Tenkte jeg skulle gi ut første kappitel av en bok jeg har lyst å skrive. Få noen innspill og se om folk synes det er interessant.
I am giving out the first chapter of a book I want to write. To get some comments and see if people think it is interesting.
I reserve the right to change any part of it at any time for whatever reason, and reproduction can only legally happen with my permission.
Chapter 1. A humble abode to get away from it all.
His spaceship enters orbit around Ceres. A small dwarf planet three times as far from the Sun as Earth. Twice as far from the sun as Mars. His journey had been intolerable. Stuck inside a tiny capsule floating in space for two years. He had broken down and wept several times during this time. The cramped space and lack of a proper shower took its toll on his morale. His only food had been a sugar drink, some protein powder and vitamin pills.
The computer beeps for the first time in weeks. His eyes open from a deep sleep. It takes a moment for him to realize what beep it is. It is the beep that says it is time to land on Ceres. His demeanor changes from one of exhaustion to one of bursting excitement. He grabs the handle above his head and pull hard, launching him towards the pilots seat which has functioned as his only chair for two years. This time he is filled with glorious purpose and he immediately begins flipping switches.
“Autopilot engaged”, the computer voice softly lays out into the ether. “Specify landing point”.
He flips some more switches and then the computer continues “Landing point specified. Calculating trajectory. Fasten your restraints. Beginning deceleration burn in five,” he quickly snaps together the restraints, “Four, three”, he checks behind him to see if anything is loose in the vessel, “Two”, he realises if anything is loose, its too late, “One”, he wraps his hands around his armrests and clenches as hard as he can just before the computer finishes its sentence with the word “Burn”. G forces greater than anything he has experienced in two years presses him down onto the chair as if a motorbike is sitting on his lap. On his computer screen in front of him he can see camera feeds from the outside, of the solar panels bending around the vessel almost so far as to touch the plume of fire at the base of the vessel. For a moment he prays for good luck before he realises he does not really believe in such nonsense and smiles because of the absurdity of the action of prayer. He knows whether or not this will go well enough for survival was decided three years ago when this vessel and its systems was made and assembled. All he can do is hold on for dear life and smile during whatever happens next.
More suddenly than it started, it stops. And going from 5G to 0G is momentarily tickling to the senses. As if you suddenly flew over a very sharp crest in the road, or got negative G on a rollercoaster. When the breef moment is over, he regains his sense of purpose and flips more switches. The computer’s soft female voice utters “Burn accuracy to within zero point two percent. Free-falling for three minutes two seconds before suicide burn is initialized. Please remain fastened to your seat.”
His thoughts went to the naming convention that led to the term suicide burn being used in such a circumstance. It takes a certain amount of seconds to brake until zero movement with a rocket engine, a suicide burn is to start braking when you only finish your braking at the same time you hit the ground. It saves fuel and money, and computer control has made it very reliable. But its not very nice to hear that the computer will wait until the last possible moment before braking.
His next thought went to the three minutes. Three minutes at the tail end of a two year agonizingly tedious and psychologically difficult trip. For a fleeting moment he thinks about how the universe would make things go very wrong at the last second of those three minutes. Because that’s just how the universe’s humor works. “Don’t be daft!” he actually speaks out to himself, all alone. Before he thinks the second part; “It would be very arrogant to assume the universe cares either way this goes”. Which it probably would be. But he can not stop momentary thoughts from occurring, he can only dispense of such thoughts swiftly after they have occurred.
The computer voice interrupts his thoughts “Two minutes”, he just begins counting down in his head. To try to not think about whether or not his negative thoughts could affect the outcome of this landing. Especially trying hard to avoid the thought of how he would feel if this all fails and he dies, slowly or instantly. If being locked up in a small room for two years is difficult, being locked up in a crashed room would be truly unthinkable. When he gets to 73 the computer says “One minute”, he momentarily swears out loud for being so bad at counting down. He feels like he now has to endure it for an extra 13 seconds, even though his next thought manages to dispense of such silly notions. He just counted too quickly.
