On the Moon (1893)
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Translated by Sibelan Forrester

I wake up and, still lying in bed, ponder the dream I just had: I was swimming, and since it’s winter now it felt especially pleasant to imagine summer swimming.

Time to get up!

I stretch, lift myself up a bit… So easy! It’s easy to sit, easy to stand. What’s going on? Could I still be dreaming? I feel especially light, as if I’m standing in water up to my neck: my feet barely touch the floor.

But where’s the water? I don’t see any. I wave my hands, and I sense no resistance.

Am I still asleep? I rub my eyes, but everything stays the same.

How strange!

Nonetheless, I have to get dressed.

I move the chairs, open the cupboards, get out my clothes, pick up various things, and – nothing makes any sense!

Have I gotten stronger? Why is everything so airy? Why can I pick up objects I couldn’t even budge before?

No! These are not my legs, not my arms, not my body!

Usually they’re so heavy, and everything takes them so much effort…

Where did I acquire such might in my arms and legs?

Or maybe some kind of power is pulling me and everything else upward, and making my work easier that way? But if so, what a strong pull! Just a little more, it seems to me, and I’ll float up to the ceiling.

Why is it I leap instead of walking? Something’s pulling me in the opposite direction to gravity; it tenses my muscles, forces me to take a jump.

I can’t resist the temptation – I jump…

It seems that I rise up fairly slowly and land just as slowly.

I jump harder and take a look around the room from a fair distance up… Ouch! Hit my head on the ceiling… The rooms are high, I didn’t expect to hit. I’ll be more careful.

My shout woke up my roommate, though: I saw him start grumbling, and after a little while he jumped out of bed. I won’t describe his amazement, just like my own. I observed the same kind of spectacle I had acted out myself, without noticing it, a few minutes ago. It gave me great pleasure to see my friend’s eyes bugging out, his funny poses and the unnatural liveliness of his movements. His strange exclamations, very like my own, amused me.

I waited for my friend the physicist to recover from his surprise, then I asked him to resolve my question: what on earth happened – had our strength increased, or did our weight decrease?

Both suggestions were equally astounding, but there’s nothing a person won’t start to look at with indifference once he gets used to it. My friend and I hadn’t gotten that far yet, but we already felt a desire to figure out the answer.

My friend, who was accustomed to analysis, soon made sense of the mass of phenomena that had overwhelmed and confused my mind.

“We can test our muscle strength on the dynamometer, with the spring weights,” he said, “and find out whether it has increased or not. Here, I’ll press my feet against the wall and pull on the lower hook of the spring. See – five poods: my strength hasn’t increased. You can do the same, and prove to yourself that you haven’t turned into a bogatyr' like Ilya Muromets.”

“It’s hard to agree,” I objected. “The facts contradict you. How is it that I can lift the edge of this bookcase, which has to weigh at least fifty poods? At first I thought it must be empty, but I opened it and saw that every book was still in place… Can you explain, by the way, how it is that I can jump 20 arshins high!?”

“You aren’t lifting heavy weights, jumping high and feeling light because your own strength increased – we’ve already disproved that hypothesis with the dynamometer – but because gravity is lower, and you can prove that to yourself with the same spring weights. We can even find out how much lower it is…”

With these words he lifted the first weight he found, a twelve-pounder, and hung it on the dynamometer.

“Look!” he continued, pointing at the scale. “A twelve-pound weight turns out to weigh two pounds. That means gravity has weakened by a factor of six.”

After thinking for a minute, he continued, “That’s just the gravity on the surface of the Moon, due to its small volume and the low density of its composition.”

“So are we on the Moon now?” I laughed.

“If we are on the Moon,” the physicist laughed, in the same joking tone, “that’s not a huge misfortune, since we can repeat such a miracle, if it’s actually possible, in the opposite direction – that is, we’ll be able to go back where we came from.”

“Wait, enough playing games... But what if we hang some thing on an ordinary cross-beam scale! Will we see a reduction in weight?”

“No, because the weight of the thing will be reduced by the same amount as the weight you put on the other cup of the scales, since balance is not violated, regardless of the decrease in gravity.”

“Yes, I see.”

Nevertheless I still tried to snap a stick – hoping to discover an increase in my strength. By the way, I didn’t succeed, though the stick wasn’t thick and yesterday had already cracked in my hands.

“You’re so stubborn! Give it up!” said my friend the physicist. “Instead, think about how the whole world must be disturbed by these changes…”

“You’re right,” I said, throwing down the cane. “I had forgotten about everything. I forgot about the existence of humanity, with which I feel a passionate desire to share my thoughts, just as you do…”

“Has anything happened to our friends? Have there been any other major changes?”

I opened my mouth and yanked aside the curtain (they were all drawn at night to block the moonlight that kept us from sleeping), to exchange a few words with our neighbor, but I jumped back on the double. Oh horror! The sky was blacker than the blackest ink!

Where was the city? Where were all the people?

It was some kind of wild, unimaginable, brightly sunlit place!

Could we really have been taken away to some desert planet?

All that stayed in my thoughts. I couldn’t say anything, I just mooed disconnectedly.

My friend was about to rush over to me, thinking that I was sick, but I gestured towards the window. He leaned to look out and also fell silent.

If we didn’t fall down in a faint, it was only thanks to the low gravity, which kept too much blood from flowing to our hearts.

We looked at each other.

The curtains on the windows were still drawn; the thing that had struck us wasn’t visible to our eyes. The ordinary look of the room and the familiar things in it calmed us down even more.

We drew together with a certain timidity and lifted only the edge of the little curtain first, then lifted the whole thing and then, finally, made up our minds to go out of the house to observe the mourning sky and our surroundings.


The full text of this story is forthcoming in Red Star Tales, edited by Yvonne Howell, published by Russian Life Publishers, in fall of 2015.


POOD: a pre-Revolutionary Russian measure, approximately 16.4 kilograms to one pood.

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ARSHIN: a pre-Revolutionary Russian measure, approximately 71 centimeters.

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MUCHO: An author of science fiction stories about astronomy who wrote in the 1890s.

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