The Outpost on the Moon can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry




ONE of the greatest arguments in favor of interplanetary travel comes from the lack of ability of our scientists to conduct complete studies of the heavens from the earth. The some blanket of atmosphere that protects us from the cold of outer space and deadly rays, also serves as a blanket against our telescopes and other instruments of observation.

What scientists would consider as ideal would be a place of observation with no air or dust whatever separating them from the heavens. Then the sciences of astronomy and physics would get a real impetus from the discoveries that would follow.

An outpost on the moon I would do all these things. And if the earth were men, aced by an unknown yet terrible danger from space, such an outpost would be not only a plaything of A science but a vital necessity to our race. Mr. Maxwell develops this theme in an exciting story of adventure and mystery that will take us to the furthest limits of the solar system.



IT was late on a Sunday afternoon in early I spring. Impelled by a feeling of restless loneliness, I had taken my little secondhand roadster for a drive. wandering at random over the highways, far from the city. The clay had been deceivingly mild. and I had left my overcoat at home; now the lowering sun and a chilling breeze forced me to head for my little third-floor room in the heart of the great metropolis. The numbness of my fingers and toes influenced me to discard the caution that crowded roads and hurrying cars require; my loot rested more and more heavily on the accelerator, until I was passing the traffic wherever an opening in the line of closely-packed cars presented itself.

The falling darkness brought with it a light rain which rendered the highways increasingly slippery, and as the approaching cars turned on their headlights one by one. the driving became very difficult. The pace I was taking was the height of folly, but I was cold to the marrow. and reason was swept aside in my hurry to reach the warmth which awaited. I rushed heedlessly past a sign which read "SHARP CURVE" and swung over to the left-hand side of the road in order to pass the car ahead of me. Too late I saw the coupe rounding the curve toward me. I could not drop back into line, there was not time to pass the car ahead; I must leave the road or crash. Instantly I chose the former alternative, swung my wheel hard to the left and jammed on my brakes. There was a moment of jarring over rough earth, a violent shock. and I was lying on the seat behind the twisted steering wheel.

It was one of those freak wrecks. The car was completely demolished, yet I had escaped without a scratch. I found myself unable to get out of the machine, which had hit a telephone pole and was so bent out of shape as to be almost unrecognizable. Pieces of glass lay all about me, yet not one had touched my skin. In fact, the only injury I could discover outside of a severe shaking-up was a slight bruise on my Mt elbow' While I was debating the best method of escape, I heard voices close to the car, and presently a head appeared through an opening in the wreckage of the top.

"Are you alive?" the owner of the head asked excitedly, and a bit timidly.

"Quite all right, thanks, but I can't get out," I replied. The head disappeared, and I heard a murmur of voices; people passing the news along to the constantly growing crowd:—"he's all right"—"nobody's hurt". Presently the man who had first spoken reappeared with a fence rail which he used as a crow-bar, prying open a hole large enough for me to get through, albeit with some damage to my clothes.

I found myself in the midst of a circle of curious passers-by, most of whom, to judge by their expressions. thought that I had got no more than I deserved. Perhaps they were right, but I hoped that at least one of them would forget his prejudice to the extent of offering me a ride back to the city. It was in thus looking over the crowd that my glance fell on a familiar figure. I recognized him almost immediately as Barton Wiley, a prominent physicist, who during my attendance at the City College had been a young instructor. That institution had now grown to the proportions of a good-sized university, though still retaining its original name; and with its rise Wiley had attained considerable fame through his experiments in electricity. He was now Professor of Physics. After thanking the man who had liberated me, I spoke to him.

"Do you remember me, Professor Wiley? George Marland—I was a graduate student at the City College nine years ago."

"Yes, indeed, Marland," he replied. "So it was you! Apparently the laws of man do not appeal to you as much as those of nature!" He laughed. "May I give you a ride back to town? I see you were in a bit of a hurry to get there." He indicated with a wave of his hand one of the autos parked alongside the road, and noting gratefully that it was a closed car, I accepted.

We climbed in, and he headed the car for the city. On passing through a nearby village, I made arrangements with the local garage-owner to collect such of my car as was worth salvaging and dispose of it to a junk-dealer for what it would bring.

As we proceeded toward the city, there was little conversation between us, the professor being intent on watching the road, and I had an opportunity to reflect on my acquaintance with him in the past. During my graduate work, I had come in contact with him often, and a friendship had grown up between us. He had urged me to accept a position as instructor at the college, but I had preferred to try my luck in the commercial world. He had remained to watch the growth of the College; and after an unsuccessful attempt to find work in the laboratory of some large corporation, I had drifted into the newspaper business.

My chief success in that line had been the writing of near-scientific articles for the Sunday supplements; hut I had wearied of the job, and tried my hand at one thing and another. The intervening nine years had passed quickly, and found me no nearer to fame and fortune than when I had graduated. Perhaps if I had followed his advice I should now he in a position comparable to his own. He was highly regarded in scientific circles for his research work in the field of electricity, and had made less known, though perhaps even more startling discoveries regarding the structure of the atom. Of his methods I knew little, but his results had often been published. He had succeeded in repeating the experiments of Rutherford, in which atoms of nitrogen were broken down into helium and hydrogen;: and it was rumored that he was working on the ever-fascinating problem of getting energy out of atoms. I welcomed an opportunity to talk over some of these matters with him, as presented by our present accidental meeting.

