Ocean of Storms: A Timeline of A Scientific America

NICE!! Is this possible?
Theoretically... I guess? The design seems similar to the other LESS designs I've seen before.
The one thing I see is that, while the the engine is raised off the soil (nice detail there), there isn't a blanket underneath it, like NASA proposed, to minimise the regolith kicking up. Not a deal-breaker, just interesting.
NICE!! Is this possible?
In theory yes, though at the expense of much of the LM payload.
The Summary Report's here: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19700022470
The full report is here: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19700031448

The unit would have massed about 165 kg dry, per the breakdown on p23 of the summary, with the prop loaded from the (presumably inoperable) LM ascent stage. Unfortunately, that was most of the LM's reserve--even the J-class mission's LM only had about 500 kg of landing payload, out of which had to come the rover, surface hardware, and I think even consumables. That's why the systems like this were intended more for missions which would land multiple LMs at the same site, where the LM Ascent stage could be left off one and open up ~2,500 kg of additional payload for longer stays, where things like the (related) Lunar Flying Unit or larger rovers could be afforded, and where there was more risk of the LM Ascent stage becoming non-functional during a mission due to simple time effects.

EDIT: 165, not 65 kg. Omitted a digit.
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Theoretically... I guess? The design seems similar to the other LESS designs I've seen before.
The one thing I see is that, while the the engine is raised off the soil (nice detail there), there isn't a blanket underneath it, like NASA proposed, to minimise the regolith kicking up. Not a deal-breaker, just interesting.
The report this is from called for a "skidplate" that would also serve to help position the unit by acting as a sled to drag it on, but...HazeGrayArt didn't apparently include it. Art error, I'm inclined to say.
That's why the systems like this were intended more for missions which would land multiple LMs at the same site, where the LM Ascent stage could be left off one and open up ~2,500 kg of additional payload for longer stays, where things like the (related) Lunar Flying Unit or larger rovers could be afforded, and where there was more risk of the LM Ascent stage becoming non-functional during a mission due to simple time effects.

It would be hard to justify putting on an H or even J class mission for this reason - you'd wipe out much of the science you could do. Which by that point was a top priority for Apollo planners.

On an AES-type mission, though, it could be worth considering....
It would be hard to justify putting on an H or even J class mission for this reason - you'd wipe out much of the science you could do. Which by that point was a top priority for Apollo planners.

On an AES-type mission, though, it could be worth considering....
ITTL though, it was mentioned that MOLEMs carried LFR components in case they broke down away from the LEM. Would that even be possible?
Just finished reading this but I must have skipped something. What happened to Reagan for bush to enact the 25th?
A few updates:
I'm about halfway through the next chapter. It's a bit of a turning point, so progress isn't as steady as it was when I knew exactly what was going to happen in each chapter 10 chapters away.

I had a great chapter of Ocean of Storms that took place farther along that was a tribute to the Twilight Zone and private spaceflight. Now, thanks to Wiliam Shatner's flight and the literal thousands of people making the same joke, "Nightmare at 200,000 Feet" will be totally useless.

@TaintedLion is right about the causes of the Reagan situation. I'd hoped that would be communicated subtly in Reagan's dialog and mannerisms in the last few chapters, but I may have gone too subtle there. At any rate, the 25th was seriously considered around this time period, but Reagan IOTL was invigorated by the arrival of new staff and any thoughts were disspelled. In Ocean of Storms, he doesn't have the same upswing and it becomes apparent that he's no longer capable of executing the office. More will be said on that in the next chapter.

Thank you for your patience!
I think it was just the stresses of the job caused him to become sorta catatonic. Either that or the Alzheimer's set in early. Hopefully we'll get some new chapters explaining soon :3
From the sound of it, with someone whose grandfather is going in a memory unit today (Dementia), probably is Alzheimers. POTUS will drain you like a vampire, so it's possible it took his mind.
From the sound of it, with someone whose grandfather is going in a memory unit today (Dementia), probably is Alzheimers. POTUS will drain you like a vampire, so it's possible it took his mind.
My sympathies go out to you--got the same problem with a relative myself, Dementia is one of the most evil things to happen to someone.
My sympathies go out to you--got the same problem with a relative myself, Dementia is one of the most evil things to happen to someone.
Seconded, @Knightmare. As someone with an uncle with dementia who is going into care, and whose grandmother suffered from the early-ish stages of Parkinsons in the time she lived with me and my family before she passed, I deeply sympathize.
My sympathies go out to you--got the same problem with a relative myself, Dementia is one of the most evil things to happen to someone.
I can happily agree. Thanks for the words.

