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Mike Mars Sourcebook
"Stand By For Mars!"
Mike Mars Sourcebook
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The Mike Mars series Sourcebook:
2) Mike Mars Flies the X-15, by Donald A. Wollheim (1961)

Mike Mars and three other Project Quicksilver astronauts journey to Edwards Air Base in the Mojave Desert of California in order to learn how to fly the X-15 - the first space ship.

Although Rod Harger Jr. has now become an astronaut, the scar-faced man who calls himself Carl Cahoon now seeks revenge on Mike Mars personally for having forced him to crash his Cessna in the first book, and doesn't care how much government property he has to destroy in order to get the boy.

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

This second entry in the Mike Mars series is not much of an improvement over the first in terms of story-telling. The technical details of the X-15 are given in easy-to-understand terms, but the prose is still pedestrian (as will be illustrated in the chapter breakdowns below).

Again the country of Russia is not mentioned by name, only as "another world power."

Mike Mars - main character
Johnny Bluehawk - Mike's best friend
Rod Harger - the antagonist
Jack Lannigan - 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.
Major Coppard - pilot, B-52
Frank Moultrie - NASA engineer
Lentz - civilian chief construction engineer
Women and Minorities
There are no women in the story. The only mention of the sex comes in a throwaway, as Colonel Drummond is telling the boys why they're not getting the same publicity as the Project Mercury astronauts: "Nobody has even asked you what kind of chewing gum you chew or what pretty actress you like to watch best in movies."

Meanwhile, in real life, the Mercury 13?thirteen female pilots, are taking the same tests as the Mercury 7, and doing as well as them.

Johnny Bluehawk, a Cheyenne Indian, Mike's best friend, is responsible for saving Mike's life in this installment, but he is treated in a somewhat stereotypical way (albeit one that most boys - and girls - probably loved.) See "Chapter 17. Warpath", for his actions in this mode. Again, it's all about the American Indian having pride in himself and his heritage.)

There were seven Quicksilver astronauts at the end of Mike Mars, Astronaut. In this book only four are featured, and of these Jack Lannigan is given very little to do.

Below is a chapter-by-chapter description of Mike Mars Flies the X-15, highlighting moments of interest.

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1. On the Mojave Desert

© 1961, Mike Mars, by Albert Orbaan
Wollheim sets the scene of Edwards AFB in the Mojave Desert. The villainous Carl Cahoon arrives on the base (he is ex-Air Force, albeit thrown out unceremoniously) and gets in contact with Rod Harger Sr by phone. Sr. tries to tell Cahoon not to let personal grudges get in the way of ensuring Rod flies the X-15, but Cahoon is angry at Mars for having forced him down at the end of Book 1 - this has now become personal. "Nobody does me dirt and gets away with it."

Later, Mike Mars and Johnny Bluehawk are being driven by the famous test pilot Kent Sutton to take their first look at the X-15. The shed containing the X-15 has only one guard, O'Shaunnessy, and he's been knocked unconscious. Mike sees the intruder and chases him, but trips over a tangled coil of wire, and the man gets away.

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2. The Unfalling Golfball
Having started the story in media res, Wolheim brings us back in time to earlier that day, when Johnny was piloting a speedy F-100F in a parabolic curve to create a condition of zero gravity, and Mike was trying to eat and drink, as he would if he were in a space capsule.

They see the X-15 from the air, and Dr. Hugo Holderlin tells them over the radio that they can see it close up when they land.

The character of Hugo Holderin is clearly based on Werner von Braun. After the end of World War II, von Braun and his group of rocket scientists surrendered to the Americans. Other German rocket scientists were put to work in Russia.

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3. Flight Test Center
Johnny and Mike get out of the plane, and Dr. Holderlin is waiting for them. Holderlin quizzes them on their reactions during the flight. After checking their equipment, they drive to the NASA building on the base, and enter a main room labeled Space Task Group Q. This is the headquarters for Project Quicksilver. Already in the room are astronaut trainees Jack Lanigan and Rod Harger, Colonel Drummond, head of the group, and Kent Scott, one of the test pilots of the X-15.

