Failure to Launch

By CodingStrategies on April 27th, 2018

In a short story titled “The Rocket,” author Ray Bradbury tells the story of junkman Fiorello Bodoni who dreams of taking a rocket to Mars. The rockets have been flying for eighty years, but such travel is limited to those who can afford the exorbitant cost of a ticket. Bodoni has been saving for one member of his family to take the trip, and one morning at breakfast he tells his children that one of them can take a rocket to Mars. There is disagreement regarding who should have this privilege, and the family decides that they will draw straws to select the winner. Maria, Bodoni’s wife, wins the first draw, but she is pregnant and declines to take the trip. At the conclusion of the second draw, his son Paolo has been selected, but he also refuses stating that school is about to begin. Reluctantly, the entire family decides that after all, none of them should take a rocket to Mars.

Later that day, a visitor to the junkyard offers to sell a full-scale aluminum model of a rocket as scrap metal. Bodoni agrees to buy it, and uses his savings that were designated for a trip to Mars. The rocket is delivered, and Bodoni orders supplies and begins to work on the model rocket. At sunset several days later, Bodoni collects his children and tells them they are going for a week-long trip in the rocket. He explains that the rocket is old and can fly only this one last journey. He also encourages the children to feel the experience and remember it always. When they blast off for the moon, the children look out the port windows and marvel at the sights of space.

When the children fall asleep, Bodoni steps outside the rocket – it had never left the ground, but was instead manufactured to mimic the effects of space travel. Bodoni returns to the rocket before the children awaken, continuing the act and taking them to Mars. On the seventh day, the rocket returns and the children are jubilant. They thank their father at bedtime and assure him they will never forget their trip to Mars. Later that night, Maria tells Bodoni he is the best father in the world, and asks if some night the two of them can take a rocket trip of their own.

In a more contemporary rocket story, Patrick Rodney Ellson of Willmar, Minnesota created a homemade rocket bike from a bicycle frame, a pair of skis and a motorcycle exhaust pipe. For rocket fuel, he used HEET, a brand of isopropanol used as a gas line antifreeze.

Once the bike had been sufficiently fueled and prepared, Mr. Ellson tried to jump it off his roof.  Police reported that he fell 13 feet to the ground, hitting a fence on his way down, where officers found him on his back on a sled, pushing himself around the driveway with his feet, swearing and yelling about the pain. No other people were hurt in the incident, and the rocket bike did not survive the impact.

According to the report, Mr. Ellson was complaining of pain around his sternum after hitting the fence. In order to classify this accident, we can consider the following ICD-10-CM diagnosis codes:

S29.9XXA             Unspecified injury of thorax, initial encounter

W13.2XXA           Fall from, out of or through roof, initial encounter

W22.09XA           Striking against other stationary object, initial encounter

Injuries aside, Mr. Ellson has unequivocally proved that he is not Evil Knievel, but could have been channeling Wile E. Coyote. Unanswered questions include whether any part of the rocket bike was manufactured by Acme, if there was a sign stating “Help!” found in the vicinity of the crash or if a roadrunner was seen leaving the scene.



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