Copyright 2016 Mario V. Farina
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Mario V. Farina
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Troy, New York was agog with excitement. Doctor Roger A. Hammerstrom, Director Of the Department of Astrophysics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute had just returned from a successful trip to Texas where he had met with NASA officials. He had taken a team of scientists with him and the team had been able to convince representatives at NASA that a voyage to Mars in a space vehicle with a crew of six and a dozen passengers was feasible. Instead of requiring six months for the trip, as was commonly believed, the trip, one way, could be reduced to as few as ten days.
It had also been commonly believed that, once on Mars, visitors would have to remain there for about one and one-half years before a window would open for their return to Earth. Dr. Hammerstrom had been able to convince those at NASA that there would be no window of this kind needed and the return trip could be made almost immediately.
The plan that the director had presented was massive and creative. It called for a huge building in the shape of an observatory be built. This edifice would be called the Bomb Building. The dimensions of this structure were to be three miles in diameter and one mile high. A small uranium bomb would produce the energy that would propel a large space vehicle to the planet. This force would be directed via a complex series of trenches and chutes to the back of the vehicle located atop the building. When the bomb exploded the resulting energy would propel the spaceship at a velocity of about one million miles per hour. Because of this gigantic initial thrust, the vehicle would be able to travel at a rate that would take it to Mars in about ten days. Instead of traveling at about 17,000 miles per hour. as the ancient Shuttle had done, it would travel sixty times faster.
The proposal, when accepted, would cost the United States Government about five hundred billion dollars. It was suggested that the building would continue to serve the community in various ways such as a huge football stadium. There would probably be other uses that could be devised by imaginative business people of the nation.
There was a severe wrangle in Congress whether the Government should spend this kind of money on a speculative endeavor; but the President was persuasive and Congress finally passed the Bomb Bill. The construction of the observatory-like structure began in 2019. It was expected that it would require three full years to complete. Creating such a huge building presented some problems that had never before been encountered. Solving them was not easy, but there were many intelligent minds at work and all problems were eventually solved. The Bomb Building was finally constructed and was ready to be used.
It was decided that the bomb that would propel the space vehicle would be a small uranium type with the equivalent of twenty kilotons of TNT. It would be constructed on site and would be exploded at the time that the mission began. Radiation from the bomb would be enclosed within the stainless steel casing of the building and would gradually be released to the atmosphere at safe levels. Offices to control the launch and travel of the vehicle were to be located at another building a mile away in Lansingburg. This building was to be known as the Launch Control Building.
While the Bomb and Launch Control Buildings were being constructed, a space vehicle would be designed and built. Its passengers and crew would be selected from various sources. The crew of the vehicle would consist of six especially trained airplane pilots. It was decided that Captain James R. Lawrence, a renowned pilot of many types of aircraft, would be in charge of the voyage.
At RPI, a student named Jeffrey Wilkins openly suggested that the operation was too dangerous to undertake. He had no evidence to support this allegation. He stated that his position was merely a hunch. No one paid any attention to what he said, but without the permission of anyone in higher authority, he began to make calculations that, he felt, would prove his stand. He was not gifted in mathematics, so he needed to ask many questions of associate students who are not all happy to assist him. By one means or another, however, he was able to continue his calculations. He received no support from faculty, staff, and students. Nevertheless, he continued to argue against the mission.
A date was finally set for the start button on the control panel to be pushed. This was to be done on June 11, 2022. it was decided that the Mayor of Troy, George Weatherwax was to push the button that would start all the activities required by the launch. He was to sit at the Launch Console in the Launch Control Building and press a huge green button with the word, GO imprinted on it. There were also other buttons on the panel with such labels as, Pause, Abort, and Hold, but these buttons were smaller than the green button and the inscriptions on them were red. Mr. Weatherwax’s duties were limited to pushing GO once. He would then be relieved of all further duties. Another person would then sit in his seat and take over the responsibilities of helping control the launch.
While final preparations were being made, and last-minute training accomplished, Jeffrey Wilkins was still working to prove that the launch should not be undertaken. On his own, he had written a simulation program that would prove that he was right. He hoped to complete it before the GO button was finally pushed.
June 11 finally arrived. The launch was to take place at exactly noon. The bomb was primed to explode exactly when GO was pushed. Passengers and crew were seated in a tiny pod at the tip of the spacecraft a mile from the ground. If there was a malfunction of any kind, the pod would be shot like a bullet towards Lansingburg and would land via parachute. Radio communications were being conducted by the many managers of the project. George Weatherwax was seated at the Launch Console. In order for the GO button to be activated, a button lock had to be released. This was to be done by an operations manager, not George. It was determined that doing this would be a safety measure since it was well known that Mr. Weatherwax was not the most intelligent mayor that the city had ever elected. The same operations manager would be standing behind Mr. Weatherwax to make sure that his finger would hit the button at the appointed time.
Jeffrey was frantically correcting mistakes that he had made in his program and was attempting to run the program before the launch took place. It had become a race as to which action would take place first, the computer check or the launch. No one knew that the simulation program was being run except Jeffrey.
Finally, it was five minutes to launch time. Mr. Weatherwax had his finger ready to do its job. Jeffrey started his program. He was startled to see, on the screen, that the bomb, when it exploded, would raise the Bomb Building thirty feet off the ground then bring it crashing down in a huge mound of rocks, metal, glass, and debris covering the residential area of Troy in an area having a diameter of three miles. The people of that area had been evacuated for safety purposes; however, it would be reduced to rubble. At the conclusion of the program, Jeffrey, gathered the papers that the program had produced and ran as fast as he could, to the Launch Control Building. The door was not locked and he was able to rush to the General Manager of the Launch Project screaming “Stop the launch, Stop the launch!”
It was too late, the countdown had reached zero and the GO button had been pushed by Mr. Weatherwax. At least, it was thought that this had happened. There was no explosion! Those sitting at their consoles searched the data to see why there had been a failure in the launch procedure. There was evidence that the GO button had been unlocked. However, the data also showed that it had never been pushed. It was obvious that Mr. Weatherwax had failed to push it. It was later learned that what he had done instead was to push the Abort button. It was a moment later that Jeffrey had rushed in screaming his message.
The irony of all this is that when Mr. Weatherwax was informed that he had not pushed the button, he said, “Oh I’m so sorry! I’ll do it now.” And he did!
This story could have, terrifyingly, ended here if it hadn’t been for the fact that pushing the Abort button had made the entire Launch Project inoperable. Jeffrey received a scholarship and Mr. Weatherwax was re-elected. The bomb was disassembled. The Bomb Building became one of the major wonders of the world and, from that point, was visited by thousands of tourists a year.