In the Black of Space
By David Fries
Required personal daily journal entry: Day 12. Another two weeks left before we get to Mars. I can't imagine how long it would take if we had used one of the early probes flight path. Some of them even took close to a year to make this trip. Mankind could have visited Mars a few years earlier. We had the rocket technology to make the trip. I'm afraid if we had make the trip earlier, the trips to Mars would have ended like the earlier trips to the Moon. That is, spend about a decade to putting people on the moon and never come back until almost a hundred years later to colonize that rock in space. No, this is the better way to go. Start off with colonization. It takes a lot more money and time up front, but once the station is established and making technology breakthroughs like the moon colony proved to be you keep the support from home. You just don't get much support to send two or three people to walk around and come right back. No, people get tired of that. Now a colony that's different. The colonization of Mars, I can hardly believe it, even though I will be the first person to walk on the surface of the big red rock.
Today's routines were nothing to get excited about. We double checked the stage of growth on the plants were are carrying. We only carry enough food for the trip there and an emergency trip back. The environment is kept so by the time the plants start requiring light to grow we will be on Mars with the full solar array deployed. The rest of the day is mainly housekeeping.
--"John; Marty, do you read?"--
--"John here."-- I responded as I continued my walk from the solar array with the electrical connector in my right hand as I let out the wire with my left. I looked up to the module I exited earlier and saw Richard descending the stairs. The first two people to walk on Mars. I think this mission will go down in history.
--"When you get finished running that wire we want you to skip page five and go on to page six, that is the step where you prep the rover, the second set of solar cells will wait until later."--
--"Roger, after page six should I go on to page seven or is that when..."-- a buzzing alarm started to go off near my head. Before I could recognize the sound I figured out what it couldn't be. Temperature is fine, it isn't the battery or the radio would be weak, not a computer problem, buzzer and radio are working, that leaves, --"Houston, we have a problem, er, Marty, just don't tell me it is my oxygen!"--
My whole body shakes at the thought and I open my eyes to look around. Dead nothing, complete blackness, not a sound, my feet aren't even being pressed toward the ground, my body isn't even being press in any direction. It's like I'm just floating in air. Then it comes again, a sharp high pitched alarm shrills out, and this time I recognize it. Reaching above I grasp the source of the noise, turn it off and take a look, 6:30. It was only a dream, thank goodness it was only a dream. With the alarm now off the lights automatically come on and I start the preparations for day thirteen. Goodness, they say the mind can play tricks. I must be superstitious in my dreams.
While I log on to the computer I remind myself it is only MET, Mission Elapsed Time, of day thirteen, not a calendar day of thirteen or even a Friday. I make a mental note to forget the dream and get on with the day. Even in the flight threw dark space mail seems to pile up over-night. They always have changes to make to the daily schedule, a different order to do this or that task, an updated procedure or something. At least the hand-held organizers are easy to update. Just press the update button, point it to the dark square and infra red light takes care of the rest.
With the morning computer business done and electronic organizer in pocket I started out the door to make my way to the galley. Bang off this wall, ouch, I always miss that first bounce. Even with my little delay the galley is still vacant. I like getting an early start, it lets me get threw eating even before the time honored tradition of the wake up song being played over the speakers. It's surprising how little the galley has changed from the days of the space shuttle. Most of the food is shipped without water. Water is added to the food that needs it and then heated if necessary. When we get setup on Mars we will start growing and eating our own food. Until then, we have little packets of food. I grabbed the packed that was labeled scrambled eggs. I put it in the re-hydrating slot and then started the procedure to heat the food up. A little into the heating process and it started to look a little odd. It got just enough of my attention to take a closer look. It almost looked like it was boiling. That's not supposed to happen. I double checked to make sure I had the right heating element, and by the simple process of elimination I had. And yet, it looked like it was boiling. Eggs will be well done today, might as well turn it off anyway. I have always wanted a good reason to use the emergency stop button, so I went across the heating mechanism and hit the red button. At the same time as my hand pressed the stop button, my head and chest registered impact. Then I was being thrown across the room with a horrible burning feeling on my face. Without anytime to react I was already on the other side of the room. I was gong backwards so I didn't see it coming, I just felt it on the back of my head as it slammed into the metal wall. The pain didn't even have time to register, I simply blacked out.
