Sunday, February 28, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 3 – The Moon and Meteors

Chapter 3 – The Moon and Meteors
As we sped through the void, the Moon loomed ever larger in the window. The stark desolation was overwhelming. In addition to the numerous impact craters, mountains and smooth plains suggest an active geologic past. Like myself, the men were entranced by the close up view of what we’ve only seen as a marble size object in the sky. However, it was not long before the Moon was retreating in the rear window and it was time to settle in to the monotony of the trip.

We settled into the routine of rotating through our stations. I varied the routine with tactical problems that I devised. When we were not performing our exercises, we would occupy the time with “campfire stories”. Because the platoon was made up of a diverse group of men from all walks of life, the stories were both entertaining and educational. Men like Private Slim Whitman, who came from Wyoming, regaled us with stories of cattle drives and buffalo hunts. Then there was Private Barney Schwartz, a Bronx native. He had stories of the Martian invasion and the attempts the common folk made to defeat them. He also held a bitter resentment against the Martians and was heading to the red planet with a big chip on his shoulder. He is a good soldier though and could be counted on when things get tough.

This is how things went on for five weeks. The routine helped us to gel into a cohesive unit, though by this time the sameness of space travel began to wear on us. Then a most singular event occurred. We had laid down for the sleeping period and all of the windows were closed. About two hours into the period, a loud bang reverberated through the ship. Startled men flew up from their beds looking for who knows what and rushing about in all directions. I called the men to attention in order to still the clamor so that I could get some answers from the ship’s crew. Presently the Captain came out to talk to us. Firstly, He said if there was any immediate danger, we would have already been dead.  He went on to explain that we must have been hit a glancing by a small asteroid.  He also stated that, because we were still alive, it did not puncture both layers of the ship’s double hull. This last part calmed the men to a degree.

Captain Thorpe said that they would need to inspect the exterior of the ship to ensure that there was no hidden damage that could cause us problems during the rest of the voyage. I asked how this could occur in the vacuum of space, knowing that entering that hostile environment would mean instant death. He then explained that special pressurized suits are worn to allow one to exit the craft in perfect safety. I immediately volunteered to don a suit and help with the inspection. The Captain assented and the crew helped me into the pressure suit. Seaman Quist was to join me on the inspection.

I donned a pressurized suit and was led into one of the small rooms near the bridge. Two of the crewmen hooked hoses into my suit and locked a helmet to the suit. The suit inflated with breathable air. The men made sure everything was functioning properly then left the room. The cabin door close and I heard a hissing sound. This was the air being pumped out of the room. When the hissing stopped, the exterior door opened. I clumsily moved out the door, the suit being inflated made normal movement difficult.

Once I was outside the ship, I was released from the gravitational effects of the actuators and was totally weightless. Fortunately, the designers of the suit placed magnets in the soles of the shoes. These magnets kept me in contact with the ship. Quist called to me via telephone lines run along with the air hoses. He asked if I were ready to begin the inspection to which I responded in the affirmative. Each of us began traversing the ship, from bow to stern and back again. As I neared the top of the ship, I discovered a crease in the skin of the ship. It started about two thirds of the way to the back of the ship and extended another ten feet. I signaled to Quist that I had found something to which he joined me at my location.

 We examined the indentation closely and could see no holes in the skin of our craft. Quist produced a can of fine powder. This we rubbed into the crease, looking for it to puff out, indicating a small leak in the hull. We carefully worked the entire crease but found no holes, thankfully. Quist handed me a paint brush and had me sweep the dust out of the crease. Quist followed me, packing the crease with some kind of putty. Once the job was completed, we made our way back into the ship.

When I got back to the landing, I could not help myself. I took hold of the handrail and detached my feet from the deck. I released the handrail and floated freely in space, aside from the air hose. While I could spin my body around by flexing, I could not change my relative position to the ship. The void of space offered not tangible material to push against so I could generate no thrust to propel myself. I grabbed the rail and pulled myself back to the deck. It was mind boggling to think I was moving thousands of mile per hour and would continue to do so as a solitary body in space.

