Ocean of Storms: A Timeline of A Scientific America

Special Art Post!

Just wanted to show off this amazing work by Garuda. He was kind enough to create some images of the OoS flight of Apollo 14. I've embedded these within that story, but I wanted to give them a fresh exhibition here just so everyone wouldn't miss them. If anyone has or wants to make art (or anything else) based on OoS, I strongly encourage it!


14 Extraction.jpg

14 orbital burn.jpg

14 Lunar Orbit.jpg

Image Credit: Garuda


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Special Art Post!

Just wanted to show off this amazing work by Garuda. He was kind enough to create some images of the OoS flight of Apollo 14. I've embedded these within that story, but I wanted to give them a fresh exhibition here just so everyone wouldn't miss them. If anyone has or wants to make art (or anything else) based on OoS, I strongly encourage it!

I love how KSP mods are so good these days that you can use them to make art for space timelines.
Tried my hand at a few recreations in KSP, not perfect due to my modlist and a lack of certain information (like Olympus specs, I know it's probably bigger but this is just my interpretation of it), but I did the Apollo 16 MOLEM driving through the Marius Hills, and Olympus in lunar orbit.

Tried my hand at a few recreations in KSP, not perfect due to my modlist and a lack of certain information (like Olympus specs, I know it's probably bigger but this is just my interpretation of it), but I did the Apollo 16 MOLEM driving through the Marius Hills, and Olympus in lunar orbit.

Thank you so much for this amazing work! This is my new background on my computer. Absolutely beautiful shots!

Honestly, that's about what I had in mind for Olympus. It's not as luxurious as Skylab and it was designed to hold one astro at a time.

Always a joy to see a MOLEM on safari. That's such a weird look to see a LEM driving, but I love it so much.

I have the best readers!
This is my new background on my computer. Absolutely beautiful shots!
Wow thanks! The MOLEM or Olympus?
Honestly, that's about what I had in mind for Olympus. It's not as luxurious as Skylab and it was designed to hold one astro at a time.
Yeah I just made it for one kerbal, it has a hab module and a lab.
I have the best readers!
Do you love them enough to tell them when the next part is out? ;)
Wow thanks! The MOLEM or Olympus?
I have a rotating system, so they're both in there now.
Do you love them enough to tell them when the next part is out? ;)
The work is ongoing. The next chapter is a little different from everything else OoS has done. It's taking me a little longer because of the unusual nature of the chapter. I think that'll make more sense when it's complete.

Also, not for nothing but, due to an idea that I came up with while working on a future chapter of OoS, I've managed to (almost accidentally) start a small business based on a concept that I came up with. I'm attempting to launch that effort and there's a big event for it in mid-April. Suffice it to say, I hope to have the next chapter up long before then, but both are getting interesting.
Tried my hand at a few recreations in KSP, not perfect due to my modlist and a lack of certain information (like Olympus specs, I know it's probably bigger but this is just my interpretation of it), but I did the Apollo 16 MOLEM driving through the Marius Hills, and Olympus in lunar orbit.
TaintedLion - if it's not too late, is there any chance you could take a couple of shots of the MOLEM from other angles? Just curious how the whole thing looks all around.
Hey everyone!
Sorry that it's been so long since the last chapter. I haven't forgotten about you, or OoS. I have been working on a side project that will be coming together in the next few days. It's a short story that I hope you'll all enjoy. It takes place in the world of Andy Weir's Artemis which is one of my favorite books and, I assume, one that's widely known to my readership.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, I wanted to make you aware of it and give a full-throated recommendation of the great Audiobook that Rosario Dawson did for it. It's about a city on the Moon and the rough and tumble characters within. I don't think anyone can finish the book without imagining their place within its world. After my ninth or tenth read, I decided to stop imagining and actually started to write.

Here are some links. For those of you who like my work, if you haven't already, I encourage you to take a look at this amazing world before I put my little piece of writing on it.

You can find the novel and the audiobook here:
Barnes & Noble

For extra-credit, track down a copy through your local small bookstore. Those folks do amazing work and we should support as many of them as we can!

I anticipate posting the short story sometime early next week (it's still being edited).

The next chapter of OoS is coming along well (and should go faster now that this little sideproject is nearing an end). And I hope to have it ready by the end of this month.

As always, thank you so much for reading!
Looking forward to the new chapter!
Also, by the way, I was looking up Apollo astronaut assignments (as you do), and I was interested to see a couple differences you made in your Apollo crew choices.

Like for example, in your Apollo 18, you made Bruce McCandless a CMP, whereas he was assigned to LM training IOTL, as was Don Lind, which you assigned as CMP of Apollo 23.
XLIII: Quo Vadimus?

9 January 1989

KSC Headquarters Building

Kennedy Space Center

28° 31’ 26” N 80° 38’ 46” W

Florida skips the winter. That’s why it’s filled with people who’ve had enough winter for a lifetime. It’s remarkable that it isn’t filled with Scandinavian immigrants, but most of the transplants hail from the parts of America where you can make enough money to fly south for your retirement.