Seconded, @Knightmare. As someone with an uncle with dementia who is going into care, and whose grandmother suffered from the early-ish stages of Parkinsons in the time she lived with me and my family before she passed, I deeply sympathize.
THanks for the kind words.

Onto a lighter topic! Do you think NASA would start looking at Pathfinder drones to help map out the Moon's surface? Bring down a few on one of the flights, have them do a wheel around the base, or where the capsule lands for a shrot while?
XLI: Grounded

22 February 1987

R/V Knorr

Pacific Ocean

41° 12' 57" N 137° 06' 37” W

He missed Alvin and Jason Jr. That was part of life when your work was in the middle of the ocean, but those two submersibles were extremely useful to him and now he found himself without them. They weren’t even in this ocean. His team had been plucked out of the Atlantic after months of studying and documenting the final resting place of the Titanic. Now, they found themselves six hundred miles off the coast of California, searching for mankind’s newest addition to the ocean floor.

Argo was a wonderful tool, but she was, at the end of the day, just a robot, and he wanted to be under the waves himself, looking with his own eyes.

The last known position was only partially helpful. A Clipper wasn’t like a battleship. She would sink in a completely different way. As any aerodynamicist will tell you, water and air don’t behave all that differently in the grand scheme of things, which meant that when Constellation hit the Pacific, she would still behave, in many ways, as she had previously, as an unpowered glider, though her new surroundings were far more dense than those she was used to.

The compartment was cramped already. The NASA observer didn’t help matters much. Granted, they were paying for this particular goose chase, but from what he could tell, that didn’t really need an onsite supervisor.

Blue faded to black as Argo continued her descent. Ballard considered this with a note of irony. The videos that had been put out by NASA of Clipper launches showed the same transition. A brilliant blue fading into an abysmal black. A darkness that seemed to stretch to infinity. Submariners and astronauts had quite a lot in common. Lives dominated by machinery, pressure readings, and a reliance on canned air.

He pulled up Argo’s external lights as the screen became useless. Ahead, he could see a faint outline in the distance.

Skillfully he steered the little submersible towards this new point of interest. As it traveled, he took another look at some of the reference drawings the man from Houston had provided.

“Could that be…?” one of his team said.

“Looks like Aileron 2,” the NASA man said.

As the image came into focus, he agreed. The part was hard to see against the inky blackness, but he could see the subtle texturing of the honeycomb pattern in the surface. It was definitely man-made. As the Argo came around, the shape began to be obvious. Sticking out of the sand was a rear control surface, angled in an odd way, with ragged, twisted metal at the top which no longer connected it to the ship as a whole.

“We’re on the right track,” Ballard said.

Ten minutes later, another piece, this time likely from the left rear fin. A few moments later, a small tank of some kind that was crushed by the immense pressure of the deep.

He looked at the far end of the image and made the final call, “Tina, what’s Argo’s depth gauge reading?”

“Thirteen one-seventy-four, Bob,” came the reply from the woman at the station.

Bob Ballard nodded and rubbed his forehead, pushing the blue cap up and off. He rubbed his eyes next, weary from the day, and then turned to the NASA rep.

“Tell your bosses we found Constellation. Tell them they’ll have to study her where she is,” Ballard said.

“She’s not a big ship, Mr. Ballard. We can’t raise her?”

“I can’t. At least not anytime soon. This is the Pacific, sir. She’s two and a half miles down. She’s deeper than the Titanic. Argo can take you around and show you how she looks from the outside. And we can get some cameras inside. But this isn’t going to be a salvage operation, at least not in the usual sense. Constellation belongs to the deep now.”

3 March 1987

UBS Evening News

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m Emmett Seaborne. Welcome to the UBS Evening News.

