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The Flight of the HANS PFALL by Stephen R. Wilk

The Flight of the Hans Pfall

by Stephen R. Wilk
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Page 3

“I know…”

“…and you can’t do it afterwards. That looks as if you were afraid your first shot wasn’t going to succeed. You need to show them you have confidence.”

“Al, it’s not that. “ He paused. “The Southern Group might want to pull out.”

“Pull out?&” Gold digested this. “Why? Do they think this is too risky?”

“No. If anything, it’s too tame. You made the point often enough that every element of the flight has been tested. It’s a slam-dunk. But it’s also a long-term investment. NASA and Lagrange Investment pay on delivery, not on launch. Their money’s tied up for the duration of the flight.”

“So? Are they investors or weekend traders? You can have safe and slow or risky and fast. Real investors don’t believe in Get Rich Quick schemes.”

“That’s the ideal. In the Real World, some of them do. And they don’t want the chance that their name will be associated with it, so they want to cut the publicity.”

“Ohhhhh.” Al closed his eyes and shook his head. “People are so damned stupid. Well, now I have to go through with the publicity. If their names are on it they can’t back out.”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“Bill, it’s too late to change anything now, including the coverage. What do they want from me? All through the negotiations we sweated to prove to them how safe and sure this project was, because nobody would invest in a risky space venture. Now you’re telling me that their problem is that it’s too safe? They can’t have it both ways.”

“It’s not sexy, Al. Now that it’s finally going up the reality is hitting them. And it’s not the starship Enterprise making next-day deliveries to the stars, it’s a slow boat to China taking over a year to deliver a cargo of spare parts. They want some excitement for their money, but without risk.” He raised a hand. “And before you say it, I know you can’t have one without the other.”

“You tell them. You’re supposed to be the salesman.”

“I’ve told them. Now I’m telling you that some of them are going to bolt unless you make them feel as if they’re funding a Bold New Enterprise. Where are you going?”

“I’m going to prove that this is an exciting, Bold New Enterprise. I’ll be back. Grab yourself a drink.”

Alex Gold strode onto the Observation Deck, his gaze sweeping the room carefully. He spotted his target and closed in.

“Lieutenant!” he said, and stopped. He wasn’t sure how to start this.

“Mr. Gold! Sir! Uhh, someone told me who you were…I have to apologize. I should have…”

“No, I should be apologizing to you. It was a dirty trick not to introduce myself. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“That’s not necessary, sir. It’s really my duty to know…”

“You see, sometimes I just want to know how they’re handing things here—what they’re telling the visitors—if they’re playing fair. You did an excellent presentation.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Maybe I can make it up to you. Do you know what the payload on our shot consists of? This is a sample.&” He pulled a device from his jacket pocket, about the size of a digipad. It was something sheathed between two planes of transparent plastic. There was a knob at the upper right corner. A square of something grayish-white filled the lower left corner. Gold took the knob and pulled diagonally away from the center, and the patch expanded to fill the space between the plastic covers. He released it, and it shrank back into the lower corner. He handed it silently to Skip.

“What is it?”

“New material, manufactured using nanotech factory methods. It’s two-dimensional microaccordian pleat. Tough, damned near tearproof. Absolutely airtight and vacuum qualified. It’s as helium-tight as mylar, but stretches and recovers like latex rubber. But it can’t stand excessive moisture or finger oils. Our tests can’t find a limit to its lifetime in space, but here on earth your touch will kill it. Gossamer. That’s the trade name they’re thinking of using for it.”

The lieutenant tentatively stretched it out an released it again. He smiled, an engineer’s informed joy at a new high-tech toy.

“Space rubber,&” concluded the officer. “What’s it for? Gaskets and seals?”

“Oh, no. There are cheaper things for that. This is expensive to manufacture, but it’s strong and light. We’re going to use it for balloons.”

“Why would you want balloons in space? To make visible tethers or something?”

“Nothing like that. Let’s say you want to get something into one of the Lagrange points—the stable L4 or L5 points, sixty degrees ahead of or behind the Earth in its orbit. You could use up a lot of energy and reaction mass blasting yourself into a hyperorbit to get ahead of or behind your position relative to the earth, dropping below or shooting up out of orbit. Then you have to use another blast and more reaction mass to stop yourself once you get there. It’s wasteful. You’ve just spent a lot of energy and mass to place yourself at exactly the same distance from the sun, at the same potential energy. If you were smart, you’d figure out a way to do it that would hardly cost any energy or reaction mass. Besides, the less mass you use, the less likely it is that something ill happen to fall into your Lagrange point and constitute an orbital hazard. The new Space Program emphasizes clean maneuvers.”

“I still don’t see how this helps.”

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About the Author

Stephen R. Wilk

Stephen R. Wilk is a physicist and engineer, and has been a Contributing Editor for the Optical Society of America for the past decade. He has a number of articles—besides technical publications—on history, mythology, and pop culture, and have two books out, one on mythology and one on optics. He’s had a number of fiction pieces published recently, including one forthcoming in Analog.

Story Discussion

Stories by Stephen R. Wilk

The Flight of the HANS PFALL by Stephen R. Wilk

The Flight of the Hans Pfall

“The Launch Site is five miles downrange,” explained the officer. “You can follow the liftoff in more detail in the monitor booth to the right, but most people just prefer to look through the observation window. The glass absorbs both the launch laser and the alignment laser wavelengths, so you don’t have to worry about stray reflections. Is this your first visit to Kantrowitz, Mr. Gold?”

“Yes,” said the older man, abstractedly, as he craned his neck to look around. “I’ve been to the complexes in Colorado and Nepal several times, but I haven’t had a chance to come down here until now.”

“Are you familiar with the Launch Process, then?”

“Well, why don’t you go over it for me.”

“Okay. You have a Payload in today’s pipeline, I understand. Do you remember your code number? Or… What’s the company name?”

“Gold Technologies—a very original name. I think the code is KL-55.”

The lieutenant quickly manipulated the touchmonitor. “That’s going up in just over two hours. By now your payload has been encapsulated in a Cone and set on its own Frustrum. It will be moving through the Pipe, waiting for its turn on the Pad. We use ordinary water ice for the Frustra, with a special mix of alkali salts and filaments to act as initiator sites for the Laser Sustained Detonation Wave. Before we switched to water ice we used plastics and gels, and we fielded a lot of complains about upper-air pollution from the U.N. and the Ecuadoran Ministeria.”

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