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Mike Mars Sourcebook
"Stand By For Mars!"
Mike Mars Sourcebook
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The Mike Mars series Sourcebook:
3) Mike Mars at Cape Canaveral, by Donald A. Wollheim (1961)

On one level, this third installment in the Mike Mars series is another disappointment. The writing is still pedestrian. The plot?that two manned rockets can explode and the entire program not be shut down for years to investigate the problems?is extremely far fetched.

On another level, it's a fascinating document?an insight into the American psyche of the time, as regards both the reasons behind the space race and America's view of women: at least as seen by Donald Wollheim.

The Mike Mars Series
(White titles link to detailed analyses)

1) Mike Mars: Astronaut
2) Mike Mars Flies the X-15
3) Mike Mars at Cape Canaveral/Kennedy
4) Mike Mars in Orbit
5) Mike Mars Flies the Dyna-Saur
6) Mike Mars: South Pole Spaceman
7) Mike Mars and the Mystery Satellite
8) Mike Mars Around the Moon

The plot
Four Redstone rockets are to be sent up into space, one a week, each bearing an astronaut in a capsule at the top of it. Even though their names are to be kept secret, these will be the first astronauts 'in space.'

Mike's nemesis, Rod Harger, arranges for Cahoon to sabotage the first three launches, so that he, Harger, who is scheduled to be the fourth man, will be the first one into space. His father has arranged that reporters will be on hand to witness it and leak the story. The first three launches are indeed sabotaged, but despite the failures there is no delay in the program. One wonders if the youth of the day would really have thought highly of the NASA organization depicted in this book.

Mike Mars - main character
Johnny Bluehawk - astronaut, Mike's best friend
Rod Harger - the antagonist
Jack Lannigan - astronaut, Mike's friend
Joe Stacy - astronaut, Mike's friend
Orin McMahan - astronaut, Mike's friend
Hart Williams - astronaut, Mike's friend
Col. Otis M. Drummond - Administrator, Project Quicksilver
Dr. Hugo Holderlin - Director, Project Quicksilver
Carl Cahoon - the saboteur, an ex-Air Force man with a grudge against the service.
Dr. Merlin Van Ness - Member of NASA
Vivian Van Ness - His daughter
The American psyche
What was the reason for the space race, as seen in 1961? To ensure that American interests were protected, or merely to be the 'first,' rather than the best, into space? Colonel Drummond explains in the first novel:

"For this is a race, no doubt about it. It is entirely possible that whoever masters spaceflight first, whoever first establishes strong bases on other planets, will be able to enforce their viewpoint on all the other people of the world. We are proud of our own nation. We defend our American way of life, and we are

absolutely determined that it shall prevail. This is a race to conquer space, indeed, and the grand prize for the winner is not going to be some strange planet, but this one. The winner will win Earth."

But by this third book, doubtless published after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth (on April 12, 1961), the stakes are different, and seem rather childish.

"Time is pressing. We have reason to believe that another country is preparing to put a man in orbit sooner than we had expected. Therefore, we are cutting short our work here. We are going to begin the next active stage of our program in advance of our plans. The space capsule is ready. Seven of these capsules have already secretly been delivered to Cape Canaveral. A stock of Redstone rockets has also been put in readiness there. In ten day's time the first one of you is going to ride into space atop one of those rockets. The rest of you will follow as fast as the experiments can be set up!"

and despite the failure of the first two rockets...

"Because of the speed-up of our program, our urgency to get into space, we are going ahead with the tests...!"

In other words, safety is to go by the board, so that the United States can claim it was the first to launch a man into space. (The fact that the launches by this Quicksilver group are to be secret is overlooked, except by character Rod Harger). As each of the first three Redstone rockets are sabotaged, there is no delay in the program. The next week's launch goes ahead as scheduled...and when it is destroyed...the next one does likewise!

Cape Canaveral/ Kennedy
After the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1961, Jacqueline Kennedy suggested that the Cape Canaveral space facility should be renamed after her husband. It was a fitting tribute, since he was pretty much responsible for its existence. President Lyndon Johnson, however, requested that the name of the cape itself be changed to Cape Kennedy.

The change was approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names of the Interior Department in 1964. Because of the long years of history behind the name Canaveral, the people of Florida had protested the name change initially and lobbied to have it rescinded once it came to be. In 1973 the state passed a law restoring the former name of the cape. Kennedy's legacy is still honored by the Kennedy Space Center.