Jack Crichton was neither retired, nor a Florida resident. He’d hopped on a 757 like some tourist. The agency could have at least sent a T-38, but if he was honest, these days, he was used to a slower pace.

He parked the little Chevy Lightning outside the administration building and plugged it in to charge. Looking towards the coast there was a little grey spacecraft atop a mighty pale grey rocket that would carry it into the void later this week. For the first time since yesterday, he wished he had a seat on a spaceflight. Then again, once you’d ridden a Saturn V, everything else was a letdown.

Entering the atrium, there was a pleasant woman with table full of ID badges. It was odd to think of himself as a guest at this facility when he’d been launched off the planet from here on three different occasions, still, it was a new day, almost a new decade.

The greeter gave him a sleek, black binder, stenciled with the NASA logo and outfitted with all the papers that the conference would require. She pointed him down a hallway and he proceeded.

The smell of coffee and doughnuts wafted into the corridor. He followed the scent like a bloodhound. It was no surprise to find Charlie Duke at the source.

“Jack Crichton! They really did scrape the barrel, didn’t they?” Duke said, spotting his old friend.

“Charlie Duke, you old polecat!” Crichton said with a big laugh, slapping Duke on the back.

“And I thought this was going to be a boring week,” Duke said.

“Not anymore. What are you up to these days?” Crichton asked.

“Dotty and I are outside San Antone. I’ve got a good line of Coors going through. I heard you were in my old stomping grounds,” Duke said.

“Yeah, I’m up Charlotte way. I teach a little. Do a little consulting. I’m usually on the golf course by lunch,” Jack said.

“How are John and the girls?”

“John’s great. In his senior year up at MIT. He’s already planning to do grad school.”

“Ain’t that somethin’,” Duke said.

“Smart as a whip, that one. And he knows it too, which makes it worse,” Jack said.

“Hoo boy. One to watch out for,” Duke said.

“Yeah. Hey, before we get out of here this week, let me get your c-mail address. We gotta keep in touch. I want to get some of the old timers together here and there, maybe do some weekends where we shoot some bull, maybe do a little flying. Who knows?”

“Yeah. Dotty set me up with some c-mail thing a few months back. We’ve got one of those new Macintosh things at the house. The grandkids love playing with it,” Duke said.

“And it’s got more power than all our old ships,” Jack said.

“Just crazy,” Duke agreed.

“Speaking of which, we ought to hear some fun stuff this week,” Jack said.

“Looking forward to it. They got this guy Zubrin coming in tomorrow. They say he’s like Moses come down the mountain,” Duke said.

“I’ve heard. Gas stations on Mars. We’ll see,” Jack said.

“I’m optimistic. Should be entertaining,” Duke said.

“Well, all this is to give McCain some options. But I think the deck’s been stacked. Mars Fever is catching around here,” Jack said.

“What do you think of him?” Duke said.

“McCain? Seems decent enough. Navy, which, hey, nobody’s perfect. But I know he went to bat for his guys back in Hanoi. That’s good enough for me,” Jack said.

“I just worry about the experience. A term in the House. Not even a full term in the Senate. That’s not much," Duke said.

“Jack Kennedy,” Crichton said, by way of an example.

“Hmm…” Duke said.

The assorted engineers, astronauts, and administrators turned their attention to the center’s director, who collected their gazes.

“Ladies and gents, we are ready to begin. Welcome to the Road to 2000 Conference. We are here to discuss, evaluate, and collect new ideas for NASA’s next ten years. All of you have been chosen for your unique expertise and perspective. Our presenters represent a wide range of interests and specialties, from propulsion, to life support, to industrial manufacturing. Our goal is to get as many brilliant minds as possible to study as many good ideas as possible in the hopes that we can develop a set of goals for the rest of this millennium. I welcome you all to these discussions and encourage you to have an open mind and a skeptical eyebrow at the ready. Both will be helpful this week.

Welcome to Kennedy Space Center.”

Day I: Lunar Explorations

10 a.m. – Farside Observatory – Alberto Fedrogotti

The graying astronomer spoke with a thick Italian accent. He was flanked by a pair of engineers, all of which wore badges identifying them as from the ESA.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. As many of you may remember, the Apollo 18 mission erected a pair of experiments on the farside of the Moon. Known as the Galileo Observatory, for several years, we were able to get good scientific data from both the visual and radio receivers. Those facilities lapsed into disrepair in early 1985. This was far past their operational life expectancy. While we are grateful for the work of the astronauts, scientists, and engineers who brought this facility to life, we are here to ask for more.”

“The time has come to construct a proper facility on Farside. A semi-permanent establishment where radio and visual astronomy can be conducted much more long-term. With the original Galileo experiments, we were greatly limited by having to control the instruments remotely, through satellite connections which were often unreliable. Data transmission back to Earth suffered under the same limitations. On behalf of my colleagues, we are requesting a dedicated satellite for data transmission, an update to the experiments, a facility that can house astronauts for temporary repair work, and, eventually, an expansion of such a facility to accommodate on-site astronomers.”

“The discoveries which are possible from such an expansion would greatly benefit our knowledge of the early universe and our galactic core.”

