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.