Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
The Second Space Age of Man is often referred to as “The Golden Space Age”; heavily romanticized with epic tales of adventure, danger, and discovery. Whole books and movies have been dedicated to its legends of heroes and peril, as the early Martian astronauts struck out into the vast unknown in great ships with little more than a hope and a prayer to aid them on their way.
But the romance of history often betrays the reality. While it’s true that there were many discoveries during The Second Space Age, and it’s often believed that epic figures, such as Tia Mara the Pirate Queen or The Solar Barons, are based in some sort of factual events, what is often underscored is the not only tedious task of navigating the stars, but – even during The Second Space Age – how truly dangerous that journey could be.
The conquering of the time barrier, the relative breaking of the light speed limit, is generally considered the herald of The Second Space Age of Man; when the great generational star ships departed the Martian system in route to distant stars in a quest to spread out throughout the cosmos, find new resources, and establish mankind as a truly interstellar species. And these massive ships were testaments to the technical achievements of their creators; powerful and complex, carrying thousands of people into the inky unknown safely within their guarded vaults.
Except they were actually anything but safe.
As with most human endeavors eagerness and self-confidence carried the day when actual fact and hardware weren’t available. So while these early, mighty ships were able to travel a thousand light years in only a couple of centuries they only had the most rudimentary provisional support for some of the most prevalent and dangerous hazards to face in space; prolonged exposure to micro-gravity and cosmic radiation chief among them.
Some of the early designs tried to incorporate habitat rings that depended on centrifuge motion to supply a form of artificial gravity. The initial concepts had a habit of jamming up or even tearing tracks and motors during trips; often leading to whole rings having to be abandoned mid trip, which could lead to nightmares of redistribution of supplies and living spaces to accommodate the needs of the ship crew and passengers. In some notable cases – as in the flight of UF 1121 “Hermes” – the main actuator assembly had a catastrophic failure in which it tore through the outer hull of the habitat ring causing a total environmental collapse of the habitat, massive loss of life, and the scrubbing of the settlement mission.
As designs took advantage of new technologies to initially internalize centrifuge habitat rings, before the technology became eventually unnecessary and obsolete, the second hazard to long term space flight provided a much greater challenge; cosmic radiation.
Emanating from many cosmic bodies and events, cosmic radiation travels for light years in currents through space, often nearly undetectable until it is almost on top of you. Its radiation is potent; able to penetrate many structures and materials, and can – in some cases – kill you within minutes of exposure. And outside the protection of an atmosphere low level constant exposure is an ongoing threat that can have devastating consequences to even the most robust organism.
Initial ships during The First Space Age of Man didn’t travel too far beyond the confines of Mars, earth, and the greater Solar System. These shorter, more close to home journeys weren’t at as much a threat. Establishing of the station colonies during and after The Greatest War utilized burying structures under asteroid surfaces in order to take advantage of the natural protection of the surface.
As travel began to be longer, and at greater, more exposed distances, bulkheads became heavier and more reinforced, and crews spent most of their trip enclosed in shielded pods; often in a form of induced stasis. Better sensors and early warning detection systems meant crews could stay out, and active, longer; being able to retreat to the safety of radiation bunkers within ships. But these options weren’t always reliable and effective, especially when bombardments could last days. And the cost and logistics of building ships with such bulky hulls and costly shielding severely limited the implementation of a stellar fleet
While the development of new plating technologies and the introduction of circulating hull water jackets helped to alleviate the issue some, the final solution came from one of the most unexpected sources; engine design.
The challenge with developing a functional and practical gravity drive came with the high magnetic fields the engine would create during operation. These would have disrupting affects on a wide variety of machinery and computer systems vital to ship operation; not to mention the potential hazards to the health of the crew. During hangar tests and simulations engineers from Orbital Sciences, in conjunction with the Sierra Nevada Corporation, began to experiment with reconfiguration of the engine nacelles and field coils when they found that, under certain parameters, they could form a controllable field around the engine, shunting off magnetic forces and interference to manageable levels.
While this was useful in protecting ship operations, it was the secondary effect that caught the team by surprises; they had inadvertently also created the prefect radiation shielding. The field’s output was acting in much the same way as the field of a planet would, absorbing and deflecting nearly all but the most potent of radiation.