Fedrogotti brought up a map, showing a winding trail which ended at the old Galileo site, extending up from the lunar south pole. Another man took the podium. He had the classic look of an American engineer and the black tie was a dead giveaway.

“Here we present a possible path for uniting our theoretical center with the currently existing base. This lunar highway could be established through an inchworm system. With current cargo flight capacity, we can have Rover 2 haul what we’re referring to as “Pop Tents” to various points along the route. These tents would be able to house astronauts in the event of an emergency, and provide radio beacons that would help keep rovers in contact and on course as they make the traverse from Moonbase to Galileo. With that highway in place, the two sites would have the means to support one another. This would allow for…”

Jack Crichton put a hand up, “I’m sorry, you want to build a base and a highway? Why not just land at the site directly? Wouldn’t that be cheaper?”

“We’d want this to be a long-term facility, not just a one-and-done setup like we had on Apollo 18.”

Crichton nodded and shrugged. Turning to Charlie in the chair next to him he whispered, “We’ll have to figure out road construction eventually.”

The rest of the presentation was a wash of data as the team from Europe summarized the benefits that had been gained from the Galileo experiments. Jack finished his coffee and tried to look interested as he glanced over the rest of the schedule.

11 a. m. – Reprioritization of Lunar Flights – Steven Jamison – NASA HQ – Washington, D.C.

Jack had been surprised to see someone from HQ needing the attention of an advisory committee. Usually once you had that desk in DC, anyone would have to listen to you. When Jamison took the lectern, Crichton stopped wondering. This kid couldn’t have been more than a couple of years out of grad school. Maybe a bean counter, or someone’s cousin, but clearly an unestablished presence in the high echelons of NASA’s command structure.

Still, the unlikeliest sources often came up with excellent ideas. And for every collection of crackpots, there was a Cassandra or two. Jack listened carefully.

“Hello. What I’m here to propose is a change in the focus on the Moonbase program. More specifically, a reprioritization of flights to shift to landings of cargo and structural components. The idea behind this is to shift our current focus from expedition science to large base construction,” said the young man.

“Long-term plans call for a timeline of modest growth, on average one new base module per year. As a counterproposal, my team would like to land up to seven different modules and two vehicles within the next two years and have a dedicated team of astronauts purely focused on engineering goals to unpack and deploy the assets.”

“A two-year surface stay without swapping out surface teams?” Jack asked.

“A variant would allow for a crew swap, or two, at most, with durations of one year, or eight months, but doing so would take up the space that is allotted for a cargo launch. Long-term life support has been established during the Constellation crisis. Newly arriving cargo modules would transport supplies as well as equipment. Not abandoning the crew or the position, just changing the focus to allow for greater numbers and greater assets to be used in the future.

“What do you think the Russians will say about us suspending human flights just as they are beginning a base program?” Charlie Duke asked.

“Respectfully, sir, that’s a political issue and a bit out of my area. This is simply a proposal that would exchange our current course of moderate gains in science and engineering for a course that would focus on engineering, thereby allowing us, after its completion, to have larger and more research-oriented mission objectives. Objectives similar to those that you’ll be hearing from other speakers throughout the day today.”

After a few more questions regarding logistics, the group broke up for lunch. Over ham and cheese, Charlie Duke got down to it.

“McCain won’t want to get outnumbered up there. And if this joint operation thing goes over and we let the Russians share resources, you can be damned sure those resources won’t flow nearly as fast as they used to,” Duke said.

“If you liked the Cold War on Earth, you’ll love it on the Moon,” Jack echoed.

“It’ll be pretty funny when they finally get a couple of cosmonauts down after thirty years of trying and we say ‘see ya’’ and head out for Mars.”

1 p.m. - Globe Trotter – Boston Low

Boston Low cut a good figure as he took the lectern. An astronaut proposing a mission was always fun. The percentages weren’t great, but these were people chosen, amongst other things, for their ability to think boldly.

“Welcome back. Hope everyone had a good lunch. I’ve got a mission plan that you’re all just going to love. And we’re not asking for a big chunk of cargo either. All I need is one rover and a little time.”

Crichton sat up and downed the last of his Pepsi.

“A circumnavigation of the Moon, by ground traverse. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve mapped the Moon from orbit. It’s time to take a look from the ground. We have studied the orbital photography and have plotted a route to go from Shackleton base, through every latitude on near side, all the way to the North Pole, where we will look for other signs of water ice.

“Once the expedition reaches the edge of direct line of sight with Earth, we’ll have a decision point, either to return by the same route, by a different path still on the near side, or by a route that would travel on the far side. Far side would obviously be more dangerous since we’d be out of contact with Earth except through uplinks with Gossip and other orbital assets, but it would be a science bonanza.”

“What’s your abort option look like?” Jack asked.

“We’d keep an Eagle in polar orbit, tasked to shadow us, but as the orbital ground track shifts, it gets a little dicey. Two Eagles would give us more of a safety factor, but I won’t lie to you, the beauty of the polar orbits is that they benefit Shackleton. There is a risk involved. But as long as we maintain a sealed can and don’t have major medical, the biggest issue for an emergency would be waiting. If the rover loses propulsion, all we’d have to do is hunker down and wait for the orbits to align with our ground track.”

