High Desert Spaceport
No story, but an explanation:
On Earth, it takes a change in velocity (delta-V) of about 9-10 kilometers per second to get into orbit. That's hard to do, because you either need a very light rocket (like the failed X-33) or a bunch of stages to make it. But a planet that's about Mars-sized is much easier. You only need about 5 kps to make into orbit, and that's something you can do with 1950's era technology. Plus, with lower gravity, the engines can be less powerful, and therefore lighter. Some distant rebounding civilization on a terraformed Mars would have little problem getting to orbit. But if they landed on earth, they wouldn't have rockets powerful enough to get back off it...
The scene comes from my future history - about four thousand years in the future, actually. The moon Nokara is a Mars sized body, marginally habitable, in orbit around the garden world Erta. Many centuries after the Wars of Disintegration, the Nokarans have struggled back to an industrial civilization, while their more numerous brethren on Erta are still trying to decide whether steam engines are worth the trouble.
While the Nokarans can only travel one way to Erta, getting to Nokaran orbit isn't that hard, and from there, they can explore the rest of their solar system, looking for lost artifacts of lost interstellar civilizations.
The inspiration for the rocketships is a cross between a B-29, something out of Collier's and an R-7. Hope you like the picture.
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by Geir Lanesskog, All Rights Reserved