Foreign powers
As in the first two books, the country of Russia is not mentioned. The opponent is just "another world power." The word Sputnik is used.

Women and Minorities
No minorities, except Johnny as a Cheyenne, are mentioned. Johnny has very little to do in this book.

In chapter 3, new characters are introduced: Dr. Merlin Van Ness of NASA, and his 17 year old daughter Vivian.

Vivian's treatment by Mike Mars and the rest of the astronauts is revealing (especially since it was at this time that the Mercury 13 - thirteen female pilots, were taking the same tests as the men, passing them, and passing them well).

Vivian never "says" anything, she "chatters". Whenever she's 'on stage,' that is how she is described, as chattering. Mike pays no attention to her, as he believes she can have nothing important to say. This despite the fact that she is a pilot, as he is, and, as the daughter of Van Ness, would presumably know a great deal about the space program. But no...she chatters, and chatters, and he ignores her.

Below is a chapter-by-chapter description of Mike Mars at Cape Canaveral, highlighting moments of interest.

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1. The Man From Space

Mike Mars, by Albert Orbaan
Only 4 of the seven Quicksilver astronauts appeared in Mike Mars Flies the X-15. All seven of them are on hand here, on board the naval destroyer Bayard, out in the Atlantic Ocean. They are waiting for the launch of a Redstone rocket which carries a dummy capsule.

Wollheim sets the geography and gives a brief history of Langley, but he refers to Hampton, Virginia twice as Hampden!

The rocket is launched, and soon the dummy capsule comes floating down. As the men on board the Bayard watch, a hatch blows open and a space-suited figure is ejected from what was supposed to be an unmanned capsule! Mike reacts immediately, jumping into a launch and ordering its crew to head for the man.

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2. All Out at Langley
Mike dives into the water and pulls the figure towards the launch. Once inside he learns that the figure is actually a dummy. He takes a good natured ribbing from the men on the Bayard, but Colonel Drummond congratulates him on his quick reactions.

The next day, a history of the events in book two are given. Since the four astronauts, Mike, Rod, Johnny and Jack spent time learning how to fly the X-15, they are behind the curve. The three remaining astronauts, Orrin, Joe and Hart, had been at Langley learning all about the space capsule in which they are to ride.

A bit of Mike's character is revealed: He doesn't care who among the seven gets into space first. "The thing is the conquest of space. I'll be just as glad if any of us gets up. There's plenty of time for the rest of us to follow."

Then the 7 men are told of new developments. Another country is prepared to put a man in orbit sooner than expected! So Project Quicksilver will advance to the next stage sooner than expected.

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3. The Bearded Scientist
Colonel Drummond reiterates the plan. Because Mike, Rod, Johnny and Jack are behind in their studies, the other three astronauts will get into space first. During the three weeks that it will take for those three astronauts to do it, they will study, so that Rod will be ready the fourth week, Mike the fifth, etc.

Since these books were written with teenage boys in mind, Mike as role model is depicted:

He hate to have to idle around waiting. Waiting was a difficult thing...Yet the best things in life were to be had often by just such waiting. If a chance could be bettered by patience, then patience was a virtue that had to be learned.

Mike had trained himself as a boy to concentrate on learning whatever was needed to master a situation. It was one of his rules, and he never allowed himself to depart from it.

[And then are reiterated his goals and processes from book one].

Colonel Drummond then has three people enter the room. Dr. Hugo Holderlin, whom readers of the series already know, a Dr. Merlin Van Ness, and his daughter. Van Ness is introduced, but not the daughter! Van Ness has a private estate called Sky Hook near Cape Canaveral, and that is where the Quicksilver men will be stationed during the next several weeks.

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4. Starfighter Hazard
Van Ness congratulates Mike on his handling of the X-15 the previous day, which embarrasses Mike. Mike "doesn't like to be flattered, even when he knew it was sincerely given."

It's in this chapter, after the meeting has ended, that Mike is introduced to Van Ness' daughter. "This is my little girl, Vivian." "Daddy, I'm not a little girl anymore..."

Vivian wants to talk with him, and although Mike looks around for help the rest of the men have made their "getaway." "So Mike had to play the gentleman, much as he would rather have joined his friends. He went out of the building with the chattering girl hanging on his arm."

Mike finally gets away, and learns that two Starfighter jets need to be taken down to Tyndall AFB in Florida. He volunteers himself and Johnny, in order to get away from Vivian. The next morning, the two men are ready to go. Also kitted out, to Mike's dismay, is Vivian, who persuaded her father to get her permission to ride with Mike. She wants him to go really fast.