The Boeing 999 was the first ship to employ a combination of the engine field output shielding (EFOS) in combination with new advances in hull fabrication and the circulatory water jacket scrubbing process. A test ship, it demonstrated the effectiveness, and affordability, of the design and revolutionized space travel. Eventually ship manufactures begin to develop their own EFOS systems, and by half way through The Second Space Age of Man, The Golden Space Age, man saw impressive strides to the stars, laying not only the foundations for the romance of the era to follow, but setting the stage for the formation of The United Corporate Commonwealth, and man’s true place among the stars.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Watching Green and Mad Man coming in Squawk asked Maps; “How does that prayer go, again; ‘our lord who arte in Nashville; Elvis be his name’…?”
Maps shook her head. “I don’t know, I’m not religious.”
Green pumped his legs hard, but was aware Mad Man was falling behind. “Shake it out solider; we’re gonna miss our bus.”
“I… I don’t…” Mad Man was huffing and puffing hard as he tried to talk. “… not thinking I’m gonna make it, boss.”
“T minus nothing and five, guys!”
Reaching back with his other arm Green took hold of Mad Man’s shirt and with a heave tossed him the last hundred or so feet out over the cliff. Then, with a yell, sprung up in the air in a mighty leap. Seeing their captain now air born, Maps and Squawk looked at each other and followed them out into midair. Just as gravity took hold of them, there was the roar of engines and the humming of gears as the boarding portal on the side of the boxy shuttle slid open. The ship over took them, rolled on its side, and slowed just enough to swallow the group up; the image of the approaching war hawk now filling the open door as they tumbled in. “Now, FF! NOW!”
With the shuttle horizontal, Bailey lit the engines and the shuttle screamed forward out from under the diving war hawk. Green looked back through the still open door and saw the pilot’s last ditch effort to pull up as it slammed into the valley floor, spraying wreckage and fire.
Looking back with a smile Bailey spoke into his headset mic; “Base, this is Tango Tango Two Niner; I have my company and am Romeo Tango Bravo. Over and out.”
Green hit the closure on the shuttle door and began to walk to the front of the shuttle to take the second chair while the rest of the unit settled down in the hold area. “FF, that was yet another direct disobey of orders by a superior and disregard for the chain of command. Aside from Maps’ obligatory call for your court martial-“
“That man has no business in the corps!”
“As I was saying, besides the usual call for your head, what shall I do with you, mister?”
“Give him a couple demerits, boss,” Mad Man, piped up.
“Yeah,” added Squawk, “and make him buy the first round, too.”
“With one dissenting, it’s so noted. Take us home, fly boy; I’m thirsty.”
The night air clung harder to everything than it did in the day; the low drone of the nocturnal wildlife and insects an intermittent symphonic cacophony. Foot traffic was minimal in the dim light of the makeshift outpost, made of small portable buildings and tents. Most soldiers wore only the barest of essentials; fatigue pants, boots, and a light tank top or t-shirt that was, more often than not, stained by sweat and the humidity of the air. From the mess tent Squawk and Mad Man stumbled out, singing some war song, helping each other walk as straight as they could possibly muster between them. Green and Bailey stepped out into the damp night air and watched them as they walked toward the tent barracks.
“Got ourselves a couple days off-duty time, kid,” Green said, with is hand on Bailey’s shoulder. The trace of alcohol evident in his speech. “Any plans?”
“Nah. I’m still in air corps, so I figure I’ll pick up another rotation, tomorrow. Need to batten down the shuttle, first. Give you light weights a chance to sleep it off.”
Green smiled, stepping back with just a little sway in his step. “Okay, then. See you in a couple, Flying Fists. Don’t get your ass shot down, now; I need my best pilot.”
At the makeshift air field the shuttles and other craft were covered by large tarps that were latched to spikes in the ground. In the darkness of night they looked a lot like a field of tiny mountains. Justin stepped up to his shuttle and ducked under the tarp, entering through the shuttle door. In the low light from some of the instruments on standby he could see Maps’ tall slender frame sitting in the second chair, a very large bottle of beer in her hand.
She took a drink from her bottle. “You know what I can’t figure out, airman?”
