Without needing rockets stuck to it, the spaceship was really easy to build, and it only took them a fortnight. The complicated bit was to attach a microwave dish to the base, which meant standing the spaceship on three spindly legs so it wouldn’t lean on the microwave dish and crumple it.
They kept to the casserole design, because the glass lid would let them see where they were going. And being oven-proof, it would withstand atmospheric re-entry. Dyspepsia used to wonder why spacecraft got so hot when they came down through the atmosphere. Surely it was just like wind whistling past, and didn’t that cool things down, not warm them up? Spookie said the atmosphere whistled past so fast it was like a blow lamp, which doesn’t cool you down at all.
With this thing standing in the back garden looking like a casserole dish on three spindly legs, the neighbours started to get a bit edgy because it looked like War Of The Worlds. So they’d have to do something with their spaceship soon. Something like: going to Mars.
Dyspepsia wanted to set off for Mars on her birthday because if the spaceship blew up on the launch pad then she would have lived for an exact number of years. It would round off her life nicely, with no loose ends. She was very tidy minded, was Dyspepsia. But Spookie reassured her. There would be no rockets, and no rocket fuel, so it couldn’t blow up. The biggest risk was getting microwaved, but not if they built a chicken-wire box inside the spaceship to sit in, called a Faraday Cage. Then the microwaves couldn’t get in and hurt them.
All the same, Dyspepsia thought it would make a nice birthday treat to set off for Mars, so that was the day to aim for.
Next they needed a microwave beam. Spookie said they had no time to design one from scratch, so they’d have to buy one ready-made.
Now where do you go to buy microwave beams? Well it so happens there are plenty of shops selling microwave ovens, and if you pull one apart you find something inside called a magnetron. That gives you your microwave beam.
Spookie and Dyspepsia knew they’d need a much bigger magnetron than you get out of an ordinary microwave oven. Now back in the Monstosaurus days, Dyspepsia had made a lot of good business contacts, people who were happy to make special things for her, and soon she’d placed an order for 100 ginormous microwave ovens, each ten times the size of an ordinary one.
They all arrived in whacking great cardboard boxes which were a nuisance to dispose of, because they needed cutting up and stuffing in the recycling bin, and the dustmen wouldn’t take it all in one go. And once Spookie and Dyspepsia had got the magnetrons out of the big ovens, they’d be leftovers too. But Spookie had a use for them. They’d make fine Portakabins on the launch site.
Next they had to decide where that was going to be. “Why not the backyard?” said Dyspepsia.
“No, not the backyard,” said Spookie. “Not anywhere in England. Or at least, not only in England. Because in England, the sun goes down each day.”
“So what’s that got to do with it?” said Dyspepsia.
“Really it’s not the sun going down,” said Spookie, “but the world spinning round beneath the sun, which more-or-less stays put in the sky. That’s not what it looks like, I know, unless you’re The Fool On The Hill in the Beatles’ song, who can see that, with the eyes in his head.
“Now what’s true of the sun is true of everything else in the sky. Including Mars. So each day Mars, like the sun, goes down below the horizon. Then you can’t point the beam at it any longer.
“Now we could have two beams, one in England and one in New Zealand, which is exactly the opposite side of the Earth from us. Then when Mars goes down in England, it comes up in New Zealand, and the New Zealand beam can take over.”
“Two beams is twice the price of one beam,” said Dyspepsia. “And the giant microwave ovens have been our biggest expense.”
“Absolutely,” said Spookie. “So let’s have just one microwave beam at the South Pole. It has to be the South Pole because there isn’t any land at the North Pole, just ice floating on seawater. Soon it’s all going to melt in Summer, thanks to Global Warming.”
“What’s so good about the South Pole?” said Dyspepsia.
“The sun never sets there, for six months of the year. And so neither does Mars.”
“But it will take us six months to get to Mars. And then we’ve got to get back again,” said Dyspepsia.
“Well,” said Spookie, “once we land, our people can move the beam to the North Pole, ready to beam us back home again. It will be Winter then, so there will be ice for it to stand on. And there’s another good thing about the South Pole—and the North Pole too. We won’t need planning permission.”
Dyspepsia had a lot of experience with getting planning permission over the Monstosaurus business, and she wasn’t looking forward to writing out a planning application for a microwave station to beam a spaceship to Mars. Planning committees don’t give permission for things they don’t understand, and she knew it would take ages and ages to explain.
Now the South Pole is in the middle of a big continent called Antarctica. There is no government in Antarctica, so no planning committees. Just a clutter of international conventions. Dyspepsia felt she could wheedle those. She clapped her hands in glee.
“So we won’t need planning permission. All we’ll need is some very warm clothes.”
They also needed a load of huskies and sledges to trundle the hundred giant microwave ovens to the South Pole. They screwed all the magnetrons to a clever motorised turntable to keep them pointing at Mars the whole time.
In a week they had it all set up, and could go back home. They used all the empty microwave ovens as Portakabins, and had lots of staff sitting in front of computer screens doing all the calculations. But not as many staff as NASA would have had, especially to plot navigation trajectories, because the microwave beam was going to do the navigation for them.
“Faster, cheaper, better,” said Spookie.
Next they needed a name for the project. After a lot of arguing they decided on Dyspepsia And Spookie’s Mission To Mars. The first letters were DASMTM, but no matter how she pushed the letters around, Spookie couldn’t make anything clever out of them.
“It will just have to do,” said Dyspepsia.
What it lacked in snappiness it made up for in accuracy. There would be no mistaking it for anyone else’s Mission To Mars. If anyone else had a Mission To Mars—which they didn’t. Not even NASA. At least, not one that was going anywhere for several years yet.
…to be continued.