At first there was just he idea of actually being awake, then the pain confirmed it. Jennifer was here sounding like a beacon, "See that he doesn't move. Marty, has the bleeding stopped on the back of his head? Yes? Good, maybe he'll live then. Wait, looks like he is starting to stir. Jim, you are going to be fine, you have some nasty burns on your face, along with a bloody bump on the back of your head. Just don't try to move."
She didn't mention the headache. I was able to get my eyes open, at least my right one, the left must have been swollen about shut. I was in the life-science room. It is normally used for exercise and to do experiments on the effects of prolonged-weightlessness as well as check up on us physically. It really isn't by any means a hospital. I decided to take some of the advice she kept poring out and get some more rest.
This time when I woke up the room was still and the lights were dimmed down. I could look out of both eyes even though my left eye was still swollen. At least I could see, that means it would only get better. I tied to give my arms a stretch, but they were restrained. It didn't take long to get them free. It was clearly meant to keep me from unintentional movement. Even through the gauze most of the left of my face was covered with any pressure was considerable pain. The sweater I had worn that morning must have protected my chest, it didn't hurt much compared to my face. I was content to just float and think for a bit. The absents of gravity clearly helps in situations like this. Without gravity the skin isn't being pulled down, stretching and causing pain. Kathryn came floating in a little later. Asked how I felt. I didn't hold back. I asked for a glass of water, which she promptly left for. Yes we still call it a glass or cup, some things just don't change even if the terminology isn't quite correct anymore. Liquid just doesn't stay in a cup without gravity. After all, when was the last time anyone has needed more lead for their pencil?
I heard them before I saw them come in. Jennifer first followed by Kathryn, Scott, Richard, and Marty joined us a little later, he must have been busy with something at the time.
As normal Jennifer started first. "Let me change the gauze and see how it is doing. Pretty nasty under there."
Scott got right to the point, "What happened back there? I had gotten up a little early before song time and went down to get a bite to eat and found you with blood all over the place."
Marty gave his account, "you must have been down there a few minutes before Scott found you. The computer detected an emergency stop being pressed and waited a minute after failing to contact you. I woke up to the computer alarm with my organizer reading commander not responding, please check emergency stop in galley. I met Scott coming out of the galley yelling for Jennifer. I know she isn't any kind of doctor, but she is as close as we have here. They really should think about getting someone more trained, when they put these missions together. No offense," she nodded. "I got Jennifer and we saw the mess for our selves. That drawer handle must have sure done a number on your head, I couldn't think of anything worse to hit in that room."
I just said, "It's my face that hurts the worst, I hadn't really thought much about the back of my head. I can't imagine how an accident like that happened though. I had just put some scrambled eggs on to heat, when I noticed it looked like it was boiling. I was about to hit the emergency stop, or at least I was intending to, when something hit me and threw me against the wall. Was it the eggs exploding?"
Richard answered, "it sure was. Scott came and woke Kathryn and I up and by the time we were down there the others had moved you to the life-science room, so the three of us started looking around the room to figure out what happened."
"We sent Kathryn back for the video camera while Richard and I looked over the food heater. He found a big part of the problem, although we are still waiting on NASA to reproduce it. He found the fuse was installed improperly. Current was going threw the side of the fuse instead of threw the fuse. The fuse didn't break the circuit, instead it let the current keep on flowing. Did you notice anything strange about the heating element when you put it in?"
"No, I just put the heating element in without thinking. I just do it so many times that it almost becomes second nature to me. What did you find out about it?"
"We don't know how much happened during that heating, but a big chunk had broken off from the middle. Richard, go get the metal piece so we can show him. Thanks."
I watched as Richard went for the main connecting tunnel. "That heating element uses the same principle as most electrical stoves back home. Put some current threw metal and it heats up. Any idea how a piece of metal could have been knocked out in the first place?"
Scott kept trying to reason threw it, "no, NASA is trying to figure it out just as much as we are. I wish we didn't have this delay between us and Earth. I would like to talk to them in real time. I think they are a little baffled by this also."
Jennifer was looking a little confused, and as always she spoke right up, "I don't know that much about the electronics, how does missing a piece of metal cause the scrambled eggs to just explode?"
