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Single Event Upset

Single Event Upset

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Single Event Upset

287 Seiten
4 Stunden
Dec 13, 2010


The trip to Mars takes over two and a half years—that is over nine hundred days with no direct governmental oversight, no laws, and no court systems to give fair trial.

The astronauts aboard Seeker 3, the first manned U.S. spacecraft to Mars, experience an unsettling chain of events that they must resolve... and no one on Earth can help them.

Dec 13, 2010

Über den Autor

I never initially dreamed of being an author. Instead, I have been blessed with an over-active imagination and a love of research that naturally led to the desire to write entertaining and believable stories.I have worked many professions. These include work with manual labor, law enforcement, and even highly technical endeavors in computer networking and the space industry. I hope this breadth of experience helps me to relate the experiences of an everyday person in the context of how things work in a large scale. I try to apply my experience to writing and think the best stories should be sincere, honest, and believable (or, for fantasy writing, consistent with the constraints of the fantasy world and logical expectations).

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Single Event Upset - Cole J. Freeman


Day One

Ain’t never done nothin’ like this.  Nobody has.  The man, one of six people who were sitting together, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

Hundreds of lights, brilliant and unforgiving, illuminated everything in the small area.  Some of the lights were for illumination; others were indicators of the status of various subsystems of the ship.  A young woman, who sat near the man, tried to think about nothing—which, she eventually determined, was impossible—but in the process of trying to think about nothing, she ended up staring at the endless rows of lamps, and she pondered about the necessity of so many of them.  Then her mind drifted to the properties of light, which was a fascinating subject to her. 

Waves of energy burst from the focused emitters, travelled a short distance, bounced off various materials, and entered into the blue eyes of the young woman—who was one of only two women in the cramped space—and she continued to observe the area around her in awe.  The light entered each of her eyes, filtered through her corneas, and then the iris of each eye limited the light and the lenses of her eyes focused it, until finally the image of the outside world projected upside down onto the rods and cones of her retinas. 

Photoreceptors reacted to the photons of light striking the cells of each retina, and the woman’s optical nerves interpreted this interaction as a data and transmitted this representation of the image to the woman’s brain.  Her brain then corrected the inversion of the image and presented the scene in her mind, automatically comparing the difference in the viewing angle between her two eyes to determine distance.  The woman looked around her and observed for herself the reality around her; however, despite the images flowing into her eyes, she found it hard to believe that she was actually experiencing what she was seeing. 

Most of her excitement—and her difficulty believing her status—was due to the nature of the trip that she was about to take.  For several years, she had prepared for this—and it had not been without sacrifice.  Yet here she was, triumphant and ready.

It was at this moment that Dr. Rebecca Lennon lay on her back, trying not to be sick.  It was strange, really, that she felt a chill.  She was wearing several layers of clothing.  This was not necessarily by choice.  Some of it was required to protect her body.  Engineers had combined fire resistant materials with puncture and slash resistant fibers to form those layers.  Other components of the clothing were necessary simply to buffer against light chafing that might occur during the first part of the trip, and the remaining pieces of clothing had no purpose except to help maintain a consistent temperature while wearing so many layers. 

She was hoping this voyage would be smooth, but the only way to be sure was to see what happened after the flight had begun.  The take-offs and landings were always the most dangerous, even with the assistance of computers.  Adding to her anxiety was the fact that no one had done this before—not to this degree.

Out of the myriad of indicators, a small amber light in front of her was steadily flashing.  It clamored for attention among the hundreds of other dials, gauges, switches, and indicators, and somehow won her focus.  It kept time with a low and distorted beep that had a tone very similar to the sound of angry bees.  The tone buzzed on and off in relentless and rhythmic attacks. 

She was allergic to bees, but only mildly so.  She would not have to go to the hospital if a bee stung her, but she would swell up like a melon.  There were no bees where she planned to go.