AS though my thoughts had suggested themselves to him, the professor turned to me.

"How about having dinner with me?" he asked. "Why not spend the evening? You must have had some experiences during the years since you left the College that would interest a man like myself, who never gets out of the laboratory except to teach classes."

I told him that I would be delighted, but that I was much more anxious to hear more of his work than to talk of my own fruitless efforts.

Accordingly we dined at a neat little restaurant close to the City College, near which he maintained his residence. Our conversation ran to pleasantries and topics of current public interest; by common consent we deferred deeper subjects until we had finish-ed the meal.

When we reached the professor's comfortable little apartment, and had lighted cigarettes and settled ourselves comfortably, I again broached the subject of his work. He said nothing for a moment, apparently lost in reflection.

He looked much the same as when I had seen him conducting classes; a tall man, of rather slight build, with regular features too large to be called handsome. His hair, now graying slightly, was, as always, perfectly combed; and in spite of his shell-rimmed spectacles and slight stoop, his appearance suggested rather the distinguished man of leisure than the scholar.

I was startled out of my contemplations by his voice, mild and slow, yet with great carrying power.

"I understand, Marland, that you are connected with a news agency, and if I remember rightly you have been the author of a number of articles purporting to describe the discoveries of research workers."

I nodded assent.

He continued, "In that case I should ordinarily have nothing to say. But since I take it that your question has been prompted more by a personal interest than by a desire for news, and provided that you give me your word that you will publish nothing I may tell you without my express permission, I shall be glad to talk over some of my experiments with you."

I assured him that whatever he said would be held as strictly confidential, and that my interest was purely that of a student of science in the work of a successful researcher. He smiled.

"I can hardly be called successful," he said. "For the most part I have merely done what others have done before me. There was considerable comment in scientific journals, I believe, over my attempts to change the structure of the nitrogen atom, which were in part successful. As you doubtless recall, the atom consists of a number of charges of positive and negative electricity. These normally neutralize each other; but occasionally a change in the number of negative charges, or electrons, as they are= called, takes place in the outer limits of the atom; one or more electrons may be picked up or lost, and the atom becomes an ion. This is of course familiar to you, but I am merely restating it in order that you may be prepared for what I am about to say.

"With the single exception of experiments like those I have recently performed, no one has been able to redistribute the protons, or positive charges. Of course, in the very heavy metals, such as uranium, radium, and the whole class of radioactive elements, this goes on spontaneously; the nuclei of helium atoms being liberated in the form of alpha-rays, and electrons in the beta-rays. But to do it artificially to any of the other elements, or to even speed up the spontaneous processes of radioactivity, is at present impossible."

I nodded, leaning forward interestedly.

"Even were this accomplished, it would not necessarily fault in the liberation of energy. That is not the end to which my efforts have been directed, contrary to certain reports. The aim of the modern alchemist—that of transmuting one element into another, such as mercury into gold—has been my field. As I say, I have as yet been unsuccessful.

"But let us suppose that one could, at his desire, separate the protons and electrons of an atom, and recombine them. It would be possible for such a person to make at will any element or chemical compound he wished, from any other; or perhaps to create a substance as yet unknown to us—a metal whose atomic weight was greater than that of uranium, for example. Such an element would probably be highly radioactive, if we may judge from the behavior of those radioactive substances already known."

"You mean," I asked, "that it would he possible in that manner to liberate the latent energy of the atom?"

"No," he returned, "that is not what I had in mind. But a substance so unbalanced in structure might easily be a storage battery, so to speak, of vast quantities of energy, which could be built up slowly and liberated quickly."

Less Than Nothing!

HE was silent for a moment, and I took the opportunity to ask, "What of your experiments in electricity?"

"That has been more of a hobby with me than a subject of real research," he replied. "The two fields are closely related, however. We know that electric charges are merely unbalanced proportions of electrons and protons, and that an electric current is nothing more than a stream of moving electrons." Again he paused for a moment, looking at me intently.

"Marland," he said, "If I remember rightly, you once remarked on the similarity of the behavior of astronomical bodies to that of electric charges of opposite sign, and asked whether it might not be possible to discover some sort of 'negative' gravity, which would repel, and be repelled by, matter as we know it. I answered you, I believe, by saying that the resemblance was merely superficial: and to prove my point I called your attention to the fact that when two charged bodies approach one another there is a redistribution of the electrons, which repel each other and consequently are driven to the far sides of their respective bodies; while no such redistribution takes place when two bodies are placed each within the gravitational field of the other. Since our discussion Einstein has brought out his theory on the interchangeability of gravity and electricity: and I have found, in the laboratory, definite corroboration of his views!"

He stopped, but I remained silent, knowing that he had not yet finished. Presently he resumed: "We believe that an atom—say of hydrogen, since it's the simplest of all—consists of a positive charge at the center, and a moving negative charge. We've assigned a pretty definite size and weight to the negative charge—the electron. But the hydrogen atom weighs nearly two thousand times as much as this electron, so we say that the difference must be in the proton; and to make it agree with our theories we say it has the same charge as the electron, but is much smaller. I know it sounds rather contradictory to say that the smaller body has the greater weight, but that's all covered in the electromagnetic theory of mass, some of which has been developed since your time.

