Robin de Voh
writer, developer, nerd

Nanoprep 2018 Day 5: the Other Way

By Robin de Voh on 2018-10-05

"The launch is going to be amazing," Darren said, staring at the screen in amazement. "That's not what the social media pundits are saying," Cecile said, raising an eyebrow. "Fuck 'em," Tyler shouted from the other side of the room.

They were at Dione Space HQ, a small private aerospace company that was working on launching a test flight of their first crew payload capsule. They had launched multiple times, using their Helene rockets, and had garnered quite a following, as well as lucrative contracts to launch private satellites. With their crew capsule, they hoped to land a NASA or ESA contract to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.

Darren was both the founder and CEO, a passion project grown into an actual business. It was customary for him to celebrate with Cecile, the flight director, and Tyler, lead designer, the day before the launch of a new piece of kit.

The Soyuz was reliable, but that was because it was so simple. Everybody knew it couldn't last. The Space Shuttle was too complicated, the Soyuz too simple. There was room for something in between, something modern. The Soyuz was first used in 1967, that was over 40 years ago by now, and Dione Space had put all of their money on the line to prove that they -- not one of their competitors -- was to be the next in line to provide safe, affordable -- modern! -- and reusable crew transport.

It had been tested in every single on-the-ground scenario. It had withstood pressure they would never encounter in space. It withstood particles hitting it at speeds far exceeding what they would encounter in space. Microscopic debris, radiation, everything. It had passed with flying colors -- maybe not the first iteration, but the current iteration definitely had.

The launch vehicle was simple. A Helene Buffalo, their biggest rocket so far -- so named because Helene is a moon of Dione -- would lift it out to orbit and then release. The Buffalo had also been tested multiple times, and had launched 9 satellites so far. It had a proven track record and NASA had been in talks with them for future launches.

Confidence was high. They felt they could pull this off.

The launch was tomorrow, and they had just finished the preparations. There were going to be mice on board, to test the stress of launch and to see if the life support system was up to the task of keeping alive things alive. The as-of-yet unnamed crew capsule -- they referred to it by its nickname Poly, short for Polydeuces, another moon of Dione -- would orbit the Earth for half an hour and then re-enter the atmosphere to land on auto-pilot.

Their phones all ringed at the same time.

They looked at each other after seeing the message on their phones' screens. It was a nation-wide emergency alert. Ongoing research had revealed that Yellowstone was poised to erupt, the biggest super volcano on the planet. And estimations were that it would set off a string of other eruptions, which may cause world-wide problems, including gas clouds that covered every single part of the sky, which might last a very long time.

A possible world-wide catastrophe.

They looked at one another in confusion.

"Is this for real?" Cecile asked, while opening up an app on her phone to check the news stream.
"This isn't a drill, is it?" Tyler asked.
"I don't think it is," Darren said quietly, seeming preoccupied.
"This is world-wide, guys. The news is coming in from every corner of the world," Cecile said.

They put down their celebratory drinks.

"We should postpone the launch," Darren said. As CEO of Dione Space, he had that power.

Cecile, Dione's flight director, nodded in agreement.

"We should get everyone to safety, rather than focus on doing a test launch," she agreed. "We'll postpone the launch indefinitely."

Darren shook his head.

"Not indefinitely. Not to keep people safe," he said, looking at them in turn.
"What do you mean?" Tyler asked.

Darren stood up and walked a few paces, his hands raised to his face.

"So, look," he started. "If this is as big of a catastrophe as I think it might be, based on what the news is saying, then we have to consider other options."
"Other options of what?" Cecile said, leaning forward.
"I've read stories about this stuff. I'm not a geologist or volcanologist -- if that's what it's even called -- but do you realize what months of no sunlight will do to us? Let alone the ash and dust in the air? The ripple effect through the tectonic plates?" Darren said with a hint of madness in his voice.

Cecile looked at Tyler, who seemed equally confused.

"No, not really. I'm also not a geologist or volcanologist. What are you getting at, Darren?"

Darren sighed.

"What I'm getting at is that perhaps, just perhaps, we should keep everything set to go at any time. See how things develop. And if they develop badly..."

Tyler threw his head backward in realization. "Oh my god, Darren, you're saying we should take the Poly out of here."
"I am," Darren said.
"That's crazy!" Cecile blurted out.
"Is it? We could go to the ISS, or, if the Poly performs well enough, we could get to Mars in due time and join the base they're building there."
"Poly isn't built to travel that far!" Cecile added. "And we haven't even considered landing in Mars' atmosphere either!"

Darren locked eyes with her.

"Cecile, if this planet turns to shit, and we have a way out of here, I say we take it."

She fell silent. Then Tyler spoke.

"We'll need to pack Poly full of rations."
"I know where we can get enough," Darren responded as he grabbed his phone.