“No, Maps,” he answered as he sat at the pilot’s seat, punching up a display. He turned to look at her. “What?”
“You, that’s what.” She took another long drink from her bottle. “I mean, how does a someone like you,” she said motioning to him, “end up here with us?”
Justin punched up a couple of check lists silently, checked some read outs, and got out of his chair. “I don’t know, Maps,” he started to answer as he opened an access hatch in the hold wall, “maybe I’m just lu-“
“Damn it, that’s what I mean!” Justin wasn’t sure if it was frustration, anger, or just the beer behind her outburst. “I am a lieutenant, airman. You should be addressing me as so, as your su-peer-ior,” she barked with a beer inspired slur. She got out of the second seat and started to stumble her way toward him. “He’s Sargent Mulligan, not ‘Mad Man’. And Specialist Reuder is not ‘Squawk’. And I don’t even wanna go into that trouble ya’ll could have got into, that stunt with Captain Greene.” Her heavy emphasis on her last line threw her slightly off balance, making her brace herself on the bulkhead wall with her hand. She slumped forward into his face with as much a serious look as she could muster.
“One time, to procure something Mad Man couldn’t get on his one, and you’re still bent? We never said he was a colonel; just a friendly – “
“Don’t give me yer lip, airman,” she drunkenly cut him off. She swayed a touch as she pointed at him with her beer laden hand. She tried to get in his face, but Justin went about his work adjusting valves with a couple of spanners from a nearby tool box.
Even in the dim light of the shuttle hold Justin could tell how hard Maps was focusing on him; her eyes a touched blurred by beer. He dropped the spanners back in the tool box and button upped the bulk hatch. Picking up the tool box he walked a few feet over to a floor hatch, knelt down, and opened the hatch. He surveyed another set of pipe gauges and began to tinker with valves.
“See,” she continued, “I worked damn hard to get where I am. I know the respect and dedication it takes to be a good solider; a good officer. But you, well you’re just some punk kid; all sass and spit and jokes and everyone just loves you.” She stood over him, looking down with condescension in her eyes.
Justin, biting back on his anger, stopped what he was doing, put the spanner down, and looked up at Maps, now looming over him. “With all due respect, LEUITENANT,” he said with sarcastic emphasis, “you can take your man’s army and you can fucking shove it.”
“Ex… excuse me?!”
Justin got to his feet, looking up into Maps’ eyes. “You heard me,” he said, allowing his anger to rise just a little. “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be here at all. I had my way I’d be back with my dad and my crew building homes and colonies and generally feeling good about life. But no, here I am; in the middle of someone else’s hell hole making fly time while people are trying to put holes in me where holes ought not to be.”
This time he stepped into her face with a fierceness she had never seen from him, ever. It took her by surprise, and she retreated a step or two back.
“If I had my way, I’d be back on that tub with my dad, and my company, doing something that matters; making tomorrow for good folks, building futures, and being with the people what matter to me and mine. Instead I’m conscripted into a world of stupid for his majesty’s royal army, playing toy solider, helping clean up some distant cousin’s shame from decades ago for the good of the empire.
You want to be a good little killer? Fine. Go blow holes in people and places; get your shiny metals and your victory parades. But this is your mess I’m stuck in, LEUTIENTANT; so if a few quirky names and a little making jolly gets me through the other side of your sick idea of a life, then that’s what I’m making for.”
Justin stooped down and picked up a spanner. “Now, if you can’t make yourself useful,” he said, waving the spanner at her, “there’s the door,” he said, pointing with it. His face was stern, slightly hardened with anger, while hers was in complete shock. An awkward and uncomfortable silence fell over the hold of the shuttle.
Then, suddenly overcome with bizarre feelings she wasn’t prepared for, Maps reached out, took hold of Justin’s t-shirt, pulled him to her, and planted the most desperate kiss of her life on his lips. Justin, reeling in shock from the unexpected turn of events, lost his footing, and the two tumbled to the floor; her landing squarely on top of him.
“Maps…!? You’re drunk; I don’t think –“
“Oh, for once in your life, Bailey,” she said in a heavy breath, cutting him off, “shut the hell up and just follow orders.”