Drummond says:

"I can now inform you that this remarkable plane has been officially turned over to the Air Force by its builders. The next flights of the X-15 will be under our control, and specifically under the control of Space Task Group Q. In short, you fellows are going to learn to fly this rocketship, the first space-going plane ever produced!"

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4. Rocketship X-15
Here, we are given the history of Project Quicksilver once more, as well as the history of Mike Mars - his goal since a little child to get to Mars, how he prepared himself for that goal, etc.

Project Quicksilver runs concurrently with Project Mercury. As Drummond explains:

"Some of us at NASA felt that we needed to train very young men for space, young pilots with quick useful muscles and minds and without family ties. We felt that it would be the younger men who would grow up with the science of space flight, and who would not be too old to fly to the Moon and the planets when the rockets are perfected..."

"Our Project Mercury astronauts represent the officially acknowledged program for placing a man in space. But as you know we are in a race with another great world power, one that has made some big jumps into space that have caused many people to believe it is ahead of our country. If we were to take the risks openly that this power must have taken to get there, there would be too much public protest, too many claims that we were heedless of life."

"Now, as you know from your own experience, we are not at all reckless with life....Without family ties, you men young and daring, ready for risks that cautious and older test pilots would not undertake, you are going to be moved ahead secretly and the world is not going to hear of you until you have planted Old Glory on the Moon. Then and only then will we admit the existence of Project Quicksilver."

After Drummond finishes, Kent Scott briefs them on the history of the X-15:

"The X-15 is designed to fly in outer space. It has been tested several times at Edwards, the first independent glide flight and landing having been made on June 8, 1959. It is now ready for man's first drive beyond the borders of the atmosphere."

When Kent is done with his briefing, Mike asks if they can see the X-15 that night. Kent calls the guard at the X-15 shed, O'Shaunnessy, who says "yes." Lannigan and Harger beg off, so it is only Kent, Mike and Johnny who go see the X-15 and surprise the mysterious intruder as we see in Chapter 1.

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5. Under the Evening Star
We are returned to the present. After having lost the intruder, Mike, Johnny and Kent return to O'Shaugnnessy. The police arrive, so they head back for chow. On the way back Mike mentions he's surprised to find there are three X-15s.

Kent explains:

"Now you don't suppose we'd spend all that money and research just to make one plane - and then have the plane blow up or be destroyed in a crash while testing it?...We built three copies of the plane, so that whatever happens to the one being tested, what we learn can be corrected and put into the other two that are still safe on the ground. That's the way all experimental new planes are built - you always make three of them."

After the four astronauts have dinner, and while walking back to their quarters, Mike waxes rhapsodic about Venus, the Evening Star, giving the author a chance to describe the planet. Once in BOQ (basic officer quarters, a kind of hotel set-up) Mike looks down a corridor and sees a vaguely familiar man start to come out of his room, see Mike, and go back into his room as if he'd forgotten something. Mike shrugs, "thrust the teasing shadow of memory from his mind, and sat down to read through the basic papers on the rocket ship's construction."

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6. Practice Makes Perfect
The next morning the four astronauts are given sidearms (a foreshadowing of things to come.) Then they start their training on the X-15 and the readers are given more background on it: was but fifty feet long from nose to tail...its stubby wings, set far back to the rear, ran but twenty-two feet from tip to tip....The entire X-15 was sheathed in an extremely hard and heat-resistant nickel alloy known as Inconel-X. In its tapering nose were four tiny compressed-air rocket tubes for use in directional navigation when out of the Earth's atmosphere. Here also were stored the landing wheels retracted when in flight.

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7. Seven-Day Deadline

Time has passed as the boys have familiarized themselves with every inch of the X-15.

We are introduced to three new characters: Major Coppard, a pilot, Frank Moultrie, an ernest young NASA engineer, and a middle-aged civilian named Lentz. It has been decided that the four men are now ready to fly the X-15.

Coppard is the pilot of the B-52 which will take the X-15 up, release it, and allow it to glide to Earth. It won't be under rocket power during these initial flights. Rod Harger is selected to be the first 'glider pilot' of the X-15.

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8. Space Suit For One
A brief chapter, in which the "boys" (as they are termed in the book) discuss Project Quicksilver again to make sure the readers understand what Major Drummon said in chapter 4. They see a Model A Ford in a parking lot, which belongs to a pilots' club. It's a tradition that whoever gets to fly the most advanced plane of the base gets to drive the car.