“How long would it take assuming all goes well?” Crichton asked.

“Assuming we could manage ten klicks an hour, which is a little ambitious, but not crazy, we’re projecting about three to four months to go all the way around.”

Crichton tilted his head. It wasn’t bad. If he was still active, it was the kind of thing he’d sign up for. Crazy, but not stupid.

The rest of the hour was taken up by an examination of the ground tracks. One actually revisited the old Roanoke site and could potentially use it as either a temporary outpost, or an emergency shelter. That would certainly make for good press coverage. Getting detailed ground-level images of that much of the Moon was very tempting. He put a star by this line in his schedule. It would have his recommendation when the time came.

2 p. m. – Asteroid Encounter – Martin Marietta Aerospace Division

The presentation was a bit drawn out, but Jack managed to sum it up in one question.

“You want to attach a Zeus to a giant clamp, send it out to snag an Earth-crossing asteroid, haul it back to lunar orbit, and then have our guys rendezvous with it for sampling?”

“That’s about the size of it,” said the speaker.

“And what do we do with the big rock after?”

“Generally, the consideration is to use a carefully timed SRB to deorbit the rock so that we can study crater formation, presumably in an area that we find geologically uninteresting."

“Any other ideas?” Jack asked.

“Mining, serving as a testbed for asteroid and cometary deflection proposals; … or we just turn the thing into a space station with a rock attached to it.”

One of the other panelists chimed in, “Would it be visible from Earth?”

“That depends a lot on which rock is chosen. It’s likely that amateur astronomers would be able to get some good photographs with ground-based telescopes.”

Interesting, but unnecessary. That was what this week was about.

After the group was done, a pleasant looking low-level staffer from the center came in to ask the assembled panelists and presenters to come to the roof. One of the trucks was coming in and that was always a good show.

Jack followed the crowd to the staircase and looked west. The sky was clear as a bell and it only took a moment for him to get his bearings.

Someone called, “There she is!” and pointed. He followed the path of the arm to a dark dot against the clear blue sky. As he found it, the typical sonic boom announced the presence of the Cargo Clipper Grissom as it made its way in.

The runway was far enough off that he felt they’d be safe enough watching. Old pilot instincts kicked in and he whispered advice to the incoming ship as she made her way down. In the back of his head, he knew it was silly. Somewhere, a skilled aviator was flying her in from the safety of a chair in an air conditioned room. All cargo flights ended thusly. Still, crewed or not, it was always a thrill to see something that had been in orbit an hour ago.

The flightpath took her through a sweeping turn that showed off the white stripe on each wing. Grissom was the fifth truck off the line and she was a fine tribute to the commander of Apollo 1.

He could feel the tension build as the big grey beast flared up, showing her black underbelly to the world. The air caught her perfectly and her gentle guide transitioned to a lovely flutter as she settled onto the rear landing gear. He held his breath as the nose dropped. A delicate landing followed by a smattering of applause. The crowd began to head back down to the conference room.

The schedulers seemed to have found the rhythm of Clipper flights. The trucks were doing a great job of ferrying delicate payloads up (and occasionally down) from LEO. The unmanned fleet had blossomed out to seven now. And the Air Force had an extra on stand-by at Vandenberg that was only used for things they didn’t talk about. Constellation’s replacement was already under construction in California.

The launches, manned and unmanned, were approaching routine, and as far as the press and public were concerned had advanced beyond that point. These days, just launching wasn’t enough to break into live coverage. If you wanted to talk to the world, you’d best get to the Moon, and even then, you’d probably have to wait for the six o’clock news.

3:30 p.m. – Lunar Smelting – Mary Helen Johnston

Metallurgy wasn’t exactly Jack Crichton’s specialty, so he felt no shame in not quite understanding the technical aspects of what Ms. Johnston was advocating. Essentially, it was a long-term proposal to use the Soviet nuclear reactor (or an American one) to set up a high-temperature smelting operation. Burning lunar rocks would produce aluminum and oxygen along with some other byproducts.

The power requirements bordered on the obscene, but the potential was fascinating. Johnston came to her biggest selling point about twenty minutes in.

“Earlier today, you heard the proposal to suspend crewed flights in favor of getting as much cargo as possible to the base. If this system is fully implemented, we could forgo the need to land new habitat modules and forgo oxygen shipments. It would be the next great leap in terms of sustainability. We use the Moon to build a Moonbase. New structures, not restricted to what can be packed in a crate or contained in a rocket casing. We already know how to weld and build, but raw material is always the biggest factor. With a fully operational smelter, along with the associated other assets, the base size would only be limited by what it could be filled with.”

Crichton was impressed. It was a great plan, but the implementation would require a massive reorientation of lunar goals for the next decade. And convincing NASA brass, to say nothing of the public at large, that their shiny new Moonbase needed to be turned into an industrial processor was a bit of a hard sell, no matter what was at the end of the rainbow.

