What is now commonplace at one time amazed the world. That pipe fitter's troubling dream, the space station Mir, now counts about 50,000 trips around the world during a wearing decade in orbit. Much farther out in space hundreds of unmanned geostationary satellites orbit high over the equator every 24 hours; the sports bar at the corner can aim its television dish to watch Manchester United and never needs to shift. Those satellites move in sync with the earth's surface. We don't call that circumnavigation, although as deck passengers we daily circle the axis of the spinning earth. Only when we change surface position do we call it travel. To keep up with the sun across the U.S., you need to fly west at near-supersonic speed. But fast circumnavigators in low-earth orbit experience dawn and dusk a dozen times and more every 24 clock-hours.
It was in 1873 that the novelist Jules Verne first turned the feat of circumnavigation from a historic landmark to popular drama. His way-cool London clubman managed to go around the earth in 80 days, by ship, balloon, train, elephant, even sailing on land across Nebraska. The exact day count escaped the adventurer, for he forgot that all his assorted vehicles were day by day overtaking the sun in the sky. The fiction stimulated fact in an epoch when scheduled public travel was speeding up under steam. The undaunted young woman who signed herself Nellie Bly, a spectacular correspondent for the New York Globe, drew praise from Verne himself after her 1889 trip, which began in New York, went via Suez and encircled the globe. She cut a real week off the fictional Londoner's time.