George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt

BOOK: George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt
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Also by Lucy & Stephen Hawking

George's Secret Key to the Universe

*“What better way to interest young readers in science…than for one of the world's most renowned theoretical physicists to put his subject at the center of a children's book?”

Publishers Weekly
, starred review

“A novel that anyone who devoured
Captain Underpants
a year or two ago will appreciate.”

Los Angeles Times

“A relief for the science-deficient parent in need of a little extra help.”

New York

“A briefer history of time—for a younger audience.”

USA Today


An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Illustrations by Garry Parsons copyright © 2009 by Random House Children's Books

Published by arrangement with Random House Children's Books, one part of the Random House Group Ltd.

Simultaneously published in Great Britain in 2009 by Doubleday, an imprint of Random House Children's Books First U.S. Edition 2009

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

& S
is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

The illustrations for this book are rendered in pencil that was digitally edited.

CIP data for this book is available from the Library of Congress.

ISBN-13: 978-1-4169-9057-4

ISBN-10: 1-4169-9057-7

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For Rose



There are a number of fabulous science essays that appear within the story to give readers a fascinating real insight into some of the latest theories. These have been written by the following eminent scientists:


Why Do We Go into Space?

by Professor Stephen Hawking (writing as “Eric”), Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, University of Cambridge, England


A Voyage Across the Universe

by Professor Bernard Carr, Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, School of Mathematical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, England


Getting in Touch with Aliens

by Dr. Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, Mountain View, California


Did Life Come from Mars?

by Dr. Brandon Carter, Director of Research, Laboratoire de l'Univers et de ses Théories, Observatoire de Paris-Meudon, France


Is There Anyone Out There?

by Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, Trinity College, University of Cambridge, England


How to Find a Planet in Space

by Professor Geoff Marcy, Professor of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley; winner of the Shaw Prize for Astronomy


The Goldilocks Zone

by Professor Geoff Marcy


How to Understand the Universe

by Professor Stephen Hawking (writing as “Eric”)


minus seven minutes and thirty seconds,”
said a robotic voice.
“Orbiter access arm retracted.”

George gulped and shifted around in the commander's seat on the space shuttle. This, finally, was it. In just a few short minutes—minutes that were ticking by far faster than the endless ones of the last class at school—he'd be leaving planet Earth behind and flying into the cosmos.

Now that the orbiter access arm, which formed the bridge between his spacecraft and the outside world, had been taken away, George knew he'd missed his final chance leave. This was one of the last stages before liftoff. It meant the connecting hatches were closing. And they weren't just closing—they were being sealed. Now, even if he hammered on the hatches and begged to be let out, there
would be no one on the other side to hear him. The astronauts were alone with their mighty spacecraft. There was nothing to do now but wait for the countdown to reach zero.

“T minus six minutes and fifteen seconds. Perform APU prestart.”
The APUs—the Auxiliary Power Units—helped to steer the shuttle during launch and landing. They were powered by three fuel cells, which had already been running for hours. But the command to prestart the APU made the shuttle hum with life, as though the spaceship knew its moment of glory was not far off now.

“T minus five minutes,”
said the voice.
“Go for APU start.”

George's stomach quivered with butterflies. Above all things in the Universe, he wanted to fly through space again. And now here he was, on board a real spaceship with astronauts inside it, waiting on a launchpad for liftoff. It was exciting but scary at the same time. What if he did something wrong? He was in the commander's seat, which meant he was in charge
of operating the shuttle. Next to him sat his pilot, who was there as the commander's backup. “So, you're all astronauts on some kind of star trek?” he muttered to himself in a silly voice.

“What was that, Commander?” came a voice over George's headset.

“Oh, er, um…,” said George, who'd forgotten that launch control could hear every word he said. “Just wondering what aliens might say to us, if we run into any.”

Someone at launch control laughed. “You be sure to tell them we all said hi.”

“T minus three minutes and three seconds. Engines to start position.”

Vroom vroom,
thought George. The three engines and the two solid rocket boosters would provide the speed during the first few seconds of liftoff, when the shuttle would be moving at one hundred miles per hour before it even cleared the launch tower. It would only take eight and a half minutes to reach a speed of seventeen thousand five hundred miles an hour!

