Space Cadet

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Space Cadet is a 1948 science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein about Matt Dodson, who joins the Space Patrol to help preserve peace in the Solar System. The story translates the standard military academy story into outer space: a boy from Iowa goes to officer school, sees action and adventure, shoulders responsibilities far beyond his experience, and becomes a man. It was published as the second of the series of Heinlein juveniles.


Plot summary

In 2075, teenager Matt Dodson applies to join the prestigious Space Patrol. After a number of physical, mental, and ethical tests, he is accepted as a cadet. He makes friends with fellow recruits William 'Tex' Jarman, Venus-born Oscar Jensen, and Pierre Armand from Ganymede. His first roommate is Girard Burke, the arrogant son of a wealthy spaceship builder. They are transported to the orbiting school ship PRS James Randolph for further training.

Burke eventually either resigns or is asked to leave, and goes into the merchant service, but the remainder do well enough to be assigned to working Patrol ships. Dodson, Jarman and Jensen ship out on the Aes Triplex. Their first real mission is to help search for a missing research vessel, the Pathfinder, in the Asteroid Belt. They find it, but all aboard are dead, the unlucky victims of a fast-moving meteor that punctured the ship when the armored outer airlock door was open. Before the accident, a researcher on the Pathfinder had found evidence that the planet which blew up to form the asteroids was inhabited by an intelligent species, and that the explosion had been artificial. The captain of the Aes Triplex transfers half the crew to the repaired Pathfinder so that they can take the ship and the news of the startling discovery back to Earth quickly. With the remainder (including all three cadets), he continues his patrol.

Then, he receives an urgent message to investigate an incident on Venus. He sends Lieutenant Thurlow and the cadets to the planet's surface. The lander touches down on a sinkhole, barely giving the crew enough time to get out before it disappears in the mud. With Thurlow comatose, injured when the lander fell over, Jensen assumes command. He contacts the sentient usually-friendly Venerians, but the entire party is taken captive. They soon find out why.

These particular natives had never seen human beings before, until old classmate Burke showed up in a prospecting ship. He had taken the matriarch of the local clan hostage when she refused to give him permission to exploit a rich deposit of radioactive ores. The locals promptly attacked the ship and killed his crew; Burke managed to send a message for help before being taken prisoner.

Jensen skillfully gains the matriarch's trust and convinces her that they are honorable and civilized, unlike Burke, and the Patrolmen are released. Neither the lander nor Burke's ship are flightworthy. To their amazement, she takes the stranded humans to the carefully preserved Astarte, the legendary first ship to set out for Venus over a century before and thought to have been lost en route. According to the log, the crew perished from disease. With the help of the natives, the cadets recommission the ship and fly it back to (human) civilization at Venus's South Pole colony. Dodson is initially disappointed when they are not treated as heroes—but then he realizes that what they accomplished was simply what was expected of Patrolmen.

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