The Cassandra Project

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9781937008710: The Cassandra Project

Two science fiction masters—Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick—team up to deliver a classic thriller in which one man uncovers the secret history of the US space program...

Early in his career, Jerry Culpepper could never have been accused of being idealistic. Doing public relations—even for politicians—was strictly business...until he was hired as NASA’s public affairs director and discovered a client he could believe in. Proud of the agency’s history and sure of its destiny, he was thrilled to be a part of its future—a bright era of far-reaching space exploration.

But public disinterest and budget cuts changed that future. Now, a half century after the first moon landing, Jerry feels like the only one with stars—and unexplored planets and solar systems—in his eyes.

Still, Jerry does his job, trying to drum up interest in the legacy of the agency. Then a fifty-year-old secret about the Apollo XI mission is revealed, and he finds himself embroiled in the biggest controversy of the twenty-first century, one that will test his ability—and his willingness—to spin the truth about a conspiracy of reality-altering proportions...

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About the Author:

Jack McDevitt is a former naval officer, taxi driver, English teacher, customs officer, and motivational trainer, and is now a full-time writer. His novel Seeker won a Nebula Award, and he is a multiple Nebula Award finalist. He lives in Georgia with his wife, Maureen.

Mike Resnick has won five Hugos (from a record thirty-five nominations), a Nebula, and other major awards in the US, France, Japan, Spain, Croatia, and Poland. He’s the author of sixty-eight novels, more than two hundred and fifty short stories, and two screenplays, and is the editor of forty anthologies. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

It was probably a sign of the times that the biggest science story of the twenty– first century, and probably the biggest ever, broke in that tabloid of tabloids, The National Bedrock. It might have gone unnoticed had an enterprising reporter not launched it into the middle of a press conference intended to be a quiet, nostalgic celebration of NASA’s accomplishments over a span of sixty years. And to get everyone’s mind off the fact that the Agency was now looking at a closing of the doors. In any case, when it first happened, nobody recognized it for what it was.

NASA’s public affairs director, Jerry Culpepper, was in total control, fielding questions, returning glowing responses, admitting that, yes, we knew the Agency had fallen on hard economic times, as had the rest of the country, but there was much to commemorate, much to feel good about, and that was where our attention should be focused on this historic day.

It was July 20, 2019, exactly fifty years since Apollo XI had touched down on the Moon. Jerry stood before a large canvas depicting Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, gathered around a control panel, looking down at a lunar landscape. Jerry, carried away by the emotions of the day, was riding with them.

The event was being held just off the lobby, in a room that would be dedicated to exhibits from that first landing. Space helmets, moon rocks, astronaut uniforms, and the logbook (signed by each of the astronauts) would be on display. Photos of a Saturn V, a lunar module, the Kennedy Space Center, the Sea of Tranquility, adorned the walls. “They set a high standard for us,” he said, speaking of the eighteen astronauts who’d made the six lunar flights. It was a statement he immediately regretted, because it overlooked the legion of men and women who’d ridden the big rockets before and since, who’d put their lives on the line and, in some cases, had made the supreme sacrifice. He thought about correcting himself but could see no way to do it gracefully. So he moved on, talking without notes, and finished with a line he’d often used in guest appearances: “As long as we remember who we are, they will not be forgotten.”

He looked out over his audience and spread his hands. “Questions?”

Hands went up all over the room. “Diane.” That was Diane Brookover, of The New York Times.

Jerry didn’t care much for Diane. She was okay in a routine social setting, but she enjoyed trying to make him look foolish. Of course, that was true of reporters in general, but she was particularly good at it, especially when she smiled. She was smiling then. Whatever. Best to get her out of the way early. “Jerry,” she said, “why does the government need a NASA Hall of Fame when they already have one for the astronauts? I mean, aren’t you really putting this thing up simply to distract attention from the fact that NASA’s closing down?”

“We’re not closing down, Diane,” he said. “It’s true, we’ve entered an era of austerity. No one’s denying that, but we’ll still be here when your grandkids show up to take one of the tours. Look, there are good times and bad. That’s inevitable. We’ll ride this one out, as we always have. As to the Hall itself, the astronauts have, since the beginning, been our go–to guys, the people out front. The problem is that they are so significant, and so visible, we tend to miss others who’ve also made major

contributions— the scientists, the engineers, the computer specialists. We’re a team. We’ve always been a team. From the first day, back in 1960. Without the support people, the ones behind the scenes, the achievements of the past sixty years would never have happened. So the Hall of Fame is a way for us to recognize everybody, including some major contributors the public has never really known about.”

Jerry was quiet and shy except when he had an audience. Then it seemed as if a different personality took over. He smiled easily, connected with everyone, and enjoyed his work. It was a valuable capability, especially in those rapidly darkening times.

