Chapter 1: Sardines
The seat was not all that comfortable. Daria looked at the back of the seat in front of her. The display showed the date – December 6, 2043. It all seemed a little surreal. Only a few weeks ago she had celebrated her sixtieth birthday. Now she was off to a totally new life. Everything was left behind. Daria had retired from Lawndale State University. The house was sold. The cars were sold. The children were all grown and had their own lives. The remaining possessions she had were either given to her children, sold or placed in a storage unit. All her other material possessions were in a 10 kg (22 lb) box.
There was a metallic clank. The sound was muffled through her helmet. Then she started to feel herself fall. No matter how much she trained or anticipated the feeling it was still jarring. She moved her hand slightly and touched Tom's hand. Daria started counting down from ten. Just as she got to one she felt the back of the seat slam into her. Her body was pushed deep into the seat – but only so deep. The padding wasn't that thick. Daria would have characterized it as being hit by a bus, but that would have been a little too poetic. Still, with the engine of the SolarGallactic craft's second stage firing at full thrust she effectively weighed two and a half times what she did on the ground.
After about three minutes another loud metal clank signaled the first auxiliary fuel tank being jettisoned. The engine continued to fire for another three minutes and then the second and final auxiliary tank was sent back to Earth and Daria experienced weightlessness in space for the first time – well, microgravity to be exact. Looking out the window she could see that the sky was now black and the world below a curved sea of blue.
The pilot came on and said, "Please stay in your seats for the duration of our flight. Keep your helmets on and connected to the oxygen system. We should be rendezvousing in about 45 minutes and expect to be docked about 15 minutes later."
Microgravity was definitely different than the freefall Daria had experienced in the 'vomit comet' – an airplane which flew flight paths leading to freefall and the ensuing simulation of weightlessness. Overall it was far less nauseating. Still, Daria was glad she had taken the anti-nausea medicine before boarding.
Daria looked out the tiny window again. The Earth was clearly receding as they gained altitude. The stars no longer twinkled. Daria closed her eyes and tried to relax. She dozed off almost immediately despite her excitement.
Daria awoke to the sound of the pilot's voice. "We have successfully rendezvoused with the MTV. It will now take about 15 minutes to dock." MTV – the Mars Transit Vehicle – would be home to Daria and Tom for the next two months.
Daria looked out her window and saw the MTV hanging there in space. Along the centerline she first saw the engine nacelle. Above it were the fuel tanks. Above those she saw the habitat and then the Mars Landing Craft or MLC. The ship's name "DaVinci" was clearly painted on the side of the habitat. There were three MLCs attached to the MTV. The MTV stayed in space. Its job was to move people and equipment between Earth orbit and Mars. The MLCs had only one job – get people and cargo from the MTV to the Martian surface. Then each would be cannibalized and used in fabricating habitats and other necessities. Remembering stories of early explorers of the vast Pacific Ocean she hoped that would be all that got cannibalized! On this voyage each MLC would take 12 people plus cargo to the surface.
Daria felt a slight jolt and once again the pilot came on and started speaking, "Folks we are now docked. As soon as the airlock is opened I want you to exit row by row beginning with the first row on the port side. Stay belted until it is your turn to exit. Remember to move yourself forward using the handholds. You cannot walk in zero gravity! Keep your helmets on until you have passed through the habitat airlock. The MTV crew will show you to your quarters and where to stow your suits. This is where I will be leaving you. Have a great trip to Mars!"
One by one people started unbuckling, getting up, and gingerly moving to and through the airlock. Tom got up and in the aisle looked back at Daria. She was unbuckling as he started to move forward. She followed him through the airlock.
The space she entered was essentially a cramped cylinder with an arrow pointing the direction toward the habitat module. The opposite direction was just an airlock door. So, Daria followed Tom up the ladder toward the habitat module. Of course, one didn't really climb the ladder. The rungs were just used as handholds to propel you along.
At the top of the ladder Daria found herself in a more spacious area. Looking around the décor was pretty much 'early submarine.' Every pipe, every cable and every wire was visible on the wall. In the space an MTV crew member was waiting. People floated around the room.
