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For All Nails #52: Rocket Science

Slave Lake District, Manitoba, CNA
15 May 1973

Huggins stared at the instrument for a long
time.  Finally it emitted an audible "ping".

"That way.  A strong signal, betcha we're
inside a kilometer."

Dudley whistled, and the dogs grudgingly began
to get in formation.  "You know, if I'm going
to help you find this thing, at some point you're
going to have to tell me what it looks like."

"Metal casing, size of a cricket ball.  If we're
lucky the fallscreen stayed on, and we'll see
a red cloth, size of a bedsheet.  Only red object
within hundreds of kilometers, excepting your
uniform of course."

Dudley made an odd clicking sound and they both 
hopped on to the back of the sled, Huggins just
in time.  Any further conversation was precluded
by barking.  After a moment Dudley steered a bit
to the right.  Huggins strained his eyes against 
the glare of the ice but soon picked out the spot 
of red.  The spot became a blur, and then a cloth 
flapping in the breeze.  They pulled to a stop a 
few meters away.  Under the fallscreen, half buried 
in the snow, was the predicted metal casing.

"Is it all right to pick up?  Not radiative or
anything?"

"Shouldn't be, not very, but wait a sec."  Huggins
routinely carried a radiativity detector, which he 
held gingerly in front of him as he approached the
object.  "The casing picks up a little bit from
freespace particles, but this is fine.  He leaned 
over and picked it up.  "This little toy has traveled
a long way, Constable."

"To Outer Space and back, unless I miss my guess.
Scientific experiments?"

"Much more prosaic.  Film.  Of some specific places
from 150 kilometers up."

"And which places would those be?"

"Oh, a mere field geologist like me doesn't need to know 
that.  I suppose if _I_ had a camera in polar orbit I'd start
with the German launch sites in Russia, and the Mexican
ones in Alaska.  I'm given to understand we have Puerto
Rico covered pretty well by airmobile.  You understand the
existence of such cameras is totally burn-before-reading
classified?"

"What is it they say?  Ten can keep a secret if eight of
them are dogs?  Let's get back, I'm sure someone's in a 
hurry to develop that film."

***********

Cocoa Beach, Georgia, CNA
17 May 1973

Diana Marilla Sterling was a happy girl.  Safe in her 
mother's arms, she could look at the pretty lights on
the machines all around the room.  Out through the window,
she could see the tall thing with funny white smoke coming
out of its bottom.  The men in the room were excited as
they talked and rushed around, but her mother and father
and Uncle Josh were right there with her and didn't seem
to be worried at all.  A word in her mother's conversation
suddenly caught her attention.

"Monkey?"  Diana had seen Monkey a few days before, and had
given her a piece of banana.  Monkey was nice.

"Yes, dear, the Monkey is up there in the Rocket!  She's
going to go for a ride, and splash in the water, and then
the sailors will find her and bring her back!"

"Diana go f'ride?"

"Someday, when you're older, dear.  Today it's the Monkey's
turn, then if all goes well your friend Christine will ride
in the Rocket next month.  Joshua, is there some sort of
advance sign-up for the Air Force Academy we should put her
down for?"

"If Diana is anything like her mother she won't need any 
help to do whatever she wants to do.  Of course when she's
older she may have to compete with male pilots as well..."

"I don't know, the Sweet Six are such a crowd favorite, along
with being smaller and _probably_ as good as any of the men.
I'm not sure the government wants to give up any publicity 
advantage these days.  I'm so proud of those girls..."

Diana's Daddy cut in with more words that she didn't understand.
"I only hope that we've given them enough shielding against
the freespace particles, Joshua.  You can call me a nervous old
man, but remember those secret Kramer reports I told you about.
Radiative materials are bad for gestating babies -- that's why
we switched to the space program, to get Shirley away from them.
We can be fairly sure these officers and gentlewomen aren't
pregnant, I suppose, but there's the possibility of damage to 
their germ plasm!  And until this next experiment comes 
back we won't know the energy of those freespace particles to 
plan for the shielding..."

Mommy patted Daddy on his bald spot.  "You're not that old, Charles,
but I think you _are_ a bit nervous.  After all, if anyone's germ
plasm was exposed badly over a lifetime, yours was, but just look
at what it produced -- this lovely little girl!"  

Mommy held Diana high in the air with both arms and smiled at 
her.  Diana smiled back.  Daddy smiled too.  They all waited for the
Big Noise that would mean that Monkey was starting her ride.

