Monday, August 6, 2007

Robert Heinlein's "Searchlight": Shipwreck & rescue on moon

It's a really short & generally readable adventure drama with a happy ending.

Story summary.
Betsy Barnes is a little blind girl, & a very good piano player. She has gone to moon to to entertain men at the military bases. While going from Tycho Base to Farside Hardbase, her rocket crashes. She was the only passenger, apart from pilot - Major Peters. Major is not dead, but is indisposed enough that Betsy is essentially on her own.

When the traffic control realizes they are lost, there is a rather vast geographical area that needs searching. sf element of the story is in the rather complicated device rigged to get the wreck's approximate location; search technique is classical divide & conquer.

The search device will scan the appropriate part of lunar surface with a laser "like radar". This will be modulated into a "carrier wave in radio frequency", then modulating that "into audio frequency-and controlling that by a piano"! I have no clue to mechanics of this, but I am not an expert on the subject - so let's assume it can work.

The idea is to repeatedly transmit a message hoping she hears it via her space suite radio. The message asks here to acknowledge that she has heard it - again via her space suite radio. This acknowledgment apparently is not enough to locate her. So she will be told that the search area is being divided such that different piano tones will be heard in different areas. She will identify the tone she hears - reducing the search area. This smaller area will now be divided up, & the process repeated - till the area is small enough to manually locate the wreck.

Fact sheet.
Searchlight, short story, review
Author: Robert A Heinlein
First published: 1962
Rating: B

See also.

  1. Arthur Clarke's short story, "Maelstrom II", is another shipwreck & rescue story on moon, but with a very different twist.
  2. Arthur Clarke's "A Fall of Moondust": Good novel length shipwreck-on-moon story. Some of the plot elements related to locating the victims are similar.
  3. Arthur Clarke's "The Sands of Mars": This novel has a short story length subplot of a shipwreck & rescue of Mars that again has some plot elements similar to this story. But the victims here are competent spacemen, have a powerful camera flash that they use to signal their locating to satellite involved in search.
Note: Moved here from original location on Aug 6, 2007. Reason.