I re-entered the ship and was immediately accosted by my men wishing me to describe the experience of my adventure. So, while I regaled the men with my tale, Seaman Quist reported our work to the captain. With all the excitement of the meteor strike, our regular routine was totally disrupted for the period. I decided that we’d start our routine again during the next period.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 2 – Embarkation, Liftoff, and the Discovery of a Stowaway

Chapter 2 – Embarkation, Liftoff, and the Discovery of a Stowaway
Once the final preparations and inspections were completed on our two vessels, the Albatross and the Arabella, we boarded and took our seats. The excitement was thick in the air, none of the passengers knowing what to expect. Presently, Captain Thorpe entered the passenger cabin and stated that we would be departing momentarily. The men looked around with apprehension, not  knowing whether sit down and hold on tightly, sit easily, or take some other posture. I was sitting by a window and looked out. To my astonishment we were several feet off the ground. I told the men that they should sit easy as we were in the air already. This started a rush to all the available windows through which the men stared in utter amazement.

Soon we were speeding rapidly away from the Earth. We rose rapidly, but there was almost no sensation of movement. I was told later that this was because the gravity inside the craft exactly matched that of Earth while outside, the ship was in a negative bubble that was lifting us into space. We passed through the clouds and continued up. The edge of the Earth began to show a curve and the sky darkened. It was now painfully apparent that we had left our home.

Looking around the vast expanse of around us, I saw the Arabella nearby. I noticed a light flashing from her pilot’s cabin. Then I saw the glow of a flashing light coming from our own pilot’s cabin. I asked one of the crewmen in our compartment what the signals meant. He told me that they were confirming their actuator settings so the we would travel together. Of course upon hearing this explanation, it made perfect and obvious sense. It was not long before we were speeding toward our goal. The captain emerged from the pilot’s cabin to tell us we were now completely free of the Earth. He also told us that as soon as we cleared the Moon’s orbit, we would accelerate to full speed towards Mars. 

Seaman First Class Quist (whom I asked about the signals) informed me that in about nine hours we would be passing near the Moon and that it would be quite a sight to see as we would be flying close by. It should be noted, as an aside, that our spacecraft have been attached to the Navy so the crew of our vessel uses the ranks of that branch of service. Since I had several hours to wait before our lunar encounter, I decided to organize the men into details to perform the various tasks I wanted to accomplish before we arrived at Mars.

I divided the platoon into 5 groups of four. During a 10 hour period (for there was no night and day) each group rotated through the five stations I devised. These were a study of all the literature on Mars, Practice with our weapons, turning the electric generators, calisthenics, and a free period. I knew this schedule would not get us all the way to Mars, so I was already working on alternative studies. This way, I could thwart the evils of idleness as much as possible. This schedule would start during the next 24 hour period, as the novelty of spaceflight occupied the men this first day.

A few hours into the flight, nervous energy was making me fidgety so I decided to work off some of the energy by taking a turn on the electrical generators. I had been cranking away for about an hour and was taking a breather when a strange noise caught my ear. I went back into the engine room and to my surprise Bully was waiting at the door to greet me. Bully was a stray dog that wondered into our training camp and was adopted by the men. He was well behaved and very intelligent. 

Bully and I went out into the main cabin to find the man responsible for our stowaway. When we arrived in the cabin I found nineteen guilty looking men in our presence.  I addressed the men, “Obviously, we are too far along in the journey to turn back, so Bully will join us on Mars.”  A cheer was raised which I silenced. I continued, “I only brought provisions for twenty. How do you men propose to feed our twenty first member?” The men looked about at each other, the floor, and the ceiling. I then said, “Every day, 5 of you will surrender part of your rations to Bully. I leave it up to you men to arrange the schedule.” With that, they were much relieved. As it turned out, Bully more than earned his keep on this adventure.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 1 - Outfitting The Expedition

Chapter 1 - Outfitting The Expedition

Theodore Roosevelt was attending Harvard College at the time of the first Martian invasion in 1879. Having survived the devastation, Roosevelt was convinced to finish his education. In 1880 he graduated and also married. Theodore was elected to the New York State Assembly during the rebuilding of the state. During this period, he made a name for himself, fighting corrupt building contractors and their government overseers and crusading for the rights of the common man.
In 1884, upon the death of his wife, Roosevelt moved out to his ranch in South Dakota, hoping that the rugged lifestyle would help his soul to heal. This it did and in 1886 he was back in civilization and entering his second marriage. It was while on his honeymoon that Theodore heard news of the second Martian invasion. He and his new bride rushed back to the U.S. However, he was too late to join the space fleet going to meet the Martians. Roosevelt was greatly disappointed by his bad luck. However, his spirits were bolstered when volunteers were required for a possible invasion force. Theodore immediately signed up and was made Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Interplanetary Cavalry.   
By 1887, Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and the 1st V.I.C. were ready to embark on the grand adventure to Mars.This is where our story begins, with Teddy making arrangements to embark his men and equipage onto spaceships bound for Mars.

