Saturday, January 26, 2013

Algis Budrys' "Man in the Sky" (short story, free): Cold engineering vs public opinion

Illustration by van Dongen accompanying the publication in Astounding Science Fiction, British edition, August 1956 issue of short story Man in the Sky by Algis Budrys. Image shows the dead pilot of first space flight in earth orbit.
It's dated in that it's a pre-spaceflight story, imagining early space flight in ways that we now know were different. But it's readable.

Story summary.

US, as part of a very long running program to put man on moon, has put the first satellite in orbit around earth. A (solo) manned satellite, because technology for precise automatic steering up in orbit is not available.

As soon as the satellite goes in orbit, the pilot dies of heart attack. No mystery there, just an ordinary bad coincidence.

Dilemma faced by bosses down: The dead pilot up there is worth more to the ground than a live one, because now satellite can stay up there & continue bringing in telemetry data! But public opinion will force them to bring the body down, a project involving building a new identical machine, work that inevitably kills a few workers as part of construction accidents!

Fact sheet.

First published: Astounding, March 1956.
Download full text as part of the scans of Astounding (British edition), August 1956.
Rating: B.
Among the stories from Astounding/Analog issues edited by John Campbell.
Related: Stories of Algis Budrys.