As the day wound down, Jack and Charlie made their way to Bernard’s Surf for shrimp sandwiches and turned in early. Tomorrow was supposed to be even more entertaining.

Day 2: Mars

9 a. m. - Mars via the Oregon Trail – Robert Zubrin

Robert Zubrin presented a somewhat cliché look as he took the lectern. By no means an imposing man, he might have easily been mistaken for a milquetoast philosophy professor or a somewhat earnest door-to-door salesman. Crichton found himself more drawn to the slideshow than the presenter. The bold logos of NASA and Columbia Aerospace were suspended above a low-orbit shot of Mars that he recognized from the Farsight probe.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Robert Zubrin and my colleagues and I are here to tell you how we are going to colonize the planet Mars by the year 2000.”

So much for milquetoast, Jack thought as the first slide came up.

For the next ninety minutes, Zubrin explained his plan, amusingly referred to as the Oregon Trail, whereby a small fleet of Zeus engines would push uncrewed cargo flights to Mars while, simultaneously, testing of landing and launch vehicles would take place in low Earth orbit. The first astronauts to arrive on the Red Planet would land in a parking lot of supplies and unassembled structures, needing only to unpack and assemble a ready-made base which would include all the means to travel back home.

Pushing freight across interplanetary space was simple enough, Crichton thought, and by no means a phenomenal concept. Though he was eager to hear how Zubrin planned to land, amongst other treasures, eight tons of hydrogen to the surface of a planet that had only been seen by a few robotic spacecraft, all measuring far under a quarter of that weight.

What was more interesting was the plans regarding return.

One of the items of cargo on the precursor flights was a Sabatier converter. Crichton’s eyes hurt trying to decipher the technical schematics as they were projected onto a white screen over Zubrin’s shoulder. The young engineer explained that the system could take hydrogen imported from Earth and synthesize it with the Martian atmosphere’s immense supply of carbon dioxide to turn eight tons of hydrogen into more than one hundred tons of methane and oxygen. The methane would serve as fuel for the return trip. The converter would be left behind as humanity’s first interplanetary Exxon station, ready and waiting for the next round of hydrogen and humans to come down.

This process of in-situ manufacture of fuel for the return trip was the heart of Zubrin’s plan. The utilization of resources at the destination allowed for the weight ordinarily taken by fuel to be used for supplies, scientific gear, even a modest pressurized rover. Just as the pioneers on the Oregon Trail built their cabins from local trees, rather than hauling lumber from Missouri, so Zubrin’s astronauts would build the fuel for their return trip from local gases. It had a certain elegance.

The power requirements for the converter would rival those for a decent two-bedroom suburban home, but that level of power was already more than available on the desolate grey dust of Shackleton. Zubrin would require a nuclear reactor, but over the last twenty years NASA had embraced the idea that every new major project would need one. Indeed, forgoing the occasional Three Mile Island incident, America herself seemed poised to abandon coal fires for atomic fires. Using the power of the stars to reach for them. Ad astra per atomos. Elegant indeed.

Zubrin called for two different spacecraft designs. An Earth Return Stage that would ferry astronauts all the way back home, including full accommodations for the trip, and a Habitat stage that would serve as a home during the outbound flight and the surface stay. Oh, and just for good measure the surface stay, even on the first flight, would last for eighteen months. Milquetoast was long gone, this was Evil Kineval in a tweed suit with elbow pads.

What was interesting to Crichton was that the plan seemed to rely not at all on the Clipper fleet. Zubrin called for no large cruiser spacecraft to house the astronauts on the way out, called for no orbital construction to assemble anything robust. The missions would start in Florida and could easily splashdown not far off the coast. His diagrams didn’t even call for Clippers to ferry returning astros down from LEO after they got back home.

Blushing from the noise, Crichton tore a page out of a notebook and started to scribble some rough calculations. He wondered if Zubrin ignored the Clippers because he could do better, or because they were largely a product of Hadden Industries, while Zubrin was from Columbia Aerospace.

Zubrin’s schedule called for a lander to be sent first which would field test a small Sabatier converter and possibly even return samples. With the technology established, the early 1990’s would be devoted to developing and testing the hardware for the return vehicle and habitat in low earth orbit flights. The planetary motions would largely control the schedule for cargo flights, but Zubrin had carved out early 1999 for the first crewed landing. The Marswalkers would celebrate the turn of the new Millennium on the red planet before heading home. Crichton thought that if Jack Kennedy had lived, he would have approved.

The whole plan was very well thought out. The tools from the initial flight could and likely should be used by subsequent landings. If NASA could live with the pain of limiting itself to a single site, then the area would, within a few missions, have as much technical equipment and scientific research capability as the Moonbase. It would be small work to connect the habitats as they arrived, allowing for a base to be constructed almost incidentally. Each mission would bring more varieties of gear and supplies, allowing for more robust missions to be attempted. Letting the rover use the excess methane could allow for scouting trips of almost two hundred miles. Once you had a few more rovers for emergencies, you could get bold with how long you wanted to stay out.