“T minus two minutes. Close visors.”
George's fingers itched to flip a couple of the thousands of switches in front of him, just to see what would happen, but he didn't dare. In front of him was the joystick that he, the commander, would use to steer the shuttle once they got into space, and then to dock with the International Space Station. It was like the steering wheel of a car, except that the joystick moved in all sorts of directions rather than just left and right. It could go backward and forward as well. He put one finger on the top of the joystick, just to see what it felt like. One of the electronic graphs in front of him shivered very slightly as he did so. He snatched his hand back and pretended he hadn't touched anything.

“T minus fifty-five seconds. Perform solid rocket
booster lockout.”
The two solid rocket boosters would blast the space shuttle off the pad and up to around 230 miles above the Earth. They didn't have an off switch. Once they were ignited, the space shuttle was going up.

Good-bye, Earth,
thought George.
I'll be back soon.
He felt a twinge of sadness at leaving his beautiful planet, his friends, and his family behind. In just a short time he would be orbiting over their heads when the shuttle docked with the International Space Station. He would be able to look down and see the Earth as the ISS whizzed overhead, completing a full orbit once every ninety minutes. From space, he would be able to see the outlines of continents, oceans, deserts, forests and lakes, and the lights of big cities at night. Looking up from Earth, his mom and dad and his friends—Eric, Annie, and Susan—would only see him as a tiny bright dot moving fast across the sky on a clear night.

“T minus thirty-one seconds. Ground launcher sequencer go for auto sequence.”

The astronauts wriggled slightly in their seats, wanting to get comfortable before their long journey. It felt surprisingly small and cramped inside the cockpit. Just getting into position for takeoff had been a squeeze, and George had needed the help of a space engineer to clamber into his seat. The space shuttle stood upright for liftoff, so everything in the cockpit seemed as though it had been turned upside down. The seat was tilted back so that George's feet were pointing up toward the nose of the shuttle and his spine was aligned with the ground underneath.

The shuttle was in rocket mode, waiting to go vertically through the sky, clouds, and atmosphere, way up into the cosmos itself.

“T minus sixteen seconds,”
the robotic voice said very calmly.
“Activate sound suppression water. T minus fifteen seconds.”

“Takeoff minus fifteen seconds, Commander George,” said the pilot in the seat next to George's. “The space shuttle launches in fifteen seconds and counting.”

“Woo hoo!” cheered George.
he thought.

“Woo hoo to you too, Commander,” replied launch control. “Have a good flight.”

George shivered with excitement. Every breath he took counted down toward the great launch itself.

“T minus ten seconds. Free hydrogen burn-off system ignition. Ground launcher sequencer go for main engine start.”

This was it! It was really happening!

Looking out of the window, George could see a strip of green grass and, above it, the blue sky where birds wheeled about. Lying on his back in his astronaut's seat, he tried to feel calm and in control.

“T minus six seconds,”
said the announcer.
“Main engine start.”
George felt an incredible shaking as the three main engines started, even though the shuttle
wasn't yet moving. He heard launch control again through his headset.

“We are go for launch at T minus five seconds and counting. Five, four, three, two, one. You are go for launch.”

“Yes,” said George very calmly, although inside he was screaming. “We are go for launch.”

“T minus zero. Solid rocket booster ignition.”

The shaking increased. The two rocket boosters ignited underneath George and the other astronauts. It was like being kicked sharply in the backside. With a huge roar, the rockets broke through the silence, propelling the space shuttle off the launchpad and up into the skies. George felt as though he had blasted off from Earth while strapped to an enormous firework. Anything could happen now—it could explode, it could veer off course and crash back to Earth, or head up into the skies and spin out of control. And there would be nothing George could do about it.

Through the window, he saw the blue of the Earth's atmosphere all around the spaceship, but he could no longer see the Earth itself. He was leaving his own planet! A few seconds after launch, the shuttle performed a roll, so that the astronauts were upside down, under the big orange fuel tank!

“Arrrgggghhh!” yelled George. “We're upside down! We're flying into space the wrong way up! Help! Help!”

“It's okay, Commander!” said the pilot. “We always do it this way.”

Two minutes after launch George felt a huge jolt that rocked the whole spacecraft.

“What was that?” he cried.

Out of the window, he saw first one and then the second rocket booster detach and fly away from the shuttle in a great big arc.

It was suddenly quiet now that the rocket boosters had gone; so quiet it was nearly silent inside the orbiter. He looked through the window and wanted to fill the silence with cheering. The shuttle rolled around again so that the orbiter was once more on top of the big orange fuel tank rather than underneath it.

BOOK: George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt
2.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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