Tonight, our top story, the formal transition of power in accordance with the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution took place today at twelve noon, eastern time.

Following last night’s votes in the Senate, President Reagan, by a 73-26 vote was determined to be incapable of discharging the powers and duties of his office. In agreement with the two-thirds vote of the House of Representatives which voted on Friday, the Senate concurred with the findings of the bipartisan commission.

These votes followed two weeks of testimony from presidential advisors including former White House Chief of Staff Don Regan and current White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker. While the President’s personal physician Dr. Daniel Ruge was not willing to diagnose President Reagan with any neurological disorder, the most compelling testimony was that of President Reagan himself.

The President’s testimony, given over the course of two days last week, was seen largely as confirming the findings of Acting President Bush and the majority of the Cabinet officers which was presented on the ninth of February. President Reagan’s inability to recall the basic facts of situations regarding U.S. military concerns in the Middle East and South America were seen by many as evidence of a diminished capacity.

President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan issued a statement today before departing the White House for their ranch in California.

“We graciously accept the collective wisdom of Congress and our close friend, President Bush. We would have loved to continue serving this great nation but time and chance have prevented us from our goal. We wish the very best to President Bush and ask for patience and privacy as we resettle back into our civilian life. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and God Bless America.”

Chief Justice William Rehnquist swore in Acting President Bush at the White House today, officially conferring the title and office of President to Mr. Bush. The fortieth President of the United States then addressed the nation, vowing to continue the peace and stability which had marked the term of President Reagan. Mr. Bush is widely expected to be the frontrunner for the nomination of his party for President in the elections of next year.

23 April 1987

Johnson Space Center

Houston, TX

29° 33’ 47” N 95° 05’ 28” W

The review board meeting was entering its eighth hour. Pizza boxes were abandoned on the table at the back wall. The ice in the cooler was a distant memory. The godawful slide shows were done, but the larger issues hadn’t even been addressed yet.

Constellation’s autopsy was complete, but that would be useless without a plan of action moving forward.

Resnik tapped the bottom of her paper cup against the head of the table. The group looked up from their low-toned conversations.

“Folks, we’re going to have to adjourn for the day here in a little while. I want to let the janitors and staff do their thing and god knows we all need to get out of this room. We’ll start talking next steps tomorrow, but first, I want to go over a summary of why this happened. Tim, can you give us the final bullet points?”

Tim Rosemont stood up and flipped through a stapled sheaf of papers, “Yeah. Again, just to cover the basics… There was a fault in APU 1 for Constellation, likely caused by a bad internal Battery B, or some kind of fault in the wiring. We’ll know more once we get a better look at the APU…”

“If it can be raised,” Judy Resnik said.

“If it can be raised,” Rosemont echoed. He then continued, “When the APU was connected to Skydock’s electrical systems for supplemental power, an overload occurred which damaged wiring near Panel 38. Ordinarily, this would have been prevented by the breakers. We haven’t yet determined why the breakers didn’t activate. It’s possible we have an issue with that design and/or the manufacture, but we’re not ready to say that for sure yet. Either way, when APU 1 was activated during the reentry sequence, the damaged wiring created an arc. That arc caused the insulation around OMS 1 to catch fire. The fire spread through that compartment, leaking a small amount of smoke into the main cabin and a much greater amount through the OMS engine itself, which, fortunately, was at bingo fuel.

“If the APU had been turned on before the retrofire?” Resnik said.

“We’d be looking at a loss of vehicle and crew before they ever reached 50,000 ft,” Rosemont said. “It’s important to remember though that that situation would only have arisen if there were issues with Constellation’s solar panels, which telemetry says did not encounter any problems during the flight.”

A moment passed as the group collectively nodded.

“The fire spread through the electrical systems, eventually compromising APU 2 and destroying the battery connections. It was at this point that Conrad reported losing the platform and the ship became basically dead stick. The crew evacuation proceeded normally and we should note Conrad and Wilkins getting everyone off the ship safely and somehow managing to preserve the lunar samples.”

“Top notch astronaut work,” someone said from down the table. More nods and “hear-hears” accompanied the statement.