Scott's more in to the physics and electronics, so I let him handle it. Besides talking hurt right now. "It's the same principle as the fuse works. If you have a big piece of metal, it doesn't matter what kind of metal, it will be able to handle a large amount of current without any problem. A fuse is designed so it will only carry a limited amount of current. If the circuit tries to pull more current that the fuse is designed to handle, the small wire inside will get hot and break causing the fuse to stop carrying current. I remember in a science experiment when I was little we took a six volt battery and a piece of aluminum foil. If you would take a wide strip of the aluminum foil you could touch it across the battery and nothing interesting would happen. We cut the aluminum foil so it was thin in the middle. We then touched it across the battery. This time the section of metal that was thinnest became hot and burned in two. That is how a fuse is supposed to work."
Jennifer looked like she was starting to get it. "So by the same way the heating element with the piece missing heated up faster that it should have? But if it took more current, why didn't the heater just turn itself off?"
"According to Richard the fuse had been installed incorrectly, so it didn't operate, " I said. "I guess the heating element would have melted itself in two if the egg mixture wasn't there to absorb the heat."
Kathryn had been silent until now, "why didn't they just give us a microwave? We wouldn't have this kind of problem."
Richard came back and we looked at the heating element in detail. Indeed a big chunk was missing from the middle of it. We discussed that a while, but didn't make any progress as to what caused the problem. We also discussed why they didn't just give us a microwave, after all if something exploded it would be inside of a glass instead of out where someone could get hurt.
Kathryn and Marty went to the galley to get some food for everyone. As I guessed the food was cold. As if anyone needed the reason Marty said no one was to use the food heater until we got an OK from NASA. "NASA's orders, not mine," he added.
I went for the mushy food, as it was less painful to eat. When I was finished eating, Jennifer tended to my bandages. Everyone agreed it looked awful. When I was bandaged up, as if my face wasn't puffy enough, she listed her verdict for all to hear.
"This isn't a hospital, you will be just as well off in your quarters. Just when you go to bed make sure and restrain yourself so you don't do any more damage."
"I couldn't agree more to either call."
"That's not all, until further notice, Marty is in change."
The timing couldn't be worse, I felt a headache coming on so didn't have a chance to argue. Not that it would do much good. I was going to argue that I thought only a doctor could make a call like that. She wasn't a real doctor, so I might have had a chance if I was up to it. Then again, if I was up to it, she wouldn't have to tell me this.
Jennifer and Kathryn helped me back to my quarters leaving the rest to try to make up for all the lost time. I never really figured out how we can keep so busy while we are drifting in the black of space waiting to get to Mars. I think NASA just likes to keep us occupied. As if to try to make up for everything including the demotion (I hope it is just temporary), she said I didn't have to make a journal entry for today. I just mumbled, "thanks, this is one day I want to get behind me and forget."
For about the third time today, I lost track, I went to sleep. That night wasn't very kind to me. I didn't have any bad dreams this night, thank goodness, but it just seemed to go on forever.
I didn't set my alarm on purpose before I went to bed. I know I can't blame it, I just didn't want any more bad dream, or more to the point what came afterwards. When I finally woke up I realized how late I slept. I slept right threw the morning wake up song. I've never been up later than that before. I'm not the doctor, but it sure seems like my body was reacting to this injury just as if I was sick. I'm sure everyone knows the feeling. The feeling that you can sleep all day and night wake up and go back to sleep for longer. I forced myself to get up and check my e-mail.
As expected the flight surgeon had written an essay while I slept and would expect another essay in return. There also was a message about the accident. Their preliminary investigation had only turned up three other heating elements that had any problems before. In each case though, the fuse had burnt out. In each case the heating element had been replaced without incident. They said they were in further investigation and I should expect further news later in the day. Unfortunately they completely supported Jennifer's verdict. Mart is in command. At least they said Jennifer can reinstate my command.
Jennifer also wrote me before I got up telling me to let her know when I was up and she would get some breakfast and change the bandages again. She noted with a smile to not get used to bed side service. I gave her communicator a ring and sure to her word she showed up.
There wasn't much of any excitement. I had been given the day off, so I floated in front of my computer playing games while I waited for the note from NASA. Play games and think, I lost a couple because I was distracted thinking, but I never thought up anything useful.
