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Destination Moon

Robert A. Heinlein

  Destination Moon

  Robert A. Heinlein

  Robert A. Heinlein

  Destination Moon

  Today, with space full of ships, colonies on the inner planets, and Earth's Moon so close that pilots on the Luna run sleep home nights, it is• hard to imagine when 'flying to the Moon" was a figure of speech for the impossible, when men who thought it could be done were visionaries, crackpots.

  It is hard to realize the opposition they faced, to understand why they persisted, what they thought.

  - Farquharson, History of Transportation, III: 414


  The Mojave Desert was gray with first morning light, but at the construction site lights were still burning in the office of the technical director. The office was quiet, save for petulant burbling of a pot of coffee.

  Three men were present-the director himself, Doc tor Robert Corley, Lincoln-tall and lean, Rear Admiral "Red" Bowles, regular navy retired, and Jim Barnes, head of Barnes Aircraft, Barnes Tool Works, other enterpnses.

  All three needed shaves; Barnes badly needed a haircut as well. Barnes was seated at Corley's desk; Bowles sprawled on a couch, apparently asleep and looking like a fat, redheaded baby; Doctor Corley paced the room, following a well worn pattern.

  He stopped, and stared out the window. A thousand yards away on the floor of the desert a great ship, pointed and sleek, thrust up into the sky, ready to punch out through Earth's thick atmosphere.

  Wearily he turned away and picked up a letter from the desk; it read:

  Reaction Associates, Inc.

  Mojave, California.


  Your request to test the engine of your atomic-powered rocket ship at the site of its construction is regretfully denied.

  Although it is conceded that no real danger of atomic explosion exists, a belief in such danger does exist in the public mind. It is the policy of the Commission-Corley skipped down to the last paragraph: -- therefore, test is authorized at the Special Weapons Testing Center, South Pacific. Arrangements may be --

  He stopped and shoved the letter at Barnes. "If we've got to test at Eniwetok, we've got to find the money to do it."

  Barnes' voice showed exasperation. "Doc, I've told you the syndicate won't put up another dime; there is no other money to be found."

  "Confound it-we should have government money!"

  Barnes grunted. "Tell that to Congress."

  Without opening his eyes Bowles commented, "The United States is going to stall around and let Russia get to the Moon first-with hydrogen bombs~ That's what you call 'policy."

  Corley chewed his lip. "It's got to be now."

  "I know it." Barnes got up and went to the window. The rising sun caught a highlight on the polished skin of the great ship. "It's got to be now," he repeated soffly.

  He turned and said, "Doc, when is the next favorable time to leave?"

  "When we planned on it-next month."

  "No, I mean this month."

  Corley glanced at the wall calendar, dug into a bookcase for a well-thumbed volume, did a quick estimate. "Tomorrow morning-around four o'clock."

  "That's it, then. We blast off tomorrow morning."

  Admiral Bowles sat up with a jerk. "Blast off in an untested ship? Jim, you're crazy!"

  "Probably. But now is the time-now. If we wait even a month, we will be tangled in some new snafu. That ship is ready, except for testing the power plant. So we'll skip the test!"

  "But we haven't even selected a crew."

  Barnes grinned. "We're the crew!"

  Neither Corley nor Bowles answered. Barnes went on, "Why not? The takeoff is automatic. Sure, we agreed that we should have young men, fast reflexes, and all that malarkey-and every damned one of us has been trying to figure out a reason why he should be included. You, Red, you sneaked off to Moffeatt Field and took a pilot's physical. Flunked it, too. Don't lie to me;~ I know. And you, Doc, you've been hinting that you ought to nurse the power plant yourself-you've been working on your wife, too."


  "She wanted me to say that the syndicate would object to yOur going. Don't worry; I didn't agree."

  Corley looked at him levelly. "I've always intended to go. She knows that."

  "That's my boy! Red?"

  Bowles heaved himself to his feet. "Shucks, Jim, I didn't bust that physical much-just overweight."

  "You're in. I don't want an eager young beaver as co-pilot anyhow."


