Stories from Texas

Stories from Texas > All Episodes

November 15, 2017

Jules Verne, Texas, and the Moon

By: W.F. Strong

The first word uttered on the moon was “Houston.” That was the first word of the longer phrase uttered by Buzz Aldrin: “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.” I know there are those who say that there were other jargon words uttered first in the process of landing such as “contact light,” but that’s a mere technicality. The words that matter are those that officially announced the safe landing of The Eagle on the moon, and of those words, the first one was “Houston.” Another way to put it is the first phone call from the moon was placed to Houston.

But this is not the centerpiece of our story today. This is just a lead into a more fascinating connection between Texas and the moon landing. The fact that Houston was so central to the success of the achievement was prophesied, in a way, 100 years before, by Jules Verne, in his novel, From the Earth to the Moon. This is the same Jules Verne who wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Around the World in Eighty Days. He is often considered to be the father of modern science fiction. Well, his book, From the Earth to the Moon, concerns a moon shot. And it was actually a moon shot because in the book, characters attempt to build an enormous cannon and fire a huge “bullet” at the moon. Now, the bullet looks amazingly like the Apollo Capsule. It has room for three people in it, just like the real lunar capsule that would come 100 years later. Even the physics of Verne’s moon voyage were impressively correct for his time (except for the intolerable g-forces that would have been experienced by the people in the bullet capsule).

So how does Texas factor into this prophecy? Well, Verne calculated that the best place from which to launch such a shot at the moon would be either Florida or Texas. It would have to be below the 28th parallel. He discusses Brownsville as a possible launch site (interesting that Space X is now locating a launch facility there). Corpus Christi is discussed as a possible site, and so is Galveston Bay. Also, Verne names one site in Florida as an option – “Tampa Town.” The real life Tampa is across the state from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, where the Apollo moon launch eventually came from.

Remember, Verne’s novel was written 100 years before the actual moon landing. Verne even named the launch cannon The Columbiad. The command module for the moon landing was The Columbia.

The other accurate prophecy came in the way of politics. Verne has a wonderful section in From the Earth to the Moon on Florida and Texas each flexing their political muscle and persuasion skills to win the business of the space launch. The same thing indeed happened 100 years later. The debate was settled by Lyndon Johnson, Texas’ native son. He, through political maneuvering, gave the launch site to Florida and the command center to Texas.

Still, it is fascinating to read the arguments each state advocated in Verne’s novel. The Texans claimed a greater population: 330,000 to Florida’s 50,000. Texas had the finest cotton, the best iron ore, the purest grade oil and coveted green oak for ships. Tampa said they had the best bay from which to bring in supplies. Texans said, “You mean a bay clogged with sand! Galveston Bay can hold all the navies of the world.”

And then Florida dropped the big one – the space launch should go to the state that is truly American. Texas got red-faced and said, “Scandalous – wretched little strip of country like Florida to dare to compare itself to Texas. Texas didn’t sell herself to the union for 5 million dollars. She won her own independence at San Jacinto when Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna and drove the Mexican armies from the state. Only then did we voluntarily annex ourselves to the U.S. Anyway, that little strip of land called Florida will be ripped apart by the forces of the moon launch.”

Florida said, “Not so. And Galveston Bay is slightly below the 29th parallel and Tampa Bay is right smack on the 28th parallel,” perfectly positioned for the moon shot. And so Florida won that argument. And 100 years later Florida got the launch site, too.

But in real life, I figure Texas got the best deal with the command center (and the budgets). And, it got the first word. The first word of consequence uttered on the moon was “Houston.” And it was this space connection that gave us a team called the Astros, the WORLD CHAMPION ASTROS, I might add.

*Special thanks to Dr. Jack Stanley who told me about this book and its unique connection to Texas.


Episodes

July 3, 2024

He who has the gold, makes the rules

Stories of lost gold have long dominated Texas lore. Coronado looped around what’s now the Texas Panhandle in search of it. And there’s that allegedly lost gold mine in the Guadalupe Mountains of far west Texas. Texas Standard commentator WF Strong has had his own experience with reportedly lost treasure. And he recalls another story […]

Listen

June 19, 2024

The craziest race you’ve never heard of happened on Padre Island

Texas Standard commentator WF Strong says that, starting in the 1950s, participants in the Padre Island Walkathon covered 110 miles – all walking, no running – over three days.

Listen

May 8, 2024

An AI Experiment

There’s been a lot of talk lately about artificial intelligence — what it can do and what its limitations are. And if you’ve been keeping tabs on it at all, there’s no doubt that it seems to be getting better — and fast. Texas Standard commentator WF Strong wanted to find out for himself just […]

Listen

April 10, 2024

Counting Cattle With the Fathers

Longtime listeners may know — Texas Standard is fast approaching a milestone birthday. We’re turning 10 next March. With us almost from the beginning have been signature segments including the Typewriter Rodeo and Stories From Texas — these bi-weekly commentaries from WF Strong. He says he has a goal beyond entertainment.

Listen

March 13, 2024

The Other Hill Country

Over the next couple of months, many will set off for the Texas Hill Country to enjoy the splendor of the wildflowers celebrating spring. Many of the tourists are flatlanders, who not only love the kaleidoscope of colors but also driving the hilly roads that snake through billions of blossoms. Texas Standard Commentator WF Strong […]

Listen

February 28, 2024

The mystery of the Texas box

We’ve all heard the proverb about one man’s trash being another’s treasure. Well, for generations of a family now living in Texas, the treasure in question was an old box found discarded many years earlier. Texas Standard commentator W.F. Strong has the story.

Listen

February 14, 2024

Bonnie and Clyde: Star-synced lovers

February the 14th may be one of the more divisive days on the calendar. Though Valentine’s Day is meant to celebrate love — many find it cheesy, commercial, or downright depressing. Others, lean into the holiday. In the latter camp, it seems, were a pair infamous lovers from Texas. Texas Standard commentator WF Strong has […]

Listen

January 3, 2024

New Year’s Eve on Houston Street

Champagne toasts, fireworks, making resolutions, fancy meals… those are just some of the many ways Texans chose to to ring in 2024. Texas Standard commentator WF Strong, however, decided to welcome the New Year by reflecting on the past.

Listen