He somehow manages to keep his mind busy for another minute, and the computer voice suddenly says “two, one”, his hands grips the armsrests which he has not let go of yet in these three minutes, then the computer finish its sentence with “Burn”. He is flung into the bottom of the seat again and as he sits there the computer says “Be prepared for wideways G-force as the engine vectors for landing adjustments”. He concluded momentarily that it was the understatement of the century as his head flops side to side like a wobblehead figure. Turning the engine angle to the sides slightly means less braking force, but it adds sideways force. Normally a true suicide burn would mean you would have to burn completely in the opposite direction of travel at all times, but this suicide burn has a narrow margin in which it can use some of that engine power to steer. After all, the height difference alone could be enough to smash right into the ground at lethal speed if you miss your landing location by more than a little bit.
His neck is straining in the sideways tugs and pushes after so long in low gravity. What would be a breeze just after launch from Earth is causing his neck muscles to ache profusely. He occasionally closes his eyes for a moment. But he can’t keep them closed for long out of intense curiosity for the fate of the solar panels under sideways force. He feels like he has to keep an eye on the external view of the craft. They are engineered such that they should handle it, but any microscopic faults could mean they weaken through all these intense movements and fail before landing.
Suddenly, all G forces stop. “Successful landing”, the computer reports. “Congratulations”, it adds. For a breef moment his wide eyes and surprised expression is just frozen, any second now would be when he felt the impact if the computer mistakenly shut down the engine before landing. But then the dust travels far enough from the landing area that he can see the landing legs contact the ground on the external cameras. Now, he can relax. His hands unclenches from the armrests and he closes his eyes. He rubs his neck with his left hand and flips a deadman switch; The kind you have to hold in place for as long as you want it active. Then he says “Reporting successful touchdown on Ceres by vessel registration number zero zero niner two six six zero. Over.”. He took his hand off the deadman switch and instructed the computer to send that message when daytime arrives. For now this side of Ceres is facing away from Earth.
He undoes the restraints and makes his way down to the bottom of the vessel. The only thing not covered by equipment and supplies is the door to the airlock. Next to the door is an already unpacked spacesuit attached to the wall which he flies into in one motion. Then he takes on the top half of the suit, and his helmet and gloves. Then he enters the airlock and double checks all the suit systems and seals. A pre-decompression button lowers the pressure in the airlock by ten percent so that the suit can check if it is air tight without danger of explosive decompression. The suit gives the all clear on the air tight seals.
He takes the large decompression handle and turns it with all his might. It must be a bit heavy so as to not be pushed by accident. The decompression cycle lasts thirty excruciating seconds, but this time not excruciating in a bad way. An overwhelming ear to ear grin takes hold on his face like a man possessed by happiness, excitement, hope, anticipation. A glorious, childish purpose.
The light turns red around the door in the ceiling where he entered the airlock. The light around the door below him turns green. This means he can open the door to the outside. Though even if he tried to open the door on the floor before it became green, it opens inwards, so he would not be able to open it with all his might and that of ten imaginary friends.
He grabs the handle on the floor and turns it with all his might. Then he lifts the door itself with even more might. Its not heavy in this low gravity, but it is dampened to resist movement so that it does not slam shut and bend the chassis around the door in unforeseen events.
Once met by the open door, he stares down on the ground under the spaceship. A fleeting thought to questions about what it will be like. Will he sink deep into the dust? Will it cling to space suits or will it want to stay off fabrics? Does it hold a static charge easily? How dense is it? Will it be like loose snow or dense sand? After a moment of these questions which have plagued him for over a decade, he took the step over the hole and quickly stepped off with his other foot. He started slowly to fall down out of the door opening with his feet first, like a man slowly jumping down into water feet first. Due to the low gravity, he only accelerated down at 0.27 meters per second. It took four seconds before he had fell down far enough for his head to exit the airlock. Half a second after that, his feet touched the ground. The experience was as soft as jumping down the last step on some stairs back on Earth. He leans forwards slowly and gets down on his right knee to reach the ground with his right hand. He grasps some of the soil to examine how it looks in his white spacesuit glove. The green light from the exit door is still blaring, so he stands up slowly and with his left hand he reaches up to a button underneath the spaceship next to the airlock door. A white floodlight fills the area around him and the green light is drowned completely out. He lifts his right hand with the soil in it to his visor and examines it closely. He looks through individual grains to try to answer some of the other questions he has had for years. He utters the words “What elements are you all made from? What about all your cousins on this planet?”. From a pocket on his thigh he takes out a small plastic test-tube with a lid attatched. He pries open the lid with his left thumb and lifts his right hand over the top of the test tube. He pours all the soil he can into the test tube. The consistency is completely dry, and its notably cold, even through the heated gloves. There’s no sign of ice of any sort however. All the sand is the same lunar grey shade as far as the eye can see. But without light its only grey nearby and then it turns completely black. As black as the night sky.