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5. The Phantom Voodoo
Mike takes off. He sends Johnny ahead, intending to fly very slowly with his passenger, as he thinks if he flies at the Starfighter's full speed the girl will become airsick. Vivian chatters at him, and Mike turns off the intercom. (Presumably girls talk but don't ask questions? Or perhaps Mike didn't mind appearing rude as well as being rude, should the girl ask a question and not get an answer.)

A Voodoo suddenly attacks, and Mike is forced to maneuver away from two missiles and then put on the afterburners.

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6. The Red Speedster
Because Vivian did not see their attacker (she thought he had pulled everything because she'd asked him to do so at that outset), Mike decides not to tell the Air Force people at the other end about what had occurred.

However, he does inform Johnny, while they're changing out of their gear. Johnny says he suspects Rod Harger. (Rod had also not flown down with the others, but taken a private flight). Mike doesn't want to believe it.

From this AFB, the two Air Force pilots and Vivian have dinnner at the officer's club. (Vivian chatters on. The two men let her talk, listening with only half an ear, and managed to enjoy themselves.) They then take a commercial flight the rest of the way to the airport near Sky Hook. Mike says, "After her, going into space will be a pleasure! It may prove to be the only place we can go to get rid of her!"

At the airport, Vivian has her car, a red speedster. Mike suggests that he drive, but Vivian refuses. They squeeze in to the front seat, and Vivian speeds to Sky Hook.

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7. Skyhook
The Skyhook estate is described. Workshops, study room, gym, even a laboratory - which has a full-sized capsule for the four astronauts to practice in. Mike tells only Colonel Drummond about the attack from the Voodoo. Drummond contacts intelligence agents and tell them to look for the pilot, but they are unsuccessful.

(This is another far fetched plot point. They are unable to track down the pilot of the Voodoo that attacked Mike, for there were several planes out that day. While it may have been possible that several pilots from surrounding bases decided to take a Voodoo up that day, the disappearance of three missiles from a particular plane would have been noticed, and in that way its pilot traced. (One wonders if the Air Force really was so lackadaisical in recording who took up their jets, and why they did not have to file flight plans).

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8. The Moonbrite Conspiracy
Cahoon the saboteur meets Jethro Manson, the Pad Control Officer for the Redstone operation. By showing him forged documents stating that he is a Captain Tench from Air Force Intelligence, Cahoon convinces Manson to sabotage the first three launches (to test the skills of the astronauts under such pressure).

(It seems to occur to neither character that if three Redstone rockets are destroyed in the space of three weeks, the program might well be postponed while technicians go over the rockets or their procedures to try to find out why things keep going wrong!)

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9. Redstone Blastoff
A history of the Redstone rocket is given, as well as the procedures that are in place at various locations for people to witness the launch of the rocket, with Hart Williams inside. Then, the rocket is launched.

History of the Redstone
"From the viewpoint of rocketry, the Redstone is already old fashioned, if you consider that liquid-fuel rockets really do not go back beyond 1943. It was a descendant of that first German cargo rocket...

The Redstone was already a mass-produced rocket, and since 1958 it had been part of the defense arsenal of America. There were teams of Army men trained to handle the Redstone and field detachments were already in operation along the frontiers of the free world's security lines.

Here at Canaveral, the Army would ordinarily have handled the Redstone, too, but this NASA-directed flight was special. The pad was one of the line facing the Atlantic, side by side with the Atlas and Thor launching setups, from which the Explorer and Midas satellites had been launched. "

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10. Emergency Flight
Within seconds of the launch, the rocket begins to twist out of control. The capsule is released from the top of the rocket and comes down in the ocean unharmed, meanwhile the rocket is destroyed by remote control. The four astronauts decide to go out to dinner. As Mike drives by the Moonbrite Hotel, he sees Cahoon. It takes him awhile to place the man, but when he does he turns back and they head back toward the hotel.

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11. Keep Your Eyes Open
They arrive at the Moonbrite Hotel. The manager lets the four men into Cahoon's room, but they find no clues. He has left (having seen Mike in the previous chapter) without paying.

Drummond summons Mike and Johnny to his room, and they repeat that they are sure it was Cahoon they saw. Drummond says Air Force Intelligence will look for him.

"Can we do a little looking around, too?" asks Mike. Drummond vetos it: "Let the men whose business it is to find criminals do their job."