The hands went up again. He looked over at Quil Everett, from NBC. Quil was tall, lanky, prematurely gray, with a vaguely British accent. “Jerry, where do you think NASA will be in ten years?” Jerry glanced at the ceiling, as if NASA were headed for the stars. “Quil, if you can tell me what the fiscal situation will be for the government, I could probably answer that question with some precision. If we get the resources, I think you’d be surprised at what we might accomplish. If not, at the very worst, we’ll be right here, waiting for the future to arrive.”

Barry Westcott, from USA Today, was next. “Jerry,” he said, “when Gene Cernan brought the last Moon mission home, he was turning out the lights on the entire American manned space effort. Wouldn’t you agree that’s exactly what happened, just that it’s taken a long time for us to realize it? The biggest thing we’ve done since has been to send robots around the solar system.”

That brought a deadly silence. “Let’s keep in mind,” Jerry said, “that it wasn’t Cernan who turned off the lights. It was Richard Nixon. The Agency was ready to move on. But we were caught in a war, there was no money available. And the truth is that we had a president who really didn’t care that much.” That was over the line. He wasn’t supposed to criticize presidents, past or current, but thinking about Nixon alwaysgot his blood pressure up.

And the moment arrived: Warren Cole lifted a hand. Cole was from the AP, and he was seated in his customary spot up front, frowning, staring down at something on his lap. It looked like a copy of one of those garish tabloids,

“Jerry,” he said in a warning tone, “have you seen the current copy of The National Bedrock?”

The press officer smiled politely. “No, I haven’t, Warren. Guess I missed it this week.”

“They have a story about some of the material put out by NASA a few days ago.”

The Agency had released a mountain of documents, audios, and videos going back to its first year, tracking the history of the U. S. space effort. Jerry had been looking through them that morning. Building his sense of what might have been. He’d seen a copy of the original 1960 message distributed through the armed forces seeking volunteers for an astronaut program. The video of John Kennedy speaking to Congress in 1961, promising that we would land on the Moon before the

end of the decade. Walter Cronkite describing the liftoff of Apollo XI. And boxes of documents recording everything, from ordering the upgrading of computers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to detailed reports on the losses of theChallenger and Columbia, and the deaths of Roger Chaffee, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, and Edward White in a training accident.

“There’s a lot of stuff there, Warren,” he said. “Is there something specific you’re interested in?”

He got to his feet. “May I play something for you? From the audios?”

“Sure. But keep it short, okay?”

Cole held up a gooseberry. “They recorded part of a conversation between Sidney Myshko, who was the commander on one of the early lunar flights, and Mission Control. It was an orbital mission in January 1969. Six months before Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon. There’s only a minute or two, and it’s packaged with a lot of other communications. But this one segment is particularly interesting. The first voice is Myshko’s. And you should be aware that the mission at that time had

reached the Moon and was in orbit.” He thumbed the device.

Myshko: Houston, approaching launch point.

Houston: You are go for launch.

Myshko: Four minutes.

Houston: Copy that.

Myshko: It’s incredible, Houston.

Houston: Keep in mind we are going to lose communications when you pass over the horizon.

Myshko: Roger that. (Pause) We are in the LEM. Ready to go.

Houston: Good luck, guys.

Jerry frowned. He couldn’t get past the first line. “Approaching

launch point.”

“Jerry, this is supposed to be strictly an orbital flight. And it’s several

months before Apollo XI. But they’re talking as if they’re getting ready to go down to the surface.”

“That can’t be right, Warren.”

“Want me to play it again?” The place had gone dead silent.

“Please.”

“We are in the LEM.” The LEM, the Lunar Excursion Module, was the vehicle that would have served as the lander had they been going to the surface. “Ready to go.”

“Warren,” said Jerry, “there’s obviously a communications breakdown

there somewhere.”

Cole lifted the gooseberry. Stared at it. “I guess. Can you explain

how a breakdown like that could have occurred?”

Jerry tried laughing. “I’d say it was a joke. In case any reporters were listening.”

“Seriously, Jerry.”

“All right. Look, this is the first time I’ve heard this. So I have no way of knowing what was going on. I suspect they were just rehearsing. We all know how these flights are. You do everything as you would on the actual mission except land. That’s not hard to believe, is it?”

“It just seems very odd.”

There’d been two other test flights to the Moon after the Myshko mission. One commanded by Aaron Walker in April, and Apollo X, by Thomas Stafford, in May. Then Apollo XI had launched, and the world changed. “Warren, these details are a bit before my time.”

“Mine, too, Jerry.”

There was a rising buzz in the room. Cal McMurtrie, seated behind Cole, was asking Cole if it was true, was that really in the package, where was it exactly?