Only a few individual grains seem to have different shades than the rest. He closes the test tube with his left thumb. One small pebble remains in his right hand, he looks at it closely, turning it around with his left index finger, his left hand still clenching the test tube.
After a while of studying this small pebble he takes the test tube and puts it in his left thigh pocket while he studies the immediate area around the spaceship. He takes a good long look in every degree for the complete 360 degree rotation. Half an hour passes as he studies the surroundings from these six footsteps and one knee mark he has made. He studies intently how far the engine wash has dug into the ground and how far the landing legs sunk into the ground. He studies how far pebbles traveled from the rocket wash to try to determine if any of them are very much denser than others. After half an hour he suddenly realizes he feels cold in his right hand, he looks to find he is still holding the pebble in his right hand. He takes a look at a nearby small crater he judges to be a hundred meters away. He flings the pebble towards it. The pebble travels almost in a straight line, almost unaffected by gravity. The pebble flies farther and farther in a long arc slowly turning towards the ground. It disappears from view and it still hadn’t gone past the crater. He determines that the crater must be a lot farther away than a hundred meters. With no trees or anything for scale, distance is a very hard thing to eyeball out here.
The helmet beeps three times. Bingo fuel alarm. However long he has walked from the spaceship by now, he has to go back or else he won’t have enough oxygen to make it. However, he is standing right under the spaceship. Not one step from where he first set foot. He grabs the rail above his head on the outside of the door opening and lifts himself up. Ceres gravity is still light since he has managed to keep up his exercise in 0.05G. Its a mere 0.0275G here remember. When inside the airlock, he closes the door in the floor again. Turns the handle closed until the recompression button lights green. He pushes the recompression button, and air begins flowing back into the airlock. Decompression involves a slow air pump to remove the air from the airlock, its slow. Recompression is just to release air from a pressure tank. So before he has time to think there’s air again and the light above the door in the ceiling becomes green, and at the exact same time the light on the floor turns red. He can now open up the door to the interior of the spaceship again. He opens the locks on his helmet and takes it off. Followed by his gloves. He lightly taps his gloves together as he studies the sand that falls on the floor. It falls bizarrely slow.
He then hurries off with the rest of the suit. Then he opens the door in the ceiling and takes out the test tube from the left thigh pocket on the spacesuit. He puts the test tube in his left pocket and grabs the handle in the ceiling around the door. He lifts himself up with the vigor of a special forces soldier. He looks around for a brief second before remembering where the testing equipment lay. He finds the correct box and takes the test tube and places it in a small plastic clamp which is attatched to a machine which is fastened in place inside the box. Then he closes the machine and presses a button on it. The only button on it. Then he climbs up to the top of the spacecraft, the pilots seat. Then he presses three buttons on the console. The computer voice announces “Checking. Checking. Checking. Sample consists of magnesium, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, …” as the voice continued he knew he would have plenty to do now. Boredom would be a forgotten concept for the next few months as he set up a home here.
The trip here had been like being on life support in a hospital. Now he was ashore on a new place to explore and bend to his will.
A month later.
He sticks the shovel in the dirt and throws the dirt onto a fine mesh he brought from Earth. Minor pebbles and stones remain on the mesh while the sand itself falls through.
This has been his life for most of this month. Shoveling sand, shoveling pebbles, shoveling the waste that comes out of the low tech electric-arc furnace. Its a gas extraction venture with all the complexity of a farm with an ox-pulled wooden log for a plow. The solar panels act as the ox.
In its simplest form a gas extractor only requires heat, in this case from an electric spark, to split up molecules to which gas molecules are stuck to. For example oxygen stuck to aluminium, which is how aluminium exist in nature. Then you just catch the gases and then worry about telling the gases apart from each other later on. To separate gases from each other, you rely on a small amount of knowledge of what gases are in the dirt to begin with, and then you use temperature and pressure to determine what gases are liquid at any given moment. Water is simple to get out, it condenses to liquid before a lot else. So if you have a makeshift way to make the gas cool again after being heated up, then you just take out each gas substance in turn as it reaches the point where it turns liquid.
As of yet he only cares about the water he extracts. He then adds it to the water reclaimer he brought, which is actually just an electric current through some water in whatever form you have it. Then it turns the water into hydrogen and oxygen, which then is turned back into water at night when the hydrogen fuel cell recombines it to produce electricity.
