Sunday, July 22, 2012
Landing proceeded as smoothly as I planned. The ship had zero problems in landing itself. If it had, then I would be quite crossed for a while. Following that spell, I would likely be dead. For centuries ships have either landed or docked themselves, or participated in a semi-autonomous fashion. Despite the fact that there is no way an AI can screw up a landing, some humans prefer to take the controls themselves. They claim that it makes the ship feel like an extension of their own body. As far as I can tell, controls feel like controls; plastic, glass and composites.
My survey of the planet begins in the Sunward Hemisphere, directly beneath the sun. I dubbed it the Sunspot Desert. A quick scan of the landing zone indicates the temperate can exceed three hundred fifty Kelvins. If life on Earth taught me anything, it is to expect life in unexpected places, even a desert that approaching the boiling point. Looking at the baked desert beneath the pink sky, I wonder if any water is to be found. I might have to deploy a drill probe.
As soon as the lander was safely on the ground, I prepared for my first excursion. The Sunspot Desert was hotter than any on Earth, but at least here I will not have to worry about acidic rain. A standard environmental suit, a design that has existed for centuries, should have no problem radiating off any excess heat. After all, they were designed to operate the surface of Mercury, which ranged plenty hotter. It could probably handle the heat of Venus, but anyone fool-hearty enough to stroll the surface of that planet would need a specialized E-suit to handle the pressure.
I launch the first of many probes. For such an open space as a desert, I chose one of the aerial probes, a simple balloon design from the University of Nairobi. Zoologists in East Africa used the design for observing the wildlife of the savanna. I do not expect to see any lions or antelope running around the desert, but the probe will zoom in on any fauna out in the open. My first thought would be to wait for nightfall, for that is what one would do on Earth in a similar setting. Lalande long since liberated Hypnale from the curse of day-night cycles. One of the reasons I chose the Sunspot Desert first was to studying just how life copes with it being high noon all the time.
After I launched the probe, I decided to take a step outside. I have no way of telling just how long the probe will take to find anything. It might not find anything in this part of the world. While I wait, I might as well take some soil samples. I might not be as intimate with an E-suit as a Spacer, but I have no trouble donning the suit. I remember watching other researchers at Europa Station putting on an E-suit for the first time. I wonder if I was as equally clumsy. E-suits are solid pieces with servo-enhanced limbs. Not quite powered armor, but I imagine such formidable weapons would not be necessary here. At least I hope so.
As soon as I step into the suit the HUD on my visor comes to life. Standard E-suits display nothing all that exotic, just information such as temperature, pressure, atmospheric composition, and most importantly, remaining power on the life-support system. I worry more about power than I do air. Millions of nanites inhabit filters in the suit, taking the carbon dioxide I exhale and breaking it down into carbon and oxygen. The carbon is stowed away for later removal. The best attribute to these nanites is that water in high concentration will deactivate them, so nobody needs to worry if they accidentally inhale the machines.
There was absolutely no prompt or pageant when I stepped foot on Hypnale. My feelings were mixed to the occasion. On one hand, I was the first human to ever visit the planet and was hoping for a little fame. On the other hand, I had approximately three months to survey an entire planet and decided I should get down to work. No famous first words no live press conference, just me with a long scoop. Despite myself, I did take a moment to just observe the strangest world I have yet to visit.
The bleached red-white rocks and pink sky were not the strangest sights on the planet. Actually, the strangest sight was not even on the planet. Directly overhead throbbed Lalande 21185, larger than life. I have never seen a sun take up so much space. Though it is much small in Sol, in terms of volume as well as mass, Hypnale orbited just under zero-point-one AU. Even then, it was far dimmer than what my biology evolved. I could safely look at the sun here. In a sense, it was more like looking at the never-blinking eye known as Jupiter from one of its moons than looking at a real star. It pumped out plenty of heat to compensate. My HUD displayed a temperature just twenty degrees shy of boiling.
Without my E-suit, it would be rather intolerable. Even with it, I lose my enthusiasm for the desert. Nothing stirred within visual range, nor did it within range of my suit’s sensors. Is this part of the world truly lifeless? The only way I would solve this question today was with a sample of the soil. I scoop up several hundred milligrams and retreat to the confines of my lander. The soil analysis shows the dirt to be nearly desiccated. It had not enough moisture to even form a drop of dew. There were but a few traces of organic compounds, but no lifeforms. My first sample of Hypnale has proven a total bust. How can I put into the words the frustration I felt of being on a planet I know has life, but cannot find even a microbe? I decide to give the airborne probe a day or two to survey the area before moving starward; east just does not seem to be an apt direction on a planet without day and night.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
One plus to be revived so late I discovered was that time flew much faster. After four days out of the pod, Venture Star was making its closest approach to Hypnale. They would not arrive anywhere near orbit, for their destination was a Lagrange point between the star and its third planet. They needed a place with plenty of raw material as well as open space for the warp gate. The asteroids there lacked heavier elements, but there should be more than enough aluminum, titanium and other light metals for the Spacers’ desires.