A little before noon the message came. They had located the heating elements that had malfunctioned and setup the same conditions as our heater, namely, a food packet was warming and the fuse was bypassed. In each case the same thing happened as the accident yesterday. The food boiled, the pressure built up and the packet burst with incredible force. They concluded it was an accident. The reasoning was easy according to the message, four bad heating elements produced the same results under the same conditions. They tried the experiment on other heating elements, unless the heating element was bad there were no problems. The further conclusion stated there was no way to know if a heating element was bad, but the fuse should have prevented damages and they were looking into how the fuse could have been installed incorrectly. In a follow up later sent a little later they stated that we could use the food heater provided the fuse is installed correctly.
In a way I was completely relieved it was an accident. I was just thinking about that when Scott stepped in to give his ideas. He couldn't have read the messages NASA had just sent up, but I listed just the same.
"If it wasn't an accident, someone had to have a reason to do it. They say if you can find a motive the rest of the mystery just falls into place. Marty is the only person with a motive that I see. Mind you I'm not accusing him or anything, but wouldn't being commander be motivation enough if you were crazy or something?"
"I'll agree with you on the motive helping to solve a mystery, but I disagree that it could have possibly been Marty."
"As long as your not putting personal feelings in front of that I'll listen, why?"
I thought for a moment, "Marty and I joined NASA at about the same time. We went threw training together. We're great friends and trust each other. More than that I know what he likes. He first likes to fly. In one training mission he they mixed us up and put him in commander instead of pilot. We were going threw some simulated turbulence, and I was having problems coming in for a landing. They put me at pilot just because I was the only other person in our group that new anything about flying. Marty just ordered me to act as commander and he tool over as pilot. After we were threw the turbulence he wouldn't let me get back to pilot. No, Marty wouldn't trade being a pilot for anything, and he wouldn't try to injure me, just to be commander. NASA just sent up some reports on their findings. They are convinced it is an accident. You should read them. There is only one thing that bugs me."
"I'm not sure yet, but would you account for all the fuses that fit in the food heater?"
"I'll let you know as soon as I count them." He left as quick as he came.
Scott did have a point though. If you can find a motive the mystery is a lot easier to solve. The question is who could possible benefit from me being out of commission? If I wasn't pulling my weight around the ship it sure made everyone else's work a lot harder.
Scott checked in a little later. --"I've searched everywhere, but there is one fuse missing from the supply cabinet and its no where to be found."--
--"Where are you now?"--
--"I'm still over in the supply module. I was going to go over it another time."--
I checked in with the computer at Richard's position. He was up in the plant module. --"Scott, Richard is in the plant module right now, why don't you go to the tube leading there and send me a message if he leaves for his quarters?"--
--"I don't know what that is going to accomplish, but sure if you want me to."--
--"Yes, I have an idea, just tell me if he comes my way."--
I might not be officially in charge around here, but at least I still have my security codes. I had found out they hadn't changed them for sure when I did a security override on Richard's quarters. A few minutes later I found what I was looking for. A blown fuse. With the fuse in hand I put a general message over the communication system. --"Everybody meet in the galley, now."-- I started in that direction myself watching that first bounce.
Everyone else had beaten me there, ok so I was being careful and didn't want to hit the walls harder than I had to. I also watched Richard's face a little bit closer than I had in the past.
"NASA has sent their findings on what happened yesterday. It seems in the past there have been three separate instances where the heating elements caused fuses to blow. In those cases there were no other problems. They had kept the bad heating elements and tried to heat up a packet with the fuse shorted and found exactly what happened yesterday. They concluded it was an accident, they are still looking into why the fuse was not properly installed, but as long as we install a fuse correctly we can use the food heater." Richard looked much more relaxed now.
I didn't expect Kathryn to be the first to speak, she usually isn't. "I was trying to get some work done and thought you wouldn't call use here unless it was something important. Now we know for sure what caused the accident. You could have just told us over the communication system we don't have to eat cold food. I don't see the necessity to bring use down here."
"I wasn't quite finished. There was something in the report that made me start thinking." Richard got tense.
"All the other times the heating element would blow the fuses until someone replaced the heating element. Not even NASA knew prior to that accident what would happen if there wasn't a fuse to stop the current from flowing. It appears we have found the four bad heating element in the history of NASA from around the Space Shuttle area. I find it a little suspicious that this is the first time they were aware of a fuse that wasn't installed correctly, and even more so that both of them happened at the same time. Now I've been thinking about what Scott said, find a motive and the mystery falls in to place. I think I might have found that motive. Now bear with me, who was the first person to walk on the Moon?"