"I fell to speculating on what would happen if the negative charge could be made smaller, and therefore heavier, or the proton larger and lighter. I devised some experiments along that line. and with rather startling results, I assure you. For when I succeeded in exchanging the weight of the proton and the electron I found that I had actually created a 'negative element'—one which weighed less than nothing! Continuing along this line, I made another curious discovery—that when a proton and an electron of the same weight are combined, their weight disappears entirely (though not their inertia); and furthermore, they absorb the force of gravity, so that matter made up of these charges, which I have called 'equi-protons' and 'equi-electrons', weighs nothing, and is a perfect insulator against gravity!"

"Like Cavorite!" I exclaimed. H. G. Wells' famous story, "The First Man in the Moon," flashed into my mind. Here was the very sort of thing that had enabled his heroes to make their voyage to our satellite. Why shouldn't his dream become a reality?

"No, not Cavorite." Professor Wiley's amused face brought me back to earth with a flush. "Wells' imaginary compound, if you will remember, was made into shutters fastened on the outside of his glass space-car. But, unfortunately, you can't make a gas into shutters. And that is what I have been experimenting with—hydrogen gas!"

I experience a feeling of bitter disappointment. Stories of trips through interplanetary space, independent of the attraction of the heavenly bodies as well as that of the earth, had always excited my imagination; and in the brief flight of fancy which I had just experienced, I had hoped to actually witness the accomplishment of this dream.

At length my thoughts returned to Wiley's remarks. I was curious to know something of the method by which he accomplished this wonderful thing. The explanation which he gave I shall not reproduce in detail, for many reasons; primarily because the process is not protected by patent; and also because the mathematics involved would be meaningless to the average reader. Let it suffice, then, that the procedure consisted in passing hydrogen ions through electric and magnetic fields of such intensity as had not been produced anywhere else on earth; and that, in the end, the dimensions of the proton were expanded to those of the electron. Then, their charges being equal and opposite, the respective weights became likewise. Wiley offered no explanation of the absorption of the force of gravity; he confessed frankly that it was beyond his ability to explain at present.

WHEN he had finished, speaking, I asked him whether he had tried the process on any substance other than hydro-gen-ions. He replied that he didn't believe it would work with any others, but that he intended experimenting with helium shortly.

"You see," he explained, "there are electrons and protons bound together in the nucleus of the atom; and you can't very well affect one without affecting the others." However, he said, he proposed to run the test on a number of common elements, including some of the lighter solids. In response to my eager questions, he admitted that should one of these last behave in the same manner as hydrogen he would indeed have a substance similar to Cavorite.

"But," said Wiley, "If it should turn out, I'd have to keep it dark, else some idiot would want to start right off on a trip to Mars. Of course, no one with sense enough to know the danger would think of it; and it would take a man who realizes the danger and who understands astronomy to carry it through successfully. Yet there's always some fool ready to try it. He'd undoubtedily be lost, thereby giving the hopes of those who might be competent a severe setback."

"Not necessarily," I exclaimed. "Why, I'd be glad to undertake the trip; I've studied astronomy enough to plot my course."

"You!" exclaimed Wiley.

"And why not?" I demanded. "After all, I've been enough of a failure at everything else to deserve a chance at success in this. And I've no connections, no property—nothing at all to tie me here to the earth."

Wiley regarded me steadily for perhaps a minute, before speaking.

"Well," he said at length, "we've let our fancies run away with us, since the success of the vital element hasn't been tested yet. Our gravitation-screen is merely an idea so far." This was obviously intended to discourage me and divert my attention from the question of a trans-ethereal flight. His next words, however, assured me that he expected success.

"If I were you," he said, "I should let the matter drop. In time it will be accomplished, but one is foolhardy to anticipate developments. The first aviator didn't set off for Paris; he left that to a man better trained, and with the equipment and experience developed through a quarter of a century."

"True enough," I answered. "The Wright Brothers didn't set off for Paris; but they flew as far as they could. A flight to Mars would perhaps be too much at present; but why not a trip to the moon—only a two-hundredth part of the distance?"

"What would be the object of that?" asked Wiley.

"What was the object of the Wrights in flying their few miles?" I retorted. "To show the world that it could be done. and to encourage others to try it."

"Perhaps you're right." he said slowly. "But I must have your promise to say absolutely nothing of what we have discussed tonight."

—"Given—on condition that you keep me informed of your progress in your experiments," I replied.

We agreed, and I departed exultantly, for I knew from his manner that he would be successful if he made the attempt to produce the gravity-resisting solid; and I knew also that he would never allow the opportunity for such a discovery to escape him.

But my thoughts were turned away from Wiley and his experiments in an unforeseen manner. When I reached my residence I found a call from the chief of my news bureau. There were reports that China had declared war on Russia; the Washington office was short-handed, and I was ordered to catch the first train there to cover developments. I hastily packed a suitcase, caught the midnight train, and reported for duty shortly before nine the next morning.

During the next two weeks I found plenty to occupy my mind. I was new at the task of reporting political news; consequently I spent hours where more experienced men would have taken minutes, searching in vain through the dark halls and airy rooms of the big State, War, and Navy building for someone with both authority and inclination to speak; attending conferences at the White House in company with a dozen or more representatives of rival press agencies; or waiting in the anteroom of the State Department's press bureau for a mimeographed "handout" radioed from the Consul General at Shanghai.