The whole system was low in metals; hardly surprising given the low metalicity of Lalande. Though Hypnale was much larger than Earth in respect to volume, it was far less dense. Surface gravity would not be too alien for my Terran origins. It will feel much more like home than the half-gravity on the ship. Beyond that—Hypnale will prove to be a very alien world. As my time for launch approached, I begin to wonder if my time studying tubeworms on Europa has adequately prepared me to launch a major expedition over the surface of an entire planet. Eight light-years from home and a couple hours from landing was poor timing for a case of cold feet.
Venture Star’s crew aided me in preparing the lander for its departure. Or rather they aided in preparing my own departure. I never did fit in on this ship. Even if I had not been born and raised on the surface of Earth, I doubted I could have fit int. Spacers were such a close-knit and closed off society. I could spend a lifetime amongst them and I have the suspicion that my grandchildren would be considered outsiders.
The Captain was kind enough to visit me before I departed. “We’ll have the gate functioning within three months. If you’re not back in space by then, you can wait for the next ship to pick you up.” I do enjoy a good pep-talk.
I wonder when the next ship will arrive. One thing was certain, it would not be the shipload of colonists I feared when I first set forth on this decades’ long journey. I suppose it could be worse. If this were an earlier epoch of history, the ship would be full of refugees, and they would not care how toxic the planet is, as long as their neighbors did not try to kill them. Months will probably pass before the next ship arrives. If academia decided to move at an even more glacial pace than usual (I should know, being part of it) then it might even be years.
Months I could probably manage. I packed more than enough supplies onboard my lander to last for the three month period the Captain so graciously granted. As for years—the only way I could survive for years is if life on Hypnale were metabolically compatible with me. Euroforms have proven most incompatible with terraforms, and I see little reason why hypnalaforms would be any different. I wonder if I could grow any crops in Hypnale’s soil. Obviously I would have to bring it into the ship and a safer environment before I could make any attempt.
One of the bonuses of living on my lander is that I never have to worry about packing. While on Venture Star, I do not have to worry about keeping the place tidy for company either. The few visitors to bless my dwellings did so for business, not pleasure. As the technicians left, I thanked them for their services. Their only response was a simple nod of acknowledgement. I gave up trying to get additional heating units installed. The lander was always chilly, having not fully warmed up after years at interstellar lows. I suppose having it the same temperature as space did prevent the fuel from boiling away. Unlike a starship, I am not blessed with infinite (or as near to infinite as to make little difference) energy. Sooner or later, Spacers will put vacuum-fluctuation generators on their city-ships and will then up and leave the Sol System for good.
Their constructions last so long that the only thing I can think of holding them back is fuel. Surely they would not need any replacement parts until they reached a new star. My own people pride themselves in building to last. Though it took centuries to build, the orbital towers and ring around Earth have lasted for over a thousand years, and with little need or replacement. City-ships, on the other hand, we designed to last tens of thousands of years. Excessive perhaps, but it made more sense than say building a dam upriver from a major population center and design it to last only fifty to a hundred years.
The order to launch came shortly after lunch. Launch might be too strong of a word. My lander was crammed into one of the Venture Star’s holds, so when the time comes, I am simply jettisoned like so much refuge. As the clock ticked away (Spacers do not believe in countdowns, something about them being a melodramatic waste of time) the only thing I could think about was weightlessness. I fervently hoped that the gravity field would not fail. I have only been weightless a handful of times in my life, and each time my stomach did its best to turn inside-out. It even succeeded on occasion, resulting in my last meal floating around the cabin.
Since what was once a command deck is as near spotless as I can make it, I really do not feel like cleaning off the consoles during my flight to Hypnale. As I said, it was once a command deck where several crewmen were needed to operate the ship. Since all I was planning to do was take-offs and landings, I only need a single console to control the ship. Even then, I am pretty much telling the ship what to do, and the software takes care of the rest. I remind myself to be careful of what I tell the ship since AIs are known to be stupid at times. Do not misunderstand me, the AI has a vastly greater processing power than the human mind, but the old boys have such narrow minds.
The ‘launch’ was even less dramatic than the lack of countdown. With my own space drive already powered up, I did not even feel the kick my lander was given. On the display screen, I watched as the interior of a cargo hold quickly gave way to the blackness of space. Stars are so much easier to see here than they are back home. The red dwarf sitting at the heart of the system is so faint that a planet at one A.U. might well be as cold as Neptune. Once I am clear of the ship, and by it, I give the order for the lander to fly towards Hypnale. As slow as the lander lumbers forward, I reckon I should be in orbit early tomorrow morning.