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ANDERSON'S ROCKET

David A. Smith

During the Depression Era many of the working class struggled while the very rich languished in extravagance. But one wealthy man refused to bask in opulence. Instead, he chose to use his resources to seek adventure and further scientific knowledge.

His name was Paul Anderson, and he was rich beyond avarice. His real estate holdings were vast, his corporate accomplishments many. Plus, at 28, he was trained as an aeronautical engineer, but with adventure in his blood. He had flown over the North Pole, sailed alone around the world, and dove to the ocean's greatest depths. A new challenge was dictated, and he found it: creating a rocket capable of flying a man to the Moon and back.

Money was no object, but rocketry was still in its infancy. Anderson had heard of Dr. Robert Goddard, the scientist who had long dreamed of reaching space. Still, his groundbreaking liquid-fueled rocket successes, beginning in 1926 were not well received by the American government, military, or press. Fortunately, from 1930 to 1932 the Guggenheim family donated $100,000 to support Goddard's efforts. But afterward, little financial support was generated for continued research. He returned to his position at Clark University in Worchester, Massachusetts. Goddard was disillusioned and withdrew from the public eye.

In 1934 the Guggenheims announced intentions to resume their financial support which Goddard took under advisement. But he was uncertain about moving ahead with further experiments and wavered... At this fateful juncture, Anderson's secretary arranged a meeting with the good scientist, to which Goddard hesitantly agreed. The next day Anderson flew his Ford Trimotor the 175 miles from New York City to Worchester, Massachusetts, later appearing at the laboratory office clad in khakis a white t-shirt and Yankees baseball cap. The millionaire bounced through the door, met the receptionist with a boyish grin and requested to see the rocket man. "Are you kidding me? Who are you?" the young lady at the desk asked condescendingly.

"I'm Paul Anderson. Honestly, I was expecting a bit more enthusiasm. I'm here to give the professor what the Guggenheims have taken away!" Anderson fairly shouted.

"Perhaps, but I doubt he has time to see you today," the receptionist said. Nonetheless, she notified Goddard that he had a visitor. Not the least bit interested in receiving anyone was he. "Tell him I have no time to talk. I've got important work to do," he responded.

"I'm sorry. Dr. Goddard is busy. Goodbye." the receptionist replied.

"I just flew across country to be here. Tell him it's damn important!"

The receptionist displayed a sour look. "Alright, I'll bother him once more, but don't blame me for what happens.... Dr. Goddard, your visitor demands that you see him immediately. What shall I do?"

"Call security. Have him removed!"

At that point Paul Anderson grabbed the phone and shouted, "It's in your best interests to open your door, Dr. Goddard. I'm here to help bankroll your path to space and more!"

Everything changed. The receptionist's look transformed from resentful to incredulous, and the door leading to the lab opened. Goddard stumbled out, looking exhausted, white coat soiled, hair uncombed, glasses askew. The two men eyed each other momentarily. "Come in, Mr., I forgot your name..."

"Anderson."

"Mr. Anderson, the adventurer?"

"And aeronautical engineer and perhaps philanthropist."

"I did not realize it was you who was coming. There are many Andersons."

"I think this Anderson is a good choice at the moment."

"Come with me," Dr. Goddard said, motioning Anderson to follow him to his office. There they sat. "Would you care for some Sanka?" Goddard asked.

"Why, certainly," Anderson replied though accustomed to better fare.

"Caffeine disturbs my heart," Goddard admitted.

"Sanka will do fine," Anderson said as Goddard poured him a cup. Wasting no time, Anderson spoke. "I can't help the fact that I was born into affluence, but I'm hardly a milquetoast. Luckily, I grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' novels about Mars, Venus and the Moon. They left quite a mark on me­—I hope a character building one. Maybe that's why I prefer the challenge of adventure to pointless business meetings and dinner parties with rich and powerful boors. Now I visualize a new type of adventure, like nothing before: space travel. I read your book, and reject the ridiculous critique by the New York Times. What do they know about physics? In the last eight pages of A Method Of Reaching Extreme Altitude you mentioned the possibility of going to the Moon. I believe the goal can be accomplished. How much money do you need?"

