Tom Swift in the Race to the Moon

By Victor Appleton II

Summary: The following summary was copied from the dustjacket of the book and sent to me by Michael Ponte. Thanks, Michael!

SPEED-AND MORE SPEED-go into the mammoth project of completing Tom Swift Jr.'s newest type of spaceship. It is a race against time and the stakes are high. First, Tom's foreign enemies appear ready to launch a manned moon rocket of their own. Second, the young inventor's friends on another planet propose a rendezvous in outer space, in the desperate hope that Tom and his scientist associates can help them conquer the unknown disease that threatens life on their planet.

From the first test flight to the day the Challenger roars moonward, Tom meets with frustrations and sinister perils, more challenging than he has ever encountered. In a neck-and-neck race with the enemy's rocket ship, Tom's fabulous invention, the super-repelatron, plays a dramatic part in heading off a crash landing on the bleak planet. One of the greatest thrills of the young space pioneer's life comes when he guides the Challenger alongside his planet friends' spaceship.

In this fast-moving, gripping drama of Tom's double victory in outer space you will find all the exciting elements that have made the Tom Swift Jr. series the Number One choice of boys who thrill to mystery and adventure.






 A Word on the Drawings of the Challenger


If you look at the cover of this book you might get the idea that the Challenger was a relatively small spacecraft. After all, if it was so large, why can you see the people in the windows? The Challenger, however, was anything but that -- it was a positively enormous craft, as the picture to the left of this paragraph points out. The reason the Challenger looks so small in the cover is because of an order by the publisher of this book, stating that Tom Swift's face must always be visible on the cover of a book.

While I'm at it, I might as well point out that the Challenger was more or less always depicted wrong in the other Tom Swift books that featured it. Sometimes -- as in Tom Swift and his Megascope Space Prober -- the Challenger was drawn like a normal rocket ship and completely lost its unique gyroscopic look. Often times it was drawn many sizes too small.






Major Inventions


The major invention in this book is the Challenger. The Challenger (which, as Bud pointed out, looks like a souped-up gyroscope) was built by Tom to take him to the moon -- and take him to the moon it did, with such tremendous speed as to get him there in only a few hours, instead of the three days it took the Apollo astronauts. While he was in his great moon race he had quite a bit of excitement with the evil scheming Brungarians and managed to help his space friends out of a dire calamity as well (but I won't get into all that).

Before I go on, I'd like to say that the Challenger is one of Tom's few inventions that figure prominently in other books besides this one. Many a time Tom Swift let his invention sit on the shelf while he went and invented something else -- but the Challenger is one of the few exceptions. Tom Swift used it quite often for interplanetary travel (such as to the deadly comet in Tom Swift and the Mystery Comet and to Planetoid Pete in Tom Swift and the Captive Planetoid), for trips to his Outpost in Space (as in Tom Swift and the Galaxy Ghosts), and to rescue a friend in need (as in Tom Swift and his Megascope Space Prober).


How does the Challenger work? The idea behind the Challenger, states the book, is simple: sunlight streaming from the sun is converted by solar panels into electricity, and the electricity is used to drive Tom Swift's amazing repelatrons, which provide motive power for the spaceship. Here is what Tom Swift had to say about it:

"But, Tom, how can you beat 'em in this space jalopy?" Bud asked. "I can't make head or tail of it."

Tom grinned at his friend's puzzled stare. The new spaceship was indeed a weird-looking craft. Its huge box-like cabin hung suspended in a spherical framework of track rails.

"Looks like a souped-up gyroscope," Bud added, stepping back for a better view. "You sure it'll take off?"

The young inventor laughed. "I'm hoping it'll do a lot more than that, fly boy. This ship should be able to go anywhere in the solar system with no stops for refueling."

"Are you kidding?" Bud gasped. "Any rocket ship burns fuel, doesn't it?"

"Sure, but this won't be a rocket ship. Just a spaceship drawing energy from the sun. My craft's power units will change this energy into electric current for running a super-repelatron."

