“This is Apollo Base, reporting touchdown.”
“Roger Apollo Base, any special message to relay?”
“Yes, tell Fischer we’ll make sure his suite has the latest in Radiation shielding.”
“Roger that, Apollo Base, good luck.”
Clicking the comm override, Brian Tern turned to his crew. “Okay men, we’re doing this one by the book.” Eyes rolled among the crew.
“Captain, what if we find something that’s not in the book?” That was Adam Christopher, the construction foreman.
“Well then, Adam, we go by my book. Improvise with style.” The crew laughed at that, and started gearing up. Brian started heading up to the command deck, his gait still not quite adjusted to the moon’s gravity. He nodded to his second, Eric Olson, and sat down at his station. “How’s the weather looking, Eric?”
Eric glanced at the solar report. “Looks like smooth weather, cap. The Russians have been kind enough to let us read the telemetry from Blizko 5, looks fairly quiet sun side. Besides, thanks to your landing, nobody should take less than an hour to get into the magnetic field shelter, plenty of time if we do get a CME.” Brian nodded.
The biggest selling point of the Artemis missions had been the magnetic field shelter, designed to reflect protons traveling up to 15% of light speed, more than twice as fast as all but the fastest recorded proton storms to date. That, combined with the 10.7cm early warning Radio, had saved members of Artemis 12 from worse than bad sunburn when a solar flare erupted while the sun was near zenith. Brian smiled, remembering how the Space Construction Guild had put a lawsuit to the vote and had it voted down 6 to 1. After that, the Artemis missions had had a huge amount of media interest, with 16 slated to have a reporter sent along. Especially fitting, as 16 was supposed to make Apollo Base operational, and leave a skeleton crew behind. The base itself would not be fully crewed until 17, and, providing he passed the physicals, the PR guys back home were suggesting Alan Fischer, pilot of the first new transorbital spaceflight since the Apollo missions, be sent up in 20, to administrate the base. Privately, Tern thought Fischer was wasted as a mere administrator, but that decision was going to be made well above his head.
Shaking himself out of his reverie, he glanced at the various readouts. A pilot with generalized training in all the fields being used out here, many of them theoretical, apparently meant he was fit to be a captain. The Artemis missions, so far, seemed to be luckier than the previous Apollo missions, as there had not been any exceptional equipment failures to date. He grabbed the log book, and wrote down:
January 13th, 2035, 1250UTC: Arrival at Apollo Base. Artemis 15 so far is going smoothly. Have landed at coordinates 00°41′00″N, 23°26′10″W, approximately 300 meters from Tranquility Base. Caches left by previous Artemis missions captured by video during landing approach. Excavation crew leaving ship as soon as they are ready.
“Captain, we’re ready to go.” The voice of Foreman Christopher came over the intercom. “We’re just waiting for you to do the honors.”
Tern smiled. He had found, in drills, that he could be suited up and ready for EVA in less than 30 seconds. He never let anyone know why he had gotten so quick at it. He nodded to Olson.
“You’re in charge of the ship ‘til I get back. Make sure that comm system is working, we want the warning from the 10.7 ASAP.”
Eric nodded. “Will do, captain, have a nice walk.”
Brian Tern stood next to the foreman. “Airlock evacuated, cycling the door.” Brian looked over the Mare as the outer door opened, hardly the first to do so, but the first to EVA on this mission.
“This was worth waiting for,” he said as he jumped out the airlock, realizing almost before his feet lost contact that he’d misjudged his aim, and he was going to land awkwardly at best. “I think I’m going to be the first human to somersault on the moon!” A burst of laughter came from the construction crew as he shifted his body to land without hurting himself, and he indeed did acquire that honor.
The crew dropped down a bit more conservatively as Brian halted his momentum, and started hopping back to the Verne. “Well now, aren’t you glad they gave up on the Space Shuttle? This is working out far better.” He turned around, getting his bearings.
“The first cache is over there,” he said, pointing to the south.
“It should have the materials you need for laying the foundation, along with a crawler. Should only be half a kilometer, so get going, weather forecast is fairly clear today.” Adam Christopher signaled the crew to switch to channel 5, and Brian let them speak in private, it would be recorded if he wanted to hear it later anyways.
He got used to moving around in his suit, and after a few minutes, the construction crew started hopping southwards. He sent one last message on the main channel. “It should have a 5 meter pole topped with the Artemis 10 mission badge on it, if you get lost, Radio us and we’ll give you a location fix.” A double click of acknowledgement went over the comm, and Brian made his way back to the airlock.
As the outer door closed, and pressure came back to the room, Brian had just a moment’s panic. What if he opened his suit up early? What if the telltales misread full pressure when there was none? His one true fear in space travel was decompression, but he had told no one this, for fear he’d be judged unsound. Ever since he’d heard it described by one of the survivors of the Mir disaster during the rescue, he’d seen it happen to friends and family in his nightmares, or worse, his crew or himself. It had sounded like the worst way for a person to die. “Captain?” Brian groaned. Over the Radio, the voice of Catharine White, the ship’s doctor, spoke. “Are you okay?”
