Dragging Mars Closer to the Earth
Part 3

A Case of Professional Jealousy?

Is it possible to drag Mars closer to the earth with a sturdy rope? Professor Randy Wilmslow seems to think so, although he has his critics - notably, Dr Thaddeus Pendlebury. He believes that once planets are in motion it will be impossible to bring them to a halt in the right orbit, and he has personally proffered the opinion that Professor Wilmslow is a 'tit'.

The issue of whether Professor Wilmslow is or is not 'a tit' remains open to debate, but it seems that Dr Pendlebury is not acquainted with the most recent proposals. The Professor has called upon the services of last year's international crown green bowls runner up, whose lifetime of skill and judgement in these matters will be employed to ensure that the planet comes to rest exactly where it is wanted. Furthermore, the Professor is quick to draw attention to the relative merits of his and Dr Pendlebury's credentials.

"I think what we're dealing with here is a case of professional jealousy," he explained. "After all, I've spent the last forty years lecturing on astrophysics all over the world, I've been adviser to both NASA and the European Space Agency, and my work has been published in respected journals in more than two hundred countries. Dr Pendlebury, on the other hand, works in a children's crèche in the Lake District. I don't know exactly what he does at the Tiny Tots Toytime Playcentre, but I imagine that working out the ballistic properties of a selection of toy darts, rubber balls and model aeroplanes is not the career that he envisaged when he first went up to Oxford to study rocketry."

Of course, the real Holy Grail would be the discovery of a way to reach other star systems, or even other galaxies. According to Dr Pendlebury, anyone who believed that such a thing would be achievable using the Wilmslow method would have to be 'a nutjob, loon-bucket or a spanner-head'. For once, Professor Wilmslow agrees.

"He's quite right," he said. "Even Homebase don't sell ropes that long. No, if we seriously want to find a way to cross interstellar space, then we need to come up with a radically different approach. We've really got to stretch ourselves in order to reach for the stars. And, of course, I mean that most literally."

Like a small boy retrieving cookies from a high shelf, Professor Wilmslow believes that it's really just a question of extending our reach. He initially considered getting the entire population to stand on each other's shoulders, but quickly abandoned this line of thinking.

"I haven't done the maths, because sums aren't really my thing," the Professor told us. "But I reckoned that by assembling a human pyramid, it might bring us within touching distance of Alpha Proxima. However, my initial experiments were not very encouraging. Things got a little fractious, what with people being kicked in the teeth, and bottoms in faces, and folks generally being bashed about. My volunteers didn't really respond well to those conditions. It put a few noses out of joint... really, it put noses out of joint. It was a hell of a mess. And anyway, after the pyramid got about six rows high everything went a bit wobbly, which was a shame as we were still about 4.22 light years short of our target.

"But what I'm working on now is a way of stretching the planet so that its furthest extremity is within touching distance of another star. This idea is only really in its infancy, of course, and we need to do a lot more research. For instance, there is the question of the planet's elasticity to consider. In the computer model we ran, we managed to stretch the Earth by about 300%, but then it sprang back and New Zealand flew off and got burned up in the sun. Encouraging though that was, there are still some concerns. For instance, there is a very real possibility that the process will destroy all life on Earth as we currently know it. But, on the plus side, I might be able to wrangle myself few more million quid's worth of public money to piss up the wall. How about I call it the Cosmic Ruberosity Assessment Protocol? That's got a nice ring to it, hasn't it?

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