6 : 5... 4... 3... Blast off !... 2... 1...

Cyrano has taken his leave of Monsieur de Montmagny. When Quebec city celebrates its 400th anniversary in 2008, it might consider erecting a monument to Cyrano de Bergerac at the Place Royale, the launching site of the space age in literature.

As soon as the Moon had risen, I went out into the woods, thinking hard about how I might set about accomplishing my plan. Finally, one day, on the eve of the festival of St. John the Baptist, a council was being held in the fort to decide whether to help the Hurons against the Iroquois. I went out alone behind the settlement to the top of a small mountain. This is what I did:

I constructed a machine that I imagined was capable of taking me as high as I wanted to go. I launched myself into the air from the edge of a cliff. But I had miscalculated, and I crashed into the valley below.

I returned to my room, quite rumpled but not discouraged. I took some beef marrow and slathered it all over my body, which was bruised from head to toe. I fortified my courage with a bottle of cordial and went back for my machine. I didn’t find it.

Some soldiers had been sent into the forest to cut wood for the bonfire to be lit on the eve of the festival of St. John the Baptist. They had chanced upon it and brought it to the fort. They wondered for a while what it might be until someone found its spring. A few of them said that it would be a good idea to attach some rockets to it. When they shot it into the air, the spring would flap the big wings so that everybody would think the machine was a fire dragon.

I searched for a long time and finally found it in the middle of the Quebec town square, just as they were setting fire to it. Overcome by the pain of seeing my handiwork in such great peril, I ran and grabbed the arm of the soldier who was lighting the fire. I tore the fuse away from him and, furious, threw myself into my machine to break down the contraption surrounding it. But I was too late. Hardly had I stepped inside when I found myself propelled into the clouds.

I was terrified, but my mind was not too upset for me to remember all that happened at that moment. I can tell you, then, that the fire burned out a bank of rockets (which had been linked together in rows of six with a hook at the edge of each set of half-dozen). Another stage ignited, then another, so that the danger in the gunpowder was left behind as it burned. When the material was used up, the scaffolding was gone. I was thinking that all I had left to do was ram my head against some mountain when I felt (without moving in the slightest) that I was still going up. My machine separated from me, and I saw it fall back to earth.

This extraordinary adventure filled me with such uncommon joy that in my delight to see myself freed from certain peril I had the impudence to analyze the situation. As I was seeking with eyes and thought the cause of this miracle, I noticed that my skin was swollen and still greasy from the marrow I had rubbed on to treat the bruises I had suffered in my fall from the cliff. I realized that the Moon was waning and that in its last quarter it is accustomed to sucking animal marrow. It was drinking in all the more what I had smeared on myself because that globe was closer to me, and the clouds that were in the way did not diminish its force.

When I had gone — as I have calculated since then — much more than three-fourths of the way from the earth to the Moon, I suddenly realized I was falling head downwards without having turned around in any way. Even so I might not have noticed it had I not felt the weight of my body above my head. I realized that I was actually not falling back to our world. I was between two moons and saw very clearly that I was moving away from one and approaching the other. I was very sure that the larger was the Earth: after a day or two of travelling, the receding refractions of sunlight blurred the diversity of shapes and weather, and the Earth appeared to me as only a large golden plate, much like the other moon. That made me think that I was coming down towards the Moon, but I happened to remember that I had begun to fall only after going three-fourths of the distance.

“Since,” I said to myself, “the Moon’s mass is less than the Earth’s, its sphere of activity must be less extensive, which has caused me to feel the force exerted by its center when I am nearer to it than to the Earth.”

You have to give a seminar on space travel this evening to the greatest minds of the 17th century. Hop into your time machine and set the dial for minus 350 years or so. As you stride confidently into the room, you notice that your audience seems to be dressed for a remake of The Three Musketeers: big hats, capes... but their boots and costumes are muddy from travel on horseback. The weather is cool, and the heating in the room leaves a lot to be desired.

Undaunted, you begin with a description of the airplane. Then proceed to jet-assisted take-offs, multi-stage launch vehicles, the gravitational fields of planetary masses, lunar insertion trajectories... until you realize that you are speaking the language of 21st-century technology but your audience is hearing only gibberish. You ask Cyrano to translate, and he tells them this story. Delighted, your audience says, “So that’s what you were talking about! We must philosophize upon it...”