Chapter 1 - Preparing for Embarkation
On February 16th 1887, I was informed that I would have two space craft at my disposal to transport as many men and supplies as I could stow aboard. As one ship could carry a maximum of 20 men plus the crew, I concluded that I and 19 of my fellows would take one vessel and our supplies would be carried in our companion vessel. It was suggested that I split the men between the two ships, with the view that if something happened to one at least some of our men would make it to Mars. I declined this advice, thinking it better to keep the unit together; for morale purposes and to ensure that all participated in learning exercises concerning life on Mars.

Having decided the matter of embarkation, my next task was to requisition the appropriate supplies. Obviously, tack and other accouterments for a mounted unit were unnecessary due to fact that we would not be taking horses. So, I focused my efforts on weaponry, ammunition, food, medical supplies, and other necessaries required for a troop in the field. 

I was able to procure 40 Springfield Trapdoor carbines and 40 Springfield Trapdoor Rifles. I took the carbines in the hope that once we got to Mars, I would be able to mount at least some of the men on indigenous animals. In addition to the above mentioned longarms, I was able to obtain 30 M1885 Remington-Lee bolt action rifles from the Navy. These weapons have a five shot detachable magazine which would help to increase our rate of fire. I felt this important, considering the limited number of troops we had on station at the time. All of these weapons were chambered to U.S. Government 45/70 cartridges, so there would be no problem with ammunition.

For sidearms, I acquired 40 Smith and Wesson Model 3 .45 caliber Schofield revolvers. While many in our military prefer the Colt, the break open action of the Schofield makes it much quicker to load. Because I figured to be greatly outnumbered all the time, I wished to have the maximum rate of fire available.

Mr. John M. Browining approached me to take two of his experimental air cooled machineguns. I was able to test fire one of these extraordinary little weapons. The rate of fire was inferior to the beloved Gatling, but its light weight made it a desirable weapon, so I agreed to take them along. I had hoped that these machineguns could be chambered for 45/70, so I would only have two types of cartridges to account for. Unfortunately, there was insufficient time to modify the weapons. Since the Colt’s ammunition was on belts, there was no chance of confusing it with the rifle ammunition in the heat of battle.

Having made satisfactory work of acquiring weapons, I turned my attention to victuals. I contacted several canning companies, including Campbell’s, H. J. Heinz, Underwood, and Borden. From these companies I purchased sufficient food for the duration of the space flight and for two months after arrival. Once on the planet, I intended to supplement our rations with native foods, slowly acclimatizing the men to the indigenous cuisine.

The remaining camp equipage was obtained from the U. S. Army. This material had been tested and proven rugged and reliable on campaigns in the western states against the Indians. Tents, stoves, utensils, tables, bedding, etc. were all provided. The next task was to get all of the provisions and gear stored aboard the two vessels.

Corporal Levasseur, a wonderful chap with numbers, and myself first went about dividing up the provisions into those going on the troop ship and those going on the cargo ship. As food and water are vital for survival on a long voyage, I wanted to ensure that our troop ship had ample supplies of both. Next, space was allotted for the men’s personal kit. In addition to clothing and toiletries, allowances were made each man to bring some small personal items. Knowing that idleness leads to conflict, I wanted each man to have something to occupy his mind during his off hours.

I decided to ship one of the machineguns, and five of the carbines and pistols on the troop ship. This was to allow the men to become familiar with the weapons and practice cleaning and repairing the weapons. I also had several inert rounds made up for each weapon so that we could practice loading and clearing the weapons. I opted for inert rounds to prevent an accidental discharge hurting someone or compromising the hull of our ship.

All of this work took a month to complete, so by mid-March we were ready to depart. The men and I took a few days to say our goodbyes to loved ones and make our final preparations for our departure. It was a bittersweet few days with the thought of leaving my new bride juxtaposed against the excitement of a great adventure to unknown worlds.