Resnik took control of the table again, “So, from here, our biggest questions are: a) Do we have a problem with the breakers, the APUs, the batteries, or some or all of the above? b) What is our best course of action to diagnose the issue so that this doesn’t happen to another Clipper? c) What protocols should be implemented on Clippers interfacing with Skydock and/or any other hardware that gets put up there?”

A sigh passed as everyone who listened took a moment to think about the implications.

“Tomorrow morning we start working on these questions. We also start working on the first draft of our report on the final moments of Constellation from a technical perspective. Go home, tell whoever is there that you love them and you won’t be seeing them for a while, because tomorrow, we’re going hunting for electric gremlins in the world’s most complex flying machine. Have a good night folks.”

14 May 1987

Moonbase Outpost

Expedition 11

Day 103

For all of his folksy charm, Cale Fletcher had proven himself as a consummate astronaut during his tenure as the Expedition 11 commander.

Originally, Fletcher was just a backup. Boston Low had been set to command Expedition 11, which was supposed to take the shift from February through the end of April. None of that had worked out, however. Low developed a troubling heart murmur a week before Constellation had lifted off. Fletcher had stepped in, never seriously considering the possibility that he would have to lead a relatively unfamiliar crew through the greatest lunar crisis since Apollo 22.

A quarter-million miles from Terra Firma, Fletcher and his four astronauts had everything they could want, except a ride home. The Clipper fleet was grounded until further notice. The Eagle out on the pad at Huffman Prairie could take them up to orbit, but there were no ships that could get them back to Earth. With the Constellation Commission’s report now less than a week from being made public, the brass was ready to talk to the commander of Moonbase about the long-term strategy for staying alive and productive in space.

Two screens lit up in the little alcove that was known as the commander’s office. One displayed an empty chair which sat behind the MOCR in Houston. That chair would be filled in a few minutes when the conference call officially began. The other screen showed a floating Jake Jensen. He was commanding Skydock in low Earth orbit. At the moment, Skydock had a skeleton crew of Jensen and Robert Clemmons. The two had been caretaking Skydock since just after Christmas and now there was no end in sight.

Jensen and Fletcher were old friends, having been part of the same astronaut class. They struck up a conversation while they waited for Lunney.

“Cale, how are things in the Waldorf-Astoria? You enjoying the gravity up there, you hillbilly?”

Fletcher laughed, “I drop something every morning and think about you sipping coffee through a tube.”

“Showoff,” Jensen said. “What do you think about this thing with the USFL?”

“I don’t understand the details,” Fletcher said.

“You mean about the relegation?” Jensen asked.

“That and who’s playing where,” Fletcher said.

“Oh yeah, that’s a minefield. I think I figured it all out though,” Jensen said.

“Pray tell, Skydock,” Fletcher said. He checked his watch.

Jensen cleared his throat, “So, basically, the NFL got sick of the USFL outbidding their teams. Add to it that the USFL teams are mostly playing in cities that already have NFL teams and the NFL owners were getting mad seeing merchandise from the other clubs. At the same time, the USFL was getting shoved around on TV deals and it was all going to come to a head in this lawsuit.”

“Guys in suits deciding football. What is the world coming to?” Fletcher said.

“Oh yeah, it’s terrible,” said Jensen, a former cornerback at West Point.

“So, what happened?” Fletcher said.

“They dropped the suit, and now the USFL is going to be the little brother league for the NFL,” Jensen said.

“They’re still playing in the spring, right?” Fletcher asked.

“Yeah, but now, if you win the USFL’s Championship, you get to play in the NFL,” Jensen said.

“That’s what’s weird to me,” Fletcher said.

“It’s like British football,” Jensen said.

“The Brits don’t play football,” Fletcher said.

“I’m talking about soccer,” Jensen said.

“Aw hell,” Fletcher said.

“No, it’s kinda cool. If you win the lower league, you get to play with the big boys. If you’re the worst team in the NFL, you get sent down for a season.”

“Maybe it’ll stop teams from being bad just for the draft pick,” Fletcher said.

“Yeah, like the NBA lottery.”

