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"Science fiction operates a little bit like science itself, in principle. You've got thousands of people exploring ideas, putting forth their own hypotheses. Most of them are dead wrong; a few stand the test of time; everything looks kind of quaint in hind"
- Peter Watts

Light Pressure Propulsion  
  First mention of the idea that light itself could be a form of propulsion for spacecraft.  

Michel Arden, fearless French adventurer, appears before the Baltimore Gun Club to address them on various matters. Among them, the idea that the projectile shot from the great Columbiad may be just the beginning of fast spacecraft.

That journey must be undertaken sooner or later; and, as for the mode of locomotion adopted, it follows simply the law of progress. Man began by walking on all-fours; then, one fine day, on two feet; then in a carriage; then in a stage-coach; and lastly by railway. Well, the projectile is the vehicle of the future, and the planets themselves are nothing else! Now some of you, gentlemen, may imagine that the velocity we propose to impart to it is extravagant. It is nothing of the kind.

All the stars exceed it in rapidity, and the earth herself is at this moment carrying us round the sun at three times as rapid a rate, and yet she is a mere lounger on the way compared with many others of the planets! And her velocity is constantly decreasing.

Is it not evident, then, I ask you, that there will some day appear velocities far greater than these, of which light or electricity will probably be the mechanical agent?

From From the Earth to the Moon, by Jules Verne.
Published by Various in 1867
Additional resources -

The existence of light pressure was demonstrated as theoretically possible by James Clerk Maxwell in 1873. Confirming laboratory experiments waited until the turn of the century. Walter James Miller, the translator of the 1978 edition, notes that, "Verne is right on top of new developments in physics . . . . James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) has recently discovered that light exerts a pressure on surfaces."

Golden age sf great Edmond Hamilton uses this idea explicitly in his 1929 short story The Comet Doom; see the entry for ship propelled by light pressure.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from From the Earth to the Moon
  More Ideas and Technology by Jules Verne
  Tech news articles related to From the Earth to the Moon
  Tech news articles related to works by Jules Verne

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