She tried to calm her nerves by ignoring the lamp and looking around her.  The artisanship of the craft she was in, from a technical standpoint, never ceased to amaze her.  Even from her vantage point, strapped into a chair and facing straight up, there was a beauty in the order and function of almost every object around her.  It was not the beauty of Victorian design that adorned ships of old, she admitted, but it was beautiful nevertheless.  Beauty in its perfection, she mused.  Nearly every inch of the cold metal ceiling and walls that surrounded her served some use or purpose.  Dials, gauges, buttons, and indicators were everywhere.  Even the floor—if you could call it that—was not immune from the need for multi-functionality.  Although it seemed almost bare in relation to the walls and ceiling, the engineers had not spared it.  Modular panels in the floor melded together to form the surface of the floor, but those panels either concealed storage areas or provided access to hydraulics and wiring.  The ‘floor’ was simply a barrier to keep them from accidentally kicking sensitive components during the launch.  She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.  She was going to Mars. 

She suddenly missed her mother.  When she first thought about why, this yearning for her matriarch appeared to be an entirely random feeling.  However, the more she thought about it, the last memory she had of her mother overtook her ocular vision and formed into a vision in her mind that quickly became lucid and nearly palpable, as if she was watching it through her eyes instead of recalling it from her brain.  For a brief moment, she battled with the memory, and a small amount of panic took command of her thoughts.  Two and a half years, she thoughtShe pulled unsuccessfully against the five-point harness that strapped her to her seat and wished that she could call her mother and tell her once more that she loved her.  It’s too late, she knew.  For over nine hundred days, she would be able to communicate by delayed electronic transmissions only.  No bipartite conversations would be possible; she would experience no hugs from family or friends on Earth.  She had no choice but to hope that her mother stayed in good health until she returned.

 Seeker 3, this is ground control, said a tinny voice, reproduced in her left ear by a headset she was wearing.  The rest of the crewmembers wore similar devices, and their headsets connected to the same audio feed. 

Go ahead, replied one of the pilots, holding down a small, round, red button while he talked.  It was Major Jonas Matthews.  He was positioned in front of—or more correctly, above—and to the left of Lennon. 

Matthews was second in command.  He had strong physical features, including a square jaw and straight nose.  He kept his hair cropped close to his head, but he left the top just long enough to curl slightly.  His eyes were grey with a blue tint, and when he looked at a person, it was with an intensity that showed his drive to succeed.  Some found it intimidating; others found themselves pulled towards it.

Seeker 3, we are holding at T minus fourteen minutes.  There’s a complication in the ignition system checkout, was the reply in the headphones.

Do we have an ETRO?

Negative.  Ah, correction, we are looking at a new launch time of 1420 Zulu.  We’ll let you know when range operations are green for launch.

Copy, Seeker 3 out. 

It was eleven thirty, Eastern Time.  They were possibly fifty minutes out from the new launch time.  Lennon felt like she had to use the toilet already.  She decided she could wait.  She did not want to sit in a soiled space diaper just yet.  Inside the space suit, astronauts wore an adult diaper, clinically referred to as the Maximum Absorbency Garment (MAG), for situations where they needed to relieve themselves before they reached orbit.  Once in orbit, they could take off the space suit and the MAG, and use the toilet onboard.  Although the MAG can hold up to 2000ml of urine, feces, or blood, Lennon did not want to use it unless she absolutely had to.  The absorbency rating for blood was, of course, in case of menstruation.

Women’s issues were a deep concern for space planners.  In the early days of space flight, crews were all male, mainly because of the unknowns of microgravity and the ill health possibilities that might arise, specifically concerning women’s reproductive systems.  It was unknown—but wildly speculated on—what would happen if gravity did not direct the flow of blood properly.  In the early days of space stations, mission planners went so far as to suggest that if women were to spend a notable time in space, they should take certain drugs to prevent menstruation.  In reality, it turned out to be a non-issue, because the menstrual blood flowed correctly by capillary action.  Naturally, as such a sensitive topic, this issue remained publically undisclosed for a long time.

Another pilot was strapped in to a seat to the right of Matthews.  He was Captain Justin Dish Petri, and was currently swearing up a storm.  They better get this show on the road, he said in a thick Southern drawl.  Petri was a typical test pilot, selected for this mission for precisely the same reasons that ‘test pilot’ was a notch on his résumé—he was daring, fearless, and yet precise.  He was also arrogant and seemingly ignorant to any faults that he might have.  He did not acknowledge any possibility of personal deficiency.  Failures were merely annoyances to him, forgotten immediately after occurring.  He came across to some as brash, self-elevating, and raw, but in reality, his callow nature allowed him to succeed where others would give up.  He was very good at what he did.  His Southern charm worked well to his benefit; he was able to make even the most obstinate observer overlook his sometimes-pompous behavior.  It was easy for those who did not know him to think he was ignorant—or maybe even dumb—because of his strong accent and tendency to use improper words like ‘ain’t’.  However, he was a brilliant man, and he excelled in academic pursuits—he even held a master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He was relatively young, at thirty-three years old, yet not the youngest of the crew.  He was very fit but not muscular.  Surprisingly, muscular builds do not fare as well in microgravity, so one of the problems facing Dish during the selection process was that he was too fit. 

