H. Woods' Reading Room:

Santos and the Space Tower

This story is part of The Yorkville Anthology edited by Jacob Miller, and available via amazon.com...

Once there was a boy named Santos who loved to look at the stars. He imagined millions of planets circling those stars, each with its own exciting secrets. Santos longed to discover amazing new things hidden in outer space.

Santos went to his father, who was reading in his leather chair. He was wearing his work tie, even though he was at home.

"Papa," Santos asked, "I want to travel into space. Can you help me?"

"Well son," said Santos’ father as he pulled at his sleeve. "I don’t know much about those things. See, I’m an accountant. I know how much things cost. Try asking at the astronaut school, maybe they can help you."

"Will you come with me?" asked Santos.

"I’m sorry son, but I’m too busy today." His father pointed at his newspaper. "You go on and tell me what they say."

Santos looked at the floor as he walked away.

* * *

The next day, Santos took a bus to the astronaut school. He walked past a giant glass display case. Inside were tall model rockets. He watched his brown face ripple across the glass. Looking through his reflection, he imagined himself strapped into a rocket listening to the countdown.

Santos kept walking. He came to a woman standing behind a tall desk. He asked her how he could travel into space.

"Only Astronauts blast off into space," said the woman. There were buttons on her sweater that rattled as she spoke.

"Please," asked Santos, "sign me up to be an astronaut!"

"I’m sorry," said the woman, smiling. "You’re too young to be an astronaut. You’ll just have to watch them on TV until you grow up."

"But I don’t want to watch on TV," complained Santos. "I want to go into space now."

"I’m sorry," she said. "It wouldn’t be safe."

"Why?" asked Santos.

"Rockets are so dangerous," she answered. "Astronauts train for years before they can ride them." The woman gave Santos a book explaining how hard it was to become an astronaut. He rode the bus back home, reading his book full of complicated words.

* * *

Santos decided to invent a better way for regular people to get into space. His head was as full of new ideas as the night was full of stars.

"If we could travel into space on an elevator, it would be so safe. Anyone could do it," he thought.

Santos made plans for a tall tower. It would reach hundreds of miles above the earth. It would have elevators on both sides that would take people and things all the way to outer space. Santos stayed up late working in his bedroom. With one hand he made drawings. With the other hand he twisted his straight black hair.

The next day, Santos took his drawings to Mr. Noble, his science teacher.

* * *

"This won’t work," said Mr. Noble in his low voice. His face was wrinkly, but his bald head was smooth and freckled.

"Why not?" asked Santos.

"Too heavy," he said. "A tower this tall will be so heavy it will crumple under its own weight. Just like a drinking straw crumples when you press down too hard." Mr. Noble took out a straw from his desk. He put it on the dark slate counter and pushed down. It broke in the middle.

"See," said his teacher. "Let me show you how to calculate the weight of your tower."

Mr. Noble showed Santos how to make the calculations. Santos packed up his drawings and went back home.

* * *

"Papa," asked Santos, "will you help me with my science project? I want to build a tower with an elevator to take people into space."

"I’m sorry son," said his father. He sat in his leather chair holding a magazine. "I’m an accountant, so I don’t know how to build a space tower."

"Well," said Santos. "I don’t know either. We could figure it out together."

"I’m sorry son, I’m very busy." His father took off his black glasses and looked down at Santos. "But I’m sure you can figure it out. Just keep working and don’t give up, even if it gets really hard." His father waved Santos away and started reading again.

* * *

Santos asked his librarian for books on great scientists. He read about an ancient Greek named Archimedes. One day, Archimedes made a discovery so exciting he ran through the streets naked. He yelled: "Eureka! I have found it!" Archimedes had discovered why some things float in water.

Suddenly, Santos realized how he could build his tower. He yelled "Eureka!" and ran into his street, "the air can float my tower!"

Fortunately, Santos was wearing his clothes.

* * *

Santos went back to his science teacher.

"If we attach giant helium balloons to my tower," he said, "they will help lift it. Then it won’t weigh too much. This means we can build my tower."

Mr. Noble took off his glasses and chewed on them for a while. "Wow," he said, and scratched his gray beard. "I hadn’t thought of that." He rubbed his freckled head. "Let’s take this to the engineers at the university. They know how to build all sorts of things."

Santos felt a huge smile on his face. He felt proud for solving the problem of his tower’s weight.

* * *

At the university, Santos and his science teacher talked with some engineering professors. They sat around a big table in a room with blackboards on every wall. Santos heard the bright lights buzzing.

"This tower can’t be built," said the head professor. She rapped her rings on the table as she spoke.

"Why not?" asked Santos.

"A tower this tall will be too wobbly," she answered. "The wind will knock it over. And a tower this tall will make a huge mess when it crashes down. It will hurt people in cities far away."

Disappointed, Santos and his science teacher packed up their plans and went home.

* * *

Santos took his plans to his father.

"Papa, people keep finding more problems with my tower." Santos pointed to his plans and drawings.

"Well son," Santos’ father coughed and pulled his shirtsleeve. "I need to finish this now," he lifted a thick book from his lap. "But if you leave me a copy of your plans, I promise to read them."

Santos said nothing more. He laid his plans down next to his father. His feet dragged as he walked away.

* * *

Santos and Mr. Noble worked in his lab after the other students went home. Mr. Noble let Santos use his computer to study on-line. They ate small pizzas for snacks.

They studied the world’s tallest buildings. Santos learned how special computers keep them standing through storms and earthquakes. The computers push heavy weights back and forth inside the buildings to keep them steady.

Then, Santos and his science teacher studied maps of the earth. They e-mailed with people in far away places. Together, they asked many questions and filled up many books with their notes.