Tom's basic research had led him to the discovery of a previously unknown electromagnetic radiation given off by each element and its isotopes. As a result of this discovery, Tom has invented the Swift spectroscope. Later, he had developed a device that could reproduce this new type of radiation. Tom had found that by having this radiation out of phase with the natural radiation of the atom, a repelling force was set up. This force, when used to hold off seawater, had made it possible to tap helium-gas wells on the ocean bottom, as related in Tom Swift and his Deep-Sea Hydrodome. Now Tom was trying to use such a force to hold up an aircraft while it was in flight.

"You mean the repelatron will actually be the ship's drive system?" Bud asked.

"You might call it that," said Tom. "At least it will drive the ship forward by pushing us away from the earth or any other body in the solar system."


"Brief me again on it, will you? The husky young flier urged.

Tom grinned. "Well, if you've ever looked through a spectroscope, you know that every substance gives off its own special kind of radiation."

Bud nodded. "Sort of like a rainbow trade-mark."

"The word is spectrum, remember chum?" Tom said.

"Okay, professor. And your repelatron detects this radiation and generates a counter-wave that is exactly out of phase with it. So when you aim it at a substance, the counter-wave acts as a repelling force. It pushes the substance away, just as opposite poles of a magnet repel each other."

"Correct, Bud."

"But," his pal objected, "the repelatrons you've built so far just repel one particular substance -- like water. Now you're going to build a machine which will repel anything in the solar system?"

"Right. That's my big problem. It will have to work for all the ninety-two natural elements."

Bud whistled. "Pretty neat, pal! But what happens if you want to change course?"

Tom turned toward the mock-up of the spaceship. He pointed to the dish-shaped antennas that ran on circular tracks around the ship. "We can beam out repulsion waves on any of these three directional radiators. By swiveling them around, we can line up on any object in space and give ourselves a kick in the right direction."

"Suppose you're traveling on the dark side of the moon," Bud objected, "or some place where you can't get power form the sun to work the repelatron. Then what?"

"Chances are we'd still have enough momentum to carry us out of the moon's shadow," Tom replied. "But just in case we want to maneuver or change directions in the dark, the ship will have auxiliary rockets. They'll also be used to assist us on take-off.

How did Tom Swift tap sunlight to get the energy needed to power the Challenger?

"One thing you still haven't explained, Tom," Bud remarked after the engineer left them.

"What's that?"

"How are you going to draw power form the sun to operate your repelatron? Wouldn't your solar batteries do the job just as well?"

Tom shook his head. "They just soak up power form the sun's visible light rays. But thatÝs only a small part of the sun's total output. For this job, I'll need to tap all the energy we can get, including the rays above ultraviolet and below infrared."

"You mean a lot of it's going to waste?"

"Sure is, pal." Tom whipped out his slide rule. "If we could harness all the sun's energy, down here on earth, we'd get more than three horsepower from every square foot of surface exposed to the sunshine."

"Then grab it, Tom." Bud grinned. "But how do you tap all this power?"

"Remember those big gadgets like searchlights on the spaceship cabin?" Tom asked.

Bud nodded.

"Well, those are the conversion units which will collect the sun's energy and change it into electricity by photochemical action."

How was the Challenger laid out?

More than ever the gleaming spaceship looked like huge gyroscope poised on four hydraulic landing struts. At the center was the cube-shaped cabin or fuselage. Auxiliary rocket tubes projected below.

"Those polished cups mounted on the cabin are the energy-conversion units," Tom pointed out. "And as I told you, the repelatron radiators run on those outside tracks. Incidentally, a special meteor-repelling machine will be turned on all the time."

"Thank goodness for that," said Bud. "I'd hate to have a meteor hit us. Say, what's this? Looks like a front porch" he added, as they climbed up to the cabin.

"Landing platform for auxiliary ships," Tom explained.

"You mean this ship will carry smaller crafty?" said Bud.

"That's right. They'll be berthed in here." Entering through an air lock, he showed Bud a large hangar compartment. "Then there's a machine shop for emergency repairs on each side, with laboratories above them."

They walked through the starboard shop, equipped with lathes, welders, and other tools, and entered a small elevator. Tom pressed a button and they zoomed upward.

"This is the top deck," Tom said as they stepped out. They were in a small compartment containing banks of electronic computing gear. "These computers will feed our navigation equipment and also compute the tapes for our automatic pilot when we operate on auxiliary rocket power," he explained.

"This ship is sure loaded with brains!" Bud grinned. "Not counting me."