Some of the hydrogen and oxygen however, can be used to burn in a proper furnace, so that he may extract metals from the dust. Here too, the metals are taken out in turn as they turn liquid. Magnesium is one of the metals that turn liquid very early so its very very useful that much of the crust of Ceres contains exactly that. Magnesium is a direct upgrade from steel and aluminium in most cases, used in racing cars for a century. Its only minor drawback is that it burns with oxygen present and high enough heat, and water splits into its gases when in contact with magnesium, so for fire hazard, its not great. Since magnesium burns in contact with oxygen its slightly fiddly to make a blast furnace which can extract magnesium, but its doable. The saving grace is that the magnesium or any other metal extracted, does not have to be extremely pure. Almost any metal will be fine for the time being.
After sixteen hours feverish work, the sun is about to set for the second time this work-day. He stopped his work, leaning on his carbon fiber and titanium shovel. The shovel and the stiffness of the spacesuit made it effortless to stand upright in the low Ceres gravity. He rested like that while looking at the sunset. Just as the sun started to get covered by the horizon it grew darker and darker. As soon as the sun was outside direct view, it was as dark as the blackest of nights on Earth. With no atmosphere to bend the light over the horizon for a while longer, there was no light before sunrise and no light after sunset.
As he stood there, he contemplated how different real space colonization and exploration is, compared to the thousands of books, movies and TV shows who tried to imagine a possible way it would happen. He spoke out loud into his helmet, even though no communication system was active at the time, “Even the most logical reasoned approaches, were so wrong they never happened. And here I am, exploring the universe and extracting its resources with a shovel and a furnace you would build in your backyard at home for hobby-purposes.”. He thought about it for about ten minutes, then spoke out loud again “Maybe its always in our psychology to invent grandiose predictions. This isn’t grandiose, its a lesser life than any unemployed person in Scandinavia, yet it also is grandiose because of what can be achieved out here.”
He stuck his shovel into the dirt so that it stood by itself when he took his hand off it. He placed his arms at his sides. Then he slowly lifted his hands out to his sides and up above his head. He shouted in his helmet “If only you could see my plans for this universe!”.
His message was aimed at everything. The atoms in the universe, any system or being outside the universe, anything in existence that would somehow be affected in a small way by things to come.
He then collected himself, grabbed his shovel, and went back into the spaceship for the night. He would only manage to keep from going mad by focusing on work day by day. That little outburst would be all the thinking about the future that he could take for another month.
Another month passes.
He smiled, yet had a serious investigative connotation to the smile. It was his first kilogram of magnesium metal in pure enough form to be used for something. It had taken a lot of labor, and the tools he used would not look out of place from a backyard hobby-smith on Earth. Only it had some necessary modifications due to the planetary differences.
Over the next year he knew he would be hammering, burning, cursing and shoveling more than before. Shoveling alone to extract water isn’t very difficult somewhere where a shovel full of sand weighs what a shovel full of powder snow weighs on Earth. But hammering is even harder than on Earth, because there is no heavy gravity to help bring the hammer down on the target. Only the mass of the hammer would help, its weight would be utterly pointless. So the hammer is a ten kilogram slug brought from Earth, the heaviest solid piece of anything he brought with him.
Over the next decade, that hammer will hammer more than ten million times. During these ten years of hard labor, he might end up with enough metal to go over to faster ways to extract metal. Of course, he would have to make such machines by hammering local metal. With a hammer, fire and anvil. He would of course have to make the anvil as well. For now, a piece of the landing leg would do the job as anvil. That piece of the landing leg is pointless after landing, the leg needs only strength as it lands. Then its practically enough with uncooked spaghetti for landing legs.
He kept at it. He pryed out another sintered sand crucible, made to contain magnesium up to its melting point without exposing it to vacuum while its liquid. Then as it cools down to become solid again, the impurity, well some of it, rests at the bottom of the crucible and is struck away from the magnesium with the hammer. And so it went, he opened the crucible by smashing it to pieces, then he hammered off the bottom of the magnesium nugget. He examined the nugget for a moment, then he put it next to the other three. He swiftly kept at it. By days end he would have three kilograms of magnesium, after three days of making the oven and crucibles from sand. Now he would have to spend three more days making more crucibles and another oven. Then repeat the process, and repeat it, and repeat it. Until he had enough magnesium metal to make more efficient ways to extract magnesium.