As I expected everyone else said "Neil Armstrong" at the same time. "And who was second?" A moment passed and a couple of them said "Buzz Aldrin" and the rest agreed, all except for Richard, I think he knew were the conversation was going also. "Now I would imagine that just about everybody back on Earth could tell you who Neil Armstrong is or what was the first person to walk on the Moon. Many less would know about Buzz Aldrin. He is still well known, and any historical book that mentions Neil Armstrong wouldn't be taken very seriously if they didn't also mention Buzz Aldrin. But in the peoples minds, it is Neil Armstrong, he was first, and that's what matters.
"Now, who is going to be known to be the first to walk on Mars?"
Then Richard open his mouth, and I was thinking, insert foot here, what else could he say? "Now wait a minute, I'm not going to float here listening to you say that I did it. There's no evidence, even NASA is saying it is an accident. You can't just accuse someone because they had a motive. Just because you were scheduled to be the first to walk on Mars and me the second, that doesn't mean I tried to kill you just to be first."
"Killing wasn't the objective, hurting is sufficient. Just as long as the doctors back on Earth have some question as to how fit I am they won't risk the mission just so I can be first out the door."
"But you don't have any evidence now do you? Just conjecture."
"I was thinking why would the heating element do anything difference than the other times. I mean all the other times the fuse had been blown and there was no danger. I reasoned this time wasn't different. Someone saw the fuse blow and knew what would cause it, and set it up to get me. Yes, I have evidence. I asked Scott to verify that all the fuses were accounted for. He checked and there was one missing. If someone had checked in a blown fuse would have immediately realized the fuse had to have been installed by someone here. I asked Scott to stand watch and went into your quarters and found it." I brought out the blown fuse from my pocket. "It was blown as I thought. I then checked your computer alarm. It had been set to 6:00 am yesterday. Now why else would your alarm be set that early if you were still asleep when Scott went to tell you and Kathryn what happened. You also did not use your computer at that time or it would be logged. The computer did log that you unlocked your door shortly after 6:00 am and a couple minutes later you locked it again." By now the color had completely drained from his face.
"And if I did that, what would you do, shove me out the nearest air lock?"
"No, but I will start by confining you to your quarters, and figure out what to do from there. I just have one question, when the fuse blew with that heating element and you didn't tell anyone about it, how did you know if the fuse was bypassed the food pack would blow up?"
"Ok, I didn't mean to hurt you that bad, cripse when I got down here after you got hit, by the looks of the blood around the place I thought I had killed you. You were right, the doctors back home just have to have some reason to make them think you are not in perfect health and you won't be going on a space walk. No, I never meant to put your life in danger. Late one night on a moon trip I was taking I got hungry and went down to that ships galley to get something. I was really tired at the time so I re-hydrated the food packet and stuck it in to heat. Back then the fuses were stored in a drawer near the food heater and I went threw three fuses. I got tired of that so I just put a piece of metal in place of the fuse and turned it on. The food started getting hot, really hot and even boiling. I went for the emergency stop button, but I was too late. There was a packet of scalding potatoes flying everywhere. I hit the emergency off, cleaned up the mess, and trashed the heating element. I put a different heating element in warmed up another batch, ate it, and went to bed. I never told anyone, I didn't think it was very important. When I saw the fuse blew three days ago I knew how to make it look like an accident, so I set it up yesterday morning. The difference between when it exploded for you and when it exploded for me is I'm left handed. The food heater was on my left because I was using it with my left hand. The emergency off is on the right of the unit, so I didn't have to reach across the food to turn it off, you did, and that is how it got you. Actually I had to move my hand further out of the way to press the emergency stop button. Back then the emergency stop button just turned it off, it didn't notify anyone that something was going on."
"Marty, Scott, take him to his quarters and lock him there from the outside."
Richard had a laugh in his eye, "you are not in command, Marty is, you can't tell them what to do."
Jennifer spoke up, "it's the mind that makes the commander and I see nothing wrong with Jim's so I officially reinstating your command Jim. Now boys, I think you have an order to follow."
They both shouted "Yes, Ma'am."
They quickly carted Richard out of the room.
This mission is sure going down in the history books, just not for what I hoped for.