A crew member removed her helmet and the new arrivals did as well. "OK. Welcome to the MTV. I will call out your cabin number and then you will proceed there, change out of your flight suits and put on your coveralls. You will see that there are 3 pairs of coveralls in your closet. Wear a fresh set each day and when you put on your last clean pair put the others in the laundry. Your names are on each, so you need not worry about any getting lost. Same thing goes for underwear. You are allowed a shower every other day, unless you are particularly dirty. When you are done go forward to the dining room. You will get further orientation there. Oh, and put on your black boots not the red boots. Both are in your closet."
Daria followed Tom to their 'quarters.' Daria opened the sliding door.
Tom commented, "It is nice to be able to talk to each other again."
Looking into the room Daria replied in total deadpan, "Yeah. That was some ride! Now look at what we have here."
Depending on which metaphor you wanted to use it was either the size of a walk-in closet or a powder room. Either way it wasn't much bigger tha meters (6 ft 6 in square). Since this was a zero gravity area there was no bed. There were two sleeping bags – more like sacks – hanging on the wall. No need for a bed when there was no force pulling you down. Across from that was a set of built-in drawers and a monitor with a camera so it could be used as a mirror. Just outside of their quarters – one on each side – was a place to hang their flight suits and a "closet," which was really more of a locker, with 3 sets of coveralls and 3 pairs of boots for each of them.
Tom remarked, "I guess the bathroom is down the hall or whatever you want to call it."
"Joy," Daria replied. "Well, we didn't expect a cruise ship. From what I have read this is pretty spacious and luxurious for a spaceship." Turning around she looked at Tom and said, "But at least I get the opportunity to tell you that you are 'off the wall!' my love."
Tom put his arms around Daria and kissed her. That in itself was quite a feat without hitting anything.
Daria and Tom each changed their clothes. They noticed after strapping on their boots that the footwear seemed to stick to the deck. That certainly made it more normal to get around. At least they didn't float off as easily. Tom gave Daria another kiss before they headed forward to the dining room.
It was a strange sensation sitting in the dining hall. Daria's boots kept her on the deck. She was sort of sitting on a chair, but really kind of floating there. Meals should be interesting.
"Welcome to the DaVinci. I am Captain Goodman," the Captain said in a clear Texas drawl. "As you know, we will be spending the next two months together onboard this ship. Most all of the aspects of this voyage have been part of your training, but let me review a few key ones here. The most important thing is for everyone to get along. I expect polite and professional behavior at all times. While this is not a military vessel, nevertheless I am the final authority here under maritime law. I expect my orders to be obeyed. Once we are under way you will each receive a duty roster. Each of you has a role to play in this voyage even before you get to Mars. Also, you are expected to spend at least 3 hours per day exercising. Exercise is to take place in the rotating ring. The ring rotates at a speed which creates the equivalent of thirty eight percent of Earth gravity – that is Martian gravity. Now you all need to get down to the loading bay and stow all of the cargo brought on your flight. You need to hurry. The next flight will be here in less than two hours and the final flight three hours after that one. Oh, one more thing. We will have drills at random times. You must fully participate in each drill. Your life might depend on what you learn. Now listen to First Mate Stevenson as she gives you your first orders."
Daria listened as the first mate issued orders for people to go and stow gear. She looked at Tom and shrugged as the two of them went to the receiving area. It took almost two hours to get everything stowed either in the cargo bay or other parts of the ship. The cycle repeated itself with the arrival of each shuttle. Finally after almost 8 hours the cargo and other materials were all stowed. Dinner was announced, so Daria and Tom headed for the dining room.
Dinner was wrap sandwiches, salad, and iced tea or water – all in plastic pouches. At this point the goal was to feed everyone, now numbering over 40, and get underway. Daria and Tom had eaten "space food" during their training, but this was different. The sensation of eating was different. There was no gravity for the food to slide down your throat. You had to intentionally swallow and force it down. This required taking small bites. Well, it was certainly better than eating everything as paste like the early astronauts! One thing about Mars – they would be able to eat off of a plate again.
As people were finishing their dinners, the first mate stood up and announced, "Everyone needs to go to their quarters and get into their sleeping bags. These will provide sufficient restraint as we start up the main engines. The force created through firing ion engines is small, but the continuous thrust will propel us to the speed we need to reach Mars in just two months. Once we have the engines at steady state, we will go for trans-Mars injection. Once we are on the way to Mars, then we will call it a day and everyone can bed down for the night. Tomorrow we will start the ship's routine. Breakfast is at 0800 and we will be making assignments at 0830. Your room monitors will display ship's information on channel 2. I suggest you keep your monitors on to keep abreast of developments."
