“First Man in a Satellite,” Charles W Runyon, 1958 — The first manned satellite requires a little person as pilot; they want human data, not data from an animal or machine. They find a potential pilot in a circus; he reluctantly leaves his love, also a little person. All his life he’s been treated like a child, he muses, now he’s one step up from a lab rat. And yet the project has an allure for him.
During the mission, a meteorite hits the satellite, disabling the remote controls. He tries to pilot the satellite manually but his frequent lapses into unconsciousness prevent him from starting his re-entry in the necessary window of time. The administrators of the program find his sweetheart and put her on the line with him during one of his blackouts; when he awakes, she explains that he’s not going to make it. She promises to talk to him until the end.
Comments: Interesting passage in which he notes that his love is always clearly recognizable as an adult female in miniature, and no one ever mistook her for a child. Read in Tales of Superscience.
Runyon comments on his first sale in this interview: “Of course; it was a short story called “First Man in a Satellite” to Super Science Fiction in 1958 – almost fifty years ago! This was about the time the Russians sent up Sputnik so I was undeservedly credited with being a harbinger of the Space Age. I got a personal rejection from John W. Campbell [editor at Astounding SF], with his signature slanting across the bottom of the page as if tracing the path of a tumbling tumbleweed. He disparaged the whole idea of a midget in a space ship, adding that Lester del Rey had already done it – better. Editors didn’t care about writer’s sensibilities in those days. I still treasure the letter.”