News is no respecter of the clock, and coming as it did from the other side of the world, it happened as often as not that the most important developments were reported to the national capital in the small hours of the morning. Time and again my slumber was broken by phone calls from the indefatigable chief of the Press Bureau, informing me that a statement was being prepared.

It was after such a night, spent in trying to beat rival reporters to the wire, that I returned to my room and found a letter bearing Wiley's name above the return ad-drss. I tore it open and read it at a glance:

"Dear Marland:

"After trying unsuccessfully several times to reach you by phone, I was informed by your office that you were in Washington covering the Russo-Chinese outbreak and were apt to be there for some time. I had hoped to see you soon; but I trust you will communicate with me immediately upon your return.

"Referring to our conversation of the other night, if you will some to my laboratory at your earliest convenience I may be able to show you something of interest.

"Cordially,
"Barton Wiley."

He had succeeded!


CHAPTER II.

Success!

WILEY'S letter filled me with an immense impatience to see him at once. A leave of absence from my duties at this time was out of the question; the only remaining alternative was to resign. I gave notice, and waited with what patience I could muster until a man had been found to fill my place. meanwhile notifying Wiley of my intentions.

Upon being relieved from duty, I caught the first train, and hastened to the laboratories of the City College. I found my friend making preparations for another of his innumerable experiments, but on seeing me he dropped everything and, dismissing his assistant, led me to a corner of the room where there lay a heavy box, apparently fastened firmly to the floor. I could feel a strong draft of air rising about it, and as he unlocked it, the lid flew back apparently of its own volition. Observing my surprise, Wiley explained these phenomena.

"As you probably surmised," he said, "I have been successful. I have in this box a plate which is perfectly impervious to the force of gravity. Nothing above it has any weight; hence the vertical air-current and the lightness of the lid."

He reached into the box and brought out what appeared to be a square of blackness, and laid it on the table. Do not misunderstand me; it did not in the least resemble a piece of black wood or metal; there was no reflected gloss, no appearance of solidity; it was as though I was looking into a bottomless hole in the laboratory table, and the effect was heightened by the strong upward draft. I commented on this, and again Wiley satisfied my curiosity with a simple explanation.

"The color of this substance differs from what we ordinarily refer to as "black' in that it absorbs practically all of the light which strikes it," he said. "Ordinarily black paint reflects enough light to make it visible, but the human eye is unable to detect any reflection from this. There is no visible surface, and therefore nothing from which to judge its location. The effect is the same as that of looking into an unlighted hole."

I was struck by another thought. "If the air above it has no weight," I said, "won't it escape into space?"

"I hardly think so," he answered. "This plate is six inches square, and removes the influence of gravity from a column that large directly over it. -However, as the air arises, it expands equally in all directions, and the greater part by far is forced out over the ground again. There are probably strong currents high in the atmosphere which blow the rising air out of line with this gravity-resister. Then, too, think what an infinitesimal portion of the globe it covers; all the rest is free to attract the air after it gets a little way up."

"One more question," I said. "Why doesn't the plate itself fly upward?"

"I took the precaution to cement it to a sheet of iron, on the under side," said Wiley.

For a few moments he demonstrated the peculiar properties of his discovery; holding objects above it and allowing them to rise until stopped by the ceiling, where they remained until he slid the black plate from beneath them, or juggling them up and down by passing it back and forth, allowing the force of gravity to act intermittently.

At length he returned the plate to its box, pushed down the lid and fastened it. Then he faced me.

"Marland," he said gravely, "think of the possibilities of this discovery as applied to aviation." He paused to let his words take eliect; then he continued: "Suppose an airplane were equipped with enough of this material to make its weight practically nothing. The wings could be reduced to a size sufficient to direct its flight upward or downward, such as the ailerons at present employed. The air resistance would be cut down enormously and the motive power could be increased almost indefinitely, since the weight of the engine would cut no figure. Think of the great air liners it will be possible to build! Ships carrying thousands of passengers, tons of freight, around the world—anywhere!"

It was a glowing picture he painted. Carried away by his own thoughts, he enlarged on the idea.

"A plane could rise high into the thin atmosphere many miles above the earth, and there attain such a speed as would carry it across the Pacific in a few hours!"

These Words brought forward again the idea which had lingered in my mind since our previous talk.

"What's to prevent such a plane heading straight up and flying off through space to the moon?" I asked. Wiley': face became grave, and he considered for some time before answering.

"Nothing," he said at length. "I could depend on you to think of that again," with a smile. "But there are a few practical objections to the idea. Suppose you did head straight up and leave the earth; how would you steer so that you would land on the moon?"

"A matter of starting in the right direction," I replied. "Alter leaving the atmosphere the plane would continue in a straight line until stopped by some other force."

"Such as collision with the surface of the moon?" asked Wiley.

"Exactly," I replied, "though the contact should not be violent enough to cause a wreck."

"And to avoid a wreck you must either slow down before landing or start at a low enough speed so that a direct collision would not injure the plane. I am not an astronomer, but I do know that the moon's atmosphere, if any, is so thin as to go undetected by any means known yet. Too thin to slow down in, at any rate. If you adopt the other alternative—start at a speed oi, say, five miles an hour—how long would it take you to make the journey?"