Goddard was stunned. "Are you serious? Are you sure?" he stammered.

"I am certain. Your ideas are revolutionary. The stars can be ours! And I also offer an essential invention, sure to be of great value."

"What is that?"

"The development of a perfected gyroscopic stabilizer which can be used to steer vanes at the exhaust nozzle. But there is one requirement: that I pilot the rocket to the Moon."

"That is unnecessary!" Goddard exclaimed.

"Nonetheless, my assistance, and funding require it."

Goddard narrowed his eyes momentarily. "That would require a much larger vehicle." He paused, gazing at Anderson's resolute countenance. "But it can be done. I want nothing more than to develop rocketry so that man can reach space. With adequate financing and a few more developments we could achieve that goal! And I agree with you, it matters greatly that to which a child is exposed. We share similar inspirations. I have been inspired about space since childhood, when I first read H.G. Well's story, War Of The Worlds. Of course that was about Mars... Oh, but I am truly sorry for my earlier behavior. I have been quite despondent because of the lack of interest regarding my experiments. FDR is too involved in politics, the army sees no value and the newspapers ridicule me. But I know I am right. Man can leave this Earth."

Anderson rose, smiled and extended his hand. "When do we get started?"

The remainder of the day the two worked out plans for the project to commence. Goddard was encouraged to focus all his energies on designing the rocket. Anderson would gather whatever outside expertise was needed in a dozen fields, plus the materials necessary for construction. Construction would take place at an abandoned warehouse outside Roswell he would lease for the project.

Of course, he would pilot the craft to the Moon, orbit for a few days and return.


In a mere 12 months a sleek 74 foot-long, three-stage silver rocket ship with stubby wings was completed, looking like something from pure science fantasy. The guidance, system, something else Anderson had created, life support and a short wave radio transmitter and receiver were installed, All equipment was painstakingly tested and retested. Sufficient food and water was packed to last 21 days, more than enough for the journey. The trip to the Moon would take only a day, owing to Goddard's invention of a secret new fuel, to be used after the chemical rockets had boosted the ship beyond the Earth's gravity. This new fuel provided an incredibly fast form of propulsion—what Goddard called "constant acceleration".


The scientist sat down in the foreman's office, where Anderson was wont to be during work hours. He made a steeple of his fingertips and looked at the young man. "Paul, we're done. The final tests are finished. The ship is loaded and ready. You can leave any time you wish."

Anderson leaned back in the worn leather swivel chair, his pipe bowl glowing red as a blue cloud wreathed his head. "Well then..." He took the pipe from his mouth, banged the tobacco embers into the ashtray and grinned. "Tomorrow? Right after lunch?"

"That will be fine. It will take Herman and the track crew all morning to complete the launch inspection. All of a sudden, my boy, I have many concerns. I've grown rather fond of you."

"Robert, " Paul said, "and I, you. But we are ready. All that can be done has been done. The best minds, the best workers... the BEST scientist." He shook Goddard's hand. "Tomorrow."


The launch track cut across the arid New Mexico desert. It ran one mile straight to a long sloping hill, up its face to the top and ended at a trestle which curved another 100 feet up, like a ski jump into the sky.

The rocket, installed on a 12-wheeled rocket-assisted dolly, lay horizontal, looking like a giant version of a 30/6 rifle bullet with stubby wings. It would be guided along the track as it accelerated toward the hill and then be thrown into the sky by the "jump".

At the appointed time Anderson donned his spacesuit, climbed into the cabin and prepared for blastoff. "I'm ready for the ride of my life!" he said to a solemn Herman, who closed the hatch. There was a wait of perhaps ten minutes. Then... Ten, Nine, Eight...

The spaceship shook violently as its powerful engine roared to life. For a moment it hesitated... then roared along the track, took the jump and lifted into the sky. Anderson was on his way. As the craft gained altitude its velocity also increased. Soon it was going 500 mph, then 1,200 mph, then 3,000 mph! In the periscope over the control panel the sky was an inky purple, but quickly fading to black.