“So how does it shake out?” Fletcher asked.

“There’s eight teams left in the USFL. About half are moving and the rest are staying put. You’ve got the Arizona Outlaws, who are in first place this season. The Blitz are moving from Chicago to Oakland. The Hound Dogs are still playing in Memphis. The Gamblers and the Generals are now combining and going to San Antonio. They’re going to be the Texas Mustangs,” Jensen said.

“We’ve still got the Oilers though, right?” Fletcher said.

“Oh yeah, that’ll never change. They’re a Houston institution,” Jensen said.

“What about the rest?”

“One in Portland. One in Jacksonville. Baltimore still has the Banners and, oh, this one you’ll like. Some fast-food guy bought up the Panthers from Michigan and is moving them to Charlotte.”

“That’s great. I’ll have to catch a game when I go back to the old homestead,” Fletcher said.

“Yeah, they’ll probably have a championship by the time we get back to Earth,” Jensen said.

The other screen filled with the image of Glynn Lunney, “Oh, I don’t think it’ll take that long,” he said.

Fletcher and Jensen tried to look like they hadn’t been talking about football and were ready to be serious men at serious professions.

“What’s the latest, Glynn?”

“It’s what we thought. The culprit was the electrical system. We’re going to overhaul the fleet,” Lunney said.

“How long?”

“We’re putting everything we have into overhauling Orion. She was the last off the line so her circuitry was already a little better than Intrepid and Adventure. The plan of work is six months,” Lunney said.

“Which means it’ll be at least eight,” Fletcher said.

“We’ll go as fast as we can,” Lunney said.

“What about the trucks?” Jensen said.

“We aren’t grounding the Cargo Clippers. At least not yet. We’ll keep flying them unless something comes up,” Lunney said.

“So, resupply missions?” Jensen said.

“You bet. First one is coming out of Kennedy in three weeks. We’re still figuring out the schedule, but I promise you won’t starve.”

“What about Shadow?” Fletcher asked.

Shadow was already stripped down for the bus option. If we wanted to put her thermals back in place, it’d take longer than the Orion refit. That card has already been played,” Lunney said.

Fletcher sighed, “Glynn, I’m not wild about sitting up here eating spam and crackers for the rest of the year. I want to do more with our time.”

“We don’t want to stress any systems at a critical time, Cale,” Lunney said.

“I’m not talking about major excursions. I want the dome,” Fletcher said.

“The LGD isn’t part of this year’s objectives,” Lunney said.

“Glynn, respectfully, we’re way past the flight manual here. If you’re going to ask us to spend the rest of the year up here, I need this for morale,” Fletcher said.

“Your personnel aren’t trained…”

“I’m trained. I’ve got more time with the LGD planning than anyone in the corps and I know what I’m doing. I can get Vincent and Kathy up to speed. The next time Excalibur comes down, I want the dome kit and the tools. This is going to be our Apollo 8 moment. We’ll have so much more we can do once the dome is up. It’s either this, or you let us go into Shackleton.”

“Cale, despite what you may have seen on Star Trek, you’re not in a position to dictate…” Lunney said.

“I’m not dictating to you. I’m trying to help you. I haven’t gotten my copy of the Houston Chronicle in a while, but I’m betting that you’re getting slammed by the press and our shiny new President wants a win from NASA before next year’s primaries. How am I doing so far?”

Glynn Lunney furrowed his brow as he listened to the analysis.

“Now you can send up a big tank of peanut butter and jelly and watch us get fat up here with nothing to do but burn rocks and wipe off solar panels, or we can have an ongoing project that will look great on the nightly news and at the same time, get this place ready for twenty astronauts instead of five. You tell me, which is going to better serve the long-term interests of NASA?”

Lunney’s brow somehow found more of an angle.

“If Bush wants Mars, then we need CES. To get CES, we need the real estate. There’s nothing better for that than the dome. I know this seems like the time to play it safe, Glynn, but it just seems that way.”

Lunney let out a sigh, “I’ve got a gaggle of four engineers and two department heads that are saying the same thing.”

“Good engineers, no doubt,” Fletcher said.

“No doubt. Though I know at least one to be from Georgia Tech,” Lunney said.

