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This story was my very first contact with SF. It was at least 61 years ago. I remember reading it in my parents' "old" apartment and we moved out of it in December 1962.

It was a novel, in a hardcover. There was a nice picture, probably on a dust-jacket rather than on the hardcover itself. It represented a rocket on a dark space background with a planet (Earth ?). I suppose there were stars, too, on the background for aesthetical reasons, but really, I don't remember such fine details.

I read it in French, of course, I was just about 9 years old at that time. And I am pretty sure it was the French original and even that the book begins in France.

The main protagonist is enlisted into a special school for future astronauts. He learns a lots of topics, including physics. I remember a course about gravitation and the teacher mentioning "potentiel vectoriel". I liked the sound of it, so I remember. It took me many, many years after that to find out that, yes, there is such a notion as "vector potential", for magnetism and electromagnetism. The gravitational potential, however, is not a vector but a scalar in Newtonian physics, and in General Relativity gravitation it is described by a tensor. BTW in French also the correct term is "potentiel vecteur", not "potentiel vectoriel". This is an example of science in that book : interesting but usually not correct.

I definitely remember an attempt at sabotage. In space, the saboteur would put himself into danger so I suppose this was while still at school. The main protagonist has a hunch at who the saboteur was but no certainty. The reason of the sabotage was never clear to me.

Then the main protagonist is ready and starts to travel all across the solar system. To the Moon and Mars, that was already quite common by that time. I think they travel to Venus too. Already when I was 9, I was an astronomy buff and I knew the temperature on Venus was incompatible with tourism. But I took it as "poetic license" and it did not disturb me too much. I don't remember any detail of these travels.

Towards the end of the book he travels very far, beyond Jupiter and maybe beyond Saturn. I remember someone saying that the answer of Earth to a question they asked would take hours to do the roundtrip at the light of speed. At some point in time and space (not necessarily near Jupiter or Saturn) there is a very serious problem with a rocket. IIRC the problem is not with the rocket where the main protagonist is in. On the contrary, his rocket goes to help the rocket with the problem. But it might be the other way round, I am not really sure.

Since it was a YA story, it ends well, but again I forgot the details.

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    Parts of that sound like Heinlein's Space Cadet. School (in an orbiting space ship turned space station) with emphasis on math and physics, a mission to look for a missing ship (in the asteroid belt), trip to Venus... I don't remember any sabotage at the school though.
    – Shawn
    Nov 23, 2023 at 21:58
  • @Shawn I really think the school was on Earth, and almost sure in France. You might have forgotten the sabotage. But the biggest difference is, there was no missing ship. One ship had problems and needed help, but its position was known. In the asteroid belt, why not, for all I remember, but not missing. And it was a French original, not a translation from English.
    – Alfred
    Nov 23, 2023 at 22:08
  • Robert Heinlein's Space Cadet seems like a reasonably close fit for this, but I can't find a French edition (every other romance language though). Have you read that since, and does it match your recollection?
    – fectin
    Nov 24, 2023 at 17:33
  • @fectin As I wrote earlier, I don't remember a missing ship. There was a ship that issued a distress call, but it was not missing. No organised mission to look for a missing ship, an instant response to a distress call. And that was the only one such "dark" event. The sabotage did not have serious consequences. I haven't read Space Cadet, I'll look for a summary somewhere. But from what you say, it is not my story. Which, I am almost sure was originally in French.
    – Alfred
    Nov 25, 2023 at 17:18
  • @fectin I checked en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Cadet This story is much more dramatic than mine. Definitely not it. No aliens, no capture, only one "dark" event (distress call from a ship which was saved)
    – Alfred
    Nov 25, 2023 at 17:22

1 Answer 1

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+50

Possibly Rocket Jockey by Lester Del Rey under the name of Philip St. John from 1952, and published in hardback by Winston. This is the American cover, which has a rocket and a planet (though with a sky that includes blue and black

Per the wiki article, it begins with Jerry Blaine in a space school on Earth, includes a race to the Outer solar system with Blaine and his brother responding to a distress signal and helping out another ship. There is some sabotage as well, as the Martian racers interfere with delivery of fuel to the hero's ship, delaying their takeoff on the next leg of the race.

Given that it's been a long time since you've read this, I wonder if you're including details from another Del Rey book - Step to the Stars, which features sabotage on a space station

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    The "Chris Godfrey of Unexa" series by Hugh Walters? He's first recruited for a trip to the moon, then he and a group visit all the other planets in different books.
    – sueelleker
    Nov 24, 2023 at 0:03
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    @Andrew Thank you for your very interesting answer. There are indeed a lot of similarities. But too many differences to be expaliend by a bad memory. In your story a race, the 8th Armstrong Classic, plays a big role. I do not remember any haste in my story until the end where they are called to help a specific ship (though that part would match the part about a distress call in yours). But mainly there were no aliens. Of course I only read the wiki page, so the Martians are maybe no alines, just descendents of Earthlings but still a split Martians vs Earthlings does not fit with my memories.
    – Alfred
    Nov 24, 2023 at 4:31
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    @Andrew Also I don'r remember the brother of the main protagonist in the story. By "sabotage" i did not mean hiding supplies, but an actual act that could damage equipment in a ship and cause its destruction if done in space (but why in the school ? That did not make a lot of sense in my story..) In the cover you suggest, the soil of the planet takes a much too big part. It explains the blue tinge of the sky by rocket being in the planet's atmosphere. This cover amazon.com/Rocket-Jockey-Lester-del-Rey/dp/034527542X is closer but I don't remember the yellow and black thingy.
    – Alfred
    Nov 24, 2023 at 4:47
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    Possible other covers for Rocket Jockey. l though I don't see evidence it was published in French. (Just English, Dutch, German, and Japanese.) isfdb.org/cgi-bin/titlecovers.cgi?11177
    – NJohnny
    Nov 27, 2023 at 13:57
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    @NJohnny Thanks. But there was no human, and all show a planer soil, not just a far away one, except the TERRA one, where the planet is just in the background. But even that one does not really match my memory. Too many small rockets in addition to the main one. And not in French anyway.
    – Alfred
    Nov 29, 2023 at 7:33

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