This new edition of a charmingly illustrated story is the third of a four-book series starring the intrepid feline known as Space Cat. Young readers will delight in taking a look at space exploration from Flyball's point of view and following his escapades across the solar system.
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|Age Range:||6 - 10 Years|
About the Author
Illustrator and writer Paul Galdone (1907–1986) specialized in children's books. His illustrations for Eve Titus's works include the Basil of Baker Street series. Galdone and Titus were nominated for Caldecott Medals for Anatole (1957) and Anatole and the Cat (1958), titles that were named Caldecott Honor books in 1971. Galdone was posthumously awarded the 1996 Kerlan Award for his contributions to children's literature.
Read an Excerpt
Flyball yawned. He lay back in his specially-built hammock on board the good spaceship Halley and grumbled quietly to himself about the terrible dullness of space travel. Long, long ago when he had made his first journey through space, from the Earth to the Moon, it had been new and exciting. Floating around the cabin of that early rocket ship, the ZOX-1, had been fun. So had been the job of chasing drops of milk which were, like himself, in free-fall.
Now, however, he was a seasoned space cat, veteran of several Earth-Moon and Moon-Earth journeys, always in company with his constant companion, Colonel Fred Stone.
As a result of all these Moon trips, the two of them had set out in this most fancy spaceship, the Halley, called after the great astronomer. They had meant to go to Venus and had succeeded in getting there. Now they were on their way home, to live on Earth, where there were birds and mice.
Flyball forgot the dullness of travel and purred quietly to himself as he thought things over. Venus had been an odd place indeed, with sensible plants and only one kind of animal, a rather dumb blue creature, somewhat like a six-legged mouse.
Still, though Flyball as a rule had little use for vegetables, despising cabbage and ignoring spinach, he had to admit that the Venusian plants had been unlike those of Earth, and really clever. They had given him and Fred Stone little pieces of a moss called pyxyx, which, dangling in little lockets around their necks, had enabled them to read each other's thoughts.
But now, well away from the gravity of Venus, the moss had stopped working. It was a pity in a way. Yet, even though Flyball and Fred could no longer exchange their thoughts, the fact that they had once been able to do so, even for a short time, meant that they understood each other better than any man or cat had ever done before.
Fred knew that Flyball understood him when he talked, even if he could not answer back, and Flyball knew that Fred understood what he meant by his different behaviors.
For a first exploratory expedition to Venus they had done rather well. The Halley was carrying dozens of envelopes of seeds which were to be planted on Earth. Someday, as plants, they would be sent back to Venus so that the stay-at-home plants there would get some idea of a different world where animals, and not plants, were the intelligent life.
As well as the seeds, they were carrying many chunks of a most curious red crystal which was harder than a diamond, but which could be melted and worked with the help of the juice of a strange tree called the tlora. They had several gallon bottles of this juice.
Fred Stone, who was lying in his hammock, finally finished his book and closed it. He stretched and got up. He agreed with Flyball that, usually, space travel was just plain old dull. Taking-off and landing needed skill and attention, but once one had got up enough speed there was nothing to do but keep an eye on things, for the Halley was almost completely automatically controlled.
He started wandering round the cabin, held to the walls, floor and ceiling by magnets in the soles of his shoes. Then, he looked at all the various dials which showed how they were going along.
Suddenly he straightened up, and Flyball could tell there was something wrong.
"What on Earth, or on the Moon, can be the matter?" Fred exclaimed. "Only a few hours ago we were right on the beam and here we are wandering off it! And wandering badly!"
He scowled at the instruments, and fishing a piece of pencil out of a pocket, started to make calculations on a scratch pad.
Flyball, who couldn't do arithmetic, just had to wait until Fred spoke again. But he could tell that Fred was seriously worried.
Fred stood up and pressed a series of buttons, and all over the ship heavy metal shields slid away from thick glass portholes.
Flyball who, like all cats, did not believe in moving unless he had to when he was comfortable, looked out of the porthole nearest to him. About half a mile away, floating idly in space, he saw a great ragged chunk of rock, rather bigger than the biggest building he had ever seen.
Fred gazed out too and then grabbed a pair of binoculars. He examined the large black rock for a long moment. Then he turned again to the instruments and looked them over carefully.
Finally, he ran his fingers through his hair, looking both worried and puzzled.
"It's sheer bad luck, Flyball, and that's all there is to it," he said at last. "We've been captured by an asteroid."
He started pulling charts of the sky out of a drawer and soon they were scattered all over a shelf which he slid out of the wall. The shelf had strips of steel on it and the charts had magnetized tape on their backs which prevented their flying around the cabin like bats.
"Asteroids? Asteroids, what are they?" Flyball thought crossly. He knew the word all right, but he had not really been paying much attention when the men in the big observatory on the Moon had talked about such things. He gave a yowl to attract Fred's attention and to show that he wanted information.