*****************

Aboard Private Yacht _Jonquille_
Barbados bearing WSW 110 km
17 May 1973

The ship-to-ship radio crackled.  "_Yacht ahoy!_"

"Should we answer?"  Astrid was monitoring the shortwave
for the NUBS World Service coverage of the launch.

"I think so.  The last thing we want is to annoy the Navy
on a day when they're nervous -- if we cooperate _slowly_,
we've still got a good chance of seeing something interesting.
I suppose I'd better talk to them..."

"Just _try_ to be a bit diplomatic, if you can, Phil--"

"_Yacht ahoy!_"

Phil flipped the transmit switch.  "Private Yacht _Jonquille_,
out of Miami, Captain Jackson.  Whom do I have the pleasure--"

"_HMCS Refulgent, Radioman Riley Walters.  _Jonquille_, this is 
a restricted area!_"

"In the middle of the high seas?  Over?"

"_Don't give me the innocent act, _Jonquille_.  You know the 
rocket test is today, and this is the landing area.  What are
you doing here?_"

"I'm on my honeymoon, if you must know, _Refulgent_.  I haven't
been paying much attention to the papers.  So a rocket is going
to land on us?  Do you think Lloyd's covers that sort of thing?
Over?"

"_I'm not laughing, _Jonquille_.  The Royal Confederation Navy 
_requests_ that you change heading to 310 and proceed under power
on that heading for the next hour.  We will monitor your compliance.
Refulgent over_."

"Heading 310 for one hour under power, we copy.  We're happy to 
help out the Navy, Radioman, any way we can.  Shall we let you know
if we spot any falling rockets?  Over?"

"_We've got it covered, _Jonquille_.  _Refulgent_ out_."

"_Jonquille_ out."

"Astrid, they don't want us here."

"No, they don't.  We must be pretty close to the target point at 
that.  How long until we develop engine trouble?"

"They have been sort of balky, haven't they.  Might cut out at
any moment.  When's the launch?"

"Twenty-four minutes, they just said, then fifteen more to get here.
If we stop in about twenty, they'll be pretty busy and might not get
around to checking back at all."

"And we'll have some nice pictures, and a radio log of their whole
recovery setup.  Not a bad day's work, my dear.  After this we should
take the next few days off."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

************************

Notes:

I believe the OTL USA used physical transport of film from satellites
before the bandwidth of digital transmission was adequate.  The film
drops are probably a stopgap until they can adapt telecopier technology
to replace them.  Though, with their relative lack of crypto, they may
like the security of a physical transmission.  Since the landing point
of an unguided re-entry vehicle cannot be predicted accurately, it makes
sense to land them in a very large uninhabited area.  RMC Constable 
Dwight Dudley and "geologist" Huggins appeared earlier in FAN #5.  

The CNA public space program is really quite similar to the OTL
USA's, for a number of reasons.  As the most media- and image-conscious
major nation, the CNA badly needs a public triumph to make up for
the Boricua disater.  Florida is their best launch site for weight-
limited large satellites (with the speed boost from launching east
near the equator), and trying an ape before a human and a suborbital 
flight before an orbital one strike me as no-brainers.  Of course no 
one in the CNA government acknowledges the military polar-orbit
satellite launches from Manitoba -- earlier in spring 1973 the CNA 
made the first _public_ satellite launch of any nation.

Shirley Gilbert married Dr. Charles Sterling only two months after they
met in June 1970 (#15) -- Diana was born in August 1971.  Their prime
research is freespace particles (called "cosmic rays" in OTL), the
best avenue for high-energy physics after Abramowicz refused to build
a mile-diameter circular trench for Sterling's proposed accelerator.

The CNA has female space pilots for a combination of technical and 
public relations reasons, including the success of the female RCAF
officer corps -- Matt Alderman will have to decide whether any of his
characters from the Academy (FAN #21a) have become involved in the space 
program.  [Note added later:  We learn about the first six space pilots,
including Matt's creation Ev Gilmore, in FAN #58.  Christine Lillehammer 
will become the first human in orbit on 17 June 1973.]
 
For the moment, at least, Phil and Astrid (from FAN #39) are freelance 
spies with the USM and KoS respectively as preferred customers.  They 
are currently taking a break from close study of Boricua, for both their 
honeymoon and a brief look at the CNA space program.

Dave MB