“Well,” said Jerry, “there’s obviously been a gaff somewhere. It’s probably just a ground– based test run of some sort. Is it dated?”

“January 14, 1969.”

“Let me check on it, and I’ll get back to you.” He looked around the room and picked someone who traditionally gave him no trouble.

“Sara.”

Mary Gridley was NASA’s Administrator. She was a decent boss even though hers was a purely political appointment. As, for that matter, was Jerry’s. She was waiting for him out in the corridor. “What the hell happened?” she said. It was less a question than an accusation. Mary was tall, taller than he was, and she had a voice like a drill. She was one of the smartest people Jerry had ever known and fully capable of manipulating anybody to get what she wanted. But she concentrated her efforts on making NASA work rather than centering them, like other bosses in Jerry’s experience, on her own career. She had little tolerance for screwups. And it was evident from the look in her eyes that somebody had screwed up. He was pretty sure he knew who it had been.

“You saw the press conference?” he asked, knowing damned well she had. But he needed a moment to organize his defenses.

She pointed back down the passageway in the direction of her office. Then she spun on her heel and Jerry— though he walked beside her— followed her back. She didn’t say anything more until the door had closed behind them. Then she exhaled. “Jerry,” she said, “that was supposed to be a celebration out there.”

It was indeed. Jerry had expected to spend the morning talking about moonwalks and robot missions to Jupiter and Voyagers and the International Space Station. He’d been ready with Buzz Aldrin’s famous line about not getting so lost in cleaning up social messes that we forget about the stars, and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s comment that he was tired of driving around the block, boldly going where hundreds

had gone before, and that he would gladly sign on for a ride to a new world. He’d had a dozen other quotes ready to go that, somehow, hadn’t shown up. “I know—” he said. “I didn’t expect—”

“Jerry. You let the situation get away from you. Anything like that happens again, just admit there’s a misunderstanding somewhere and move on. Don’t stand there talking it to death. That business with Sidney Myshko—”

“I’m sorry, Mary.”

“I thought you were smarter than that.” She sighed. “Don’t ever let them take control of the conversation. Anytime you do that, you’re going to lose.” She sat down behind her desk and shook her head. “We’ll need to find out what happened, if we can, and put out a formal statement. The damned thing’s already gone viral.”

“You’re kidding,” I said.

She touched her keyboard, and the display lit up. She’d done a search for Sidney Myshko Jerry Culpepper. The screen showed 28,726 postings. He leaned forward to get a better look:

When Did We Really Go to the Moon? NASA Spokesman Culpepper Hasn’t a Clue

Confusion at NASA: Government Can’t Get Its Facts Straight

These Are the Guys in Charge of Space Shots?

Did Somebody Land on the Moon Before Armstrong?

Conspiracy Theorists Back in Force

It Was Neil Armstrong, Dummy

Jerry stopped at his secretary’s desk on the way into his office. “Barbara,” he said, “get Al Thomas for me, please.”

He went inside, closed the door, and collapsed into a chair. Amazing how trivial stuff becomes such a big deal. Especially in government.

The office walls and the desk top were covered with framed pictures from his career. Jerry standing beside President Cunningham at a NASA dinner. Jerry chatting amiably with the governor of Florida. Laughing it up with Senator Tilghman. Shaking hands with Jon Stewart. Jerry was up there with all kinds of celebrated people from the political and entertainment worlds. But there wasn’t a single photo of

an astronaut.

There weren’t any astronauts anymore. Hadn’t been for years.

He’d been watching the news before going down to the luncheon. Ironically, he’d left the TV on, and it was now running an old Star Trek. Captain Kirk giving orders to raise shields and man battle stations.

His alert dinged, and the Enterprise blinked off and was replaced by Al Thomas’s amiable features. “Hi, Jerry,” he said in his trademark baritone. He sounded like an action– movie star. In fact, he was a skinny little guy with thick glasses. “I was about to call you.”

Al was in Huntsville, where he oversaw NASA’s archives.

“You saw the press conference?”

“I heard about it.”

“What happened? Where’d that thing come from?”

“I don’t know. I have my people going back over the record now, trying to figure it out.”

“Was it really in the package?”

“Oh, yes. I was hoping it wouldn’t be there. It would save a lot ofwork. The records from that era aren’t exactly digital. Something like that can be hard to find. We’ll need a little time.”

“Who was the CAPCOM?” Th e guy on the NASA end of the transmissions.

“Hold on a second.” Al was thumbing through documents in a folder. “Here it is. Frank Kirby. I thought that was his voice. He was there for most of the missions during the lunar era.”

“Assume it is their voices, Kirby’s and Myshko’s, is there any way that could have happ...

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