Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Double Review: Destination Moon and Space Platform

I recently read "Space Platform" by Murray Leinster and watched the movie "Destination Moon". I'm putting them both in the same review because they're both stories about the manned spaceflight as something we could do someday.

"Space Platform" came out in 1953. We were still 16 years from the moon and 8 years from even getting a human in space. So while there'd been lots of thought on the subject and a lot of fun had been had building rockets it was still science fiction. The story does a decent job with it's technical aspects, but the technology itself was a minor part of the story.

Our central character's family owns a significant machine shop. They'd gotten the contract to build gyroscopes for a spacecraft that would become the first space station. There was a lot of opposition to this space station. It would be a scientific outpost, weather observatory, spy satellite, and, worst of all, a nuclear weapons platform capable of striking anywhere. They'd tried to build it through the UN but the fighting from small, militarily aggressive nations kept it from going forward. Instead the United States pushed ahead on their own. This pissed off not just the small warlike nations that still wouldn't challenge the US, but the major opposition powers as well. If this space platform were built it would grant the US dominion over all life on Earth. They'd be able to retaliate against any attack or attack at will. Sabotage was the order of the day.

So our hero was on the plane transporting the gyros to the construction site when he was suddenly introduced to all I just said. The transport was fired on by multiple planes and was sabotaged to explode no matter what. The rest of the book talks about the ongoing battle against sabotage. Someone is leaking information, some people are blackmailed, there are assassination attempts against the staff, and just straight forward attacks on the rocket itself.

The movie "Destination Moon" relied heavily on author Robert Heinlein's input. Heinlein wrote the novella of the same name to go with the movie. Just as it sounds, the movie is about going to the moon. Instead of the military or NASA, it's one guy pushing all these corporate heads to starting their own project. Industry! It can always do thing better. As part of his sales pitch they show a Woody Woodpecker cartoon about space travel that could be shown in any school even today. There is a feeble effort by the government to stop the launch, but it's mostly there to add to the daredevil air of the engineers, corporate heads, and construction workers who fly the rocket. They kind of need that since the movie has no enemy other than the harsh reality of space flight. A slight hitch in the landing means that they may have to leave someone behind just to shed the weight.

I'm not crediting either of these with being masterpieces. They're not bad. Murray Leinster is no Tom Clancy. "Destination Moon" is a good clean, simple story that you'd feel good about letting your kids watch if you want them to grow up to be engineers. Both are good for the science fiction fan.

You can read "Space Platform" at Project Gutenberg or ManyBooks

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