The Gravity Projectile
Part of: Secrets of Space
From: Pharaoh's Broker
Hermann Anderwelt had probably suffered many disappointments and waited
long for a hearing. Now he seemed to feel that his opportunity had come,
for he continued with growing enthusiasm:--
"Hitherto all attempts at space travelling have been too timid or
puerile. We have experimented at aerial navigation, as if the brief span
of air were a step in the mighty distance which separates us from our
sister planets. As well might steamboats have been invented to cross
narrow streams, and never have ventured on the mighty ocean! We have
tried to imitate the bird, the kite, and the balloon, and our
experiments have failed, and always must, so long as we do not look
farther and think deeper. Every Icarus who attempts to overcome the
force of gravity, which conquers planets, and propel himself through the
air by any sort of apparatus, will always finish the trip with a wiser
but badly bruised head."
"Still, it has been freely predicted," I ventured, "that this century
will not close without the invention of a successful air-travelling
"And I alone have hit upon the right plan, because I have not attempted
to struggle against gravity, but have made use of it only for
propelling my projectile!" exclaimed the doctor triumphantly.
"But wait!" I interposed. "Gravity acts only in one direction, and that
is exactly opposite to the one you propose to travel."
"That brings me to the very important discovery I made in physics two
years ago, upon which the whole success of the projectile rests. You
will remember that, according to the text-books, very little is known
about gravity except the laws of its action. What it is, and how it can
be controlled or modified, have never been known. Electricity was as
much a mystery fifty years ago, but we know all its attributes. We can
make it, store it, control it, and use it for almost every necessity of
life. The era of electricity is in full bloom, but the era of
gravitational force is just budding."
"Can it be that we have as much to learn from gravity as electricity has
taught us in the last half-century?" I exclaimed, as my eyes began to
"I believe it will teach us far more wonderful things, because it will
take us to unknown worlds, while electricity has been confined to Earth.
Its realm is the wide universe. It will show us what life there is on
the planets. It will make us at home with the stars.
"What!" he continued in a sort of ecstasy. "Do you think all great
discoveries are over, all wonderful inventions made? As well might a
trembling child, elated with the success of its first feeble steps
alone, suppose it had exhausted all the possibilities of life. We are
but spelling over the big letters on the title page of the primary book
of knowledge. There be other pages and grander chapters further on.
There be greater volumes, and sweeter, more expressive tongues which man
may learn some day.
"Has a reasoning Divinity created the heavens and peopled the myriad
stars with thinking, capable beings, who must be perpetually isolated?
Or may they not know each other some time? But shall we attempt to sail
the vast heavens with a paper kite, or try to fly God's distances with
the wings of fluttering birds? Nay; we must use God's engine for such a
task. Has He tied the planets to the sun, and knitted the suns and their
systems into one great universe obedient to a single law, with no
possibility that we may use that law for intercommunication? With what
wings do the planets fly around the sun, and the suns move through the
heavens? With the wings of gravity! The same force for minute satellite
or mighty sun. It is God's omnipotence applied to matter. Let us fly
"But will you permit me to suggest that we are soaring before the
projectile is built?" I put in.
"Quite right. Let us come back to Earth, and return to facts. My studies
in physics led me to believe that all natural forces--gravity,
centrifugal force, and even capillary attraction--are, like electricity
and magnetism, both positive and negative in their action. If they do
not normally alternate between a positive and negative current, as
electricity does, they can be made to do so. Gravity and capillary
attraction, as we know them, always act positively; that is, they always
attract. On the other hand, centrifugal force always acts negatively;
that is, it always repels. But each of these forces, I believe, can
temporarily be made to act opposite to its usual manner. I know this to
be the case with gravity, for I have caused its positive and negative
currents to alternate; that is, I have made it repel and then attract,
and so on, at will, by changing the polarity of the body which it acts
"Now that I remember it," I added, "our original ideas of magnetism were
that it simply attracted. We knew the lodestone drew the steel, but only
on better acquaintance did we learn of its alternating currents,
attractive and repellant."
"I have positively demonstrated with my working model that I can reverse
the force of gravity acting upon the model, and make it sail away into
space. I will show you this whenever you like. It is so arranged that
the polarizing action ceases in three minutes, after which the positive
current controls, and the model falls to the Earth again."
"But have you ever attempted a trip yet?" I inquired.
"Oh, no. The model was not built to carry me, but it has demonstrated
all the important facts, and I now need ten thousand dollars to build
one large enough to carry several persons, and to equip it with
everything necessary to make a trip to one of the planets. With a man
inside to control the currents, it will be far more easily managed than
the experimental model has been."
"Suppose you had the projectile built, and everything was ready for a
start," I said, "what would be the method of working it?"
"I should enter the forward compartment," began the doctor.
"But would you make the trial trip yourself?"
"I certainly would not trust the secret of operating the currents to any
one else," he remarked, with emphasis. "And will you accompany me in the
"No, indeed; unless you will promise to return in time for the following
day's market," I replied.
"Then I shall engage some adventurous fellow as assistant. First, we
must set the rudder, which is both horizontal and vertical, so that the
projectile can be steered up, down, or to either side. Having fixed it
so as to be directed a little upward, I begin with the currents.
