The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall

My Thoughts

The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall is a very humorous and witty story about a man that takes a hot air balloon ride to the Moon. Written by Edgar Allan Poe in the early half of the 19th century, the story focuses on one Hans Pfaall, a bellow mender that falls on hard times. After being harassed by creditors to the point of near insanity he devises a plan to rid himself of them and embark on a perilous journey to the Moon.

What I found most fascinating about this story was the immense use of science to back up his assertion that it was physically possible to take a balloon ride to the Moon. He includes an estimated distance of around 59 Earth radius based on rotation which equals approximately 238,000 miles. We calculate nowadays that the average distance (varying due to a slight eccentricity in its orbit) is approximately 239,000 miles. He based this off of an approximation of 4,000 miles for the radius of the Earth multiplied by 59.5. He was remarkably close, though the circumference of the Earth has been pretty accurately estimated since the times of Archimedes (287 BC - 212 BC) and the distance of the Moon measured with surprising accuracy by Aristarchus of Samos around 270 BC. I'm sure he based his measurements with the help of the ancient Greeks and those like Tycho Brahe.

He also takes a few important factors into consideration such as elevation pressure, lack of air, the possibility of a vacuum, and gravity. In all honesty, I didn't realize Edgar Allan Poe had such a strong grasp of scientific knowledge. He even justifies the success by stating that Mr. Pfaall discovered an element ~37 times as light as hydrogen. Now we know this to be an impossibility, but it would take something much lighter than hydrogen to take a balloon to the Moon. The problem is that hydrogen leaks easily through anything. If an element was discovered to be 37 times as light as hydrogen it wouldn't likely be containable in any matter.

My Rating

I love stories that make you think. This is one of them. Even though it is over 150 year old, it makes a lot of intelligent assumptions, even if they prove to be incorrect. A scientific method was used and it actually makes sense. This is one of the many Edgar Allan Poe stories that inspired the great science fiction writer Jules Verne. 3.8/5.

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