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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mars Peril: A Science Fiction Story

When the first manned mission to Mars set forth in the year 2030, space enthusiasts around the world had high hopes. The spaceship had been built using the most advanced rocket technology ever developed, and its three-person crew had been selected from more than 5000 applicants. There was ace pilot Todd Jefferson, who used to be known as the quickest mind in the US Air Force. There was also Matt Wilson, the brilliant planetary scientist whose books had sold a million copies. There was also Marina Bell, who supposedly was so good at astronomical navigation she could determine her position from looking at only 6 or 7 stars in the sky.

The interplanetary vehicle Fearless included a landing craft that could reach the surface. The plan was for Jefferson and Wilson to land the craft on the surface, and explore the surface for 60 days, while Bell remained in the main rocket vehicle. The craft would then lift off from the surface, and dock with the main rocket vehicle.

On the 200-day trip from Earth to Mars, there was plenty of time to think about the adventures to come. The first week the crew talked about their plans during dinner.

It's going to be tough making the landing,” said Todd. “I figure I'll have to be juggling seven different things at once in my head when our landing craft approaches the surface: the descent velocity, the trajectory angle, the parachute status, the flow status of the mini-thrusters, the cross-thrust of the intersecting atmospheric winds, the target touchdown coordinates, and the surface temperature of the heat shields. But I should be able to handle that.”

The real fun will start once we've landed,” said Matt. “I can't wait to begin doing micro-analysis of the molecular patterns of organic compounds, to look for hypothetical residual microfossils of primordial organisms.”

The mission was a bargain-basement Mars expedition. When the mission had been proposed, critics howled about the proposed 200 billion-dollar price tag. In response, the government had shaved 80 billion dollars off the total mission costs. One of the things that had been cut from the original mission plan was heavy lead shielding to protect against cosmic rays.

During the 200-day flight from Earth to Mars, the astronauts were bombarded by cosmic rays every day. The cosmic rays traveled through all parts of the astronaut's bodies, including their brains. By the time they got into orbit around Mars, they were not the same astronauts.

I see...uh...uh...what do they call it?...Mars...in the window,” said Matt. “It's pretty.”

Yeah, it's real big now,” said Todd. “We must have got there. So what do we do now?”

I think we were supposed to do something,” said Marina. “But I can't remember what it is.”

The three astronauts thought for two minutes, each trying to remember what it was they were supposed to do.

I remember now!” said Matt. “We're supposed to land the spaceship on Mars.”

Yes, that's it,” said Todd. “Yes, I do remember they said something about that. At least I think so.”

Okay, so let's point this big spaceship to that big planet, and get moving,” said Matt. “No use wasting time.”

The ship's trajectory was altered, so that the whole rocket was pointed directly at Mars. Soon the astronauts could see the entire rocketship plunging deep into the Martian atmosphere. Soon an urgent radio message was received from Mission Control on Earth.

What in blazes is happening?” said the voice from Mission Control. “You were supposed to put the rocket in orbit around Mars, but your whole ship is plunging into the atmosphere!”

Uh-oh,” said Todd. “Did we forget something?”

Not that I can recall,” said Matt.

Um...um..wait a second...let me try to remember,” said Marina. “Oh, I think I remember now. They told us before to put our rocket ship in orbit before we tried to land.”

Oh, yeah, you're right,” said Matt. “I kind of remember now, at least I think I do. I think they said... we were only supposed to send just the landing craft to the surface, not the whole rocket ship.”

So let's fix that,” said Todd.

The astronauts looked at the buttons of the rocket ship's main control panel. 


Um..um..I kind of forgot,” said Todd. “What do all these buttons do?”

Why if you don't remember, then I certainly don't remember,” said Matt. “Maybe Marina remembers.”

Oh, I'm sure I can remember,” said Marina. “Just give me a few minutes. I'm sure I can remember what at least one of these buttons does.”

The befuddled brain-damaged astronauts fumbled hopelessly as the ship began to burn up in the atmosphere. The ship crashed into the planet, exploding into a hundred pieces. A new crater on Mars was formed, which was named Fearless after the ship that created it.