Artificial Satellite

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An artefact placed in orbit around the Earth. The possibility became imaginable once Isaac Newton had explained the logic of orbital motion, but the idea was not substantially developed in fiction until  Edward E. Hale produced satirical accounts of ‘‘The Brick Moon’’ (1869) and ‘‘Life in the Brick Moon’’ (1870). The idea of establishing a permanent orbital ‘‘space station’’ was broached in Kurd Lasswitz’s Auf Zwei Planeten (1897; trans. as Two Planets), while Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s Vne zemli (1896–1920; trans. as Outside the Earth) proposed the building of ecologically self-sufficient orbital habitats that might serve as the basis for the colonisation of orbital space. Tsiolkovsky’s proposal was taken seriously by other rocket pioneers, including Hermann Oberth, who integrated orbital satellites into the prospectus for the conquest of space he compiled on behalf of the German Rocket Society in 1923. Hermann Noordung’s Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums (1929) suggested placing such stations in geosynchronous orbits, and a series of articles by Count Guido von Piquet published in the society’s journal, Die Rakete, in the same year proposed a three-tier system of orbital transit stations for rockets unable to carry enough chemical fuel to get all the way into space in a single shot.

 The idea was imported into fiction in Otto Willi Gail’s Hans Hardts Mondfahrt (1928; trans. as By Rocket to the Moon). The idea was swiftly introduced to the science fiction pulps in Frank Paul’s cover illustration for the August 1929 Amazing Stories and popularised by an editorial by Hugo Gernback in the April 1930 Air Wonder Stories, but its use in stories was less optimistic. Neil R. Jones’ ‘‘The Jameson Satellite’’ (1931) is built to house a corpse, while D. D. Sharp’s ‘‘The Satellite of Doom’’ (1931) and A. Rowley Hilliard’s ‘‘The Space Coffin’’ (1932) stressed the hazards of being trapped in orbit. Harley S. Aldinger’s ‘‘The Heritage of the Earth’’ (1932) features an artificial satellite that has been in orbit since Augustus was emperor in Rome, but Murray Leinster’s ‘‘Power Planet’’ (1931) was exceptional in featuring a utilitarian satellite project. It was not until Willy Ley brought the GermanRocket Society’s ideas toAmerica that the notion of space stations was integrated into the burgeoning mythology of the Space Age; his article on ‘‘Stations in Space’’ (1940) helped to popularise the idea. George O. Smith’s ‘‘QRM—Interplanetary’’ (1942), which launched the long-running Venus Equilateral series, employed orbital satellites as relay stations in extraterrestrial communication. Ley and Chesley Bonestell’s The Conquest of Space (1949) and Cornelius Ryan’s lavishly illustrated anthology Across the Space Frontier (1952), in association with the popularising efforts of Wernher von Braun, helped to standardise a design for a rotatingtoroidal space station joined by spokes to a central hub. Artificial satellites were also popularised by Arthur C. Clarke, whose early article on ‘‘Extraterrestrial Relays’’ (1945) proposed the establishment of communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Interplanetary Flight (1950) and the best-selling The Exploration of Space (1951) gave key roles to space stations, whose potential development was mapped out in detail in the juvenile science fiction novel Islands in the Sky (1952). Clarke was ultimately to assist in the production of an iconic visual image of a space station in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001—A Space Odyssey (1968). Clarke’s propagandising was an inspiration to other British writers; its didactically inclined spinoff included Charles Eric Maine’s 1952 radio play Spaceways (novelised, 1953), Jeffrey Lloyd Castle’s Satellite One (1954), Rafe Bernard’s The Wheel in the Sky (1954), and a long series of satellite-based children’s novels by E. C. Eliott, launched by Kemlo and the Crazy Planet (1954).

Other significant images of the period included Roger P. Graham’s ‘‘Live In an Orbit and Love It’’ (1950, by-lined Craig Browning), which features a brief boom in orbital housing; Fletcher Pratt’s ‘‘Asylum Satellite’’ (1952); and Murray Leinster’s Space Platform (1953). Satellites are established for the purposes of pleasure rather than utilitarian functions in Jack Vance’s ‘‘Abercrombie Station’’ (1952) and Raymond Z. Gallun’s ‘‘Captive Asteroid’’ (1953). The race to launch an actual artificial satellite was won when Sputnik I went into orbit on 4 October 1957. Sputnik II—which carried a dog named Laika—followed on 3 November 1957 and was swiftly followed by the U.S. Explorer I (31 January 1958) and Vanguard I (17 March 1958). Actual communications satellites Echo (1960), Telstar (1962), and Early Bird (1965) owed more to a 1955 paper on unmanned satellites by J. R. Pierce than to Clarke’s 1945 paper—which assumed, in pretransistor days, that such stations would need a numerous staff to change defective valves—but popular reportage insisted on giving credit where it seemed to be due.