He was clean-shaven—even the hair on top of his head was cut nearly to the skin.  It left just a shadow around his head, as if he painted his hair on his skull with a light brown stain.  He had olive skin that gave him an overall appearance of good health, and his brown eyes finished off his ability to attract women wherever he went—an ability that he never wasted. 

Flying to Mars is not as simple a task as it might seem in an initial examination.  Unfortunately, the process to get there is not nearly as effortless as shooting a rocket straight at the red planet might be.  The issue that complicates things is that both Mars and Earth are currently in elliptical orbits around the sun.  If you shoot a rocket right at Mars, it will be gone by the time the rocket gets there.  If you point the rocket to follow Mars, you end up simply chasing it, which is highly inefficient—and fuel is costly and heavy.  In fact, with current technology it is nearly impossible, because a ship would have to carry inordinate amounts of fuel to get there and the pilots might not live long enough for the ship to catch up to Mars. 

If a ship approaches from the opposite direction that Mars is traveling, the ship will be travelling too fast in relation to Mars to actually land on Mars.  The effect would be the same as two bullets striking each other head-on in the air.  Therefore, the most efficient way to get to Mars is to wait until the planets align perfectly and then perform a maneuver called a Hohmann transfer.[1]

There is some relatively complex trigonometry involved with a Hohmann transfer that Dr. Lennon was thankfully exempt from dealing with.  A crew of specialists on Earth figured all of that out.  If their calculations were correct, the pilots could release a quick burst of thrust at an exact time—called a ‘Delta-V’ for the trigonometric term for ‘change in velocity’—that could easily move the ship into orbit around Mars from an original orbit around the Sun.  Physics would do the rest of the work, and so they would need comparatively little fuel.  Essentially, they would be performing the space version of the Old West’s ‘cut them off at the pass’ maneuver.

All that this lengthy explanation means to the layperson is that the ability to launch and actually make it to Mars happens only once every twenty-six months.  A launch could only occur during the specific period when the orbits of Mars and Earth align.  If anything prevented the launch from occurring during that specified window of time, Lennon and the crew who occupied the cabin of the spacecraft with her would not be going to Mars for a very long time, if at all. 

For a moment, Lennon caught herself wishing that the delay would lead to an issue that would force the cancellation of the launch.  She would have no shame in that.  She would have had no control over that, right?  No one would be able to say she chickened out. 

Surprised at herself for thinking such thoughts, she pushed them out of her mind.  She was committed to this.  To give up now, after dedicating two years of her life to intense specialized training and even more time before that for the selection process, would be madness.  If she allowed herself to quit, she would always wonder what could have been, while she watched someone else’s name grace the history books.

Seeker 3, range is green.  Launch is a go at 1420z.

Copy that, and thank you, Matthews said with a smile.  Dish let out a loud whistle. 

That’s good news, said the crew commander, Lt. Col. Nick Queasy Quesen.  He was sitting to the right of Lennon.  He pulled on the harness, which was holding him to his seat, despite the fact that it was already tight and there was no way he could secure it further.  Despite his call sign, Queasy was rock-steady and embodied the image of leadership.  Indeed, at an even six feet tall, he was shorter than Dish; yet most people that recalled meeting him suggested that he was at least six foot four.  He possessed an aquiline nose with a protruding bridge that gave him a Roman appearance and an air of nobility.  His hair was longer than Dish’s, but not outside of military regulations.  Graying spots sprinkled the sides of his head, giving an impression of experience beyond his age of forty-two.  It was an unfortunate call sign, based on his unusual last name, but it did nothing to diminish his authoritative presence.  He was a leader, and commanded attention without saying a word.  He rarely did speak, and it was difficult to imagine him wasting words in the way that Dish might.  When he spoke, people listened. 