Initially, four astronauts would be dispatched. This struck Crichton as something of a lonely crew, considering Clippers could deliver seven to orbit these days. Eventually, the schedule allowed for overlapping landings and long rendezvous on the surface until the initial site made the transition from base into small town. The assembled NASA personnel managed to stop the young engineer before he was able to present a new Martian calendar and discuss the potentials of Martian concrete and crop rotation.

Over the last four decades, Jack Crichton had seen quite a few plans that could be called ambitious, but this was easily in the top five. It was elegant, audacious, and more than a bit reckless in places. Still, he knew that it would receive his highest recommendation of any of the proposals that had been put forward. It wasn’t engineering plans or technical points that had convinced him. Zubrin’s diagrams and exuberance were merely distractions from Jack’s more selfish line of reasoning. John was in his junior year at MIT and he wanted his son to be in the class of astronauts that would make the early flights.

2 p. m. – The Cruiser Contingency – Ames Research Center

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here to discuss a potential flaw in the Clipper system.”

That got the room’s attention.

“With the advent of the Orca, the Clipper fleet is now limited to operations in low Earth orbit. We’ve all seen the Kessler projections. Low Earth Orbit, on almost a weekly basis, becomes more crowded with debris. That debris poses a threat to the fleet. The Clipper’s soft underbelly is her soft underbelly. The thermal systems for reentry cooling are unguarded against foreign object collisions. Apollo heat shields were protected by the SM and its bulk. Our Clippers are undefended.”

Jack piped in, “We’ve seen small collisions and minor damage. The system is capable of handling it. Why do you assume the situation will get worse?”

“The longer the program goes on, the more likely that minor damage will begin to transition to major. We need to have a contingency if a Clipper is disabled on-orbit and unable to return to Earth.”

“It’s called ‘another Clipper,’” came a call from the back, accompanied by mild laughter.

“For crew rescue, yes, but what about the disabled craft? Repairing the thermal system is hard enough on the ground. And why risk a return if a Clipper can be replaced? Why not, instead, turn an emergency into an opportunity?

“If a Clipper is unable to return to Earth, we have been working on a package which could retrofit existing Clipper hardware into a cruiser for long-range flight.”

The slide show began with some artist conceptions, mostly showing a Clipper with various kludged parts attached at the rear. There was a cylinder for crew capacity. A rotating ring that could provide artificial gravity. A dumbbell system that rotated for the same reason. Also, some kind of telescope mounting for deep space operations.

Jack found it interesting, but it had the look of a make-work project that had gotten out of hand. The whole thing was dependent on an incident that hadn’t happened before.

As they finished, Jack posed a question, “Would this dovetail into a mothership for Mars operations, per Dr. Zubrin’s plans from this morning?”

“That is certainly a possibility, Commander Crichton.”

Zubrin wasn’t going to love that.

3:30 p. m. – Phobos Encounter – Charles Willis, Teleoperations Specialist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

“When Native Americans entered a new area with flora and fauna unknown, they did so cautiously. Scouts would search for signs of hostility, without leaving any trace of their presence. New plants would be tested for edibility by the strongest among the tribe. New species would be observed carefully before they were approached. An effort was made to keep land pristine and waters clear. It is in this spirit that we propose an alternative to the radical approach presented by Dr. Zubrin.

“We have had limited but growing success with our uncrewed Mars probes. The FarSight missions have provided invaluable data from orbit and Romulus and Remus have shown that we’re capable of landing and performing valuable science work on the ground.

“What we propose is an aggressive expansion along these lines. An approach that will be safer for astronauts while still providing a wealth of data. An approach that will help to preserve the pristine nature of Mars’s atmosphere and environment and ensure that any life that we find will truly be native to Mars, and not an unwitting stowaway on our crewed flights.

“The delta-v required for a landing on Phobos and a return to Earth is less than that needed for a flight to the Moon. Our proposal is to convert Phobos into an orbiting outpost for teleoperations of a flotilla of landers and rovers that will be dispatched to the Martian surface.

“If we can retask the mass requirements imposed by human-rated landing and return systems, we could land at several sites simultaneously. In a single mission, we could explore not one area, but ten. Teleoperations from low orbit would not be hampered by the long delays imposed by the speed of light. And round-the-clock operations could be conducted by astronauts in a secure surface base.

“Rovers that can dig. Rovers that can tumble with the thin Martian winds. Rovers that can be used for months or possibly longer.

“Instead of risking a human crew on an unproven launch system, our proposal would not require astronauts to rely in anything more risky than a Zeus motor. We would have a chance to prove the in-situ resource utilization for use on later flights with sample-return rockets. Instead of limiting ourselves to a single site, which would likely be chosen based largely on safety concerns, we can go straight to exploring the most interesting locales that Mars has to offer.

“And we can do it all by 1995.”

That last bit especially got the attention of the room.

“Landing on Phobos is more akin to rendezvous. The surface gravity is negligible. An Olympic sprinter could almost reach escape velocity unaided. The only engineering developmental needs would be in the landed hardware and those technologies are proven.

“A Zeus, a space station module, an Orca-style orbital Clipper and a dozen surface probes. That’s all we’re asking for. We can give you just as much science with a quarter of the risk. And whatever we find won’t be the result of an astronaut sneezing on a rock.