“Then God help us all,” Fletcher quipped.

That got a small laugh from everyone, including Jensen who had been holding a bated breath for this little exchange.

“It’s just a geodesic dome, Cale. It’s not made of magic,” Lunney said.

“It’s room for a greenhouse and an aquaculture setup, maybe even some new geology equipment. But more than that, once we build one, we can build more. Lunar life fifty years from now isn’t going to be in a bunch of strung together tin cans under dirt, it’s going to be in big geodesic domes. Let’s not wait until the mid 90’s to do what we’re going to have to do eventually anyway. We’ve sure as hell got the time.”

“I’m not opposed, necessarily. But I’ll give serious consideration when the tiger team gives me their report.”

“Fair enough,” Fletcher said.

“What’s your plan for us, sir?” Jensen said.

“We’ll be sending Shadow up after they sign off on her electrics. You’ll get her mated to Zeus IV, but that will be later this year. After that, the Clipper fleet won’t have to go beyond LEO anymore. It’ll be Kennedy to Shadow to Eagle to the Moon.”

“That’ll be fun for us,” Jensen said.

“Gentlemen, this is the only time I’ll say this because it’s the only time I’ll have to. Do not get any bright ideas. Whatever happens, I want you to play it safe. We got through this by the skin of our teeth. If we lose people because we got ambitious, then the Luddite wing of Congress will come down here and march us back to 1957. No slip ups. I’m deadly serious.”

Lunney signed off. Jensen and Fletcher stared at each other for a moment.

“What do you think?” Jensen asked.

“Our lives are in the hands of robots.”

16 November 1987


Expedition 11

Day 289

Without the need to swap out crews or take tedious constant instruction from ground controllers, the Lunar Geodesic Dome had quickly risen from a boxed kit, to an organized reality. The foundation had been cleared by one of the rover plows within a week of the project’s approval in June. The regolith which was cleared in the dig now provided insulation between the inner and outer layers. When it was done, the completed dome would be fifty feet in diameter, though a foot of that was lost to the 6 inches of lunar dirt that would give an element of additional safety to the double-dome walls of the structure. In the future, that would be way too thin, but this was mostly to test the construction methods.

Cale Fletcher clambered around the fourth layer of triangular panels and reattached one of his three safety lines. The welding had gone faster than he’d hoped and now it was down to the last inspection of the welds and then the final pressurization. He was looking forward to getting off this big black ball and grabbing some food before the big test this afternoon.

Back on Earth, the electrical retrofitting had hit a seemingly inevitable snag. The engineers had figured out the problem, but like so much of engineering, they’d discovered other potential issues along the way to the solution. The silence he heard over the radio was the sound of that six-month deadline whooshing by, on its way to oblivion. Short of an act of God or an act of the Russians, no one on the Moon was going to be home by Christmas. He was hoping to see springtime back at the bottom of the gravity well, but at this point, it was a crapshoot.

Inside the base, his crew looked on as they waited for him to give the final checks.

“Vincent, panel 4D looks clean and solid. I’m ready to give the go-ahead now. I’ll make my way down and then we can head inside,” Fletcher said to his EVA partner.

“Copy that, Cale. You’re cleared to come down. I’ve got your ropes and we’ll just take it slow.”

Fletcher clambered down slowly, taking more than twenty minutes to put his boots in the regolith once again. As he came down, not for the first time he looked over at the now empty shipping container that had delivered the Lunar Geodesic Dome. The cylinder was standard for the Clipper Cargo systems. The diameter was the same as was used for the cans that composed the base. The length was comparable and, now that it was empty, it would take a relatively small amount of retrofitting to simply add the container to the end of the base.

This was not an original thought. The engineers had chosen this delivery system for precisely this reason. What presented an opportunity for imagination was that, now that the dome kit had been taken out and completed, the new cylinder was essentially empty. Officially it was simply to serve as the atrium for entry into the geodesic dome. The general idea was that it would be useful for storage and elbow room, but there had to be other possibilities to explore. Once he was through the airlock and enjoying a turkey sandwich, he jotted down a few ideas.