Suppose the projectile weighs a ton, I gradually neutralize the positive
current, which we are acquainted with as gravity. When it is exactly
neutralized, the projectile weighs nothing, and the pressure of the air
is enough to make it rise more rapidly than a balloon. When I have
created a negative current, the projectile acquires a buoyancy equal to
its previous weight. That is, it will now fall up as rapidly as it
would previously have fallen down. It will not do to put on the full
negative current at once, for we should acquire a velocity that would
simply burn us up by friction with the atmosphere. However, the air is
soon passed; if in the ether beyond there is very little friction, or
none at all, we shall go at full speed, which will be the constantly
increasing velocity of a falling body.
"Somewhere between the Earth and the nearest planet," he continued,
"there is a place where the attraction of one is just equal to the
attraction of the other; and if a body is stopped in that fatal spot it
will be anchored there for ever, by the equally matched forces tugging
in opposite directions. There is such a dead line between all the
planets, and our principal danger lies in falling into one of these, for
we should remain there a twinkling star throughout eternity! We must
trust to our momentum to carry us past this point, and into space where
the gravitational attraction of the other planet is paramount. Then we
must promptly change our current from negative to positive, so that the
other planet will attract us to her. Otherwise, she would repel us back
to the dead line.
"With a positive current we are now literally falling into the new
planet. We need not land unless we wish, for as soon as we enter a
resisting atmosphere we can steer a course lacking barely a quarter of
being directly away from the planet, just as you can sail a boat three
quarters against the wind."
"But suppose you experiment at making a landing on this new planet?" I
"Very well. Of course, as soon as we enter an atmosphere, it behoves us
to travel slowly to avoid overheating. We can still safely travel
several hundred miles an hour, however. We continue falling until rather
near the planet; then, turning the rudder gently down, we can sail
around and around the planet until we choose our landing place. Gently
reversing currents, a mild negative one soon overcomes our momentum.
Tempering our currents experimentally to the pressure of the air, we
can, if we desire, float like a feather and be wafted with every breeze.
Just a suspicion of a positive current brings us gently to the surface,
and, when we have cooled, we unscrew the rear port-hole and crawl out to
explore a new world."
I had mentally made the trip, and was not only intensely interested, but
infinitely pleased. I was lost for some time with my imagination on the
new sphere, but presently my mind returned to the practical side of the
question, and I inquired,--
"Are you quite sure that ten thousand dollars will be sufficient to
build and fully equip the projectile?"
"Yes, quite certain," he answered with decision. "It will be ample for
that and for the expenses of forming a corporation to own my patents and
exploit the invention. It is easy to see the projectile will be cheap of
construction. No machinery is necessary; no strong building to withstand
enormous shocks or anything of that kind. The principal expenditures
will be for stores of food and for scientific and astronomical
instruments. Of course, I wish to show you my working model and my plans
for the practical projectile, and to explain to you many further
It was growing dark. I arose, turned on the electric light, and rang my
bell. The office boy entered.
"Teddy, tell all the boys they may go, except Flynn. Ask him to wait,
I was quite used to making ten thousand dollar bargains in a few seconds
of time and without the scratch of a pen. I had risked more money than
that on the fact that Slater looked worried and Bawker was very cross
when at his office, and it had won immensely. But here, what a prospect,
what a far-reaching, all-encircling prospect it was! No time was to be
lost; besides, there was pleasure to me in driving a good bargain and
driving it quickly.
"And if I give you the ten thousand dollars, what do I get in return?" I
asked, mentally placing my part at fifty-five per cent. of the shares at
the lowest, so that I might control the company.
"You may organize the corporation yourself. The projectile must bear my
name, and I must have the credit for all discoveries and inventions.
Then you may give me such a part of the shares of the company as you
think right," he replied.
On hearing this, I mentally advanced my portion to seventy-five per
cent. Then I said,--
"When the projectile is built and proves successful, who is to manage
the affairs of the company? Who is to finance it and raise further funds
for exploiting its business?"
"I have no capacity for business," he declared. "I have no ambition to
be a Pullman or an Edison. I would rather see myself a Franklin or a
Fulton. You shall manage all the business affairs."
"Then I will undertake the whole matter, and give you my cheque for ten
thousand dollars to-night, provided you allow me--ninety-five per cent.
of the company's shares!" I said, simulating a burst of generosity.
Doctor Anderwelt ploughed his hair and harrowed his beard. He knew this
was giving too much, but to have the projectile built, to sail away, to
make all those grand new discoveries, to write books, and have future
generations pronounce his name reverently along with Kepler and Newton!
I did not believe he would have the courage to say no. While he
meditated, my bell summoned Flynn.
"Please draw a cheque for ten thousand dollars to the order of Hermann
Anderwelt," I said, watching the doctor as I spoke. There was indecision
in his face.
"Suppose I allow you, say, ninety per cent.?" he said at last.
I was signing the cheque Flynn had brought me. "Done!" I cried, handing
it over. He scanned it carefully, and after a long time said,--
"Mars is nearest to the Earth on the third day of next August.
Fortunately Chicago is a good place to do things in a hurry. The
projectile must be ready to start early in June, but its construction
and its first trip must be kept a profound secret."
The doctor must have been hungry since noon. He began munching a chicken
sandwich. The cold planked whitefish tasted quite as good as smoked
herrings, perhaps, and strawberry short-cake in March was a luxury which
he evidently appreciated.
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