"Well, Flyball," said Fred, "asteroids are really nothing more than little planets. They are too small to have any atmosphere, but quite big enough to capture us in their field of gravity, I'm afraid. Of course, with our rockets, we'll be able to break free easily enough. But before I fire the rockets, I've got to do some more figuring. We don't want to be flying off to Jupiter by mistake!"
Flyball supposed that they did not, although he did not really care where he went. He could take his adventures as they came to him. Jupiter, Neptune, Mercury, Saturn, Uranus, or even the outer stars, it was all the same to him. He and Fred could go anywhere, just so long as they had a good spaceship!
Fred, seeing the flick of Flyball's whiskers, chuckled grimly. "We wouldn't be much good on a planet where we'd find ourselves so heavy that we could not move," he added.
Flyball raised a paw and examined it solemnly. There certainly would not be much fun on a world where he could not bounce and spring, and where no birds could fly. He yawned again and twitched his whiskers. It really was too silly worrying about things such as that. Fred would never land them in a place where they could not walk.
He lolled back in his hammock and looked at the magnetic pads he wore strapped to the pads of his paws. Wearing these sticky things was bad enough without trying to imagine places where he could not even walk. He closed his eyes and thought of mice.
It seemed a long time later that Fred straightened up and looked at the spaceship's special clock. He pressed the buttons that closed the shields over the portholes and moved over to Flyball's hammock, where he started strapping him in.
"I'm going to have to fire the rockets," he explained, "so we'll have to be strapped in. I think we should put on our space suits too."
Flyball bristled. He did not like having to wear his suit, and he considered the helmet a globe suitable only for silly goldfish.
Fred seemed to change his mind. He went over to his own hammock and fastened himself in, with the firing buttons under his right hand.
"Ready, Flyball," he called and then, watching the clock as he did so, he pressed the buttons. For a moment there was a tremendous roar and both he and Flyball were flattened in their hammocks.
Suddenly the roar was cut in halves. As the pressure lessened, Flyball was able to twist his head and look across at his friend.
The knuckles of Fred's hand were white as he pressed, and pressed again, on the buttons that fired the starboard rockets. But there was no answering roar. He jabbed a bar and, as quickly as it had begun, the noise stopped and there was no more pressure.
"Something wrong on the starboard side," Fred said, trying to sound cheerful, although he knew that he could not hide his worry from Flyball. He unstrapped himself and then did the same for Flyball, who rolled out of his hammock. Being weightless, he could not jump as he would have done on Earth.
Fred slid back the porthole covers and looked out.
"Well," he remarked, "at least we've shaken off our asteroid. But now I've got to discover just where we are headed for."
Flyball wished, just for a moment, that he could exchange thoughts with Fred once again.
"Who knows," he pondered, "but that as a cat, and a very clever cat at that, I might not be able to make helpful suggestions."
There was nothing he could do about it, however. Fred was busy taking sights with all sorts of instruments, making notes and shaking his head. Flyball wished he would not worry so by himself.
"Well, Flyball," he said in a funny voice, as he sat down on the edge of his hammock, "we're completely off our orbit. We'll need to think what we can do next. At the moment, it doesn't look as though we've got the least hope of making our base on the Moon. All I can do is see whether, with a burst of the port rockets, we can make for Mars. If we could land there I might be able to do the necessary repairs. Maybe, if we give them a rest, the starboard rockets will fire enough to enable us to land."
Once more they strapped themselves into their hammocks and Fred, studying a piece of paper covered with calculations, gave a series of short bursts on the port rockets.
"That should do it," he said at length.CHAPTER 2
Ahead of them the glaring red sphere which was Mars grew steadily bigger and bigger. Flyball, glad that they were not lost in space, no longer grumbled to himself about the dullness of space travel. It was good to be inside the nice, comfortable cabin, warm, with plenty to eat. And bound for a definite place.
As the days went by, he noticed Fred glancing at him. He wondered what was the matter, but the glances were amused and not worried. Then, one day, when he was eating his food from the funny plastic bag which kept it from escaping into the cabin, Fred spoke.
"You're not getting enough exercise," he said. "And you are eating a lot. If you're not careful, you'll find yourself getting fat."
"Who? Fat? Me?" Flyball thought most indignantly. All the same, when he knew Fred was not watching him, he ran a stealthy paw over his sleek tummy. He was very thoughtful, for he was sure he could just feel a bulge which had not been there when they left the Moon for the flight to Venus.
This was worse than a pretty kettle of fish, he thought. As a space cat he could not let himself get fat. Why, if that happened, he might find that he could no longer fit in his space suit. Much as he loathed it, that would never do!
So, for the rest of the journey, he took to tumbling around the cabin, this way and that, in the hope that the exercise, though not as healthy as mouse-chasing, would lessen the bulge. And he was terribly careful about what, and how much, he ate. He was, he told himself, Space Cat and not Fat Cat!
