Monday, August 6, 2007

Robert Heinlein's "Misfit": A heavenly body is moved; a genius is discovered

This very readable story is about construction of a gigantic space station.

Story gets its title from construction crew whose members are considered social misfits. In particular, because of Andrew Jackson Libby aka Pinkie - an uneducated genius with superb mathematical & scientific intuition, who is a social misfit even among this gang of misfits, but turns out to be invaluable for the project.

Story summary.
Cosmic Construction Corps (CCC) of Space Marines of presumably US military is sending an engineering crew to Asteroid HS-5388 ("Eighty-eight" to crew). Asteroid is 100 miles across, has no atmosphere, has 2% earth gravity, & is located 2.2 astronomical units from sun (I presume as part of asteroid belt between Mars & Jupiter).

Their job is to fit rockets into asteroid, & carefully nudge it sunwards - to an orbit 1.3 astronomical units from sun - between the orbits of Earth & Mars. There it will form part of a constellation of 3 such rocks, 120 degrees apart in planetary plane - they will be turned into space stations & military bases; Eighty-eight will be renamed E-M3 (Earth Mars Space Station Spot Three) after it reaches the target location. Idea is to provide better emergency facilities on presumably busy Earth/Mars sector; and, of course, to have strategic control of this corridor.

There is quite a bit of military titles that didn't mean anything to me: "First Sergeant", "Masters-at-Arms" (probably equivalent of "wardens" in Indian college hostels), "gunner's mate" (equivalent of office boy?), "first lookout", "watch officer", "Chief Quartermaster", "warrant officer", "Corpsman Mate-of-the-Deck", "Chief Fire Controlman" (responsible for running the big computer!), ... I might have missed a few. But I didn't find them much of a hindrance to readability.

Except for space based plot, travel part of this story could have been on board an ordinary sea going vessel.

At one point, the story has quite an elaborate description of a space suit, & its features.

Fact sheet.
Misfit, short story, review
Author: Robert A Heinlein
First published: Nov 1939 in Astounding Science Fiction
Rating: A

See also.

  1. Arthur Clarke's "Islands in the Sky" (1952). There are some similarities - both stories are about engineering projects to build big space station for refueling, rescue, etc. But Islands' space station orbits earth, not Sun. And is nowhere near the size of E-M3.
  2. Issac Asimov's "The Martian Way" (1952) has a dispute between Martian colonists & earth politicians about Martians taking water from earth - so the colonists charter a project to move a huge iceberg from a Saturn ring to Mars - using techniques very similar to those used for moving Asteroid here.
Note: Moved here from original location on Aug 6, 2007. Reason.