Monday, August 6, 2007

Robert Heinlein's "Ordeal in Space" aka "Broken Wings": A man overcomes acrophobia (fear of heights)

This initially quite readable & later a bit contrived story appears to have had some influence on the genre - a man falls off a spaceship, & is later rescued.

In the background, we are told that Mars already has some kind of non-human intelligent natives. With their described traits generally consistent with "Stranger in a Strange Land".

Story summary.
Rocket Ship Valkyrie, a passenger liner of Earth-Moon/Mars route is approaching Mars Terminal on Deimos (a Martian satellite) when it loses its "primary piloting radar". The ship is revolving on its axis to provide artificial gravity.

William Cole, Chief Communications Officer and relief pilot, will go out to fix it. Captain is not willing to stop the spin - for reasons I think unexplained (or I might not have been paying attention when reading this part).

Anyway, Cole goes to fix things, & "falls". Is picked up two hours later by another ship.

That incident is what has led to his grounding & dates with psychiatrist.

He changes name to William Saunders, & gets a land job "calibrating electronic equipment" in "a small firm specializing in custom-built communication systems". Never goes under the sky. Makes a friend on the new job - Joe Tully. Gets invited to his place for dinner - 35th floor flat of Tully at "The Shelton Homes"; ends up staying overnight.

This is where the contrived part that cures him happens. In the middle of the night, Bill hears a sound. Finds there is a baby cat on a little half foot ledge protruding below the window, & decides to rescue it. Cajoling fails; he goes down & picks it up, & is cured!

Happy ending.

See also.

  1. Arthur Clarke's very good short story, "Maelstrom II", involves a man actually jumping off a spaceship, letting the ship go, & staying alone floating is space for a while - as part of a crazy & effective space rescue effort.
  2. Arthur Clarke's "The Deep Range": A competent spaceman undergoes similar accident in space, develops acrophobia, & is rehabilitated in a different job.
  3. Arthur Clarke's "2001 A Space Odyssey" & "3001 The Final Odyssey": A man is lost repairing a spaceship antenna in 2001. Is picked up 1000 years later in 3001! But without any psychiatric strain!

Fact sheet.
"Ordeal in Space" aka "Broken Wings", short story, review
Author: Robert A Heinlein
First published: 1948
Rating: B
List of publications containing this story.

Note: Moved here from original location on Aug 6, 2007. Reason.