“We’ll give you flags and footprints, with a much better background, come to think of it. And we’ll have a reusable system that can provide exponentially more data with each subsequent mission.

As they opened up the floor for questions, Jack Crichton struggled to articulate his view.

“Dr. Willis, how do you think it would have gone over with Queen Isabella if Columbus had landed in the Florida Keys and only sent a couple of scouts inland on his first trip?” Crichton asked.

“Well, I don’t really know. But I imagine if he’d taken that approach, we might have a lot more Seminoles alive and well than we have today.”

Day 3: Special Projects

9 a. m. – Jovian Tour – Paul Brecken – Jet Propulsion Laboratory

It was strange to see JPL advocate for a crewed flight, but the photos were beautiful. The plan was ambitious, but not as expensive as he had supposed.

Using the cruiser contingency that was outlined yesterday (apparently there had been some consultations before this conference had begun), the plan was to outfit an existing Clipper for long-range spaceflight. While that was being done, a pair of Eagle landers, already in operation at Shackleton for half a decade, were to be augmented (or redesigned entirely) so that they would capable of landing on Europa and possibly some of the other moons of Jupiter.

One lander would stay with the Mothership as a backup. Two astros would head down to the surface with experiment packages. The priority would be penetration and exploration of the subsurface ocean. Depending on how it went, there were options to explore Callisto and possibly some of the smaller irregular moons.

The labs at JPL had even been working on an electrolysis generator that could provide hydrogen for the Zeus’s engines. If it worked, which Crichton doubted, it would expand the mission capabilities quite a bit.

Four astronauts, proven technology, an ambitious jaunt to the king of the planets and the potential to explore an alien ocean. In forty years, it would be an obvious yes, but now, it looked a little too ambitious.

11 a. m. – Navstar Applications – Col. Ralling U.S. Army

It was rare to see an Army colonel at a NASA facility. Army tended to back off when it came to rockets, unless they were being lobbed at Russia. The man at the lectern had the grizzled look that often accompanied veterans, but his voice was soft-spoken. The overall effect commanded respect and attention. Jack found himself leaning up in his chair to hear every word.

“A somewhat quiet operation has now distributed sixteen satellites into high Earth orbit. The purpose of these satellites is to provide military assets with constant and reliable data regarding their position and surroundings. This system, known as Navstar, is independent of phone or computer networks and requires no uplink from the user. The devices are passive operators, needing only to receive a signal and process the information.

“The system relies on precise clocks and signals relayed to the ground. The calculations involved were the biggest factor in the system performance. Both Newtonian and relativistic physics were factored in to the equations. The system can accurately measure one’s position on Earth to within a few meters and is only expected to improve over time.

“At the request of the outgoing administration, we have been tasked with assisting NASA in an assessment of the Navstar system, and its possible applications for use in lunar operations and beyond.”

“Does that include operations on Earth?” Charlie Duke asked.

“Subject to Army approval and oversight, yes,” the colonel answered.

“Wow,” came a voice from the back.

“That’s funding from here ‘til Rapture,” Duke said.

Crichton nodded. If the army provided the specifications, NASA had the capability of running a similar system of its own, either independently, or alongside the original. The applications for users on Earth would be almost limitless. Even a small licensing fee, on the order of a few cents per user, which could be factored into the cost of a device, had the potential for billions in return on the investment. If it was done properly, such a service could potentially fund any of the proposals they’d seen in the past three days.

Self-sufficiency was a watchword for everyone at the agency. Most of the time it referred to closed loop environmentals, or solar arrays which provided reliable power. Now, for the first time in the agency’s history, it could refer to funding as well. A satellite that would pay for itself, its launch, and indeed, its entire agency if the demand was as wide as it was likely to be.

Lunch was turkey sandwiches. Nothing overly fancy. This was, first and foremost, a government operation. The afternoon’s bill of fare was launch systems. Those were set to be far more flavorful.

It had been more than a decade since the finishing touches were put on the Clipper designs. The 1980’s had seen a paradigm shift in terms of computing power, which, in turn, helped in analysis of wind tunnel testing. The Clippers had given good service with a minimal amount of snags. But any technology that was currently in operation was also approaching obsolescence. With the Russians extra-large Buran still in play, NASA had to consider new approaches.

1 p.m. – Boeing Space Freighter – Boeing Space Division

Through irony or accident Boeing had sent a pair of engineers to present their space freighter system. Spaceplanes, also coming in pairs; one serving as a fly-back booster, the other an orbiter. Jack had to admit that the artist concepts were truly beautiful. The technical capabilities of SFS were full of promise. Getting much bigger payloads to LEO was always enticing. There were even plans for an ocean launch right on the equator if you needed something near the limits of the system.

Where Crichton felt a twinge was that the concept ran counter to what had just worked for the last decade. SFS was fully reusable, which meant that NASA could stop buying second stages in bulk, but the sheer size of the space freighters meant that they’d need to spend more time being refurbished between flights, and that engine cluster was bound to cause more problems than it solved. What was the point of getting five times the payload capacity if it costed you ten times as much downtime? SFS would have been perfect for building massive orbiting installations, but it was huge. A claw hammer seemed to come in handy more often than a sledge. The same might be true of launch systems.

