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NO idea more startling in the history of our earth has been proposed than that put forward by Hermann Oberth, the German rocket expert. By sending a rocket aloft some four or five hundred miles above the earth and giving it a speed of about 5 miles a second, Herr Oberth states, the rocket will circle the earth until eternity without further expenditure of power! A Terrific idea, filled with the most stupendous possibilities for the people of the earth. It may revolutionize transportation, or warfare; it may even change the whole course of our lives.

But although it is an idea filled with the most aromatic and adventurous suggestions Mr. Sharp does not want to deal with them fantastically. He has written instead a story of intense realism sticking close to life and truth, with characters that live and breathe. And so he has made this story as vivid and understandable as is humanly possible.


While A World Waited Breathlessly The Satellite Went On and On, Repeating Its Circles of Doom!

CHAPTER I

JUST before they reached the front steps Professor Mullin stopped and touched Clifford on the arm.

"There is one man you must watch."

"Who?" Clifford asked, still occupied with the crisis ahead of him.

"Briggs. Rothberg calls him BB, but he isn't an air gun charge at all. He is buckshot with a full charge of smokeless powder behind him."

"Just what do you mean?" Clifford asked with interest awakened.

"Briggs is a keen chemist, maker of models for Rothberg's would-be inventors. He is Police Commissioner with a strong political influence and he is the husband of Rothherg's only daughter, ambitious and dangerous. Don't let him know how much money Rothberg is thinking of putting into your scheme."

"What does he look like?"

"Tall and unforgettable. Not much of a description, eh?"

"Well, I don't know about that. There aren't many men who are unforgettable as far as personal appearance is concerned."

"Briggs is. He'd impress the most phlegmatic; a deep growl, large protruding black eyes, overscored with crow feathers. He drops into these meetings sometimes. I hope he doesn't come in tonight, but if he does, ramble oil on some unimportant detail. He might queer your whole plan."

"Would Rothberg allow him to interfere?"

"No. Rothberg doesn't take dictation from anybody. But Briggs is buckshot, remember that, and I believe he suspects what's up."

They mounted the steps and followed a footman to a long room, down the center of which ran a polished table.

Clifford's zero hour was at hand. He knew by reputation every man around that table. They were all outstanding men in their particular fields of science. Directly in front of him sat J. G. Reed who had more than once startled the world with ideas of matter and space; next was Played who experimented with rockets; Stortz the astronomer who had at last proved the rotation of Venus; Gertz the electrical wizard; Curly, who had explained the apparent discrepancy in the ratio of gravitation between Mercury and the sun; Ralls, who had taken the new tidal theory of the formation of the earth and blown it to smithereens; Phillips who had set forth a complicated thesis which had grown out of Einstein's Relativity, and a half dozen others. At the head of the table was, of course, old Jacob Rothberg, who, with the magnet of his money and personality had assembled these filings from the fields of science.

Clifford caught the pale eyes of Professor Charles of Rothberg University appraising him. He felt a personal antipathy in that cold, passionless stare and it upset so he barely heard the opening of Rothberg's address. Even as he heard Rothberg calling upon him to explain his plan, he retained the uneasy sensation that the Professor was coolly dissecting him.

He shook oil the uncomfortable feeling as he rose and the double row of white {aces about the table turned toward him. His big moment was at hand. He started speaking looking straight at Ralls, for Ralls flourished upon his reputation as an iconoclast, and would, of course, maintain his position as a breaker of idols and a destroyer of dreams. Ralls' lean features were ravenously alert as Clifford began.

"Gentlemen, my proposal is to launch a ship just beyond the atmosphere so that it will form a satellite of the earth. It would need no refueling and no additional power, except that required to send cargo to and from the ship."

BACK of Ralls a door opened and through it a man glided cautiously, stopped and closed the door behind him. Undoubtedly it was Briggs. The man's whole appearance was strange and unforgetable.

Clifford hesitated, and then decided to go ahead and pay Briggs no attention; but he did not have an opportunity. Professor Charles rose, placed the tips of his long white fingers spiderlike upon the manuscript below him and cleared his stringy looking throat.