Over the comm, he said, “I’m fine, just misread one of the indicators, gave me a moment’s start.” He glanced at the pressure indicators, and felt his ears pop as the outside pressure equalized his suit’s.
“Okay, then. Airlock cycling.” Putting the doctor in charge of the airlock was either the best or the worst idea NASA command had ever had. Brian still wasn’t sure which, he mused as he stripped out of his suit.
“A pity you can’t leave the ship, doctor, you’d love it out there.”
“Well, maybe the next mission will have some medical redundancy, eh?” Brian smiled at that. Bantering with Catherine was half the fun of this mission. She was the only female on the ship staff, and while he knew the construction crew, he rarely felt comfortable talking to any of them except Adam.
“Maybe,” Brian said as he almost floated into the medical center.
“I know that’s the plan for the Base once it’s up and running. The final decision on that crew hasn’t been made yet, you could be there.”
Catherine smiled. “And you? Would you want to be there?”
“You kidding?” Brian shook his head. “We don’t know the effect the moon will have long term on human physiology, we’re still working out what microgravity does. And don’t say it’ll be the same, just lessened; here the local acceleration will be a constant 1.62 meters per second squared, not variable depending on what you’re doing. This will be an entirely new long-term experience.”
“Okay, okay, I won’t.” Catherine shook her head. “I was the medical for the ISS for nearly six months, you know.”
Brian nodded. “But the ISS wasn’t supposed to be self-sufficient after a startup. Apollo Base is. The ISS had regular dockings with American, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and European vessels. I doubt you went five days without a way to get off in case of emergency. Also, you had the rotating section for full gravity exercise. Here, an exercise wheel would just make people sick with…” Brian trailed off, looking pensive. Catherine wordlessly handed him a pad of paper and a pencil, having seen this look before. He quickly did some calculations, tapping some numbers onto his undersuit’s calculator. “Okay. If you angle the floor at about 11 degrees from vertical, with a constant acceleration of 9.61 meters per second squared, in a sort of funnel shape, you’ll be able to get it working without that problem.”
Catherine glanced at his drawing. “They should give you a bonus for all these ideas you come up with. That should reduce muscle atrophy by quite a lot. Only trick is to get people onto it without hurting themselves.”
Brian shrugged. “Make it a concave shape large enough and you can walk on up, apparent gravity increasing but staying perpendicular to the floor. It would have to be pretty damn tall, though.” He glanced around, then out the window across the Mare. “With any luck, you won’t have to deal with anything worse than strained muscles, most of the spots aren’t too active, and the construction crew seems to have taken the low-grav training to heart. Meanwhile, I should go make sure Eric gets some exercise.”
The next morning, Brian found the weather report interesting. “Hmm, that new sunspot, the one they’re calling 7902 seems to be becoming more active. Stroke of luck for the Russians that Blizko’s right on top of it.” He switched to the intercom. “It looks like we’ve got some unexpected sunspots opening up on the sun, so keep your ears open for the proton storm warning. We haven’t picked up the radiation shelter for the base yet, so I expect you to get on the crawler and get back to the Verne in no more than an hour, just to be safe.” He turned to Eric. “Keep an eye on that telemetry, maybe we can improve our forewarning with the data we’re being provided.” Eric nodded. “Meanwhile, I think they’ll need to do at least one drill on the crawler today, I’ll go talk to Adam.”
Bouncing lightly down from the command deck, Brian found Adam fairly quickly. Adam looked up from a manual he was reading. “What do you want, captain?” Brian glanced at the manual. It seemed to be a complete manual on the crawler.
“Oh, I was just going to suggest you do a drill on loading into the crawler sometime today. See how quick you can get everyone in. I don’t think we should expect a proton storm today, but best prepared.” Adam nodded. “So, getting to know your ship?”
Adam smiled. “Yeah. Apparently, it’s got radiation shielding around the engine housing. Some sort of low-grade radioactive material in the engine, it seems. No worries for the time we’re going to spend around it, but when the Base is crewed, they’ll be happy it’s shielded.”
Brian nodded, and then smirked. “Figures, something like that on Earth, everyone’d be yelling about a possibility of exhaust increasing the background radiation count by one millirad for no more than six hours, up here, not so many worries.” Adam shrugged. “Anyways, we’re going to look at the telemetry on the Russian solar probe, we might be able to predict the storms before the 10.7 alarm does after a few of them. Take care out there, okay?” Adam nodded.
Copyright 2011, Cameron McCoy
Cameron McCoy has lived most of his life in Seattle, WA, with a brief interlude in Salem, OR, as well as St Petersburg and Kirov, Russia. He is 28 years old, and has taken far too long in getting his Bachelor's degree in Physics and Astronomy, and is now taking too long in heading off to grad school for Astrophysics. He has run tabletop roleplaying games for his friends and family since he was 6, but this is the first piece of writing he ever considered finished enough to get published.