Chapter 1 Summer Day Splashdown!
“Wake up, Astro Cat! Pay attention to the controls,” I said. “We need to practice splashdowns.”
Astro Cat yawned. He is a little lazy, but he’s a pretty good first mate.
“Val,” Mom called from across the yard. “Please watch the Baby—he’s squashing my petunias.”
Mom was working on some experiments in her garden. She’s a botanist. That’s a scientist who works with plants.
I am a scientist who works in space! Daddy is one of those, too. He is an astrophysicist. He was working at his lab today. And I was working at my lab. That’s the gazebo in our backyard. Today I was pretending it was the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
“Sure, Mom,” I said. “The Apollo 11 had a crew of three. The Baby can be part of the team.”
Soon the three of us were in the spaceship. I double-checked my book, The Universe, to make sure I was getting everything right.
“Okay, let’s focus, people,” I told my crew. “A splashdown is how spaceships come back to Earth. A parachute helps them slow down as they fall through the atmosphere. Then they splash into the water to soften their landing.”
Astro Cat yawned again, and the Baby was watching a butterfly. I wasn’t sure they were paying close enough attention. But that was why I was the commander!
“We’ll only have one chance to land back on Earth, so it’s important to be prepared,” I warned. I put on my helmet and set my stomp-on rocket launcher at the edge of the gazebo. “Begin the countdown, second mate!”
The Baby gurgled. He tossed a Cheerio out of the gazebo. That reminded me to put his helmet on, too. Astro Cat was sleeping, so I decided to let him be.
“Five!” I counted.
More Cheerios went flying.
“Four, three, two, one . . . liftoff!” I yelled.
I stomped on the launcher. The rocket flew toward Daddy’s birdbath, ready to splashdown—and then right over it!
“Oh no!” I cried. “Malfunction! Malfunction! It went over the hedge!”
Suddenly the hedge started shaking. Then a face I’d never seen before poked through the leaves!
Chapter 2 Meeting Wallace
“Hi,” the face said. “I’m Wallace. We just moved in.”
Then a hand appeared. It was holding my rocket.
“Is this yours?” Wallace asked.
“That’s my rocket,” I told him, grabbing it back.
Mom looked up. “Oh, hello,” she greeted Wallace. “I heard we had new neighbors with an eight-year-old! Look, Val—a kid your age right next door! Come on over, Wallace. Welcome to the neighborhood!”
He came in through the gate. “Thanks,” he told Mom. “My parents and Gramps and I just moved in, but we’ve been visiting for ages. My aunts and uncles and cousins all live here.”
“How nice,” Mom said with a smile. “That should make it a little easier getting settled.”
“I hope so.” Wallace smiled back at her. Then he looked at me. “Hi,” he said. “Is that a spacesuit? I like it.”
“Yes, it is,” I said. “I made it myself.”
“Cool,” he said.
I noticed he was wearing a weird T-shirt. It said “Catch a Ride on a Comet.”
“Why would you want to catch a ride on a comet?” I asked. “It’s not like they go anywhere interesting. All they do is orbit the sun—just like Earth.”
“How do you know that?” Wallace asked.
Mom chuckled. “Val knows everything about space,” she said. “That’s why we call her Astronaut Girl.”
Wallace wandered toward the gazebo as Mom went back to work. “Wow!” he said. “That looks just like the alien rocket ship Commander Neutron used to breach a black hole in episode number sixty-three!”
Ugh! Now I knew where his T-shirt was from. “You watch Comet Jumpers, don’t you?” I said. “That’s a goofy show.”
“It’s not goofy, it’s great!” he said. “It’s my favorite show.”
I rolled my eyes. If that was his favorite show, we probably wouldn’t have anything else in common, either.
“I’ve seen Comet Jumpers a few times,” I told him. “I wasn’t impressed. The science is totally wrong.”
Wallace shrugged. “The show is set in the year 3000,” he said. “I’m sure science will be way more advanced by then. Use your imagination! It could happen.”
I noticed the Baby trying to crawl down the gazebo steps. I picked him up before he could fall.
“Is that your brother?” Wallace asked.
“Uh-huh,” I said. “He’s my second mate. And that’s Astro Cat over there. He’s my first mate, but he’s taking a break right now.”
“Cool,” Wallace said. “Just like Gloob is Commander Neutron’s first mate.”
“Yeah, but we’re not the crew of some imaginary ship from a TV show,” I said. “We’re the crew of the Apollo 11 spacecraft.”
“Apollo 11?” Wallace said. “I think I’ve heard of that . . .”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Apollo 11 was only one of the most famous space missions in history! Daddy taught me all about it when I was still in diapers.
“I should hope you’ve heard of it!” I said. “The Apollo 11 mission was the first time humans set foot on the moon.”
“Cool,” he said. “Now I get why they call you Astronaut Girl.”
“That’s right,” I said. “And did you know Apollo 11 almost never landed at all? There was a problem with the ship’s computer, and Neil Armstrong had to take over and steer it himself. When they landed, there was only twenty-five seconds’ worth of rocket fuel left, and—”
“Did you say rocket fuel?” Wallace interrupted. He pulled a battered notebook with a pencil stuck in the middle like a bookmark out of his pocket. “Cool term, I should use that in my story.”
“What story?” I asked.
He explained that Comet Jumpers was running a contest for fans to send in story ideas. The best one would become a future episode.
“But I’m going to do better than that,” Wallace said. “I’m going to write an entire script! I already have lots of notes and ideas. See?” New Idea: Zixtar activates the Beamatron with his hooked tail when the bad guys tie up his tentacles.
I read what he wrote. “Who’s Zixtar?” I asked.
He pulled something else out of his pocket. It was an action figure.
“I made it myself,” he said proudly. “This is Zixtar. He’s a new character I created for my episode. He’s an interstellar pirate!”
He held out the action figure, and I grabbed it for a better look. It was actually pretty cool. Zixtar was made out of polymer clay, like the stuff I used to make my solar system project for the science fair. He had five tentacles. Each was a different color and had a different tool on the end.
“What does the hook on his tail do?” I asked.
“That’s for battling space monsters,” Wallace said. “His tentacles have all kinds of powers.”
I was a teensy bit impressed. Was Wallace really writing a TV script? Had he really created a whole new character?
Even so, I could tell he needed my help. “That’s all cool,” I said. “But there’s no such thing as a Beamatron like on the show. You can’t mush everyone’s cells together into a giant ball of energy and then shoot them into space! They’d be lost forever. But there could be a way to move a spaceship full of people if it’s stuck somewhere without power . . .”
“Oh yeah?” Wallace said, suddenly interested. “What would do that?”
“Solar sails,” I said with a grin.
“What’s a solar sail?” Wallace asked.
“It’s like a sailboat in space, but instead of wind, it uses solar power and mirrors to make ships move. See, you don’t need a silly Beamatron! Just use solar sails instead. Think like a scientist!”
“Hmm, interesting,” he said. “Solar sails could totally save the day when Commander Neutron’s spaceship loses power while battling giant space bees . . .” He jotted down a few words. “Hey, if your idea makes it into the show, maybe the producers will put your name on-screen.”
“They’d better,” I said. “Because I’m your new cowriter!”
Copyright © 2021 by Cathy Hapka and Ellen Vandenberg; Illustrated by Gillian Reid. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.