"About 48,000 hours; that is, 2,000 days, or roughly five and a half years," I said, calculating mentally.

"RATHER a tedious journey," commented Wiley. "And when you had landed, how would you return, with no atmosphere to start m?" He smiled. "Better stick to the earth, Marland, and leave your interstellar voyages to the future."

"But we haven't exhausted the possibilities yet," I protested. "There are other means of motive power than a gasoline engine and screw-propeller. For instance, suppose the plane were built like a rocket, with discharging explosives to drive it. It would be possible to start and stop in a vacuum then."1

"Newton's third law of motion states: "To every action there is an equal and contrary reaction, or the two actions are equal and opposite." The small mass and great velocity of the discharged explosive are equal to the larger mass and smaller velocity of the rocket.

"Perhaps so," agreed Wiley. "It would require a considerable amount of gunpowder to give you much initial velocity, though, and the same amount to stop. Then to go back you would require still more."

"Only half as much as you think," I replied. "To start off, it would only be necessary to interpose the gravity-screen between the earth and yourself; the centrifugal force of the earth's rotation would do the rest. At the equator you could start off with' a velocity of a thousand miles an hour, and less as you liked from a higher latitude. Returning with Lhe same velocity you need only turn the gravity screen toward the earth, and the atmosphere would soon stop you. The discharge would be necessary only on the moon."

"Right again," said Wiley. "You know, Marland, you're beginning to convince me of the practicability of this idea of yours. The other factors are not insurmountable', light, heat, air, and food. They've been worked out by submarine builders." He arose and paced the floor nervously, then faced me.

"Do you really mean you'd care to try try it?" he demanded.

"Wiley," I said, "there'd be no better man for the job. I've been a failure so far. I've nobody to care what becomes of me if I shouldn't come back, and it would be a great help to science if I succeed. I'll start the instant you give your consent."

He shook his head doubtfully.

"I couldn't let the credit go to someone outside the College," he said. My hopes fell as he continued, "After all I made the trip possible, and I ought to take charge of it." He regarded me quizzically. "But I'll need an assistant who knows astronomy. I can make a job for you in the Physics Department; Cosmic Research, shall we call it? You'd have to teach a couple of classes. "What do you say?"

"Accepted!" I exclaimed. "I could ask nothing better. When do we start?"

"We start, if ever, when I have convinced the Trustees of the College of the advisability of financing us." was the reply. "We can't build our machine on knowledge and hopes. But your first duties will be to make complete specifications for the machine and a map of our course. I haven't the time, and your knowledge of Astronomy is much better than mine. I'll leave it to you."

Wiley had put it up to me squarely to get the plan into presentable form, and I resolved to do my utmost. The first problem was to determine the course we must take in order to reach the moon. To the layman it might appear to be a simple matter of waiting until our satellite was directly overhead and starting off, leaving ihe rest to gravitation. But such a course would probably have ended in our being reduced to gaseous elements in the sun, or freezing and starvation as we drifted further and further away from the solar system.

The centrifugal force which would set us free would send us in a direction tangent to the earth's surface. To an observer beneath us at the moment of our departure we would appear to rise nearly vertically for a time, drifting more and more to the west; and if he were to follow us with a telescope we would disappear below the western horizon, or "set", as does the sun. Twenty-four hours after our departure he would find us almost due east of himself, several thousand miles away.

supposing that we started from our own latitudes, our initial velocity would be approximately seven hundred miles per hour. Our course would be bent slightly upwards that is, away from the earth's surface—by the buoyant force of the atmosphere on our weightless car, but once free of the air our course would be a straight line. My problem, then, was to determine our ultimate direction, and time our departure so that we would meet the moon at whatever point on its orbit we might choose. The journey would require a little over fourteen days.

Patient Plans

I NEXT turned my mind to the design of the car in which we would travel. The first consideration was its shape. The gravity screen was difficult and expensive to make, so that the smallest surface possible mas desirable. This of course suggested a sphere with its surface covered by the gravity-opaque substance. It was necessary to remove the screen at times, in order to land; hence the screen was to be divided into hemispheres, one of which could be slipped above the other.

A second requisite was that the hull of the car must be strong enough to withstand the shock of the innumerable tiny meteorites which fall with great velocity near the earth, and are destroyed by the atmosphere, but which would strike our craft when free of the protecting air. High-grade armor steel seemed suitable.

Next, we must have a means of swinging the moving half of the gravity screen from beneath us, such as an electric motor; and we must have light and heat. Storage batteries seemed desirable as a source of energy, as their weight was no objection. Then there must be a means of keeping the air in the car breathable. This could he accomplished by driving the stale air through limewater, and heating potassium chlorate to liberate its oxygen from combination.

Then there must be the means of stopping. By storing hydrogen and oxygen at high pressure and burning them in the right proportions, steam under tremendous pressure would be generated; and this, directed as desired by nozzles, would stop the car by the recoil of its departure. I determined on hydrogen and oxygen as an explosive mixture because of the convenience of storing large quantities and the relatively great energy of their combustion. Last of all there was the matter of storing sufficient food and water to last us during the trip. In addition to the four weeks in making the journey, we would spend some time in exploring the surface of the moon, and the return.

