Thursday, November 10, 2016

Still Riding the Gray Planet

Conflict, combat, even war in outer space against the Russians always seemed like a real possibility and may yet come to pass.  That big spinning wheel of a space station might be built.  The asteroid belt probably does contain a plethora of rocks worth fighting for. In my mind, I was about 10 when I first read this book, but the bibliography shows that I was closer to 15.
  • Rip Foster in Ride the Gray Planet by Blake Savage, Western Press, 1952
  • Assignment in Space with Rip Foster by Blake Savage, Whitman Publishing, 1965
  • Rip Foster in Ride the Gray Planet by Blake Savage, Western Golden Griffon, 1969

First Edition
In the narrative, the astronomy and physics are explained, but with World War II still close in the past, and the Cold War and the Korean police action in the news, the military details required no spoken footnotes.  That said, it was only during my re-reading last week that I actually perceived the Special Operations Squadron soldiers as a platoon: lieutenant, sergeant major, two corporals, and six privates. I still needed Wikipedia to place the friction between “Planeteers” and “Spacemen” in its proper context. It was easy enough to accept that different branches of the armed forces hold themselves in highest regard. That this was “Marines” versus “Navy” should have been obvious to me.  The Planeteers follow Major Joe Barris, but the Spaceman obey Commander Kevin O’Brine.

Lieutenant Richard Ingalls Peter “Rip” Foster has just graduated from his academy aboard a space station. Expecting to go home on leave, he is re-deployed to the asteroid belt to retrieve a large rock (about a mile across) of pure thorium.  By the same process that he picks up a “spack” (space pack) of gear from a supply room, he picks up his team:

SGM Koa - Hawaii USA
CPL Nels Pederson - Sweden
CPL Paulo Santos - Philippines
PVT Kemp - USA
PVT Dowst - USA
PVT Bradshaw - UK
PVT Trudeau - France
PVT Dominico - Italy
PVT Nunez (not Nuñez or Portuguese Nunes) - Brazil.

They serve the Federation of Free Governments.  The bad guys come from the Consolidated Peoples’ Governments: the Connies. The good guys are Feds.  
NASA Exchange KSC 12/98

The narrative and dialog is rich with jargon. Space itself is personified as Old Man Nothing and Old Man Cosmos.  Surprised or angry, they exclaim, “Great cosmos!” and “By Gemini.” The command to hurry is “Show an exhaust!”  “High vack” can be a verb: He high vacked into the control room, i.e., he hurried. But the high vacuum of space is also a noun: “let high vack into the space suit”.  Too much time in outer space can leave you “vack wacky.”  The origin of “son of a space sausage” must remain unexamined.  They call sick bay the “wound ward.” Ships had sick bays before spaceships had them, of course, but it nonetheless seemed to me to reveal the extent to which the vocabulary of Star Trek became common English.

Sidney, Ohio, 9/99
The Planeteer force – Special Operations Squadron – depends on a huge body of volunteers to wash out. Every boy in the free world must want to join. (In one scene, a Planeteer quips that the Spacemen are the ones who failed.)  According to the narrative, 15 of 100 applicants make it to the Planeteer Academy. After two years they become privates.  While they study science, exploration, colonization, and fighting, ten of those 15 make the next cut.  Finally, only 1 of 500 applicants earns the orbital insignia of an officer. Officers study astrogation, navigation (which seems redundant), and a specialty field.  LT Rip Foster specialized in astrophysics. In real life, astrophysics can be orbit plotting, but even in 1952, it was largely the study of the energy cycles of stars.

Austin, 8/16
As for the physics, most of the book was acceptable for working in low gravity.  However, the Planeteers carry old-fashioned side arms, which they never used (gratefully).  Their weapons were small rockets (at a distance) or knives (close order).  To work on the asteroid, they had no special reactionless tools. They did anchor each other to an outcropping to drive a spike, but then they  screwed the spike into the rock with no allowance for torque and conservation of energy. Egregiously, they tethered a block of thorium with a towline and tugged it to the cruiser with a space boat. Apparently, the rock did not slam into the ship, but stopped politely of its own volition.

Rip Foster’s adventure is a small part of the common culture. You can find a stub in Wikipedia here and also a biography of Harold Goodwin who wrote as “Blake Savage” here

Two versions are archived on Gutenberg:
Rip Foster in Ride the Gray Planet by Harold L. Goodwin
Rip Foster Rides the Gray Planet by Harold L. Goodwin

Previously on Necessary Facts

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