The Temperature of Space (Heinlein)

Book:  Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

This is a fun young adult sci-fi novel first published in 1948, which makes it a study of the past more than a study of the future.

Space Cadet by Robert A. HeinleinThe main character, Matt Dodson, goes through a space academy and eventually has a real space adventure.  When in the academy he learns by using something like microfilm.

“When class was dismissed he hurried to his room and into his own cubicle, selected a spool on Martian history, inserted it in his projector, and began to study.”

In other books, Heinlein’s characters read using a projector that projects onto the ceiling while they are laying down.  I actually love this idea and it solves the problem of holding up a heavy book at night!

But no, we have not solved that problem yet have we (unless you count a reading pad but you still have to hold that up!).

Later, Matt becomes “air-conditioning engineer” when he travels to the outer reaches of the solar system on his first mission.  This means something different than we would first assume.  The ship’s air is conditioned by living plants so that it can achieve the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide.  The plants “scavenge carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen.” 

But when too many plants are growing at one time “the air in the ship would get too fresh and the plants would start to fail for lack of carbon dioxide to feed on.  Matt had to watch his CO2 count and sometimes build it up by burning waste paper or plant cuttings.”

You’ve got to give Heinlein props for creativity and for simply going out on a limb to make his story well-rounded.

Later, when Matt and the rest of the crew find a ship that has not returned to Earth, they find it was punctured by a meteor and lost pressure, killing all on board.

“The plants in the air conditioner had died for lack of attention and carbon dioxide.”

Not from freezing though.  You can read about the temperature of space by doing a simple Google search, and Heinlein was right that heat can be a problem when the sun’s rays hit a piece of metal, but perhaps he didn’t know that in the shade, an object (space has no temperature which Heinlein knew) can reach as low as -100 degrees Celsius.

Understandable, and a fun quick read.

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