  "Want to rassle me for skipper? Red, I've meant to gun this crate myself ever since the day-Lordy, four years ago! -- when you brought Doc to see me with a satôhelful of blueprints." He drew a breath and looked around. exultantly.

  Bowles said, "Let's see. You for pilot; I'm co -- ; Doc is chief. That leaves nobody but the radarman. You can't possibly train a man in the electronics of that ship by tomorrow morning."

  Barnes shrugged. "Hobson's choice-it has to be Ward." He named the chief electronics engineer of the project.

  Bowles turned to Corley. "Does Ward hanker to go?" Corley looked thoughtful. "I'm sure he does. We haven't discussed it." He reached for the phone. "I'll call his quarters."

  Barnes stuck a hand .j~ the way. "Not so fast. Once the word got out, the Commission has twenty-four hours in which to stop us."

  Bowles glanced at his watch. "Twenty-one hours."

  "Long enough, anyhow."

  Corley frowned. "We can't keep it secret. We've got to load that ship. I've got to reach Dr. Hastings and get our ballistic calculated."

  ~"One thing at a time." Barnes paused, frowning.

  "Here's the plan: we'll tell everybody that this is just a. dress rehearsal, but complete in all details, road blocks, rations, reporters, check-off lists, the works. Doc, you get the power plant ready. Red, you're in charge of loading. Me, I'm going into Mojave and phone Hastings. Then I'll phone the University and arrange for the big computer."

  "Why drive twenty miles?" Corley protested. "Call from here."

  "Because these wires are probably tapped-and I don't mean the F.B.I.! Aside ffom us three and Ward, Hastings is the one man who must know the truth -- when he figures that ballistic, he's got to know it matters."

  Barnes reached for his hat. "Doc, you can call Ward now-here I go."

  "Wait!" said Bowles. "Jim, you're going off half cocked. You can at least find out from here where Hastings is. You may have to fly down to Palomar and get him."

  Barnes snapped his fingers. "I am half cocked, Red. I forgot the most important item-the reason why I can't use my plane myself; I need it for the Resident Inspector." He referred to the project representative of the Atomic Energy Commission.

  "Holmes? Why does he need your plane?"

  "To get lost in. I'm going to persuade Ned Holmes to go to Washington and make one last plea for us to be allowed to test our engine here. He'll do it; turning us down wasn't his idea. Our boy Andy will fly him in my plane-and Andy will be forced down in the desert, forty miles from a phone. Very sad."

  Corley grudged a smile. "Sounds like kidnapping."

  Barnes looked innocent.

  "Of course Holmes will put the Commission's seal on the power pile before he leaves."

  "And we'll break it. Any more objections? If not, let's get Andy, Holmes, and Ward, in that order."

  Admiral Bowles whistled. "Doc," he said, "that engine of yours had better work, or we will spend the rest of our lives in jail. Well, let's get busy."


  The morning was well worn by the time Jiiii Barnes drove back to the construction site. The company guard at the pass gate waved him through; he stopped nevertheless. "Howdy, Joe."

  "Morning, Mr. Barnes."

  "I see the gate is open. Any
orders from the front office?"

  "About the gate? No. Somebody called and said today was dress rehearsal for the Big Boy." The guard hooked a thumb toward the ship, two miles away.

  "That's right. Now listen; this dress rehearsal must be letter perfect. Keep that gate locked. Clear with me, or Admiral Bowles, or Doctor Corley himself before unlocking it."

  - "Gotcha, Mr. Barnes."

  "Just remember that there are people who would do anything to keep that ship over there from leaving the ground-and they don't necessarily have foreign accents."

  "Pon't worry, Mr. Barnes."

  But he did worry; corking up the gate still left fourteen miles of unguarded fence.

  Oh, well-it was a risk that must be accepted. He drove on past the living quarters, through the circle of shops. The area swarmed with people, on foot, in trucks, in jeeps. Trucks were lined up at the entrance to the bull pen surrounding the ship itself. Barnes pulled up at the administration building.