Next came the ship's control room where the pulps, gauges, and air-conditioning equipment were installed When they entered the flight compartment, Bud's eyes popped when he saw the rows of gleaming dials, levers, and switches.

"What a setup!"

Bucket seats for pilot and copilot stood in front of twin quartz glass view panes. At the left was a huge fluorescent screen and at the right a multi-dial panel labeled with names of the planets and other heavenly bodies.

"I'll check you out on all these controls tomorrow, just before we take her up," Tom said. "Right now, let's see the other sections."

Beyond the flight compartment was another small room full of mysterious dials and electronic gear. "This is the radiation-control room," Tom explained, "for monitoring the gamma and cosmic radiation received by the ship. And this next door leads to the power room, where we handle the electrical output of our solar-conversion units."

Gliding down in another small elevator on the ship's portside, Tom pointed out the rooms that honeycombed the lower level. There were bunkrooms, living quarters, and a galley. On the bottom deck were air and water storage and purification plants, auxiliary engine room, and compartment housing the repelatron gear.

"My head's spinning, genius boy!" Bud said. "With this layout, we could fly to another galaxy!"

"I'll be satisfied if we make the moon." Tom chuckled, adding, "If we do, we'll have sure proof of the whole trip. I have a tape recorder aboard."

What were all the gadgets inside the Challenger for?

The boys climbed up the accommodation ladder and entered the ship's air lock. When they reached the flight compartment, a puzzled look swept over Bud's face. "Hey, you've forgotten something, Tom!" he said.

"What's that?"

"The acceleration cots."

Tom chuckled. "On this ship we don't need them."

"What?" Bud was baffled.

"In a rocket ship you get tremendous acceleration from short blasts of power," Tom explained. "But with our energy-conversion units we can get a steady supply of power from the sun. So we can accelerate gradually to high speed, without taking so many G's all at once."

"Now you're talking!" Bud said enthusiastically. "No more getting the daylights crushed out of us!"

Tom nodded. "It simplifies a lot of things. For instance, we won't need automatic tape control at blast-off, because we can adjust our steering in fine amounts any time we want to."

"Terrific!" Bud said. "Now, how about briefing me on all these control gadgets?"

Tom pointed to a row of indicator lights and push buttons above the pilot's windows. "This is the element selector panel," he said. "As you can see, it lists all the ninety-two natural elements."

"Just push the button for whatever element you want to repel?" Bud asked.

"Right. And these dial switches below let you select the exact isotope. They work through this interplugging board."

"Pretty neat! And this is the astro-gyrocompass, eh?" Bud pointed to an instrument on the central control board.

"Yes -- for steering operations after the ship is underway," Tom told him. "And these big twin dials are the power indicators."

He explained the various levers for operating the directional radiators and auxiliary rockets. Then Bud asked about the huge fluorescent screen on the left.

"It's the space position finder," Tom replied. "Sort of a space radarscope."

He flicked a small toggle switch. As the screen lighted up with ah um, he tuned several knobs. Instantly the lower half of the screen was painted with a reddish phosphorescent glow.

"It'll look like this whenever we've landed," Tom explained. "That red area represents the earth. In fight, we'll see the planets or other objects as round dots, and the color will show us their height above or below our orbital plane."

"How about that panel over on the right?" Bud asked curiously. "The one with all the astro-whoozical names on it."

Tom walked to the right-hand control board, grinning. "As you can see, these dials are labeled for the earth, moon, sun, Mars, Venus, and so on. They tell the distance and relative angle of each body from our spaceship. In other words, they give us an exact reading of the picture shown on the screen."

"But these meters calibrated for thrust -- where do they come in?"

"They tell us how much power we have to feed to the radiators for any desired acceleration," Tom explained.

Did the Challenger have artificial gravity? I think it might have. Why do I think so?

Well, for one thing, the Challenger is not laid out to take advantage of a zero-gravity environment. To put it another way, the Challenger was designed as if Tom was expecting gravity to be present on board the ship. For example: why would anyone need an elevator (which this book states the Challenger had) or set of stairs in a zero-gravity environment? Wouldn't just floating your way up or down be just as easy?