I had entered on my duties as assistant instructor, which consisted of taking charge of a few laboratory and recitation classes each week. The remainder of my time was spent in the physics laboratories, surrounded by drawing instruments, reference books, and reams of paper with calculations, drawing up plans and specifications, mapping our course and compiling data to present to the Board of Trustees. During several weeks I scarcely ate or slept, and when at length the task was finished, I showed the results of my work to Wiley with considerable satisfaction.

In their final form, the plans called for a steel shell twenty-five feet in diameter, which was to be lined with asbestos. Inside this was to be a second shell, with the space between the two allotted to the storage of the hydrogen and oxygen. The inner shell was also to be lined with asbestos, and have fastened to it the storage batteries and tanks of water, compressed air and purifying chemicals. Next. inside these, were to be cupboards for storing food and such equipment as we took along.

All this occupied a considerable portion of the interior of the shell, leaving us but a small space in which to live. but with the idea of economy I had purposely made the machine as small as possible. I had included in my plans a sort of "diving apparatus" with which to leave the car through an airlock which provided the only means of entrance and exit. In the outer door of the airlock was the one glass window, or port-hole, I had allowed. More than this I had not deemed advisable because of the possibility of their being broken by meteorites. It could be covered with a steel cap and need be exposed only for the time necessary to make observations. The inner door of the airlock could be left open when the porthole was in use.

Wiley went over my drawings carefully. reading the specifications and estimates.

"You certainly seem to have considered everything," he remarked. "I see you're quite an astronomer; your explanation of our course would be clear to anyone. These data will help me to put the proposition up to the Trustees in a convincing manner." He put the sheaf of papers and drawings in his desk, adding: "From now on it's up to Inc to put it across. I've been talking to the head of the Physics Department, Dr. Willson, and he'll back us. Heftner can't see it at all, but you know how those old-time astronomers are. He predicts that we'll land on the sun, if we ever leave the earth, and he's refused to give us any help in the matter. But we don't need him, as Radner has agreed to check your calculations, if necessary, and give us any information we want regarding the position of the planets."

"They're allowed for," I replied, "though I'd be glad to have him go over my figures. But do you think it's a good idea to talk about this plan to so many people? Don': you think it would be better to keep it a secret, at least until we're reasonably sure of success?"

"I haven't mentioned it to anyone outside the faculty," replied Wiley, "and I meant to caution you not to. By all means we must keep it dark. Too many men have become the laughing stock of the world over their fruitless attempts to plan to do what we plan, and publicity would only bring ridicule."

During the ensuing days I waited with considerable impatience for the meeting of the Board of Trustees. I devised, in my mind, a thousand plans for financing our trip independently should the Board turn us down, mentally resorting even to speculation in the stock market and bank robbery; but the more I thought on the matter, the more obvious was the conclusion that we must be backed by the College or not at all. You may imagine with what eagerness I waited for news from Wiley when, on the second of April, he went before the Board of Trustees with our plan. During my morning quiz I found my thoughts miles away from the classroom, and twice caught myself marking "A" opposite the name of a student who reported himself unprepared. At length I dismissed the class early, and waited in the office of the Physics Department for a phone call from Wiley.

It was an hour before the bell rang; but even as Wiley spoke my name, I knew the outcome.

"Marland, we win!" And he banged up the receiver.


CHAPTER III.

First Flights

OF THE bustle and feverish activity of the next few weeks I remember few details. Wiley and I spent most of our time in the laboratory making the gravity screen, as we would not trust the precious formula to anyone else. The contract for the outer steel was let; and arriving in due time it was subjected to every test the Physics Department could devise. Occasionally Wiley or I took time to supervise some detail of the installation of tanks, batteries and such equipment. There were many delays. A whole shipment of plates for the batteries' was defective and had to be replaced; the cement which we had ordered to fasten together the plates of the gravity-screen was lost in transit; and the plate glass porthole had to be trimmed down to fit the frame. An unforeseen difficulty, due to our lack of knowledge of diving apparatus, arose when we tested out the special suits in a vacuum chamber. They enabled us to breathe as we had expected; but the pressure of nearly fifteen pounds per square inch stiffened out the fabric so that we could not move. the difficulty being solved by placing metal joints at the shoulders, hips, elbows and knees.

The school year was over, and it was early summer, before the car was completely assembled. Neither Wiley nor I taught any classes in the summer school, so our entire time was devoted to the examining and testing of the car. I was impatient to begin our trip at once, but Wiley more prudently planned to make a series of test trips, cruising above the atmosphere for awhile in order to determine the behavior of the ship while actually free in space, and to make observations on the number and size of meteorites encountered.

Our first trial trip nearly resulted in disaster. The car had been carried to a field outside of town, and after a final inspection we entered, closed the airlock and put the gravity screen in position. The sensations were exactly opposite to what one might expect after having ridden in high-speed elevators, for with the force of gravity suddenly cut off from beneath us we felt as though we were dropping rapidly an immense distance, there being only the slight acceleration caused by the buoyancy of the car to hold us to the floor.

