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"Beyond a thousand years from now humans are not quite recognizably human, and I have trouble finding characters."
- Larry Niven

Message Cylinder (Message Bomb)  
  A means of sending dispatches from space via a small projectile dropped from orbit; effectively a message rocket.  

...In twenty minutes we will be a thousand kilometers from the earth and well into the substance of the Svendenham Nebula. From that distance we will try dropping a couple of message bombs.”

“Let’s hope they will be found,” said Graachten.

“How are you going to drop them? It’s the first time I have heard of such a thing,” said Coliman.

"We didn’t think of the idea until last week, and Standerton-Quil just had time to make the alterations necessary. They are light, hollow steel cylinders in which the messages are placed, after being engraved on thin platinum with a steel stylus. At one end of the cylinder a propeller is attached so that their flight will be slowed down on entering the atmosphere. The propeller’s motion ignites a charge of magnesium powder that burns for a long time. We hope the cylinder will not escape the attention of the observation posts. They are light enough to float on the water and will be found, even if they drop in the middle of an ocean.

“And you intend to drop such cylinders during your journey to the moon?”


(Message Cylinder from 'The Cosmic Cloud' by Bruno H. Burgel)

“Exactly. Standerton has constructed a discharge-chute for them in the hull of the rocket-ship on the principle of an air-lock. We place the cylinder in the chamber, close the inner lock, and open the outer with a lever; the cylinder drops, is attracted by the earth’s gravitational field, flies toward it, finally penetrates the atmosphere, where the air resistance sets the propeller in motion, the charge ignites, and the cylinder slowly descends. Of course we will be able to send such messages only while the earth’s gravity is dominant. Beyond a certain distance the moon will have a greater attraction and would get any message-cylinders we dropped.”

From The Cosmic Cloud, by Bruno H. Burgel.
Published by Wonder Stories Quarterly in 1931
Additional resources -

One of the reasons that I'm fascinated by this particular idea is that, during the Cold War, film canisters were dropped from spy satellites in orbit. There was no other way to return physical film from cameras.

The canisters were dropped, and deployed parachutes once in the atmosphere. They were snagged by USAF planes with specially trained pilots; it was called the Corona program.

the Corona satellites would shoot as much as 16,000 feet of 70 millimeter Kodak film, capturing footage of Soviet-controlled or influenced areas of the world (including much of the Middle East). When the film ran out, the footage would be jettisoned from the satellite and protected through reentry thanks to a so-called "film bucket" designed by GE. About 11 miles above the Earth, a parachute would deploy, and then it would be up to the eagle-eyed Air Force pilots to use a "claw" to snag the floating film pods before they reached Earth's surface:

Compare to Argento-Platinoid Dispatch Box from Schachner and Zagat's 1931 story Venus Mines, Incorporated, the personal capsule from Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov, the single sheet molecule from Dorsal! (1960) by Gordon R. Dickson, truffle skins from The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) by Philip K. Dick and the message cylinder and the distrans from Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Cosmic Cloud
  More Ideas and Technology by Bruno H. Burgel
  Tech news articles related to The Cosmic Cloud
  Tech news articles related to works by Bruno H. Burgel

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