Daria and Tom were secured in their sleeping bags which 'hung' on the wall. Of course with no up or down even 'hanging' was a relative thing. Maybe attached to the wall was a better term. The two watched as the big ion engines were fired. The feeling of gravity returned, though only very slightly. The deck was now definitely 'down.' Even so, the force was so small it would be no problem sleeping in their current position.
"So long kids," Tom said.
Daria retorted, "You know they can't hear you."
"Even so, it will be years before we see them again."
Daria looked at Tom and said in her lecture voice, "They have their own lives, Tom. Sure they will miss us and we will miss them. We can return in five years if we want or we can stay for the full ten. Either way, this is our adventure. Neither of us has done anything this crazy in our entire lives. Besides, our kids and grandkids can tell our great-grandchildren that we were some of the first people to live and work on Mars! Anyway, we can send a video to them daily and they can reply. It is not like we were off to the New World on the Mayflower or something!"
Tom was quiet for a moment and then replied, "Yes, professor, you are right. Let's get some sleep." Tom reached over and turned out the light. From her breathing he could tell that Daria was asleep almost immediately. It didn't take long for him to fall asleep either.
Breakfast was good. Because there was some minimal "gravity" due to the MTV's acceleration the galley was able to cook and serve some real food. Today they got steak and eggs, which was a tradition stemming from the pre-flight steak and eggs breakfasts the early astronauts ate. Daria and Tom sat with another couple, Ben and Ruth, and discussed what they would be doing on Mars. Daria's Martian Professional Specialty (MPS) was as log maintenance and media specialist. This meant that she would be in charge of maintaining the master colony log by integrating the commander's log with other individual logs and create an ongoing and detailed narrative for the colony. As media specialist she would be the "librarian" and also select programming and entertainment for the colony as a whole. The media specialist was tasked not only with maintaining databases of books – of which there were only a few made of paper – and other media, but she was also responsible for seeing that research reports were written and archived in the proper databases. As usual in this sort of endeavor, her MPS was not the whole story. Because the colony was still very much under construction everyone had a Martian Vocational Specialty (MVS) as well. Daria's was welding. Most of her work as a welder would be managing welding robots crawling around on the habitat structure now under construction. However, there would likely be times when the robots would be unable to create certain welds. Then it would be Daria's chance to go in and lay down a welding bead! During her training she had passed the tests for well over a dozen certifications. Tom's MVS was as a heavy equipment operator. His MPS was resource management.
Breakfast concluded and Daria looked at her list of assignments. Her Vehicle Crew Responsibility (VCR) was as bridge crew – life support monitoring. Each person onboard had an MTV VCR. Tom's was maintenance supervision. It was clear to Daria that the reason everyone had a VCR was to keep them busy. The monitoring and even supervision could have been completely supported through the Digital Virtual Director (DVD). From her training Daria knew there was an MTV DVD, but on the way to Mars it was not being used – at least not being directly used – in order to have something for everyone to do in transit.
Daria's days would be full. She had two 4 hour shifts on the bridge, three hours of exercise split into three one hour sessions: before her first shift, after her first shift, and after her last shift. There was also an hour per day when she had to use the virtual reality simulation system (VRSS) to practice her MVS and then another two hours of work relating to her MPV. That left two hours per day to eat and have some recreation time before getting 8 hours of sleep. At least they got two half-days off each week.
Daria was glad that she and Tom would see each other at meals, which were scheduled after her exercise periods, and then again after their workdays were done. The thought briefly entered her mind that maybe one of these days they wouldn't be totally exhausted after the workday. Then they could actually try lovemaking in the very low gravity and once acceleration was done they could try it in zero gravity. There had to be some value to all of this!
Well, it was time to put on her flight suit, grab her helmet and report to the bridge. Bridge crew had to report in flight suits and bring their helmets. Should something happen the bridge crew needed to be immediately able to just put on a helmet and connect to the life support and communication systems. That way they could direct any emergency operations from the bridge. Spending her day in a flight suit left Daria longing to change back into coveralls and get that every other day shower.