Yes it is, Queasy, said the engineer, Kyle Abrams, agreeing with Col. Quesen.  Kyle Abrams was of European descent, although his official record listed him as African-American.  He was born in Wales.  He had tried unsuccessfully to change his race designation several times, and after being road-blocked on several attempts, he gave up.  He was not ashamed of his heritage; he was quite proud of it.  However, he felt that using terms like African-American only enforced ideas of segregation and identified him as something different.  He just wanted to be an American, especially since neither he nor any of his closest progenitors had come from Africa.  He had originally achieved US citizenship when he was eighteen, preferring to travel abroad for secondary study.  His dark, even toned skin showed few signs of wrinkles, and gave him a much younger appearance than his thirty-four years.  The one sign of age was a nearly permanent double crease between his eyebrows that made him always appear to be deep in thought.  Most likely, he always was.  Unlike the other men, he maintained a cleanly trimmed beard, a benefit of his civilian assignment to the mission.  He had smiled during the training as the crew learned about shaving in microgravity. 

Shaving is notoriously difficult in microgravity because water does not attach to the face in the same way that it does on Earth.  In addition, astronauts cannot easily rinse razors, and so they have to wipe the blade continually while making sure that no hairs float away.  Electric razors cause even more problems; the trimmings fly all over the place and can cause eye and nose irritation.  If trimmings are not contained, they can even cause instrument contamination or failure.  Abrams’ smile had turned into a frown at this point in the lecture, and he stroked his well-trimmed beard pensively when he realized that he would have to leave his electric beard trimmer at home.  He was able to strike a compromise when the engineering team introduced a hair-trimming device with a vacuum-based clipping collection system intended for general use.  After several visits with the engineering team, Abrams managed to get them to design a beard trimming attachment.  Initially, they had told him ‘no’ because the design and production of the attachment could run into the thousands of dollars.  During one memorable exchange with the engineers, Abrams was so upset he reverted into his British accent, shouting, But it’s just a bit a’ plastic!  Let me build the thing.  Eventually, he challenged a few of the engineers (the ones with beards) that if they could go three years without trimming their beards then he would too.  They caved in and designed the attachment.  It ended up being insignificant in cost, because making a narrowed version of the existing hair trimming attachment, which the engineers had already designed and manufactured for the vacuum, only required minor modifications.

You ready for this, Lennon? Abrams asked as he tapped her leg with his glove.  He was sitting to her left. 

Hey, be careful, Abrams, she said, looking down at her leg and smiling.  I don’t want to have to file a sexual harassment claim before we even launch.

Right, he said, good-naturedly.  Such teasing was common.  How about you, Parker? 

Dr. Maria Parker was on the other side of the cabin, to the right of Col. Quesen.  Her primary skill was geology, although all of the crewmembers were cross-trained in each other’s specialties, in case an emergency incapacitated a crewmember.

Parker was born and raised in rural Alaska.  In terms of ancestry, she identified herself as Tlingit, a race indigenous to the area that she called home as a youth.  However, she did not claim to be full-blooded Tlingit.  Her skin was bronzed and unblemished.  She had thick, brown, slightly curling hair (which Lennon envied) and her facial features were soft and unimposing.  Her eyes were large and brown and gave her an innocent appearance.  In many ways, she was the opposite of Lennon, who enjoyed blonde hair, fair skin, and blue eyes.  Parker struggled with a little bit of an impulsive streak, which was tangent to her innocent appearance.  Still, she was far from a wild child.  Many males found her irresistible and frustrating at the same time.  At thirty-one, Parker was the youngest crewmember.

You can’t touch my leg either, Abrams, she said.

 What?  No, I’m talking about the launch, you dingbat. 

She cracked a small smile.  What in the world is a dingbat? she asked.  She knew what he meant. 

All right, lock it up, said Col. Quesen.  Don’t forget we’re going to Mars.  Get your game faces on.

Yes, sir, chimed several of the crewmembers.

After a few seconds, Dish threw his fists up into the air.  We’re goin’ to Mars! he screamed.

When the actual launch happened, it was a little bit anti-climactic.  The Crewmembers felt an initial rush as the engines roared and the ship shook violently.  The rapid acceleration pressed them back into their seats, but after that, the thrill gave way to the need to perform.  Their intense training paid off, and the pilots and the ground crew placed the spacecraft into orbit around the Earth without any significant problems. 

Thirty Months Prior

Rebecca Lennon sipped sweet tea while

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