The Amazing Adventures
of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
The Edge of Space
I had grown up
excited by space. Cape Canaveral was at the edge of it and I had
never been there. I had endured a significant portion of my
childhood at White Sands Missile Range — at times considered to
be perhaps at the back door of space — and worked it into my
story as something like comic relief.
This was the real
thing, where astronauts embarked on journeys into the unknown on
the furiously blazing vessels of dreams. Close up, those vessels
more resembled aging busses. What an astonishing revelation that
turned out to be.
supposed to be representative of the very best our species was
capable of achieving? Though the touristy exhibits and museums
were impressive enough, it all had this underlying tone of the
whiz-bang of a bygone era, when crew-cut scientists and engineers
ambled gawkily through newsreels with slide rules in their shirt
pockets. They were still around, though much older, hairless,
pauncy and even more hopelessly geeky. Added to that was the
tiredness of a life worn down by bureaucracy.
The visions of my
youth, avidly sucked out of paperbacks and garish pulps, had lost
their color and shine. So many disappointments had tarnished the
yearning to be there at the dawn of the Space Age. That age had
fizzled ignominiously after the glories of the moon landings,
turning to embarrasing moments and missed opportunities, and we
were now present at the dawning of a Computer Age that had
bypassed the drones and bean counters of a nearly moribund
government agency that just couldn't get it right.
disheartened by the sadness of it all to write about things like
how grossly inadequate the actuality of the Space Shuttle turned
out to be in comparison to what was breathlessly promised, the
near-sighted Hubble, the lost Mars missions, the uselessly Rube
Goldberg space station, the antennaless Galileo, the software
boo-boos, the flubs, the blunders, the lack of any kind of vision.
Where were the orbiting hotels? Moon mines? Mars colonies? Daring
journeys? Inspiring accomplishments?
All anybody could
come up with was, "Smaller, better, cheaper." And
excuses when they couldn't even manage that.
Colombus to Isabella of Spain: "Hey, you-a majesty. I'm-a
gonna discover the New World and I'm-a gonna need three ships. You
Chris. In fact, here's the royal jewelry to finance..."
interrupted. He had never trusted that Italian stallion, who was
spending way too much time with the queen planning — well, who
please let me handle this. I've made arrangements for a new Royal
Bureau to assist Mr. Colombo…"
call-a me Chris, king-a baby."
cleared his throat and started again, "All the finest minds
in Spain: scholars, alchemists, philosophers, inquisitors, clergy,
bookkeepers, accountants, scribes, procurement analysts…"
So — when can I get-a goin', eh?"
commission a feasability study for the next fiscal year."
considerably older when he finally boarded his flagship. Well,
actually, his only ship. Two others had been eliminated by budget
cuts. But the Niña was a fine ship. Expensive, anyway.
The original plans
had called for a sturdy oaken hull. The appropriations committee
objected to the expense, so pine was substituted. When it was
discovered that pine had an unfortunate tendency to break up
during re-entry to the harbor, the bureau devised an ingenious
solution, covering the entire hull with bricks, each one a unique
creation, no two alike. Though that solved the re-entry problem,
it also made the ship sink, so they strapped a long pontoon to
each side made up of a series of barrels. It was an unstable
arrangement — if even one barrel broke, it could cause a
catastrophic failure of the whole structure. The coopers advised
the Harbor Master to postpone any launches if the weather was bad,
but he ignored them.
Chris never did
make it to the New World. Due to a number of modifications to the
sailing paramaters and a restructuring of the mission objectives,
he was only able to discover the Canary Islands. After six trips
that produced nothing but a few soil samples, the whole concept of
manned voyages was scrapped in favor of sending robotic messages
in bottles, instead.
I had had some
kind of nagging voice within me tell me that I needed to go to the
Cape, that I would learn something there that would prove to be
important for the story. I still don't know what it could have
been — certainly nothing obvious. The book's not finished as I
write this, so maybe I'll become enlightened somehow.
I was impressed by
the size and scope of it all, to be sure. Taxpayers were certainly
spending a lot of money on something, but I couldn't help
but feel a certain amount of disappointment, as well. Maybe if I
hadn't come to expect so much from the sci-fi promises of
my youth, it wouldn't have been so bad. The underlying
frustration, though, is in the realization that the dreams had
been co-opted by a vast, impersonal government facelessness that
had no soul at all.
Do you know what
the conquest of space is all about? It's not the discovery of
techno-doodads. It doesn't have anything to do with sample return
missions. Science in itself is only something that we have to
learn so that we can truly leave the planet of our birth.
Nobody who works for the government could ever possibly have a
clue as to what it all means.
I don't mean
zero-g honeymoon suites. I mean the propagation of our seed into
the cosmos, of making sure that our legacy will survive the
vagaries of cosmic chance, of launching ourselves and our
descendents into infinity.
Our ripe planet
should burst into space, carrying the little bits of us to
new places where we can make new beginnings. We should swarm,
bringing our knowledge and our courage to every dark corner of the
universe. We should seek out new spawning grounds, create
otherworldly nurseries, and show our children different-colored
That is what we
are truly meant to do. I only hope that the bureaucratic rot that
holds us back will eventually collapse of its own dead weight.
It's a blind alley. We'll get there eventually when some greedy
bastards figure out how to turn a buck from the endeavor.
When the tour was
over, I climbed back in my car and headed west.
Next: The Passion Café
© Patrick Hill, 2000