“Okay, everyone ready to see if our big bubble is gonna hold up?” Fletcher asked the assembled crew. They were huddled around a TV monitor that had been set up near the life support systems. The five astronauts traded nods and small words of encouragement. Fletcher called Houston.

“Houston, Moonbase.”

“Moonbase, Houston.”

“We’re ready to start pressurization test one. Looking for your go-ahead.”

“Copy you, Moonbase. Stand by one,” CAPCOM said.

Fletcher rubbed his eyes. Really, Houston should have been ready for this, but these days everyone had time to spare.

A pause and then, “Moonbase, Houston, you’re go.”

He nodded to George, who turned a red valve ring and waited.

“I can hear air moving,” Gail said.

Fletcher nodded, “How’s it looking?”

“Steady rise, no leaks so far,” George said.

Gail was leaning close to the monitor, “I don’t see any breaches. No venting.”

“One quarter atmo and rising,” Kathy said.

“So far, so good,” Fletcher confirmed.

They kept a ready eye on the gauge and monitor over the next half hour as the pressure slowly built to 14.7psi. When the gauge hit that mark, Fletcher leaned in to personally close the valve.

“Houston, pressurization complete. How’s she looking?” he asked.

Everyone waited for the signal to travel down and back, the insufferable speed of light creating a pregnant pause.

“Moonbase, Houston. We read it steady and holding at fourteen point seven. Seems to be a sealed can, er.. ball. Good work all the way around. We’ll monitor for the next forty-eight hours before proceeding further.”

Cheers and high-fives went around as they watched their newest contribution to lunar exploration sitting in silence over the plain outside Shackleton Crater. In a few days, if all went well, they could begin the process of using the new cylinder to connect their cramped cabins with the fifty-foot ball, and then they’d be able to step inside in shirtsleeves and start growing food.

1 December 1987

Shuttle Orca

Low Earth Orbit Transit Flight

T- 12 Minutes to Transfer Burn

Over five hundred elementary schools had submitted potential names for this latest kludge of hardware. The Public Affairs Office in Houston had proclaimed that Shadow was too sinister a name for a non-military vessel. President Bush was supposed to choose a name from a list of ten finalists, but he deferred, sending the issue back to the schools. In a vote of over one hundred thousand children between the ages of five and twelve, 38% had chosen the name Orca. The choice was largely attributed to a Saturday morning cartoon that had been popular in the last few years. The black and white paint job had aided the children’s decision immensely.

Now, less than a week after the final bolts had been tightened, Jake Jensen sat in the left-hand seat of NASA’s newest vessel.

“Houston, this is the Orca. Preflight checks proceeding. Can you confirm the temp reading on sensor 5A, over?”

Jensen furrowed his brow. The gauge was reading a little hot and he wasn’t wild about it. Moreover, it didn’t agree with 5B or 5C which were monitoring the same area. It was a safety concern on an unproven vessel. At the end of the day, this ship was just a stripped down Clipper, bolted to a NERVA engine with enough fuel aboard that he could technically get to Mars if the orbits were right.

Not that he’d live to see it. There was only enough food and life support for a month or so.

Houston called back to confirm, “Orca, Houston. We’re seeing the conflict on the 5A sensor reading. Engineering advises it’s likely an instrumentation issue. We’ll keep an eye on it, but it’s not going to affect your go status, over.”

Jensen nodded. Part of his military training was the idea that he’d have to do things that made him a bit uncomfortable. Leaving his nice clean space station with its exercise bike and prototype recycled water system just to mount up a nuclear butterfly and use it to check out a big orbiting science project, this was a little outside his comfort zone. Truthfully though, he wouldn’t trade any of this for a seat back in the MOCR.

At the moment, Orca was docked nose-first to Skydock. On a typical Clipper, the rear docking port could also be utilized, but Orca had no rear docking port anymore. That space was now taken up by the interface between the cockpit and the Zeus nuclear engine that Jensen and his partner Robert Clemmons had spent the last two months building and mounting. There had been more than a dozen spacewalks and Jensen had spent almost three full days outside over the course of the construction, spread out over weeks of testing, evaluation, and corrective actions.