Then they get decked out in their flying kit prepatory to going up in their planes for the X-15 glider test.

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9. Landing Pattern
Johnny and Mike get into their chase planes. The B-52 containing the X-15 under its wing takes off, followed by the chase planes. Rod brings the X-15 down under glide safely.

"A good job, Rod", thinks Mike. "Can I do as well tomorrow?"

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10. Spacemen's Initials
Cahoon enters Rod's room at the BOQ. Rod had suspected that the intruder had been Cahoon. He no longer wants Cahoon's help - now that he's an astronaut he wants to do the rest on his own. But Cahoon won't listen. He outlines how he wants Rod to help him, and Rod realizes he doesn't have a choice.

The next day Mike gets into his space suit - and the intricacies of the MC-2 space suit are explained.

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11. Chariot For a High-Flier
Mike has his chance to go up in the X-15 under the B-52's wing, be dropped, and glide in for a safe landing. He thinks to himself that the reason for all these tests is that each of the pilot's reactions as they fly it are being monitored - heartbeat, reaction to stress, etc., in order to choose the most qualified to fly the X-15. A couple of days pass..and then Mike is told he gets to drive the Model A. Reason? He's going to be the first to fly the X-15 under power.

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12. Action Stations
Johnny Bluehawk is wakened by a noise, but goes back to sleep. In the room next to his, Cahoon instructs Rod - he wants the key to a store room. Next day, the astronauts are briefed on how the test flight will go. Then, Johnny sees the man with the hooked shape scar and recognizes him. He's too far away to follow at that time, but Johnny vows to track him down.

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13. The Tracker
Johnny spends the chapter trying to find Cahoon. He eventually does so, but is knocked unconscious from behind.

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14. The Missing Astronaut
Mike wakes up, excited on this Sunday morning, the day before he is to fly in the X-15, but Johnny is nowhere to be found.

Colonel Drummond tells Mike that he's been called away, and that Jack Lannigan will now be the chase plane pilot instead of Johnny. In reality, Drummond and Holderlin have been told that Johnny is missing, a storage room has been broken into, and Johnny's service revolver found on the scene. The security chief who brings them this news accuses Johnny of being the saboteur. No mention of Johnny's race is brought into this accusation, and Holderlin and Drummond refuse to believe it of him.

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15. Missile Cargo
Johnny wakes up. He is tied up in the back of a truck that is driving to an unknown destination. On the bed of the truck with him is a Sidewinder missile, which he realizes is going to be shot at the X-15.

Over the course of the day the truck is stopped and he is fed, etc., but none of the three men who hold him captive answers his questions. He realizes that they are heading for Ely, where the test of the X-15 is supposed to start the next day.

Johnny escapes from the truck, walks to the nearest town, and asks to be connected with the Air Force. But there's an APB out for his arrest. Johnny overhears a phone call and makes his escape before the police can get him.

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16. X-15 Cargo
The X-15, and Mike, and the others are prepped for the task of taking the X-15 up into the air. The B-52 takes off...and achieves the proper altitude. Mike counts down his checklist, and then...drops!

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17. On the Warpath
Johnny deduces the location where the saboteurs will attempt to shoot down the X-15. He leaves his stolen car behind, strips off his shirt, applies war paint, and then heads on foot across the desert to that point. He comes to it in time and attacks the men before they have a chance to shoot off the missile as the X-15 is released. But, Cahoon does manage to fire it seconds later.

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18. The Stars By Day
Mike flies the X-15, describing all of his sensations to the men on the ground via radio.

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19. Sidewinder Justice
The fight is over. Johnny and Cahoon stand staring into the sky. Johnny knows the X-15 is safe, but the Sidewinder is a heat seeking missile, and it finds one of the chase planes. The one flown by Harger, who manages to bail out. The police arrive, and in the confusion, Cahoon is allowed to escape. Johnny is cleared of all wrong doing. The boys prepare for their next challenge:

The story of Mike Mars at Cape Kennedy and of that moment when he rode a raging Redstone rocket to the edge of the void will be found in the next book, Mike Mars at Cape Kennedy. Look for it.

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