National Geographic : 1976 Jul
(Continuedfrom page 76) amounted to in older units of measurement was that L-5 was a little more than 1.1 miles across. There were the usual complications of docking, establishing an airtight seal, and getting through an air lock. Then I underwent a brief medical examination. Finally George Fenton greeted me. The head of L-5 was a stocky man with a shock of brown hair and a swarthy complexion. He was dressed lightly and loosely, but not exotically. His personal attention, I gathered, was not unusual; a free lance writer for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC was treated with the same courtesy as any arriv ing visitor. Hub's Low Gravity an Aid to Research "The day will come, sir," Fenton said, "when there will be colonies large enough to take in the shuttles whole. It will be much easier when that day comes." I protested that it had been no trouble and looked about. Somehow I had expected to get into the hub and see a cavernous vista. In stead, I found myself in a corridor very much like that in any large office building back on earth-except for the bars and handholds one requires at low gravity. "There are no living quarters in the hub," Fenton said. "There's a small hospital here for cardiac cases and orthopedic problems. There are also research laboratories. Some of these are biological, studying the effect of low grav ity on living systems; some are industrial and engineering...." "You mean it's here that you grow crystals and manufacture electronic components?" Fenton smiled. "No, not here. Not enough room and, besides, we need a vacuum for that. Our manufacturing plants are out in near space, and are attached to the main body of L-5 by transport tubes. "Of course we are not yet self-supporting. We depend on earth for much of our high technology as well as our culture, educa tion, and medicine. However, we have al ready become an important part of earth's computer industry and a source of many of the microminiature circuits it uses." "To say nothing of your manufacturing solar-energy stations?" Fenton shrugged. "That's an old story. The first solar power station was operative and sent into orbit around earth even before L-5 was entirely habitable [pages 88-9]. "We will want to go out to the torus, and the third elevator bank is nearest. Do you mind starting there?" He took my agreement for granted, for he seized the nearest handhold, pushed off, and went shooting along the corridor. I followed, but with far less expertise. There wasn't quite the sensation of shooting upward that one gets in the zero gravity of a coasting shut tle. The weak gravity was enough to make the flight seem horizontal but to have me sink ing slowly. I caught another handhold and brought myself to a yanking halt. I walked the last few meters, rubbing my shoulder. "I'm sorry," said Fenton. "I know you've had space experience, and I rather thought you were used to this." "I am," I said. "Just not quite enough." Elevator Picks Up Speed-Sideways The elevator door opened, and I stepped into a semicircular chamber about five meters deep and rather more than that across. Fenton said, "This elevator car fills about one-third of the spoke, and there's room for another one." Fenton hooked an arm around one of the six vertical bars spaced through the car, and I took another, assuming there was some pur pose for that. I said, after a time, "Aren't we moving rather slowly?" "Yes, we are. Two reasons. First, the grav ity effect gets stronger as we move down, and the body adjusts more easily if the change isn't too rapid. After all, we go from nearly nothing to full gravity in a matter of just about a kilometer. Second, there is the Coriolis force that results when you move Main Street, Hometown, Cosmos finds colonists on the move, passing the stacked, modular habitations and shops of L-5. Fountains and fruit trees relieve the stark simplic ity of a manufactured environment. The alumni of earth can order buildings, climate, and sunlight to suit. Yet L-5 is no playground in the void. Hardworking pioneers make it the latest outpost on a limitless frontier.