The Nexus OdysseyHylton Smith / Science Fiction
The Nexus Odyssey
Copyright 2009 by Hylton Smith
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the publisher,
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters and incidents are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.
Sincere thanks to Rhys J. Smith and Anne Flint for their patience, support and suggestions.
Now that the hype was finally over the real mission could at last get underway. Leaving the space elevator and boarding the most sophisticated exploration vessel humanity could engineer seemed to have been overshadowed by the never-ending broadcasts. The hopes of the species rested in their hands.
The year was 2033, and the project had been planned for 20 years. The projections had indicated meltdown of the increasingly tenuous balance of world food supply, energy and raw material requirement, climate change and population growth. Programmes designed to offset the tipping point were not enough to achieve the trend reversal in time. These counter-effects such as research on food synthesis, alternate fuels, recycling, coupled with more viral pandemics, were themselves affected in different ways by the advent of nanotechnology. This branch of science offered lower energy food production and manufactured goods and at the same time extended life expectation with artificial organs. The mathematical modelling suggested an additional dimension had to be explored with immediate effect. The most surprising element in this undertaking was the relatively short time it took for the global acceptance of such a venture. When everyone is threatened by a common enemy, unification becomes the new currency.
Colonisation of another planetary body had always been contemplated; now it was prioritised to happen. The Confederation of Nations, charged with the design and implementation of this emergency escape route, named the project ‘Salvation’. The brief was not simply to oversee successful habitat capability. The chosen destination had to cover terraforming prospects, new materials research, and the scope of population migration. This in itself shaped the makeup of the crew to a degree and underpinned the importance of a similarly qualified response team at project headquarters in Beijing.
The relative contribution of nations had changed markedly since the first decade of the 21st century. The new superpowers of China and India were leading the way in terms of economic and technological input. Russia and the USA made up the big four.
The Commander of the Copernicus - Stenninger Magnusson - had masters in physics and psychology, complimented by special operations experience in polar missions. In his native Sweden the 38 year-old was relatively unknown until the last three years. He was relieved to be leaving Earth Orbit at last, and his feelings were shared by the rest of the crew. Once underway, the final briefing from Beijing would be conducted, and they would truly begin to function as a tight knit team – all those years of secret preparation would click into gear.
With coordinates locked in and target velocity achieved, Communications Officer Javier Veltrano informed Magnusson that Beijing had come through on the main VDU with predictable punctuality. Beijing Controller Roberto Xiang confirmed all parameters were correct and as this had been rehearsed many times there was no need to dwell further on detail. He suggested second contact in two Earth hours. Xiang was born in Florence. His father, having spent his early career in the Chinese Embassy in Rome, moved to Tuscany when he married Lisa Maria Galdoni. Xiang had been educated in Zurich and specialised in Astrometrics, Propulsion Technology and Probability Theory. He was rigidly focussed on scheduling and conformance of data assembly, yet somewhat pragmatic about conclusions drawn from apparently aberrant information derived from such data. These qualities were considered to be influential in his appointment to head up Beijing Mission Control.
Magnusson asked First Officer Indira Banjani to get the crew together in thirty minutes. He would take the helm in her absence. This gave him a chance to consider - for the thousandth time - the problems involved in decelerating a heavy vessel (with seven crew members), in a low density atmosphere. There was a window of ninety seconds to slow from Mach 5 to Mach 1. This was to be achieved by a Supersonic Decelerator or Hypercone. This device although tested in small scale vacuum tunnel mock-ups and predictive computer modelling, was untried in the actual scenario because of time and resource constraints. The huge doughnut skin girdled the vessel and would inflate very quickly with gas rockets to create a conical shape. This inflation was to occur about 10K above the surface while travelling at Mach 4-5, then, after peak heating of the Silicon-Vectran material, the hypercone would act as an aerodynamic anchor to slow the vehicle to Mach 1. The section weight limit was 40-60 tons. From Mach 1, subsonic parachutes and thrusters would land the vehicle.
This weight restriction had imposed a design feature of Main Spacecraft - Descent/Ascent module - Habitat and Lander. The Lander would have to comprise Rover and power source facilities. The science lab would be part of the descent module as this carried the crew and sensitive equipment, and consequently had the most sophisticated hypercone. Each section had to come in at less than 60 tons. Why was this required? Simply because Mars had too little atmosphere to slow a vehicle heavy enough to carry everything needed for such a complex, one-chance-only mission.
The discussions on launch were governed by time needed for proving technologies versus optimum orbital proximity of Earth and Mars. This inevitably pitted the politicians against the scientists. The conflicting parameters were stark. Between 2018 and 2020, the two planets were closest. The next time such alignment occurred was 2033-2035.The earlier window had been too soon for the Carbon Nanotube technology to be developed for the space elevator when the project was initiated in 2013.The Copernicus mission also needed to have a backup, arriving one year after the first landing to relieve the initial crew and bring new facilities to progress the colonisation technology. The trips would each take 10 months. The space elevator was a critical part of the plan, as ground assembly of rockets was expensive, and still prone to explosive failure. The progressive colonisation requirement demanded the reliable launch capability that Earth orbit assembly offered as well as having favourable cost per launch ratio in the long term.
The Copernicus launch was to be March 2033 and the Darwin March 2034. This gave a mere two months between Copernicus’ arrival on Mars and Darwin’s launch, for any required changes of cargo facilities for the latter. This whole schedule of course was far too short, in the view of the scientists, for stepwise missions to verify the complex interdependent design systems to deliver, land and establish habitat in the new world. These same scientists knew they would have to compromise if the follow up missions beyond 2035 were to stand any chance of expanding the colonisation.