The rocket's thrust gave the illusion of weight until the predetermined burn completed. Earth's first spaceman began to feel the peculiar effects of weightlessness. In moments Anderson had departed not only Earth's atmosphere, but its gravity, too and was streaking toward the mysterious Moon.

"Calling Goddard. Calling Goddard."

The static shifted as Anderson adjusted his receiver and then ... "Goddard to Anderson. What a sight!"

"Operation normal, Shifting to steady cruise on new fuel. Five, Four, Three, Two, One!"

The secondary tank containing a heavy water experimental fuel was switched on. For an instant the rocket continued to burn the residual chemical mix in the feed tubes and then...


Anderson's head ached, his eyes burned. The air in his suit seemed stale. Cracking the face plate open, he rubbed a curiously stiff glove over his eyes and took a deep breath. Feeling a little better, he tried to remember what....

Perform the fuel switch over! There was an instant of intense thrust, a harsh toxic smell and then Anderson blacked out...

"How long was I out?" he asked no one. Looking at his control panel he saw numbers that made no sense. He tapped the dials to see if they were defective.

"This can't be!"

He opened the forward view port and did not see his target. The Moon was not there!

"Where?"

At that time he noticed something else. He was falling! Falling endlessly!

"Weightless. Idiot!"

The fuel gauge for the secondary heavy mix showed empty! How long had the ship accelerated?

Anderson opened both side ports. Nothing could be seen but utter blackness and some startlingly brilliant — though tiny — specks of light. He opened the overhead port and saw what he had already guessed.

In the distance a tiny bluish dot of light attended by an even smaller dusty gray dot. Earth and Moon ... and no way back.

"You wanted the ride of your life, Paul Anderson. Well, you got it!"

An hour later the Earth and Moon had become nothing more than two faint lights in the darkness. During that time Paul had discovered a face full of beard, an incredibly empty stomach and a raging thirst. He could, and did, take care of the hunger and thirst from the ship's stores, but he'd have to live with the beard. The only question was, how long would that be?


He awoke, no reason why, he just awoke. As he opened his eyes a dull red spark out the port window caught his eye. Blinking hard, he rubbed his eyelids and looked again. The spark was still there!

Mars? Could it be Mars?

Numbers and ballistics ran furiously through his brain. He dared not hope, but it is ever within Man to hope against all odds.

That smell, now dissipated, could it have put him in some kind of suspended animation? Was that light Mars, 44,000,000 miles from Earth?

"Must be. There's nothing else out here before the Asteroid Belt. Mars! Can you believe that?"

The red light grew more distinct with each passing hour until it became a disk. The ship's velocity was immense. He looked at the remaining chemical fuel which had been intended to re-enter the Earth's gravity well and atmosphere. It was all there, plus the margin he and Goddard had calculated as a safety factor.

Anderson spun the ship on it's gyroscope, not at Mars but at where Mars should be by the time he killed the ship's velocity. Out came the slide rule and the clipboard. Off came his gloves and figures and equations soon covered several pages.

He checked his ship's clock (which confirmed he'd been out for three weeks) and determined when the first retrofire should take place.

Gloves on, suit sealed, mouth dry, Anderson watched the clock and pressed the firing stud. The rocket fired perfectly and ran the amount of time intended.

Now he must wait...

He was not good at waiting.

Paul Anderson had always operated head down, full speed, damn the torpedoes all his life. One never got anywhere by waiting. However; wait he must. He set the alarm for five hours. Frowning, he went to sleep...


He was still frowning when the claxon sounded off.

The first look out the port was promising. He tried the small telescope intended to search the Moon's surface from orbit and observed Mars, canals and all!

More observations, more calculations, then another retrofire, longer this time.

A meal. Then trying to scratch itches you can't reach inside a suit you dare not take off. Humming tuneless ditties because you can't sing... one of the few things Paul Anderson the Third had never mastered.

A period of morbidity set in as yet another attempt on the radio was unsuccessful.

"Wonder what Goddard is thinking? Paul, old son, you know you're never going home."