Moreover, if you'll look at the picture to the left of this paragraph, which depicts a scene when the Challenger is in Earth orbit, you will notice that there is definitely gravity on the ship. After all, if there was no gravity, why couldn't they simply float up and catch the monkey? The chairs, too, don't have the straps that would be necessary to keep a person seated in them in a zero-g environment. Those light fixtures are suspicious too -- in a zero-gravity environment they could be downright dangerous. And why are all of those people (especially the one that has apparently fallen over) seemingly anchored to the floor?

So, then, I think that it must be assumed that Tom Swift had a way to generate artificial gravity. It is known from previous books that Tom Swift had an "anti-g neutralator" that could temporarily reduce the force of gravity -- perhaps he modified this invention so as to produce gravity instead of annul it.

If Tom Swift did indeed have a way to nullify gravity without the clumsy Serptilium he used in Tom Swift and his G-Force Inverter, then he would have had one of the greatest inventions of all time. And to think that, in the eyes of the publisher, its invention never rated a separate book! If any more Tom Swift Jr. books are written, I think that "Tom Swift and his Gravity Neutralator" should be one of them.

 Would the Challenger work the way Tom Swift explained it? I'm afraid not. Why? Simply because there is not enough power in sunlight.

If you'll look carefully at the passage explaining how Tom Swift harnessed solar energy you'll notice that Tom Swift said that he could collect three horsepower of energy for every square foot of earth. Now, assuming that the Challenger had a hundred feet of collection space (which is highly unlikely -- it probably had only 20 or 30 feet of collection space), Tom Swift could thus get around 300 horsepower.

Now there's no way -- let me repeat, there's no way -- that Tom Swift could have made the Challenger go anywhere with only 300hp. To go to the moon, especially at the speed that Tom did in his Challenger, hundreds of thousands of horsepower are needed at the very least, and that energy just cannot be found in solar energy.

Still, there is a simple way out of this difficulty: use nuclear power. Tom Swift was always good at harnessing nuclear power to drive his vehicles (hey, take a look at his Flying Lab, or his Triphibian Atomicar, or his Subocean Geotron, or his Cosmotron Express, to name a few -- they're all nuclear powered). Equipped with one of Tom's special reactors, I think that the Challenger could have done all Tom Swift asked of it, and then some.

Could we build a Challenger today? I'm afraid not, folks. We don't have the right equipment to do it. Before we could build a Challenger we would need to know how to build a repelatron (which is discussed in Tom Swift and his Deep-Sea Hydrodome), since the whole idea behind the Challenger rests on the use of the repelatron. Building a Challenger without a repelatron is somewhat akin to building a car without wheels -- it can be done, but the car won't go anywhere. So, unfortunately, we must wait. Perhaps we'll be able to build one someday, but it won't be anytime soon.

How might a Challenger be used if one were built today? The Challenger would be, as one might imagine, an enormously useful craft in the exploration and settlement of space. I think that it would be the key, if you will, that will unlock the door to the solar system.

Up until now the exploration of space has been largely curtailed because of the tremendous expense and the equally tremendous technical difficulty. Getting into space is a tremendously, monstrously difficult task, and staying there is even more difficult. The Challenger, however, offers a cheap, fast, and reusable way into space -- the three things that space engineers have been working toward for decades. Space flights, with a Challenger, could be much cheaper, much longer, and employ more personnel. More satellites could be launched for far less money than is currently thought possible. Space stations far bigger than the ones currently composed could be set up. Lunar colonies spring up and have supplies shipped in. Trips to nearby (and later more distant) planets could take place, and perhaps colonies on them could be established.

Get the idea? Almost everything that we have ever dreamed of doing in our solar system would be made far easier with a Challenger. It holds tremendous, perhaps unparalleled promise. Now all we have to do is to invent oneÍ




Other Inventions. In this book, Tom Swift invented another device that he used quite frequently: his repelatron donkey. A Repelatron donkey is, well, it's kind of hard to describe. I've scanned in a picture of it for you (it's sitting right there to the left), so you decide what it looks like.

The purpose behind the repelatron donkey is very simple: it acts as a convenient and simple transport device on extraterrestrial surfaces. It excels at this, too -- it's small enough to be stored in very little space, it's simple to make, and yet it can carry large loads or several people across rugged and impassible terrain. Tom only used it on extraterrestrial soil, but I think that there could be a strong case of a need for one here.