 The first domestic communications satellites, the Canadian Anik (1972) and the U.S. Westar I (1974) and Satcom I (1975), launched the era of satellite TV. The first space station to be put in orbit was Salyut 1 (launched 19 April 1971), launching an extensive program of reconnaissance projects. The first scientific research station in space, the U.S. Skylab, was launched on 14 May 1973; it reentered the atmosphere in 1979. The Russian space station Mir, whose first element was launched on 20 February 1986, became a key location of orbital research for fifteen years, with only five brief periods of unoccupation; it hosted joint projects with U.S. scientists after the end of the Cold War. The literary reflection of this sequence of events inevitably imported a new hardness into science-fictional representations of satellites. The darker possibilities of their utility were explored in such works as Jeff Sutton’s Bombs in Orbit (1959). Potential problems with communications satellites were explored in John Berryman’s ‘‘The Trouble with Telstar’’ (1963). The difficulties involved in building an orbital research laboratory were foregrounded in Walt and Leigh Richmond’s ‘‘Where I Wasn’t Going’’ (1963). This realistic tradition was extrapolated in such works as Robert F. Young’s ‘‘The Moon of Advanced Learning’’ (1982), Geoffrey A. Landis’ ‘‘Mirusha’’ (2001), and J. R. Dunn’s ‘‘For Keeps’’ (2003), although more fanciful space stations in the tradition of the luxury hotel featured in Curt Siodmak’s Skyport (1959) continued to thrive in parallel. The notion of building self-enclosed colonies in orbit was dramatically repopularised by Gerard K. O’Neill’s speculative nonfiction book The High Frontier (1977), which suggested that the Lagrange points in the Moon’s orbit around the Earth would be eminently suitable locations. (The eighteenth-century mathematician Joseph Lagrange had calculated that there would be several points in Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun where objects could be stably accumulated; two groups of asteroids were eventually found at relevant points and the term ‘‘Lagrange point’’ was henceforth used to designate stable points in any orbit.) The five Lagrange points in the lunar orbit form a regular hexagon with the Moon at the sixth point, and O’Neill reckoned L-5 the most convenient for colonisation; that abbreviation was often applied to O’Neill colonies featured in science fiction, including the one inMack Reynolds’ Lagrange Five (1979). Joe Haldeman’s Worlds series (1981–1992) imagines an elaborate array of orbital colonies, and the formation of similar proliferations became a key element of the posthuman future histories featured in such works as Bruce Sterling’s Shaper/Mechanist series (1982–1985) and Michael Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers (1987).

 Other notable examples of O’Neill-type space habitats are featured in Charles L. Grant’s ‘‘Coming of Age in Henson’s Tube’’ (1979), John E. Stith’s Memory Blank (1986), Lois McMaster Bujold’s Falling Free (1988), Doug Beason’s ‘‘The Long Way Home’’ (1989) and Lifeline (1990, with Kevin J. Anderson), Allen Steele’s Clarke County, Space (1991), and Howard V. Hendrix’s Lightpaths (1997). Those used as a backcloth in the role-playing game Transhuman Space (Steve Jackson Games, 2000) are unusually well developed. Such colonies are often faced with a hard battle for survival in stories in which they survive the devastation of Earth, as in Haldeman’s series and Victor Mila ´n’s ‘‘The Floating World’’ (1989). The initiation of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in 1983 was encouraged by a number of prominent science fiction writers who contrived to obtain a brief political influence, including Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Robert A. *Heinlein. The episode gave rise to a rumour that Arthur Clarke had dropped in on one of their meetings with top U.S. military men and could not resist pointing out that billion-dollar satellites, however well armed, were very vulnerable to such cheap tricks as placing ‘‘a bucket of nails’’ in the same orbit, traveling in the opposite direction—a remark that drew a sharp response fromHeinlein. Asimilar skepticismled Carol Risin to refer to it in derisory terms as ‘‘StarWars’’—a nickname that stuck—and infected most fictional treatments of the notion, much more carefully elaborated in such works as David A. Drake’s Fortress (1986). The programme was abandoned in 1993 but partly resurrected by GeorgeW. Bush as the National MissileDefense programme. Themelodramatic potential of satellite-launched terrorism was exploited in such stories as Joseph H. Delaney’s ‘‘Business as Usual, During Altercations’’ (1997).


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