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12. Go On, Joe
Once more a Redstone rocket is to be launched, this time with Joe Stacey in the capsule. The reaction of the various astronauts on the ground is described as the rocket rises in the air. But it doesn't turn as it should. The gyro controls fail. The capsule is detached and floats down into the ocean, while the rocket is destroyed by remote control.

"And that's the second shoot," Mike comments. "A different trouble, anyway."

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13. Miami Monkey Business
Rod Harger meets his father in a Miami hotel. It is revealed that Rod was indeed the pilot who tried to shoot down Mike in the Voodoo. Rod's character is changed in this installment.

In X-15, he doesn't want Cahoon to continue his work. Now that he's an astronaut, he feels he can do the rest by himself. But Cahoon refuses to stop. In Canaveral, Harger is quite content with the idea of the first three Redstones being sabotaged. Harger Sr. reveals that he's arranged for newspaper men to be "accidentally" in the area for Rod's turn on the Redstone, and after the news is leaked NASA won't dare not make Rod the first to be the one to orbit around the earth.

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14. The Third Countdown
It is Orin McMahan's turn. All of the astronauts had been split up to witness the previous two launches from differing points. This time, its Mike's turn to be inside the blockhouse, right beside the launchpad. The countdown continues...and then the rocket blows up on the launchpad itself.

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15. The X-15 Again
Mike waits in suspense to find out the fate of Orin. The capsule had been released from the rocket, but hits on ground instead of water. Orin has a broken arm and shoulder blade, but is otherwise alright.

Despite these three mishaps?this one the most catastrophic of all?the next launch will go ahead as scheduled in seven days. But, it has been decided that Rod will have his turn to pilot the X-15 (which he did not have in the prior book), and thus it is Mike who will be the next to ride the Redstone.

It takes two days before Harger - now in California - can contact Cahoon, but then he orders him to sabotage this rocket as well. At this point, Rod cares nothing for the fact that this will probably doom the program. He just wants Mike hurt!

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16. No Rest For a Missileman
Mike and the rest of the astronauts prepare for Mike's lift-off the next day. Vivian is back from school, which has just ended. Van Ness tells Mike to take his daughter swimming at a beach that morning, to relax him for his upcoming flight.

Cahoon finally gets in contact with missileman Manson, and tells him he must sabotage the fourth Redstone. Manson now realizes that he's been duped, but doesn't feel he can do anything about it.

Mike, before joining Vivian at the beach, pays another visit to the Moonbrite hotel, and the room in which Cahoon had stayed. He patiently pages through the phonebook, hoping to see a clue. He sees a checkmark by the name Jethro Manson, and recognizes it. The Pad Control Officer. Mike runs out of the room and heads towards Manson's house.

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17. The Screaming Girl
Mike sees Manson walking along the beach, looking troubled. Mike, from his car, shouts for Manson to stop. Instead, Manson starts running. He sees Vivian in her red speedster parked on the beach, waiting for Mike. Manson shoves her over and drives off, with Mike in pursuit. Vivian screams and continues screaming, but eventually tries to grab the wheel away from Manson. Mike draws up beside them and jumps into the car.

Vivian is actually allowed to have the presence of mind to grab hold of the wheel and steer until the car comes to a halt. When the car stops Manson jumps out and tries to run - Mike shoots him in the leg. Manson then loses consciousness.

Instead of sticking around to explain what happened, Mike abandons Vivian, jumps into his car (which had rolled to a stop a few feet away) and tells her to explain things to the police. (He suspects she wants to kiss him and does't want it to happen in front of witnesses.)

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18. The Time Is Zero
The Redstone rocket has been set up on a new pad (the old one having been destroyed in the last explosion.) Mike gets into his spacesuit with the aid of Dr. Holderlin. They go to the waiting Redstone rocket.

Van Ness is waiting for them, and tells Mike that Manson is still unconscious. (From a leg wound?) They don't know if Manson had time to sabotage the rocket or not. Van Ness asks Mike if he wants to postpone the flight to the next day, so that they can go over the rocket again. (This makes sense, but Mike, not showing the patience that he was noted for earlier in the book, says "no." He will 'take his chances.') T minus ten seconds.

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19. Visions of Venus
The rocket lifts off. Mike experiences the pressure of G-forces, and is able to see out of his viewplate as the red gantry falls away. He describes his sensations as he reaches space and weightlessness.

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20. Out of the Sky
The capsule descends safely into the ocean, and Mike squeezes...out of the top. He waves towards the people on the ship coming to pick him up. The next step...the first manned flight in space around the world.
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