Mr. Thomas Erons exploded in the upper atmosphere during a standard atmospheric re-entry. Shrapnel rained over four states. Erons had been one of the first backers of the Pendleton Engine. A decade prior to the accident, he’d been the first hobbyist to build something capable of space flight. Now he was the first hobbyist, or at least the most public one, to die in space. Increased regulation and government oversight followed, as did widespread news coverage. Every person who’d dreamed of being an astronaut could now realize that dream. Decades of training and a giant fiscal apparatus were no longer required. The mid-life crisis vehicle turned from a convertible, jet-ski, or even an airplane into a rocket.
Jad looked over the backyard fence at the empty launch pad. Polished chrome flowed along every inch of the pad. Just two months before, Jad’s neighbor, Mr. Crisp, had built the launch pad and bought the shiny red rocket. Mr. Crisp had flown it every clear day since.
Just before Jad was born, Arthur Pendleton had brought the Pendleton Engine to market. Any military-grade, re-usable rocket could now push a payload the size of a short bus into the atmosphere. Every software engineer in the Valley bought one and took a loop around the planet before driving to work. It wreaked havoc on the FAA until most of Silicon Valley and similar locations became no fly zones. (Rocket hobbyists sat in enough high places to protect their mid-life crisis investment.) Jad’s Dad, like millions of men before him, had been more conventional. He bought a convertible. Unfortunately, he also took a trip with someone other than Jad’s Mom. Jad lost both his father and a drool-worthy piece of machinery.
Mr. Crisp often talked about taking Jad up sometime, particularly around Jad’s Mom, Lisa, but he’d made empty promises about his jet ski, convertible, and two-seater airplane too. Jad had never gone more than sixty-five miles-an-hour in his life, even on highways where you’re allowed. He held onto Mr. Crisp’s promises with every fiber of his speed-starved being.
Jad and Lisa lived in a large house in an upscale neighborhood. But the house, like the marriage before it, consisted mostly of empty rooms. Jad’s Dad “magnanimously” took on his ex-wife’s mortgage. It both prevented her from complaining about the emotional damage he’d caused and gave him an excuse to be cheap with his time. That didn’t stop him from buying his own big house, spending weekends on the golf course, and building his own launch pad out back, though. Jad saw his father, Carl, about once a month or so. Even then it was for little more than a “here’s a gift my assistant thought you’d love,” and a “see you next time.”
As Jad watched the skies, Mr. Crisp returned. The ship streaked into view. Then the retro rockets fired and he heard the boom of the engine as its sound caught up with it.
Mr. Crisp landed his shiny red capsule with pinpoint accuracy. The rocket, which he had named The Sun Skimmer, looked like something out of a 1950’s era sci-fi movie. Not the most aerodynamic design, but it did make a pretty picture landing in a backyard in the suburbs. Mr. Crisp climbed out in his black space suit and pointed a greeting at Jad as he walked into the house. Jad sighed and watched the metal cool.
In early May, Arthur Pendleton stepped off of his private island and announced the Pendleton Moon Prize. Three quarters of a billion dollars to whoever could bring back a fresh moon rock using a Pendleton Engine.
The government and a handful of corporations had landed on the moon hundreds of times. Enough that even the conspiracy theorists held their peace. But the dreams of the hobbyist expanded beyond a few dozen laps of the globe to that little rock just out of reach.
The main obstacle to moon hopping hobbyists was fuel. The heavier the object the more fuel you need to reach escape velocity. The extra fuel, in turn, increased the weight. Corporations had made many advances in finding both more powerful and lighter fuels. The added weight of the fuel necessary to get you to the moon and back, though, still overcame the lightening powers of the Pendleton Engine. More conventional means existed, but these were out of reach of the hobbyist. The amount of fuel a typical hobby rocket could carry would only get you into the thermosphere and back (with a handful of circuits around the globe thrown in for good measure). Going to the moon was something different entirely.