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Introduction to Space Exploration - Ancient Perspectives On Space

wings icarus greek moon

Since the earliest days people have looked up at the heavens and dreamed of flying there. In ancient Greek and Roman mythology gods and goddesses rode chariots through the skies or had wings of their own. These included Eros (the god of love), Nike (the goddess of victory), Hermes (the messenger to the gods), and Apollo (god of the arts). In Roman mythology they were called Cupid, Victoria, Mercury, and Apollo, respectively.

One famous Greek tale concerned a young man named Icarus and his father, Daedalus. Imprisoned on an island they decide to escape by building wings of feathers and wax for themselves and flying to freedom. However, Icarus disregards his father's warning against flying too close to the Sun, and the heat melts the wax in his wings. When Icarus's wings fall apart, he plunges to his death in the sea.

In about 160 AD a Greek writer named Lucian of Samosata (c. 120-180) wrote the story True History about a sailing ship whisked to the Moon by a giant waterspout. The sailors find the Moon inhabited by strange creatures that are at war with beings living on the Sun. In a later story, Icaro-Menippus, an adventurer more successful than Icarus uses eagle and vulture wings to fly to the Moon.

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