  In Corley's office he found Bowles, Corley himself -- and Corley's wife. Corley looked harassed; Mrs. Corley was quite evidently angry. "Greetings, folks," he said. "Am I butting in?"

  Corley looked up. "Come in, Jim."

  Barnes bowed to Mrs. Corley. "How do you do, ma'am?"

  She glared at him. "You! You're responsible for this!"

  "Me, Mrs. Corley? For what?"

  "You know very well 'what'! Oh" She caught her breath, then gave vent to one explosive word: "Men!" She slammed out of the room.

  When the door had closed behind her, Barnes let his eyebrows seek their natural level. "I see she knows. You shouldn't have told her, not yet, Doe."

  "Confound it, Jim. I didn't expect her to kick up a fuss."

  Bowles faced around in his chair. "Don't be a fool, Jim. Doe's wife had to know-wives aren't hired hands."•

  "Sorry. The damage is done. Doc, have you put any check on phone calls?"

  "Why, no."

  "Do it. Wait, I'll do it." He stepped to the door. "Countess, call our switch board. Tell Gertie to switch all outgoing calls to you. You tell 'em firmly that outside lines are all in use, find out who it is, why they want to call, and whom-then tell the Director, Admiral Bowles, or me. Same for incoming calls."

  He closed the door and turned back to Bowles.

  "Your wife knows?"

  "Of course."


  "No. Navy wives get used to such things, Jim."

  "I suppose so. Well, I got Hastings squared away. He says that he will be here with the tape not later than two in the morning. Ive got a plane standing by for him."

  Corley frowned. "That's cutting it fine. We ought to have more time to set up the autopilot."

  "He says he can't promise it sooner. How about things here?"

  "Loading is coming all right," answered Bowles, "provided the trucks with the oxygen aren't late."

  "You should have flown it in."

  "Quit uttering. The trucks are probably in Cajon Pass this minute."

  "Okay, okay. Power plant, Doe?"

  "I haven't broken Ned Holmes' seal on the atomic pile yet. The water tanks are filling, but they've just started."

  He was interrupted . by the telephone at his elbow. "Yes?"

  His secretary's voice sounded in the room. "Your wife wants to call long distance, Doctor. I'm stalling her. Are you in?"

  "Put her on," he said wearily. Mrs. Corley's words could not be heard, but her angry tones came through. Corley answered, "No, dear...That's right, dear. I'm sorry but that's how it, I don't know when the lines will be free; we're holding them for calls placed to the east, you can't have the car; I'm using it. I -- " He looked surprised and replaced the instrument. "She hung up on me."

  "See what I mean?" said Barnes.

  "Jim, you're a fool," Bowles answered.

  "No, I'm a bachelor. Why? Because I can't stand the favorite sport of all women."

  "Which is?"

  "Trying to geld stallions. Let's get on with the job."

  "Right," agreed Corley and flipped a key on his Teletalk. "Helen, call the electronics shop and tell Mr. Ward that I want to see him."

  "Haven't you broken the news to him?" demanded Barnes.

  "Ward? Of course."

  "How did he take it?"

  "Well enough. Ward is high strung. At first he insisted there wasn't time to get all the electronic gear ready."

  "But he's in?"

  "He's in." Corley stood up. "I've got to get back into the ship."

  "Me, too," Bowles agreed.

  Barnes followed them out. As they passed the desk of Corley's secretary she was saying, "One moment, puhlease-I'm ringing him." She looked up and pointed to Corley.

  Corley hesitated. "Uh, uh," said Barnes, "if you let 'em tie you up on the phone, we'll never take off. I'm elected. Go on, you two. Get the buggy ready to go."

  "Okay." Corley added to his secretary, "Got Mr. Ward yet?"

  "Not in the electronics shop. I'm chasing him."

  "I want him right away."

  Barnes went back inside and spent an hour handling a logjam on the telephone. Personal calls he simply stalled on the excuse that the lines were needed for priority long distance calls. I-f a call was concerned with getting the ship ready to go, he handled it himself or monitored it. As best he could he kept the construction site an island, cut off from the world.