Finally, they had more drawings and plans to take to the engineering professors.

* * *

"I know how we can keep the tower from being too wobbly," said Santos.

The engineers listened.

"We can put jet engines on the tower and point them sideways." Santos pointed to his drawings. "When the wind blows on the tower, a computer will make the engines push the other way." Santos smiled at the professors. They were still listening.

"And just in case, we can build it on this island," Santos pointed at his map, "so if it ever does fall down, it will crash into the water and won’t hurt anyone."

"Hmmm," said the head professor. She tapped her rings slowly as she thought. "Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all."

Santos clapped his hands together. He loved discovering answers to problems.

"We’ll call the space scientists who run the astronaut school," said the head engineer. "They will decide if we can build your space tower."

* * *

"Have you read my plans, Papa?" Santos asked his father.

"Yes son," he said.

"What do you think?" Santos smiled and put his hands on his father’s chair. He rocked himself back and forth.

"I am still thinking about it," answered his father. He picked up Santos’ plans and ruffled them.

"Are you coming to the astronaut school tomorrow?" Santos asked.

"I will be there." Santos’ father smiled at him.

* * *

TV news stations heard about Santos’ space tower. They sent their best reporters to watch Santos explain his plans at the astronaut school.

Santos sat at a long table with Mr. Noble and the engineering professors. His father sat behind them in the audience. A large group of space scientists looked down from tall wooden desks. Santos, his teacher and the engineering professors explained his plans for a space tower. The scientists took notes and asked questions.

When Santos and his friends finished, the space scientists whispered to each other. They compared their notes and worked on their calculators. Finally, the leader of the space scientists spoke to Santos, his science teacher, the engineering professors and the TV reporters.

"We like your plan and we believe it might work," he said. "But we are sorry to say we still can not build this tower."

"Why not?" asked Santos.

"It will cost too much money," said the space scientist.

The room was quiet. Nobody had thought about how much the space tower would cost. Santos was sure he would cry. He had solved so many problems to make it easy for people to travel into space, but there was nothing he could do to make the tower less expensive.

But then, from behind Santos, came the voice of his father.

"Excuse me," his father cleared his throat. He stood up and pulled on his sleeve. "I’m an accountant. I don’t know much about these scientific things, but I do know how much things cost."

Everyone was quiet while Santos’ father spoke.

"Even though the space tower is more expensive than rockets, you only build it once, and you have to build the rockets over and over again. My calculations show that after just a few years, not only will Santos’ space tower save money, but we will get more people to and from space because we can run the elevators seven days a week!"

Everyone was quiet for a minute. The space scientist’s eyes blinked behind their thick glasses. Then they yelled: "Hooray! We will start building right away!"

* * *

It took years to build the tower. Santos helped many scientists and engineers. There were plenty of problems to solve. They figured out how to make the elevators come more quickly. They made plans for fixing sections that might break.

Finally the tower was finished. Santos, his father, Mr. Noble, the engineering professors and the TV reporters flew to the space tower island.

There were giant buildings on both sides of Santos’ tower. They pumped water, gas and power up tall pipes to the top. Santos tried following the shiny tower up to space with his eyes. It disappeared into blue sky.

At the tower bottom was the space elevator. It was as big as a two story house. On the first floor was a large empty room. Hooks for tying things down covered all four walls.

Santos and his friends rode an escalator to the second floor. Three rows of seats faced a long window. Santos sat down and held his father’s hand.

"How long will the ride take?" Santos’ father asked. He was wearing his best work tie.

"Four hours," said Santos. "We are working on a new engine. Next year we hope to go twice as fast."

The space elevator began to rise. Santos saw the whole island. Ocean spread away on all sides. Far away, the gray ocean met the blue sky.

One of the TV reporters asked a question. "What name should they give this tower? Does anyone have any ideas?"

"I think they should name it after a great idea," said Santos father. "I like the name ‘Liberty Ladder.’"

"Hmmm," said the head professor. She clinked her rings on her armrest. "How about a name from history. Something like ‘Stairway to Heaven.’"

"I like the idea of naming it after a great scientist," said Mr. Noble. He rubbed his beard. "We could call it the ‘Einstein Elevator.’"

Santos giggled. "Let’s call it ‘Jack’s Beanstalk,’" he said. Everyone laughed at his joke.

Then they all grew quiet and looked out the window. Santos walked forward and touched the cool glass. He looked down as the earth fell away. The giant buildings on the ground looked like small toys.

Santos looked up. Shiny tower raced under the elevator like railroad track. It ran out of sight into the darkening blue sky. Past the end of the track, Santos thought he saw a bright star.

* * *

After four hours they came to the top. Santos was glad his elevator had a bathroom. The doors opened and Santos looked with wide eyes.

Scientists from the astronaut school greeted him. They stood in a large room with glass ceilings and windows. Hallways led to other rooms filled with telescopes and lasers and scientific instruments.

A large sheet covered the wall behind the scientists. As the TV reporters started their cameras, the scientists spoke to Santos.

"Today we invite people from all over the world to join us in exploring space from atop this amazing tower," said the head scientist. "But first, we must tell people where we are. In honor of the person who has made all this possible, we now dedicate this station."

The scientist pulled a rope, and the sheet fell down to reveal a golden plaque with the words:

Santos Space Tower Station

written in tall black letters.

"Santos," the scientist continued. "We hope you will visit often here at Santos Station and help us make more discoveries about stars, moons and planets." He pointed to the glowing stars overhead.

Santos looked up. His eyes filled up with stars, and then they filled up with tears. He remembered all the discoveries he had made building his tower, and knew he had a lifetime of exciting discoveries still ahead.


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