As they drew nearer and nearer to the red planet, Flyball wondered what they would find there. Both the Moon and Venus had, in their different ways, been somewhat of disappointments to him. He had hoped that somewhere in space he would find mice and birds. But when he had run into something rather like a mouse on Venus, he had discovered that he was not allowed to chase it!
Now Mars, he purred hopefully, twiddling his whiskers, might be different. Surely it might have mice for him! He had been in space for so long, chasing around after planets, that he had almost forgotten what it was like to chase a mouse!
At last they were close enough to look at Mars, as it filled the whole of the portholes which looked out ahead. Fred sat making even more calculations.
"It would never do," he said at last, "for us to get as far as this and then crash the ship into one of the little moons of Mars. Besides, we want, if we can, to land on one of the green patches you can see. If we were to land in the red deserts, we might run into dust storms which make those of Texas and Oklahoma feel like sea breezes. So we want to try one of the green places."
"Bah, more vegetables," thought Flyball, rather rudely.
Now that they were closer they could see that the green patches were broken with smears and spots of red, yellow, black, gray and brown. Through this colored area there ran the deeper green of the canals, streaking the landscape toward the deserts which were the color of powdered brick.
As they approached the scudding clouds, they once more got into their hammocks. When Fred pressed the buttons that were supposed to fire the rockets, they both held their breaths. They wondered whether he had been right in guessing that, after a rest, the starboard rockets might fire long enough to land them.
There was a moment's pause and then they were flattened in their hammocks and pulled around as the Halley turned her tail toward the surface of Mars. The rockets were firing all right, on both sides.
Just a few feet from the ground, Fred struck the bar and lifted his hand as if he had finished playing a piece of music. The ship dropped suddenly and then, with a slight jar, came to rest. In spite of everything they had made a perfect landing.
Fred opened the portholes and they looked out at a most curious landscape. All around them were lichens, but not lichens such as grew on Earth — little crusts on rocks or small straggly beards on trees. Here the lichens, milky green and mottled with other colors, were enormous curled and rolled shapes and thick, long, tangled strands. Among the lichens grew fungi of all sorts and shapes and sizes. Mushrooms as big and bigger than truck wheels grew beside vast puffballs; great trumpet-shapes raised their purple vases around them; and, on ledges, there were enormous shelf-fungi which would have served as dining tables for a banquet.
Flyball, impatient as always, went to the air lock and miaowed. He wanted to get out. After all, he told himself, where there were plants there was bound to be air, which would let him breathe.
Fred, however, took out their space suits and made Flyball get into his. Then they went into the air lock and at long last were once more able to stand on the ground.
Cooped up in his space suit Flyball had to wait patiently while Fred made a series of experiments. As he did so his face took on a puzzled look. He tried the air at different heights from the ground and, finally, his expression cleared.
"You'll be better off than I will, Flyball," he told his friend. "The oxygen here is given off by the plants. As you are nearer the ground than I am, you'll get more of it. Mmm," he looked thoughtful, "that means we'll have to get into the ship for the nights and use our own air. Plants only make oxygen during the hours of daylight. During the nights they give off carbon dioxide and we can't breathe that!"
Flyball was not paying much attention to this scientific explanation. Now that he knew that he could breathe on Mars, he was only waiting to be released from his space suit, to run and bound around.
Once out of the suit, Flyball found that he could indeed run freely. When he jumped into the air, he did not come down with a bump. While he did not float as gently as on the Moon, his fall was still slow-motion. He looked at Fred and yowled for an explanation.
"Oh, you're only about a third of your Earth weight here," Fred told him. "Say you were eight Earth pounds when we left the Moon, we'd better call you ten pounds now to allow for the weight you've put on during the journey." Flyball glowered at him furiously. "That'll make you weigh around three and a half pounds here. Now, I'll go take a look at these tubes and see what's been making them play up."
Flyball, very much on his dignity, stalked off among the lichens and mushrooms, his fine bushy tail standing up like a flagpole. He was certain that he had not put on all that weight during the voyage. All the same, he had to admit that it was difficult to tell when he had felt so delightfully light. It was just the right kind of lightness after the weightlessness of free-fall.
As he went, he wondered whether the Martian plants had any sense, and bumped against them rudely. But they showed no more feeling than a cauliflower would have done on Earth.
When he patted a long tendril of lichen out of his way, something, about the size of a sparrow, rose in the air and fluttered round him. Sitting up on his haunches, Flyball batted at it. It really was flying too close to him. In fact, it was almost getting in his whiskers, a thing no bird on Earth would have done.
He caught it a glancing blow, and obediently it came to the ground in front of him. There it sat, looking at him gravely out of big staring blue eyes which, instead of being round and smooth as his own, were many-faced, like crystals.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Space Cat Meets Mars"
Copyright © 1957 Ruthven Todd.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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