  He straightened out a matter with the chief metallurgist, gave the accounting office an okay on some overtime of the week before, assured Associated Press that the "dress rehearsal" was worth full coverage, and gleefully extended an invitation to the Los Angeles Associated Civic Clubs to go through the ship-next week.

  That done, he took Corley's dictaphone and began a memorandum to his business manager on how to close the project in case (a) the trip was successful, (b) the ship crashed. He planned to mark it to be transcribed the following day. --

  A call from Dr. Corley interrupted him. "Jim? I can't find Ward."

  "Tried the men's wash rooms?"

  "No-but I will."

  "He can't be far away. Anything wrong in his department?"

  "No, but I need him."

  "Well, maybe he's finished his tests and gone to his quarters to catch some sleep."

  "There's no answer from his quarters."

  "Phone could be off the hook. I'll send someone to dig him out."

  "Do that."

  While he was arranging this, Herbert Styles, public relations chief for the project, came in. The press agent slumped down in a chair and looked mournful.

  "Howdy, Herb."

  "Howdy. Say, Mr. Barnes, let's you and me go back to Barnes Aircraft and quit this crazy dump."

  "What's biting you, Herb?"

  "Well, maybe you can make some sense out of what's going on. They tell me to get everybody in here by three A.M. -- A.P., U.P., INS, radio chains, television trucks, and stuff. Then you lock the joint up like a schoolhouse on Sunday. And all this for a practice drill, a dry run. Who's crazy? Me or you?"

  Barnes had known Styles a long time. "It's not a drill, Herb."

  "Of course not." Styles ground out a cigarette. "Now how do we play it?"

  "Herb, I'm in a squeeze. We're going to take off-at three fifty-three tomorrow morning. If word gets out before then, they'll find some way to stop us."

  "Who's 'they'? And why?"

  "The Atomic Energy Commission for one-for jumping off with an untested power-pile ship."

  Styles whistled. "Bucking the Commission, eh? Oh, brother! But why not test it?"

  Barnes explained, concluding with, " -- so we can't test it. I'm busted, Herb."

  "Isn't everybody?"

  "That isn't all.. Call it a hunch, or anything you like. If we don't take off now, we never will-even if I had the dinero to test in the South Pacific. We've had more than our share of bad luck on this project-and I don't believe in luck."


  "There are people who want
this enterprise to fail. Some are crackpots; some are jealous. Others -- "

  "Others," Styles finished for him, "don't like the United States getting space travel first any better than they liked us getting the atom bomb first."


  "So what do you want to guard against? A time bomb in the ship? Sabotage of the controls? Or the Federal marshal with a squad of soldiers to back him up?"

  "I don't know!" -- Styles stared at nothing.

  "Boss -- "


  "Item: pretty soon you've got to admit publicly that it's a real takeoff, for you've got to evacuate this valley.

  The sheriff and state police won't play games just for a drill."

  "But -- "

  "Item: by now it is after office hours on the east coast. You're fairly safe from the Commission until morning. Item: any sabotage will be done on the spur of the moment, provided it isn't already built into the ship."

  "Too late to worry about anything built into the ship."

  "Just the same, if I were you, I would go over her with a toothpick. Any last minute stuff will be done with a wrench, behind a control panel or such-what they used to call 'target of opportunity."

  "Hard to stop."

  "Not too hard. There isn't anything that can be done to that ship down at its base, right? Well, if my neck depended on that heap, I wouldn't let anybody up inside. it from now on, except those going along. Not anybody, not even if he carried a certificate of Simon-pure onehundred-percentism from the D.A.R. I'd watch what went in and I'd stow things with my own little pattypaws."

  Barnes chewed his lip. "You're right. Herb-you just bought yourself a job."

  "Such as?"

  "Take over here." He explained what he bad been. doing. "As for the press, don't tip them off until you have to make arrangements for the road blocks and evacuation-maybe you can keep things wrapped up until around midnight. I'm going up into that -- ship and -- "

  The telephone jangled; he picked it up. "Yes?" It was Bowles.

  "Jim-come to the electronics shop."