2:30 p.m. – MagLev Launch Assist – John C. Stennis Space Center

The next group brought in an actual model and it was all Jack Crichton could do not to make a bad joke. “Disney is about sixty miles inland, boys.” The replica of Kennedy Space Center was lovingly constructed. The detail work on the VAB had Old Glory painted in the right spot and the little trees were a nice touch as well. What drew the eye was the massive sweeping latticework that took up about a mile worth of mini Cape Canaveral.

The good folks from Stennis had taken their inspiration from the maglev trains that were taking off in Britain and Japan. Essentially a sled pushed along by magnetic fields, the idea was to put a payload on top, accelerate it to speed and then release it a few hundred meters over the water, with standard rockets taking over at that point. An impressive point had been made that it took a considerable amount of fuel just to push a Saturn V up to a hundred miles an hour. If you could use that fuel elsewhere, a lot of possibilities opened up.

The idea had a lot of merit. It was a totally reusable first stage that would be able to accommodate almost any payload. There were few moving parts of failure modes and, if something did go wrong, you’d be more likely to end with a splash than a boom.

The model wasn’t doing the presenters many favors. The layout gave a great sense of the scale, but that scale would be described by any of the accountants as “daunting.” The upsweeping curve that ended over the water brought to mind a crazed roller-coaster designer, determined to consign ungrateful passengers to a briny grave.

When the floor opened for questions, Crichton asked about the feasibility of putting this little erector set down on the Moon. He was unsurprised to find that the engineers had considered this possibility. With a long enough track, simple payloads could be moved from Shackleton to lunar orbit and the only fuel cost would be the orbital insertion burn.

The whole thing was a little Star Trek, but he’d spent almost two percent of his life off of the planet. NASA had asked him here to think big.

4 p.m. – Space Elevator – Virginia Tech

Perhaps in honor of Gordon Cooper, NASA had saved the craziest for last. If maglev was a little Star Trek, then the concept of a space elevator was downright moonshine.

Using an anchor in orbit (lassoing an asteroid seemed to be a popular starting point) a cable or ribbon or magical rope of some sort, made from materials that hadn’t been invented yet would trail all the way downstairs, where a futuristic elevator car would climb up to orbit, drop off its cargo and return to do it all again. The physics were as astounding as they were unassailable. If such a system could be constructed and constructed properly, there was no reason it would not work. But the gulf between the physics and the engineering was wide enough that it made you long for the days of good, old-fashioned rockets again. There was a time for this plan, and that time would be after everyone in this room had been dead for about a hundred years.

Charlie Duke seemed to enjoy the elevator pitch more than anything else he’d heard today. As they wrapped up, Duke turned to him and whispered, “I remember a similar idea that some folks had a while back. Big tower. There was a problem. Everyone started speaking the wrong language. Bad bit of business.”

The next morning, armed with a binder full of notes and an updated address book, Jack Crichton flew back to Charlotte. Two days later he submitted a brief summary of his notes and recommendations by c-mail.

Three weeks later, a summary of NASA options for the coming decade was presented to the newly established McCain administration.
Great update, there's so many lines in here that made me chuckle.
NASA has the potential for a massive leap forward here...
Hey everyone!

Work is still in progress on the next chapter: Fire From the Gods

In the meantime, I wanted to let you know that my fan-fiction short story was just posted. It takes place in the world of Andy Weir's Artemis. Hope you all enjoy!

Take a look here.

Artemis: The Fra Mauro Job
ndependence. It was basically just a big can with a couple of attachment points at either end. In the summer, Liberty had ferried up a docking module with a pair of contracted trusses on either side. Pete Conrad and a trio of engineers had brought Constellation up a week later and extended the trusses and checked the hull integrity. It had been good work, but the place still was


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.
Hahaha I just realized the reference to "The Whale Has Wings"
Sure! It's the most viewed post 1900 thread on the forums.
I guess it was unintentional, the Whale Has Wings is a WW2 timeline with a much more successful British carrier program, and the impact it has on WW2. The title comes from an in timeline speech by Churchhill where he says something along the lines "The Germans have called our Navy a whale, unable to strike at land, but now they have been shown that the Whale Has Wings!"
"The Orca has Wings" just felt too on the nose to not be a reference, but coincidences happen! Either way love the TL!
Sure! It's the most viewed post 1900 thread on the forums.
I guess it was unintentional, the Whale Has Wings is a WW2 timeline with a much more successful British carrier program, and the impact it has on WW2. The title comes from an in timeline speech by Churchhill where he says something along the lines "The Germans have called our Navy a whale, unable to strike at land, but now they have been shown that the Whale Has Wings!"
"The Orca has Wings" just felt too on the nose to not be a reference, but coincidences happen! Either way love the TL!
It's probably more directly a reference to Neil Armstrong saying "the Eagle has wings" upon undock during the Apollo 11 mission.