restricted access Chapter 9. Fun
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132 CHAPTER 9 FUN In years to come, as rockets crammed with earthlings come streaming toward the moon, the difference between holidaymaking and mass exodus will have to be nicely judged. There are getaways and getaways, and our lunar colonists will have to keep a weather eye out if they want to prevent being overrun. But let’s say for the sake of argument that there’s no nearterm stampede. Let’s say Earth somehow lurches along riddled with illness, a fabulous invalid like the theater. In that case there’ll be a line out the door at Silver Sickle Vacations. How the concept got started you’ll read in the brochure, so let me just summarize. In the 1920s, when paying customers were first cruising about in planes, the next leap of the mind was naturally putting them in space. There followed a raft of theories on how to do it, from experts, the lightly qualified and the loons, all covered with more or less equal Pope Brock ✴ 133 optimism in the press since they sounded equally farfetched. A Princeton physics professor foresaw a spaceship 110 feet in diameter with “a dozen or more cannons” firing from its sides, sufficient to send a raft of passengers on a two-month cruise to the moon and back. Why not? The man was a registered egghead. Didn’t Einstein work at Princeton? In the spring of 1927 the New York Times ran a feature about Russian plans to capture the moon-tour market led by one Ivan Fedorof of the All-Inventors’ Vegetarian Club of Interplanetary Cosmopolitans , “with several thousand members, using a new language based on five vowels and five mathematical signs . . . “[Fedorof] says that he will fly to the moon in September in an apparatus called a ‘rocket,’ 30 meters long, half airplane and half giant projectile. . . . After flying as an airplane to a height of 15 kilometers, the ‘moon machine’ will fold its wings, simultaneously exploding a terrific mixture of three secret gases in lateral cylinders opening toward the tail,” a self-relieving burst of such force as to drive it all the way to the moon. There the crew equipped with “novel respirators” would collect new gases “rendered breathable by a special plant,” thus allowing sufficient time to construct a terminus for a “future line of aerobuses.” To the degree that this scheme depended on secret gases, novel respirators and a special plant, there was room to doubt it. However, Germany’s premier rocket scientist, Max Valier, was said to be making the 134 ✴ FUN trip and, the Times also reported, the renowned Prof. Robert Goddard was conducting research along parallel lines. Such was the state of play in the 1920s. Vault forward nearly a century to the present, and what do we find? Mass-transit plans for outer space announced, canceled, re-announced and abandoned in half a dozen major nations while the Isle of Man, eager to shake its reputation as “70,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock,” aggressively courts the space industry with tax breaks. The projected costs and profits involved in lunar transportation are a pillar of cloud. In other words, although plans for things to do on the moon are in reach, or nearly, getting people there in bulk is still a crusher unless the space elevator works. Perhaps that’s overstating the case—I would expect some raucous jitneys to be running by then—but the fact remains that the hot science in moon transit has coalesced around a vertical railroad made of “buckyballs” rising 62,000 miles into the sky. “Buckyballs,” named for Buckminster Fuller, are carbon nanotubes of recent discovery; inside a dizzying shell of them passengers would ascend in a car along a thin diamond wire to a sort of platform . . . You know, I’ll just pass this from my imagination to yours. The point is that in the very long run the elevator would be safer and cheaper than a bunch of launches. At the top, passengers would change to moon taxis for the rest of the trip. Pope Brock ✴ 135 The usual corporate monoliths are behind this project, but it hardly signifies; the elevator is so much pixie dust to me. However, as the tour groups arrive—the moon at last!—I suddenly see it all perfectly. I can see myself, part of the herd reeling from the ride as we’re funneled through passport control . I see the armed immigration officers stationed in booths or...


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