The A-to-Z challenge continues… K is for Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion. These laws describe how planets orbit the Sun. Using astronomical observations made by Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler derived these laws as a refinement of the Copernican heliocentric model of the solar system. Isaac Newton later demonstrated that they follow from the laws of gravitation. (Overall, a good historical example of how science progresses by observation, modeling, and building on previous work.) This is a follow-on story to an earlier A-to-Z entry, Countdown to the Comet.
The room echoed with the clunk of the closing door. As four well-dressed gentlemen entered the room, he was surprised to see a lone familiar face. Before he could speak, the bald man at the head of the line held up a hand. “Good morning, sir,” greeted the man in the Queen’s own English. “Thank you for joining us. For the sake of security, I must ask that you not use any of our names.”
“What should I call you?”
“You may address me by the code name Balric. This is General Whiskey, representing Her Majesty’s armed services. Dr. Mike is our head scientist. And I believe you already know Machiavelli.”
“I understand,” he replied, suddenly acutely aware of the acquired Texan drawl that muddled the New England accent of his youth. “You asked me to come?”
“Indeed,” said Machiavelli curtly, in his heavy Germanic accent.
“Let us be blunt,” said Balric. “For reasons that need not be enumerated, Her Majesty the Queen has decided that the American regime is too unstable and, frankly, too inept to be entrusted with our undertaking.”
“Well, sir, I understood as much three years ago, when you asked me not to brief President Carter on Comet Spencer Jones.”
“Unfortunately, the geopolitical situation continues to destabilize,” explained Machiavelli, his old benefactor from the State Department. “The Queen believes it would be best to remove the peanut farmer in favor of someone in the know.”
“I take it that means you’ll support my Presidential bid?”
“We believe that you should focus your efforts on the Iowa caucus,” advised Machiavelli.
“Sorry to interrupt the rousing discussion of American politics.” Dr. Mike was a bespectacled man with greying hair and a white lab coat. “However, there are other pressing matters.”
General Whiskey agreed with a sigh. “Our science team is threatening a coup if we fail to consider their proposal.”
“Comet Spencer Jones is 100% pure antimatter,” reminded Dr. Mike. “Since we already are planning to alter its orbit, it would take minimal additional planning to capture it into High Earth Orbit.”
“Minimal additional planning,” scoffed General Whiskey. “If your calculations are wrong, that comet could hit Earth instead of the Moon.”
“Kepler’s Laws are quite well understood,” Dr. Mike insisted. “After all, we predicted the lunar collision forty years ago, making calculations by hand. Now we have massive computers that can verify these calculations even more quickly and reliably than any person.”
The guest spoke. “I’m afraid I don’t understand why we’d want to capture this thing?”
“If it could be captured into Earth orbit,” explained Dr. Mike, “harnessed, it could provide a virtually limitless source of energy. Quite tempting given the current oil situation. Some of our scientists predict the arrival of what they call ‘peak oil’ by the end of the Twentieth Century.”
“Perhaps your team should recall the words of Oppenheimer at the test of the first atomic bomb,” Baldric lashed out. “That comet could be turned into a weapon of unimaginable destructive power.”
Dr. Mike and the General both began to respond, but Machiavelli interrupted. “Gentlemen, this argument is not productive. I am sure we can work this out over the next few years.”
The visitor sighed and closed his eyes. Someday soon, he knew he would become President of the United States, but that electoral victory would bring him no joy. In the Oval Office he would bear the burden of an apocalyptic secret, and be forced to make covert decisions that would alter the fate of humanity forever.