I’m constantly amazed how talented some of the people in SL are, and my friend Saphierna, who I introduced you to in a previous post, is no exception. I’ve been sitting on this for over a week now, perplexed at how I should illustrate it from within SL itself. After several false starts I’ve gone for a more straightforward approach to the front cover, and we’ll allow the story to develop before seeing what we can do, picture-wise. And fear not: I believe that there will be a bit of a naturist angle to it in due course. 🙂
THE MARS EXPEDITION
by Saphierna Resident
Sasha looked very nervous as the countdown had progressed. To her the command capsule of the shuttle was hot, and sweat had been pouring down the sides of her face. It was hard enough to concentrate on the panels in front of her, but the distraction of wiping the sweat off her brow was making her angry. She knew well this was a moment in which history would be made. The year was 2025, and the launch of the first manned mission to Mars was about to begin. It was late march, and it had already become very hot in East-Central Florida. Which was still the location of NASA’s main launch site. The count was being held at T minus 20 minutes due to a pump sensor not indicating a ready status. Inside the shuttle, all the members of the crew were on edge, and to them it seemed as if time had stopped. A total of six astronauts, including Captain Sasha Yuri, the lead officer in charge, Lt. William Compton, as the executive officer. Sara Welling, chief Biologist. Gunter Smith, chief Engineer, and structural analyst. Paul tombs, biologist, and Catherine Bellini, Geologic analyst.
Lt Compton was even more nervous than the Captain, he could not help himself but muse over the last of the shuttle missions which had failed so badly in the past. He was just a small boy when the challenger had exploded, but he had also watched the footage of that disaster many times. Attempting to calm himself, he mused “This is a totally new shuttle, the lessons learned have lead to a complete redesign of the shuttles skin. Its totally safe.” Sasha had noted Compton’s fidgeting and gave him a look, then remarked “Chill.. its not the takeoff that’s the problem.. its landing on Mars that will be the pain in the ass” Compton nodded, and then returned to his muse, looking the other way so Sasha would not see his expression. However, Sasha was not so sure this was going to work herself. It had been over 50 years since NASA had tried to launch anything beyond the moon with people on it. The moon was as far as any human had ever gone from the earth before, and to her it was a daring move by NASA. Some felt it was to prove to the world they could put humans on Mars, but unknown to the general public, this launch had begun its planning many decades before.
Compton Jumped when the com panel lit up and a mission control officer announced “T minus One minute to go”. Sasha smiled, and whispered, “About damn time.. get this show on the road people”. Sara laughed lightly at the captains comment, and then checked her restraints again. Sasha clicked a switch and spoke into her headset, “all ready up here, light it up please!” The voice on the com then responded in a dry monotone voice, “T minus 30 seconds, on-board power switch confirmed, Fuel tethers are confirmed clear. Initiating pre-launch countdown timers, shuttle now on self power”. Sasha turned around in her seat and spoke loudly, “All Right, Show Time! everyone do a last check and get your visors on.” She then flipped the visor on the helmet she wore as the voice on the com continued, “T minus 10… 9… 8… 7… 6…” at that moment the cockpit began to shake violently, the solid rockets had fired, and when the announcers voice reached “1” the main engines came online. For all the crew aboard it seem at first to be a slow acceleration, but then it became hard to hold up their heads as the rocket lifted off. Six minutes into the launch the solid rockets were ejected, and Catherine was the first to notice she could no longer feel her own weight.
The sky above had slowly turned from a light blue to a near solid deep black with the only light being the peppering of stars beyond the horizon. Catherine had never seen space with her own eyes, and to her it was the most overwhelming thing she had ever imagined. Paul had taken out a pen and was playing with it as it floated above him. For half the crew this was a new experience, but the other half had done this before, and knew what was to be expected out there. Sasha began flipping switches and turning on lights in the cabin. she then turned to the others and barked “Time to get ready. we have 40 minutes before we dock with the orbiter. Check your gear, and be ready. we won’t have allot of time before our window to mars closes… So I want to be on time for this one”. Paul then spoke up and asked “Can we see the Orion from here?” Sasha grinned and pointed at the front windows, and replied “Take a look.. Our taxi is way over there hovering over Africa”. Paul moved to look out the window, and saw the enormous craft ahead and marveled at it. “Damn.. that thing is way bigger that it looked on paper.” Compton then remarked “Well.. NASA wasn’t telling everybody about the details on the Orion.. she’s a nuke driven lady and that makes some camps back on earth nervous.”
“I can understand that..” Gunter replied, then said in a low semi mocking and condescending voice”Guess what? Now you going to have a nuke strapped to your ass and pushing you towards Mars for the next 18 months”
Lt Compton slowly pulled his way through a series of hatches. His movement was far more calculated in space, or so he felt. Pull to hard, and one might launch themselves into a bulkhead. Pull too little and one might end up floating helplessly in the center of the shuttle without any way to correct the mistake. He was used to it he thought, and had done it many times in simulation, but this was the real thing, and it proved to be a little more tricky than he first thought it would be. It was his job at the moment to reach the docking controls, and guide the shuttle into a trajectory which would allow it to dock with the Orion. He could see the massive craft just outside the docking ring portal. It was indeed a mammoth machine. Compton recalled that NASA had worked with 18 countries for over 15 years to build it. A grand attempt to build the largest deep space rocket ever constructed in human history. Its purpose was entirely to send a manned expedition to Mars, and begin a fifty year project to colonize the planet if it all worked out. or so thats what he was told, but the real issue with Compton was not the mission, but the engine that would propel the craft to its destination. That thing on the rear end of the Orion scared him. NASA called it a lateral conversion nuclear pulse device. In theory it used precisely shaped radio active materials about the size of BB’s. They were fired at high speed towards each other from opposite sides of the combustion chamber. When these combined forcefully, the resulting small nuclear explosions could be controlled to form rapid pulse of blasts. If timed correctly the device could produce enormous amounts of thrust. The Orion was fitted with sixty of these devices packed into a cluster. Not all of them fired at once, but instead fired in a daisy chain like fashion to allow cooling to take place. However the real concern for Compton was the fact that one small mistake by the computers that controlled the feed of fuel would most likely blow the entire craft apart. But none of them would be awake to know they had been blown up. That was another surprise waiting for the crew, only he and the captain knew about that one. They all would be the Ginnie pigs for a new hibernation chamber which would allow them to sleep for most the trip. That would reduce the food, air and water they would need to get to Mars. NASA personnel had told him this hibernation system was fully tested, but not a single one of the crew on this mission had even seen them. Compton suspected there were allot more about this mission that wasn’t disclosed to the crew, but he could not figure out why there was all the hush and secrecy behind it. It really didn’t matter now, they all would find out soon enough.
to be continued…