Clifford was taken aback at the double interruption and folded his arms and waited calmly for what the psychologist had to say.

"Mr. Peterson," Professor Charles whined in a high, fine voice, "How do you know, or we know, that it is possible to project a ship beyond the field of gravity of our earth?"

"Sure," Briggs growled in that deep bass of his, "That's the berries! All he wants is to spend some of the governor's money!"

Rothherg bitched about in his chair to face his son-in-law, but the hard stare in the penetrating old eyes brought only a stubborn resistance. Rothberg signaled unmistakably for Briggs to leave the room and fire flashed between the two as Briggs leaned casually against the marble wainscoating and extracted a cork-tipped cigarette and stuck it between his lips.

Rothberg half rose from his chair and roared, "BB you get out!"

Briggs drew himself erect, his cheeks flaming; then he sent a long cloud of defiant smoke in Rothberg's direction, shrugged his shoulders and growled in his bearlike bass:

"All right, governor."

Then he left the room.

Clifford turned his attention back to Professor Charles and continued.

"Of course it is impossible to fire any projectile totally beyond the earth's gravity. Newton has shown that each body in space is attracted to every other according to their masses and the inverse ratio of the square of their distances."

"So, so," the professor coughed slightly, then took his glasses from his nose and held them as a pointer in Clifford's direction as he continued. "But one can not get around the fact that you would have to send your ship tar enough from the earth to enter into cosmic space if it is to float continually without falling. How do you know that you can project anything that far? How do you know how far that is?"

Clifford tried to be patient, but it was quite evident that however eminent Professor Charles was in his own line, he knew very little of astronomy.

"Bodies do not float in space," Clifford began. "They are pulled toward each other. What keeps them from flying together in a huge mass is their velocity, which is much greater than that of a high-powered rifle bullet as it leaves the gun. They move with hurricanes of speed which would belittle cyclones. It is this that overcomes the pull of gravitation." He reached into his pocket and extracted a small rubber ball which was attached to a rubber string.

"You will notice when this little ball is idle it hangs toward the earth."

He began to whirl the ball around and around and it went humming over his head.

"When enough speed is attained gravity is overcome and the ball rises into the air. To make the illustration plain, let the string be the pull of gravity and my thumb he the sun."

He whirled the ball faster. The rubber string stretched, as he went on.

"When the speed of the ball increases, the orbit increases. It stretched the pull of the rubber 'gravity.' When the speed decreases the orbit narrows. This illustrates simply the forces which hold every body in space to its proper place.

"Any body moving around the sun with a speed less than 18.6 miles per second must have an orbit smaller than that of the earth, and one having more than 18.6 miles per second would have a larger orbit than that of the earth, while one with a velocity of exceeding 26 miles per second would fly away from the sun tor good.

"Now, suppose we fire a ship from the earth so that its speed is 18.6 miles per second. At that velocity it should pace the earth forever and apparently move across the earth's surface from east to west as the earth turns on its axis. That ship should make one trip about the earth every twenty-four hours."

A Gigantic Plan

HE paused and let the little rubber ball hang idly from its string as he glanced at the studious faces regarding him. Then his glance went back to Balls, who had leaned forward, elbows upon the table, chin wrinkled into the palms of his big hands, fingers working upon his lean cheeks. He was smiling tolerantly and yet there was something belittling in the expression of his eyes. He impressed Clifford as a strong man who had braced himself to wrestle with an iron weight and just discovered it was cork.

"Your illustration is interesting, but your astronomy is faulty," Rails drawled with rather a bored air. "Everything upon this earth is moving around the sun at a velocity of 18.6 miles per second. A ship placed just outside the earth's atmosphere and given that velocity and no other would fall at once."

Clifford saw his mistake. Certainly the ship would fall, and the flaw in his theory rattled him for a moment, so that he was unable to correct his error. While he strove for poise, the bulky, rather awkward form of Stortz hitched about and the big-faced astronomer smiled encouragingly. Clifford felt a rescue at hand.