Ironically, Iron is the rare thing out here. He knew this. So he has plans to replace the landing legs completely. They were made from steel to handle the fire of the rocket engines when in the extended position so that they don’t melt under landing. So his plan was to make some new crude landing legs from magnesium, then heat and hammer the steel landing legs into the shape of a proper electric arc furnace which would make a large quantity of magnesium in one go.
That would of course be months of hammering.
As he frees the last nugget from its shelter, he lifts it up in front of his helmet and says “I have big plans for you. It must have been nice to just lay here for billions of years not having to do much, but from now on you will have to pull your weight around here.”
A year passes.
He pulls the lever besides his foot. It takes all his strength to do so. In total silence a huge machine roars into silent noisy life with pistons and wheels moving at speeds which would undoubtedly be a proper racket if there was any atmosphere to convey sound. The electric motor that powers it looks like something you would find in the laboratory at Nikola Tesla. Its wires are made from some gold he managed to extract from a piece of meteorite that hit the planet untold millions of years ago and lay in wait for him to come along to make it useful. The sheet around the wires are made from a mix of dust and salts which combined isn’t completely bad at insulating against electricity. Its not as good as plastic or rubber, but there isn’t any of that here yet. The parts of machines only need to be more effective than one man and his hammer and shovel. And it does not need to be very efficient, it just needs to be made from local materials that did not have to be sent all the way from Earth.
This machine is helping to hammer metal. It is the start of the industrial revolution on Ceres. It can of course hammer almost anything else, rocks can be pulverized, meteorites that contain large amounts of metal can be broken apart. Some meteorite pieces are even so pure that they can be hammered and heated directly into usable chunks of metal. A half dozen rovers that he brought from Earth help identify such meteorite chunks by driving in a systematic pattern out from the landing site.
He smiles ear to ear as he works the levers to adjust the hammer stroke so that it impacts the metal but doesn’t impact at a point too deep into the metal for the torque from the electric motor to handle. A huge flywheel made from magnesium conserves momentum such that individual hammer strokes don’t slow down the machine.
The machine isn’t very efficient, nor too effective. But its more effective than a single man swinging a hammer. And that is progress.
In his exuberance he works on well past his normal 20 hour day/night cycle in the 9 hour Ceres day cycle. In a single 30 hour stint he does more work than the previous 150 hours. He finds it intoxicating to increase the power to change things.
Ten years passes.
His progress breeds morale, which breeds more progress and more morale, which breeds more progress. Step by step he has gone from a stone-age shovel he brought from Earth to the middle of the industrial revolution. What was only a single spaceship on a barren grey landscape has become an entire industrial compound with one inhabitant. He has stores of water, pure hydrogen, pure oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, magnesium, iron, helium-3, gold, titanium and much more. He has traded with other colonies like his own to get what elements he can not extract from the local sand and rocks. Water is always very easy to sell out here, everyone needs fuel and everyone is willing to at least give a few hundred kilograms of various metals and equipment in return for a nice ten ton delivery of water. Either delivered as water or as hydrogen and oxygen gas.
The largest development has been that he extracted enough metals in pure enough form to take one of his two spare rocket engines and make a new rocket with it. Its not nearly as advanced and lightweight compared to the original rocket he arrived in. But it has enough fuel and a strong enough motor to go to Mars, leave five tons of fuel behind in one of the Martian colonies, and return with a hundred kilograms of whatever payload. The computer equipment, rocket motor and communications array is reliable because it was all made back on Earth. He brought three of everything and can spend one of each on this vessel so that trade can commense.
He walks around in his space suit, checking every part of the engine. It is a hardy design meant for more than a hundred long burns so it should still be mint after just two long burns to get to the ground on Ceres from Earth. But his facial expression says it all; He has his doubts. There is three years of resources and work behind this one rocket. The communications array, computer and rocket engine do not grow on trees out here either, so losing one of each would be a setback. As is right now, he can use the rare Earth metals he trades from other space bases to continue his industrial revolution. But if he loses a rocket engine, communications array or computer, or all three, he will have to send much of those minerals to paying customers back on Earth or in Earth orbit. So that he can buy a new set from Earth, and have it sent over.