We promptly opened the porthole and found ourselves already some distance above the ground (as we could tell only by the proximity of the clouds, since our view below was cut off). We quickly passed through these, and by the blackening of the sky above us we realized that the air was becoming extremely thin. Soon some of the brighter stars were visible. Almost overhead I recognized Capella, the twinkling diamond of our winter nights, and well to the east, nearly lost in the sun's glare, was Mercury, the most elusive of the planets, whom many die without seeing.

As the diffusion of light by the air grew less and less the sky was soon studded with stars, and by reference to our watches we saw that we were nearing the upper limits of the atmosphere. Presently we began to hear occasional light taps on the shell of the car—falling meteorites of minute dimensions which had not yet penetrated the protecting blanket of air far enough to be burned by the heat of their passage. We closed the cover of the porthole for safety and listened to the slowly increasing patter of these wandering particles of metal and volcanic rock. Occasionally one, louder than the rest, denoted our collision with a stone of appreciable dimensions, and once a loud crack and noticeable jolt accompanied the fall of a fair-sized meteorite.

At length Wiley decided that we need go no further from the earth, and reached for the switch which rotated the moving half of the gravity-screen from it's position beneath us. Hardly had he made the contact, however, when the car lurched violently to one side and capsized, throwing us into a heap with all the movable objects in the car in one corner.

For a moment I thought we had been struck by a large meteor, but presently I realized what had happened. Imagine that you have a ball balanced on one finger. If you move your finger to one side, the ball promptly tips to the other side and falls off. That was what had happened to us. The lower half of our spherical screen had been moved, and the moment the force of gravity look hold of the edge of the car, it drew that side down sharply, upsetting the car, and turning everything in it upside down. We were diving head first toward the earth.

I scarcely had time to be grateful that there were some fifty miles between us and the ground when a new danger presented itself. The interior of the car was becoming uncomfortably warm, due to the friction of the air as we passed through it with increasing speed. The mental picture of ourselves landing on the earth reduced to cinders in the midst of a blazing steel meteor galvanized me into action. I reached for the switch with the idea of turning the gravity screen into position, but the futility of that soon became apparent. The shock of the upset must have jammed it open. Then I remembered the tanks of hydrogen and oxygen. Shutting off the current from the motors which controlled the gravity screen, I reached for the valves, turned the gas into the nozzles beneath us and shot an electric spark across them. There was a sharp report, a roar, and I was again precipitated to the bottom of the car as the recoil of the burning gases checked our fall.

We were saved from destruction by falling or by incineration, but there was still 1 difficulty. Where, and on what, would we land? I could see only one way to answer this question. After we had dropped slowly for several miles, I shut off the gas and opened the porthole for a look. All I could see, however, was a bank of clouds" brilliantly illuminated by the sun. I must wait until we were nearer the ground. According I again opened the gas valves, braced myself and touched the igniting button.

WE fell several miles more, slowly passing through rarer layers of the atmosphere, until I estimated we were close enough so that I could see where we were. Moving as quickly as possible I cut off the gas and opened the porthole. By pressing my face close to the glass I could see the city several miles to the east, with the silver thread of the river winding close to it. This offered an idea; if I could maneuver the car to a position over the water and drop into it there would be little danger. I closed the porthole and started. the gas, this time from the nozzles to the west as well as below -me.

My next observation showed that we were nearly over the river and about a mile high. I allowed the ear to descend slowly until it was only a few feet above the water, then shut off the gas entirely. There was a shook as we hit the surface of the river; then, after all motion had subsided I opened the porthole once more, and the darkness outside told me that we were' resting on the bottom.

During our headlong descent I had not had time for more than a glance at Wiley. He had been lying amidst the pile of loose objects which had tumbled about the car on the way down. quite unconscious. I found a large bruise on the back of his head. but apparently he was only stunned, as his respiration and heart action were normal. I found some water in one of the tanks and bathed his head. Presently he came around and sat up. rather unsteadily. "Still alive, at any rate." he observed dryly. "What happened? Did we hit a meteor?"

I explained briefly. He nodded, and made a hastly inspection. Apparently satisfied, he turned to the switchboard again with a warning to hang on. By means of the gas jets he again capsized the ear so that the gravity screen was beneath us, and with the aid of more gas we burst through the surface of the water and into the sunlight. We effected a safe landing on the field, to the surprise of the few mechanics and assistants waiting for us, who had witnessed our drop into the river; and that night found us again in the laboratories of the College, bruised and shaken but still full of impatience to undertake the journey.

Before making any further trips it was apparent that we must change the design of the gravity screen. The simplest solution appeared to be that of making it in the form of four quarter-spherical surfaces mounted on common bearings, so that they might be manipulated to expose any portion of the car in any direction. They could now be moved apart separately from the lowest portion of the car so as to expose equal portions on either side of the center of gravity. This design possessed the added advantage of stable equilibrium, since if the car should turn to either side, more of that side would be covered by the gravity screen and tend to rise.

The new screen was completed and put in position on the car. Thereafter on our test trips we met no more mishaps from this or any other source, nor did we discover any injurious effect from drifting for hours free of the earth's gravitation. At length we were satisfied that our car would make the trip without mishap, and there remained only to load it and wait for the moon to reach its proper position. We had decided that the most advantageous time to land there would he at the full. When our tests were completed it was nearing the full late in August, and since we would require two weeks to reach it, we must start at the next new phase. During the two weeks that remained we busied ourselves in stocking the cupboards with every imaginable kind of canned and condensed food, reading matter, and similar supplies.

