at least the Wright Brothers) knew what it would take (they were still a couple years of building an testing away from actually doing it with power, but they were flying gliders by 1900).

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    I think it will be extremely difficult to know what the author knew at the time of the writing. Leonardo DaVinci’s flying machines were based on nothing more than “well, birds can do it.” I recommend “human powered atmospheric flight” because this will be scientifically viable by definition. Otherwise, “author’s knowledge” is an opinion. – Vogon Poet Oct 16 at 11:42
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    @VogonPoet "Science behind their writing" will generally eliminate anything prior to the 19th century -- the science didn't exist to know what could and couldn't fly (as opposed to many silly 20th century "inventions" where the science was simply ignored). – Zeiss Ikon Oct 16 at 11:57
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Menace_from_Earth is the Heinlein story you're thinking of, 1957. – FuzzyBoots Oct 16 at 12:44
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    @ZeissIkon: "The Menace from Earth" was most certainly true flight. The story goes into some detail about how flight worked. Much like birds, you could "put your back into it" and climb quickly, or make use of the drafts inherent to the cavern to climb leisurely up to one of the high "perches." – JRE Oct 16 at 14:17
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    The tourists in "The Menace from Earth" used simple, stiff wing sets that were really only suited to gliding. – JRE Oct 16 at 14:18
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The earliest example I can think of is "The Menace from Earth" from 1957 by Robert Heinlein. (Wikipedia article.)

Holly Jones and her friend Jeff Hardesty often go flying in the enormous air reserve cavern of Luna City on the moon.

The story is pretty much a teen romance around those two characters, with an older woman from Earth (the "menace") thrown in to mix things up a bit.

The story goes into some detail on how the lower gravity of the moon makes human powered flight possible, and how the wings are built and used.

It is clearly true flight. You can put out the effort and climb quickly in altitude, or you can ride up the drafts in the cavern to reach a "perch" high up in the scaffolding of the cavern lights.

The tourists (including the menace) use simple wings that are more like simple gliders. It takes training and muscles to be able to use the real wings, so the tourists use the simple wings that don't require much training.


To make clear that the real wings are really more than just fancy gliders, there references to "stooping," which is a (frowned upon) method to lose altitude in a hurry. Basically, arms, wings, and body in a position that generates no lift (like, arms with wings above your head) so that you drop like a rock. Then, as you near the ground (or your "stooping" victim) you spead your arms (and wings) to "catch air" and brake to return to normal flight.

  • Yep, this is the one i remember -- question is, how did I miss it being 20-ish years older than the fact article I mentioned? We'll hold a bit, in case someone else comes up with another example. – Zeiss Ikon Oct 16 at 17:12
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Heinlein's "The Menace from Earth" as nominated by JRE is probably the first science fiction story set in a moon base with an area of sufficient volume for humans to fly in by flapping artificial wings attached to their arms.

But it is possible that there was an earlier science fiction novel set in a moon base, or an earlier short story set in a moon base sometime in the 31 years between 1926 and 1957, that mentioned flying in vast indoor spaces in a moon base.

User 14111 in his answer to the question:

Earliest story to mention the different surface gravity on the Moon1

quotes from the novel The Man in the Moone by Bishop Francis Goodwin (1638):

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.

This is probably the earliest science fiction story to mention using artificial wing like tools to fly on the Moon. And notice that the date is not 1938, 1838, or 1738, but 1638 - sixteen thirty eight.

But I don't think that it can count as being the first science based story about flapping wing flying on the Moon, since Bishop Goodwin describes flying outdoors in the open air and the Moon has no atmosphere.

But on the other hand, when did astronomers decide that the Moon could not have an atmosphere? Did many astronomers assume the Moon had an atmosphere in 1638?

I think that many astronomers believed the Moon had or might have an atmosphere even 200 years after 1638.

One astronomer claimed to have found formations resembling human structures on the Moon, and claimed they were artificial constructions, in the 1820s, and that presumably required belief in the possibility of an Lunar atmosphere. The corona seen in eclipses of the Sun by the Moon was proposed to be the Sun's atmosphere and not the Moon's atmosphere in 1724, and in 1806, but that was not proven until later in the 19th century.

So some people might possibly argue that Bishop Goodwin's The Man in the Moone (1638) was the first story in which the lesser Lunar gravity enable people to use artificial wings to fly on the Moon.

Others may argue that it was two scientific revolutions too early to be the proper first example. First, scientists had to discover that the Moon has no atmosphere, and second, space flight proponents and science fiction writers had to imagine moon bases with enclosed atmospheres.

Another example of a 19th century belief in the possibility of an atmosphere on the Moon is the Great Moon Hoax published in the New York Sun in 1835 about the discovery of life on the Moon, including intelligent man-bats who flew with their bat like wings.

Some people might nominate that as the earliest science fiction story about flying on the Moon, though it lakes the modern features of being done by humans using artificial wings inside a moon base with a contained atmosphere.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Moon_Hoax2

The Moon is hollow with an atmosphere inside in Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Moon Maid (1923). Since there is life inside the Moon, including intelligent beings who invade Earth, there are probably bird-like lifeforms flying around inside the hollow Moon.

http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?47143

If there are flying creatures inside the hollow Moon, some people might nominate The Moon Maid (1926) as the first story with flying in an inside atmosphere at the Moon. But others might object that the concept of a hollow Moon is scientifically impossible, and that probably none of the human characters strap on artificial wings and fly in the story.

Some sources suggest that the first description of a realistic moon base was in Brigands of the Moon (1930) by Ray Cummings.

http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=9564

http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?206875

If that is correct, the first description of flying indoors in a moon base, if earlier than "The Menace from Earth" (1957) would have to have been published in or after 1930.

The article in Analog about flying on the Moon inside a moon base, mentioned by Zeiss Ikon might mentioned whether the author thought they were the first to think of flying inside a moon base, or read about it in a story and did calculations to see if it was really feasible.

  • The Moon Hoax and Goodwin's belief that 50-60 feet was high enough to be free of gravity are why I specified post-1900 stories as being the earliest in which the knowledge of flight and the Moon were sufficient to be interesting. – Zeiss Ikon Oct 16 at 18:01
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    It may not satisfy the strict requirements of the question, but it's still a really neat find! – DavidW Oct 16 at 18:23
  • Very great answer! – NothingToSeeHere Oct 16 at 19:48

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