He has walked around the craft untold times now. He stops, looks at the black sky even though its daytime. Then he takes a few steps back from the rocket, looks up at it, and then he says with a low voice into his helmet “Well I suppose I will just have to light this candle. Nothing more I can do to figure out if this will explode during its journey. It either will explode at some point, or it will get back with some sorely needed manganese oxide gold-nanowire batteries.”
He takes a few more steps back from the rocket. A lone spacesuit man standing in a seemingly abandoned area of grey sand, with only a single rocket in view for about 500 meters in any direction.
He then screams loudly as he gestures wildly with his hands as if to an audience “NASA failed to make rockets work first time out and they had thousands of people and clean environment and exact tools. I had a hammer, and then I made some tools and then used those tools to make some new tools and then with those tools I made this ROCKET! What the hell are the odds that this will NOT blow up?!” He waits a moment, then his final gesture is to point at his head to make the international crazy in the head hand gesture. Then he turns around and walks towards the industrial complex where his spaceship and home still rests.
Walking out here in such low gravity is more of a skip, like the moon bunny-jump method of walking only a tad more extreme. Since once you get up to a bit of speed you can really haul ass. To make it safe-ish two poles stick out forwards from the top of the helmet, so that if he should stumble and fall on his face the poles stop the ground or sharp rocks reaching and breaking the glass.
He does not have time to think on the skip back home. He just concentrates on not messing up his stride. When he arrives under the spaceship he arrived in he jumps up into the airlock like has done thousands of time before and then he takes off his spacesuit like thousands of times before.
Only this time he is as excited as when he first landed on Ceres. Perhaps more so. His heartrate monitor which warns when its very high was muted many years ago, but its glowing red so it must be higher than ideal.
He sits in the pilots seat. From here he will monitor the launch of his pilotless rocket. He flips switches and the computer says “Remote transfer of autopilot data complete. Autonomous vessel registration number zero zero niner two six six zero beta zero one, is ready for launch. Input password to launch.”.
He pauses a moment, checks the data from every sensor yet another time, then he inputs the password, “NEWTON1STLAWSUXB4115”. The computer responds “Password accepted. Ten, nine, eight, seven,” – He clenches the armrests as if it was his spaceship that was about to launch – “Six, five, four,” – He tried to keep his mind occupied on the sole act of listening to the countdown, so as to not let any fleeting stupid thoughts pop into his mind – “Three, two, one, burn”. His fingers turn white from clenching the armrests so tight while studying the telemetry from beta one. If anything will go bad its right now statistically, but it won’t be safe from chance of failure before its safely back with the return cargo. Even after four years travel time to Earth and back it can mess up the landing and crash at speeds which turn the battery cargo and valuable parts of the rocket itself, into fine granular dust. These thoughts haunt him until the engine shuts down and the computer announces “Trajectory towards Earth set. Zero point zero two percent margin of error. No correction burn needed until Earth approach. Congratulations.”. His arms are numb from clenching the armrests, he lets go of the armrests. The stress from this three year investment is overwhelming, luckily he can now put it out of sight out of mind for two years. Then it has to brake to Earth orbit and dock with the battery payload satelite, and then make a burn home to Ceres, doing all the corrections if the burn isn’t flawless, and then make a flawless landing. If the landing isn’t flawless its a three year investment that took four years to fail miserably.
His only comfort, apart from knowing he can ignore this most days for the next four years, is that he will be assembling another such rocket over the next three years. So if the rocket does fail miserably, he will have another one ready to go in good time. He will however have to wait until beta one returns or crashes, before sending out beta two, or else he could send it out with a fatal flaw and then have no chance of fixing it.
He presses the deadman-switch and utters the words “reporting successful launch from Ceres of autonomous vessel registration number zero zero niner two six six zero beta zero one. Heading is Earth, time of arrival twenty five months two weeks. More exact data to come on Earth approach in twenty four months. Over.”, then he releases the switch and sends it to Earth.
He gets out of the seat and jumps into the sleeping hammock. He settles and says to himself “Tomorrow will hopefully be a boring normal work-day”.
Twenty five months two weeks passes.