"Mister Ralls," Stortz drawled in slow, rumbling accents. "Our young friend is not so very much in error. His mistake is starting with the wrong objects. It is not the gravity of the sun the ship must overcome, for that is already overcome through the inertia of the earth. Our problem is the law of small bodies moving around large bodies. Fortunately this simplifies, rather than complicates, the question. The ship need not be fired with a velocity of 18.6 miles per second to form a satellite of the earth, but with a speed of only 4.90 miles per second.

"While I don't want to lend my opinion, as yet, for or against this young man's proposal, I will state that Oberth, a German scientist, has given considerable study to the question of rocket ships, and he claims that he can develop a vehicle which will fly from Europe to America in thirty minutes, and he believes it possible to build a space ship which will travel at a velocity of about seven miles per second, almost double that required by the ship proposed.

"I might add that Professor R. H. Goddard, the American expert, has made a powder rocket which ejected gases of 8000 feet per second, and Opel claims to have invented a liquid three times as powerful as any powdered fuel, so our goal may not be so far off after all."

Ralls pursed his lips. Then he turned on Clifford.

"All right," he snapped, "Grant that your space ship can be shot with enough velocity to continuously circle the earth, how are you going to get your freight aboard? Even should you contrive to get the packages up there, don't you know that inertia would carry them on in orbits of their own without your ship?"

"My plan is to have a system of rockets at each city under the path of the satellite. These rockets would have compartments for storing mail and express and would be timed to be fired at the exact fraction of a second to make contact with the ship." "What is the need of a ship?" Rails interrupted. "The rockets would circle the earth of their own speed."

"With no ship," Clifford answered, "the packages could never be brought down at all. The purpose of the ship is to provide a buttress against which a timed discharge in the end of the rocket can be set off to kick loose the rocket at its destination. The ship, you understand, is not to be a container in the sense of an empty hull. It is to be a steel cylinder against which the rocket can be shot. These rockets will have clocks timed for the discharge of their gases and the rockets will be strongly magnetized, which will assist them in making contact with the ship and will hold them firmly in place until the reverse discharge takes place. The rockets are also to be equipped with folding helicopters, which will automatically extend and break the return fall so as to prevent injury to the rockets or buttress."


CHAPTER II.

Rothberg Speaks Out

HE paused again, for his words seemed falling on a cast iron personality. Balls was shaking his woolly head, and Clifford's heart sank as he saw affirmation of Rails' position in the faces of at least three of the scientists about the table. He hoped that Stortz would come again to his rescue, but the old astronomer, while still regarding him kindly, seemed lost in thought. His glance caught Rothberg, who had been sitting silently erect at the head of the table. His whole manner seemed suddenly changed. His eyes were sparkling and alive and he jabbed at a button beside his chair.

A girl came through a small door at the right. Clifford first took her to be Roth-berg's daughter, then he saw a stenographer's notebook and pencil, and he decided she was a secretary held overtime for this meeting.

She was neat, rather stylishly, yet quietly dressed, except for a dash of color at her neck and sleeves, and an orange sash caught about her slim waist. She took a small chair which Rothberg himself dragged toward her, and then opened her hook, giving the men about the table no more than a quick glance.

At the time she did not impress Clifford as being more than an ordinary pretty stenographer. He was not at all interested in her, but in what Rothberg was about to dictate.

"Crystal," Rothberg began quickly with a curtness in his tone left over from his conflict with Briggs. "Please take down these notes and ask Robinson to look over them with view of formulating a contract."

"Mr. Rothberg," Professor Charles was on his feet.

Rothberg glanced up and scowled.

"What is it, Professor?"

Again Professor Charles had his glasses between thumb and fore finger, pointing them this time at Rothberg.

"Have you taken into consideration the likelihood of a condition of neurosis in the applicant?"

Rothberg rose from his chair, and stepped to one side of it. Professor Charles sat down leaving his sentence incomplete, but still pointed his glasses as though holding them ready for instant use. Rothberg smiled tolerantly and Clifford knew the objection had fallen as lightly as dust.

"You sound too much like Freud," ...

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