Finally all was in readiness. Toward sunset of a clear autumn afternoon Wiley and I bade farewell to those few of the College faculty who were in town and proceeded to the field where the space-traveling sphere awaited us. Wiley appeared as calm as though he were about to take a Sunday afternoon drive, but I must confess that I felt considerable nervousness. We had regulated our chronometer to a fraction of a second, and as the orange disc of the setting sun touched the horizon we entered the car and bolted the airlock fast. Wiley took his position by the switchboard, while I kept watch on the chronometer. At seventeen minutes, thirty-two seconds after sunset he closed the switch that sent us on our way, with that now familiar sensation of dropping.

We kept the porthole open until we had left the atmosphere, in order to verify our direction; then, when the slowly-passing stars had shown that we were headed for the position the moon would take two weeks hence, we closed the steel cap over the glass and resigned ourselves to hours of reading and sleeping punctuated by occasional meals and observations of the stars. We agreed that one of us should always remain awake, though for what purpose it would be hard to say, since there was no navigating to be done.

We had provided ourselves with shoes having magnetized steel soles in order that we might have some footing, for, being insulated from the attraction of all the heavenly bodies, there was not even enough gravity to hold water in a glass. Because of this, an amusing spectacle presented itself when either of us went to sleep. Following our terrestrial habits, we lay down to rest on whatever surface of the car appealed to us, but the slightest movement was sufficient to send our heads away from the wall of the car while our feet, anchored by the magnetic shoes, held fast. One was apt to find himself in any fantastic attitude when he awoke. The sight of the waking person was even more grotesque, especially if he happened to be on the opposite side of the car, for then the sleeper apparently hung head down in peaceful repose. We had brought along a camera and a supply of films, and I used several of these making time-exposures of Wiley in various attitudes, none of which, unfortunately, turned out well.

Nearing the Moon

TEN days dragged by, marked only by the hands of the clock, before the first event of real interest occurred. We now left the porthole open continuously, since the danger from falling meteorites was small, due to their lesser velocity at this distance from the earth, and while looking through it at the stars at Wiley slept, I noticed a thin crescent of light on the outer edge of the steel frame, of the glass—the rays of the moon. By a simple triangulation I computed its position with respect to our own, and knowing our respective velocities, verified my expectation that we would cross its orbit as it reached the full phase.

From then on, Wiley and I watched the progress of the reflected rays down the flame of the glass until, by pressing our faces close to the opening, we could see the edge of the sunlit surface. It resembled the moonrise on a dusty evening, its color being a dirty orange, and the disc was much larger than as seen from the earth. It was already near the full, but since we saw it from a different angle than terrestrial observers, only a little over half the surface visible to us was lighted by the sun. The mountain ranges near the terminator (the dividing line between sunlight and darkness) were plainly visible, as they are seen from the earth through a small field glass, and by employing the powerful binoculars we had brought we reduced its apparent distance to about thirteen hundred miles.

Because of the small size of the glass porthole we were forced to take turns observing it, and while Wiley was using the binoculars I checked our position. We were about forty thousand miles from the moon and had completed five-sixths of our journey. At this point the attraction of the moon would overcome that of the earth, and we would fall toward it unless we turned the gravity-screen' to that side of the car. This would of course cut off our view of the moon, except for an occasional necessary glimpse while landing, when the screen would have to be opened for a moment.

I was about to call Wiley's attention to this when he uttered an exclamation.

"Marland, GUIDE have a look," he called. I hurried to the glass and he moved aside. handing me the binoculars. I examined the visible portion of the moon's surface but could see nothing out of the ordinary. I was about to say as much, when he directed: "Look on the dark side, near the south pole."

I turned my glasses2 toward the lower portion of the globe. There, perhaps a sixth of the distance from the equator to the pole-and almost on the terminator was a tiny speak of light, barely distinguishable even to my excellent eyes, and all but lost in the glare of the sunlight on nearby mountain peaks. At first I though it might be an illusion in the glass, but I was struck by the peculiar color of the light—blue, or blue-green, with perhaps a slight yellow tinge; but entirely out of keeping with the surroundings. Even as I looked more closely, it faded into the line of sunlight and was invisible.

2: The glasses were of course erecting glasses, differing in this respect from astronomical telescopes through which inverted photographs of the moon are made, giving the impression that the moon is "upside down," with the south pole at the top of the picture.

"Did you see it?" asked Wiley.

"I did," I replied, "but it is gone."

"Gone out!" he exclaimed.

"No," I returned, "it crossed the terminator and was lost in the sunlight."

"Impossible!" exclaimed Wiley. "How could it have crossed the terminator? It was miles away when I saw it. Besides, how could a volcano move?"

"Volcano!" I exclaimed. "Do you think it was that?"

"What else could it be?" he demanded.

"Then why wasn't it seen before this from the earth?" I asked.

"Plenty of reasons," he returned. "In the first place it was so faint as to be almost invisible, although we have no atmosphere between it and ourselves. The distortion produced by the earth's atmosphere would make it invisible. If not, it might easily be hidden by a range of mountains; you forget that we see the moon from a different angle now. And finally, it may not have existed before now!"

He ...

This is only a preview of this story. The site administrator is evaluating methods to bring it to you.