Now that she was ready to go, both men felt a certain paternal pride in this ship that they’d put together with their own gloved hands. It was very fitting that they would be the first to fly her.

Orca was set to rendezvous with Cargo Clipper Liberty, which had launched from Kennedy over the weekend. Liberty’s cargo was the new Hubble Space Observatory. Hubble had been a pet project of the astronomy community for years. The unmanned instrument, orbiting high above the atmosphere and even above typical Clipper traffic, would have an unparalleled view of the universe. If she performed as promised, there would be a treasure trove of data streamed down to eager astronomers each and every day.

“Houston, Orca. Cabin is secure, we’re ready to proceed with undocking, over.”

“Roger you, Orca. You’re go. Let us know how she handles.”

Jensen threw the switch by his knee that retracted the docking clamps. The gentle escape of a few puffs of air trapped between the hatches was enough to give Orca a kick away from Skydock. The vessel pushed straight away. Jensen had been ready to counter any tumble, but none presented itself.

“How does it look, Jake?” came the call from the ground.

“The Orca has wings,” he said.

“Lovely,” said Robert in the left seat.

“Let’s see if she has fins as well,” Houston said.

The little black and green monitor showed a wireframe image of the Orca and a second that represented the attitude she would need to take for the burn to change her orbit. Jensen ignored the pretty pictures and instead used the scrolling numbers in the corner to set the proper alignment. Nosing the ship around was a bit of a challenge. With the Zeus on her back, she no longer handled like a typical Clipper. Suddenly Orca didn’t strike Jensen as such a bad name. Once he’d gotten a feel for the controls, he brought the ship around.

Orca, we show you properly oriented. Stand by for the orbital transfer burn,” Houston said.

“Copy that, Houston.”

The clock ticked off the last thirty seconds and then Jensen and Clemmons felt their seats press firmly into their backs. It was a smooth acceleration. It would have almost been relaxing if one didn’t know the forces that had created the motion.

The Orca had fins.

25 January 1988

Hadden Systems Integration Facility

Palmdale, CA

34° 37′ 45″ N 118° 05′ 06″ W

The engineering teams were mulling around. Ostensibly, this meeting was just a chance for everyone to gather in the cafeteria to watch the Orion launch from Cape Kennedy. The Clipper’s Return to Flight Mission was being covered by the press and would be the story of the week. Gathering all those marooned astronauts and bringing them home was going to be a big win for the space program.

The rumor mill had been churning grist though. This meeting was really about the next steps.

Hank Patterson got everyone’s attention when Orion was on her way to Skydock and the Pegasus had landed safely back at Kennedy. He tapped a coffee mug on the table like it was a gavel. The room came to order like he was a judge.

“Folks, if I could have your attention. With the Clippers flying again and our little side project now having proven itself, Corporate is reassigning this division to new projects,” Hank Patterson said.

“Over the next couple of months, we are, all of us, being reassigned. There are two projects that I’d like you all to consider for your potential transfers. Kim was laying out folders on two tables. One table had green folders, the other had manilla.

“Come on up and grab a copy of each. Please take these back to your desks, take a look at what’s being worked on. If neither of these strikes your fancy, you can speak to the home office and I’m sure they’ll do what they can for you. I’m happy to put in a good word for anyone who needs it. But the Shadow is now complete, so we’ve all got to do something else for a living, don’t we?”

The group formed two amorphous blobs around each table and started to collect the offered information. Hadden Industries had no use for brain drain and so they were looking to retain some of their best engineers and put them on new projects that the company felt had huge economic upsides.

As the group filed out, Patterson picked up the last of the folders and took yet another look at the tabs that gave their title.

Over the thin green cardboard, on a white label was the word: SCRAMJET. The manila folder had a tab that read: Mars Mission Architecture.

Patterson would have to see about the distribution of his people before he would be ready to accept a new assignment. But he would start his homework early.
Damn. Since your last posting you must have loaded the bases, because this looks to be a Grand Slam Home Run.

Welcome back.

Submariners and astronauts had quite a lot in common. Lives dominated by machinery, pressure readings, and a reliance on canned air.
Reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke's observations in the Deep Range.