Tech As Drama: Acceleration

From the master, Doc Smith’s “Galactic Patrol”:

Soon the Lensmen, young and old, were inside. Doctor and nurse went instantly to work, with the calmness and precision so characteristic of their highly-skilled crafts. In a trice they had him out of his armor, out of his leather, and into a hammock; perceiving at once that except for a few pads of gauze they could do nothing for their patient until they had him upon an operating table. Meanwhile the pilots, having swung the hammocks, had been observing, computing and conferring.

“She’s got a lot of speed, Admiral–most of it straight down,” Henderson reported. “On her landing jets it’ll take close to two G’s on a full revolution to bring her in. Either one of us can balance her down, but it’ll have to be straight on her tail and it’ll mean over five G’s most of the way. Which do you want?”

“Which is more important, Lacy, time or pressure?” Haynes transferred decision to the surgeon.

“Time.” Lacy decided instantly. “Fight her down!” His patient had been through so much already of force and pressure that a little more would not do additional hurt, and time was most decidedly of the essence. Doctor, nurse, and admiral leaped into hammocks; pilots at their controls tightened safety belts and acceleration straps–five gravities for over half an hour is no light matter–and the fight was on.

Starkly incandescent flares ripped and raved from driving jets and side jets. The speedster spun around viciously, only to be curbed, skilfully if savagely, at the precisely right instant. Without an orbit, without even a corkscrew or other spiral, she was going down–straight down. And not upon her under jets was this descent to be, nor upon her even more powerful braking jets. Master Pilot Henry Henderson, Prime Base’s best, was going to kill the awful inertia of the speedster by “balancing her down on her tail.” Or, to translate from the jargon of space, he was going to hold the tricky, cranky little vessel upright upon the terrific blasts of her main driving projectors, against the Earth’s gravitation and against all other perturbing forces, while her driving force counteracted, overcame, and dissipated the full frightful measure of the kinetic energy of her mass and speed!

And balance her down he did. Haynes was afraid for a minute that that intrepid wight was actually going to land the speedster on her tail. He didn’t–quite–but he had only a scant hundred feet to spare when he nosed her over and eased her to ground on her under-jets.

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