Hours of silence. Incredible silence. He could hear his heart beat in his ears. Tiny pings of metal contracting on the cold side of the ship, then pinging differently by expanding on the sun ward side of the ship. The cabin grew more confining by the hour.

"Get a hold of yourself!"

Paul Anderson slapped the side of his helmet to make his ears ring and set about thinking of something else.

What did he know of Mars? He and Goddard had discussed Percival Lowell's vision of an arid planet crossed by water-filled canals. He laughed at the absurdities of Burroughs' John Carter. Each time he looked through the telescope he saw a dead, cratered world, much like the airless Moon.

Mars had an atmosphere, that much was known, but was it breathable? Analysis suggested the atmosphere was largely carbon dioxide, an odorless, tasteless, gas that plants love and animals, including humans, exhale. But it isn't oxygen, the lack of which would kill him dead, dead, dead.


"Checks out to nine places," he muttered. "Another thirteen seconds at full thrust to put me in orbit."

The limb of Mars stood out stark and ruddy from the rear port. His vector was a chase, slowly creeping up to the planet which was less than two hundred miles away. His throat was dry, but now was not the time to quench his thirst. On approach Deimos had raced along beside his ship for a short time, a dismal gray rock with few redeeming features. He could not see the other moon, Phobos. The firing clock continued...

Anderson strapped himself down and reached for the firing stud. This would be his only chance to secure an orbit around Mars, where he could study the planet for as long as his food and water held out, something no other Earth man had done.

Three, Two, One!

A sense of weight was conferred as the chemical rocket spewed hell, then weightless again when he took his finger off the firing stud.

Compass, telescope, sextant, clock, sighting. Again. Check again!

"Losing altitude! No orbit. I'm landing on Mars whether I want to or not!"

How much fuel left? What does the terrain look like? Is there enough atmospheric density for the wings to achieve lift? Questions. Questions. Questions!

"Seat of your pants, old son. Like a hundred times before!" Part of his brain said "Not in a rocket!" but he ignored that voice. Right now it was head down, bull it through!

Strapped tight, Anderson rode the rocket. A touch here, a touch there. Testing the wings, oh so little response! HOLD! HOLD! HOLD! Get over that mountain ridge and HOLD! HOLD! HOLD! Bigger than the Grand Canyon! Fire! OFF! Fire. OFF!

The wings found little bite, but were having a slowing effect as the rocket spiraled toward the surface. There! A depression, looks like a dead sea bottom! FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!

As a touchdown it was an anticlimax. Tail first, rocket belching its last and....

Down on Mars!

Paul Anderson whistled inside his helmet and suddenly wished he had not. Ears ringing, he unstrapped and rose, feeling curious in the Martian gravity after weeks of weightlessness. A quick glance over the control panel showed all in was order.

"Congratulations, sir. You are the first man on Mars."


WHAM!

Sparks filled the inside of the cabin. A meteorite the size of a raisin slammed through the ship's hull, through the oxygen refresher, the carbon dioxide scrubber and into the control panel.

Numb, Paul Anderson looked at the ruin and knew his life was now measured in hours, if not minutes. He had to get out of the ship as an electrical fire spread. Better to die on the surface than to burn up!

OUT!

The hatch wheezed as the barometric pressures equalized, sucking him through the opening and onto the surface. In that instant, a long rent was torn through his suit above the knee. Anderson instinctively gripped those edges together and stumbled around the nose of the craft to escape from the sputtering, dying fire.

A wing had dug into the sand and he stumbled on its leading edge, falling down, facing the rear of the ship. He tasted the Martian atmosphere, slightly metallic, incredibly cold. Yet, that sensation was nothing to the sight before his eyes. A miniature city, with a tiny red tower half-broken, streets and buildings, oh so small!, twisted, burned, destroyed by the blast of his rocket.

Something glittered in the ochre sand before him. He felt dizzy and detected a faint buzzing sound in his ears...

There was a small cloud of dust rising, moving toward him, only an inch or so off the sand. A savage horde of tiny humans riding tiny but monstrous beasts, all voicing incensed wails of rage and revenge.

His eyes popped wide with wonder...