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"I was perfectly satisfied to write science fiction knowing that it would pay very little, that it would be seen by only a very few people."
- Isaac Asimov

Trolling Tether Cable  
  Simple fishing technique applied to moving cargo off-planet.  

With their twenty ton cargo stuck on the surface of Mars, the captain of Radiant Hope seemed about to lose his bet to get his cargo back to Earth before his rival.

If only he could come up with some sort of idea...

"How in space do you get twenty tons of cargo up to an orbit 5,800 miles out, without any rocket fuel?" he demanded of Deveet more than once. He received no satisfactory answer...

The Recreation Center was a two-acre park that lay beneath the plastic dome of Mars City. Above them they could see swift-moving Phobos and distant Deimos among the other stars that powdered the night. In the park around them, colonists rode the amusement machines, canoed along the canal that twisted through the park or sipped refreshment at scattered tables. A dozen or more sat, like Jonner and Deveet, around the edge of the tiny lake, fishing...

"It's all in the speed at which you reel in your line," explained Deveet. "The [robotic] fish move at pre-set speeds. They're made to turn and catch a hook that moves across their path at a slightly slower speed than they're swimming. The management changes the speeds once a week to keep the fishermen from getting too expert."

"You can't beat the management," chuckled Jonner. "But if it's a matter of matching orbital speeds to make contact, I ought to do pretty well when I get the hang of it."

He cocked an eye up toward the transparent dome. Phobos had moved across the sky into Capricorn since he last saw her. His memory automatically ticked off the satellite's orbital speed: 1.32 miles a second; speed in relation to planetary motion....


(Radiant Hope towing its control pod)

An hour later, the chartered airplane took off with a thunder of jets. Aboard was the 20-ton cargo the Radiant Hope was supposed to carry to Earth...

Deveet strode up and down the cabin, knocking out its six windows with the handhooks of his spacesuit. Jonner maneuvered the plane gently, and set it on automatic. He got out of the pilot's seat and strode to the right front port.

Reaching through the broken window, he pulled in a section of cable that was trailing alongside. While the baffled Deveet watched, he reeled it in until he brought up the end of it, to which was attached a fish-shaped finned metal missile.

Jonner carried the cable end and the attached missile across the cabin and tossed it out the broken front port on the other side, swinging it so that the 700-mile-an-hour slipstream snapped it back in through the rearmost port like a bullet.

"Pick it up and pass it out the right rear port," he commanded. "We'll have to pass it to each other from port to port. The slipstream won't let us swing it forward and through."

In a few moments, the two of them had worked the missile and the cable end to the right front port and in through it.

"I'm trying to decide," said Deveet with forced calm, "whether you've flipped your helmet."

"Nope," answered Jonner. "Trolling for those fish in Mars City gave me the idea. The rest was no more than an astrogation problem, like any rendezvous with a ship in a fixed orbit, which Qoqol could figure. Remember that 6,000-mile television cable the ship's hauling? Qoqol just shot the end of it down to Mars' surface by signal rocket, we hooked on and now he'll haul us up to Phobos. He's got the ship's engine hooked onto the cable winch..."

"Look," Jonner added, "I'll put it in round numbers. Figure your cable as part of a radius of Phobos' orbit. Phobos travels at 1.32, but the other end of the radius travels at zero because it's at the center. The cable end, at the Martian surface, travels at a speed in betweenóroughly 1,200 miles an houróbut it keeps up with Phobos' revolution. Since the surface of Mars itself rotates at 500 miles an hour, all I had to do was boost the plane up to 700 to match the speed of the cable end...

Deveet looked apprehensively out of the port. The plane was hanging sidewise now, and the distant Martian surface was straight out the left-hand ports. The cable was holding.

From Atom Drive, by Charles Fontenay.
Published by If in 1956
Additional resources -

This short story, which was published by If magazine in 1956, does not describe a space elevator, nor does it describe any of the various ideas for using space tethers, which are long cables which can be used for propulsion, momentum exchange, stabilization and altitude control, or maintaining the relative positions of the components of a large dispersed satellite grouping.

It does make quite a fish story, though.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Atom Drive
  More Ideas and Technology by Charles Fontenay
  Tech news articles related to Atom Drive
  Tech news articles related to works by Charles Fontenay

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