He is sitting in the pilots seat of his very stationary spaceship on Ceres. On the screen in front of him is telemetry and camera views from beta one on its docking approach to the battery-containing cargo pod in orbit around Earth. The time delay of radio signals mean the docking has already happened several minutes ago, there is nothing he can do to help if anything goes wrong on the camera feed. The computer must do it all correctly, or the two will bump apart from each other and perhaps never dock. The plan was to have people perform docking maneuvers when this project first started, around Earth anyway. But practically everyone really qualified for that have made the trek to various bases around the solar system in the last twenty years. So several companies have since developed software which makes their standard computer, engine and communications array capable of performing this docking maneuver. It is apparently more efficient and safer than humans doing it, but it is real difficult to have trust in some software you know is only as clever as the people who wrote the code. Unmanned probes have collided with planets because code used both metric and imperial units, for crying out loud. He is clenching his armrests so thight that his fingertips are completely white. It tingles in every muscle out of excitement. Adrenaline runs thick in his blood even though he is far from harms way.
The camera shows a cross in the middle, which indicates the alignment of beta one. It must line up with the two crosses on the cargo pod. Both crosses on the cargo pod sticks out to the side, the same side, one in front of the other. The rear cross is see-through. So when you are correctly aligned you only see one cross because the two crosses overlap.
This is the low tech way they make the computer able to dock, it just knows the mathematical formula for where to adjust direction to make the two crosses overlap. The computer only need simple pattern recognition running on the camera feed, no supercomputer required.
His stare is unwavering. Beta one creeps closer to the cargo pod excruciatingly slow. Feels like continental drift type of slow when there’s three years hard labor involved in making the darn thing.
His thoughts wander constantly, he tries to just supress them. Even though he thinks thoughts probably can’t influence events, he still likes to be on the safe side. His skin is alternating between goosebumps and sweating, everything itches, his muscles are acheing a little from being stuck in this chair all day instead of being active. He can’t keep his arms and legs still, its not long until contact between the two vessels. Three years of hard labor, two years of waiting while trying to keep this out of mind, and then a full week of looking at the telemetry to make sure the entry into orbit was correct. And then four days of intercept with the cargo pod. And now, hours for the final docking. Just minutes left and he will know if this went well or not so well, or very badly.
“Ten inches, nine, eight” the computer says. He holds his breath completely. “Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, contact. Checking. Checking. Successful docking.” – He throws his hands in the air and screams at the top of his lungs. No real words just a not-so manly celebratory yell.
When he catches his breath again, he slumps down into the chair as if someone pulled out all the muscle from his body. Then he looks up at the screen and checks on how the fuel transfer is going. The cargo pod is two fuel tanks, one for hydrogen and one for oxygen. He is supposed to leave a good chunk of his fuel in that cargo pod, and leave with only the detachable part of the cargo pod, which contains the batteries themselves. The payment for the batteries, is the amount of fuel brought to low Earth orbit (LEO).
He could just take the whole bit but then he wouldn’t get another trade contract in his life. And he still needs trade, for now.
Compared to the tension of the docking this new event is like a half-time break in the football game. What is more worrying however is that after the fuel transfer he has to light the candle again. Inside an enclosed environment the machine will inject some hydrogen and oxygen and ignite that with a spark, then that flame will ignite the hydrogen and oxygen in the main combustion chamber like a sort of a blow-torch. If there is just a bit too much fuel in the combustion chamber when it ignites, it is known as a “hard start”. A nice way of describing that the engine explodes much more fuel than intended in a single instant, and hopefully doesn’t just rip apart. If the engine fails the batteries may just fall down to Earth again after a few months in orbit, or even just go out into an orbit around the sun. There would be little chance of retrieving it in either case, because no one is willing to send a rocket up just to save his rocket, he’d have to pay for it, but pay for it with what?
You can get some insurance on Earth-made equipment, so that if they fail you get a new one sent to you wherever you are in the solar system. But beta one is some Earth made equipment with largely home-made-on-Ceres-with-basic-tools chassis, fuel tanks and piping. The insurance policy would be way more than the value of the batteries, so he’d have to make a full trip just to pay for the insurance on the trip where he picks up the batteries.
So no insurance.
This keeps crossing his mind constantly, but he just keeps repressing the thought. He does not want to anger the luck God, if there is such a God.
Suddenly the computer reports “Fuel transfer complete. Separating.” – And as it said so beta one detatched from the cargo pod, taking with it the battery portion of the cargo pod and leaving the fueled cargo pod behind. “Successful separation. When sufficient separation distance has been reached, burn will commence. Estimated time to burn, three minutes, fifty four seconds.”
His hands clenched around the armrests yet again, as he tried to keep his mind busy by counting down.
Chapter 2. A Mansion to get away from it all.
To be continued.