Here is what Tom had to say about the repelatron donkey:

Chow paused as his eye fell on the new device Tom was making. "Say, what's this do-jigger yo're workin' on now? Somethin' new?"

The young inventor nodded. "I've decided to call it a 'flying carpet' -- or maybe a 'repelatron donkey.' "

Chow squinted at Tom suspiciously. "Brand my buffalo stew, if I didnÝt know the things you cook up sometimes, I'd think you was pullin' my leg. What's this contraption supposed to do?"

It consisted of a flat, thin-metal platform about three feet square, with a six-foot length of wire leading to a small pocketsize control box. A metal housing built into the platform contained electronic gear.

Tom smiled at the look on Chow's face. "I wouldn't kid you, old-timer. That's really what it is -- a sort of flying carpet. It's for use on the moon, to transport persons or supplies. You see, the terrain's pretty rugged up there, with lots of clefts and crevasses, so ground travel will be difficult."

"How's this ting work?"

"Well, the housing here contains a repelatron. Underneath there's a fixed radiation to direct the repulsion beam downward so as to hold its passenger suspended above the ground. There's also a swivel-mounted radiator for steering the platform in any direction."

"How about that li'l ole box on the end of the wire?"

"That's the control box," Tom explained. "The operator will hold it in his hand while he's standing on the flying carpet."

Chow scratched his bald head. "Sounds pretty neat, Tom. Only ain't that metal kind o' thin for haulin' heavy loads?"

"Not on the moon, Chow. Up there, the pull of gravity is six times weaker than on earth. So objects will only weigh one-sixth as much."



 A Swift Enterprise Rocket Launch

In this book, Tom Swift travels to his Outpost in Space to investigate the moon and try to find a good landing site. To travel to his Outpost in Space he must, of course, take a rocket, and the preparations and liftoff are covered in the book.

The reason I am bringing this up is to point out that Tom Swift had space travel down to a science much, much more than we do. For NASA to launch a rocket into Earth's orbit hundreds of millions of dollars are required and the preparations and countdown for the launch take weeks. The whole procedure takes hundreds of highly trained men who must stay in contact with the spacecraft the whole time it is in orbit.

With Tom Swift, however, travelling into Earth orbit is a simple job that takes only a few minutes. Ground crews (not counting the hordes of mechanics that check out his rocket) are limited to a few men, and once liftoff is complete automatic computers take over.

I've typed up the Swift rocket launch for you, so that you can see how easy Tom Swift really had it. Hope you enjoy it, and marvel over what little idea science fiction writers had of the real trouble behind a rocket launch.

Blast-off was scheduled for two o'clock the following afternoon. Instead of using his rocket ship, the Star Spear, in which he had first conquered outer space, Tom decided to ride one of the atomic cargo rockets that shuttled between the space wheel and Fearing Island.

"Fuel's all loaded," Bud remarked as the two boys approached the launching area.

The last tank truck was driving away. Mechanics swarmed over the huge silvery projectile, checking valves and tightening connections.

As the moment for take-off approached, radar scanners swept the sky. The boys rode by conveyor up to the pilot's compartment in the rocket's nose, high as a five-story building.

"All hands clear the launching area!" a voice boomed over the "squawk box."

In the flight cabin, Tom spoke into the mike. "Radar report!"

"All clear!" George Dilling called back.

Tom fed the flight tape into the automatic pilot. Electric timers began ticking in the concrete blockhouse. The boys lay flat on their acceleration couches and buckled the straps.

"X minus twenty second!" blared the loudspeaker. "X minus nineteenÍX minus eighteenÍ"


Bo-o-oom! Smoke rolled over the launching area. For an instant, the rocket seemed to be poised on a pillar of fire. Then it was arrowing upward into the blue at lightning speed.

The shock of acceleration flattened the boys against their cots. Gradually the pressure eased off as Tom's anti-G neutralator took effect. Moments later, a red light flashed and a warning buzzer sounded as the timer gun kicked loose the first stage of the rocket. A fresh blast of power shook the cabin. One by one, the other two stages were jettisoned.

Tom Swift and his Deep-Sea Hydrodome | Tom Swift and his Space Solartron | Index

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