Chapter 2: Wholly!
It was the fifth week into the flight. They had been in zero gravity with the engines off for quite a few days, at least it seemed that way. They were still a couple of weeks from needing to restart the ion engines to slow down so they did not miss Mars completely. All of the people and cargo destined to land would have to be released quickly once they arrived, because MTV itself would not be going into orbit. It would go around Mars to take advantage of the slingshot effect. That plus firing the engines would send it back to Earth.
Daria was looking at her displays and acknowledging that values were nominal when through her seat she felt a slight shudder. That's when her displays started changing from nominal. Keeping her eyes on the display Daria shouted, "Captain, I am showing Section 27 with dropping air pressure, a massive leak in the carbon dioxide scrubbing system and multiple electrical failures. The drill light is not on!"
Captain Goodman replied, "Acknowledged Ms. Sloane." Then he started issuing orders. "Ship systems sound pressure alert. All hands into flight suits. Seal off Section 27. Damage control party to Section 27 in space suits. Life support, secure flow to the scrubber in Section 27. Then increase airflow to the section. Try to keep the pressure up for anyone who may be trapped there."
Daria and the others on the bridge received their orders and replied, "Aye, sir." Then they carried them out.
"Captain," the helmsman said. "We are starting to drift. Based on what I am seeing my guess is that we are losing air on two sides of the ship."
"Roger," the captain replied. "Compensate with thrusters as needed. Keep us on course."
Daria was moving quickly to get air flowing into Section 27 and making certain that no other sections were damaged Fortunately, the ship was built with three independent scrubbers each capable of carbon dioxide scrubbing for the whole ship. From what she was hearing and seeing on the displays her guess was that something had struck and possibly gone through the ship. Daria was trying to remember where Tom was working that day.
Over the communications system the bridge crew heard, "Damage control Team 1 reporting. We have what appear to be two hull breeches and one major injury. We are applying a tourniquet now. We need a vacuum to catch all these blood balls floating around! "
"Emergency medical is on the way," was the reply.
"Damage control Team 2 is on the way and we are bringing four hull patch kits. We are also bringing a hand vacuum." Daria was listening and that was definitely Tom's voice in the reply. Daria was a little worried, but also quite busy. She anticipated that since damage control parties moved in from fore to aft that at some point she would need to isolate Section 26 so that it could be used as a staging area for repairs in Section 27. As part of the damage control protocol she had already shut down fresh airflow into Section 26 in favor of bolstering airflow to Section 27. Both sections were equipment spaces, so they were cramped and not very many people were routinely in those spaces. An airlock separated the two sections as well as separating Section 26 from Section 25. Airlocks throughout the ship prevented loss of pressure in one section from affecting another section.
Now came the hard part – listening and waiting. Daria had done all she could do from her station. She was watching the air pressure in Section 27 very closely. The temperature was already down to 10 degrees C (50 F) and dropping.
"Emergency medical has the patient secured and we are moving him forward to Sick Bay. Can somebody find his hand down here?"
"Bridge. Damage control Team 2 here. We can see one of the hull breaches. It is about 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter. We can see the stars through it. Whatever it was broke through this point from the inside. We are applying a patch. I think the other hole is behind the scrubber. We are going to have to take the scrubber apart in order to reach it. The thing is a mess."
"Go ahead with disassembly," Captain Goodman replied. "Do you have any estimate on time to repair the scrubber?"
"None at this time," Tom replied.
"Verify that everyone in the compartment is in a full space suit," the Captain stated.
"Roger," Tom replied. About a minute later he said, "Verified. All personnel are in full space suits."
Turning to Daria the Captain ordered, "Verify that all airlocks to Section 27 are shut and then shut off all airflow to the section. Keep the hull heaters running."
"Aye, Captain," Daria replied as she executed his order. Once done she reflected that this seemed almost surreal. Tom was now working in an area that was the closest thing to open space. Sure he was wearing a space suit. Still, it made Daria more than a little nervous. It would probably take several hours to disassemble the carbon dioxide scrubber and patch the hole. Then Tom and his crew would have to figure out how to repair the scrubber. They would repressurize before repairing the scrubber, but still it would be a major task.
The Captain turned to the communications officer and ordered, "Contact Houston and inform them of our problem. Tell them we have it under control and are proceeding with the mission. A full repair of Section 27 will be needed when DaVinci returns to Earth."
"Aye, Captain," the communications officer replied as she executed his order.
Tom was looking at the heavily damaged – maybe destroyed – scrubber unit. His VCR as supervisor of the ship's systems unit was not because of his technical expertise. He was an accountant after all. It was because of his experience running a company. He knew how to organize and manage both people and projects. Being an accountant gave him a strong background paying attention to details. On a spaceship the details could kill you and everyone else. The systems themselves he had learned in training for the mission. His maintenance group was composed of senior engineers and technicians who knew the materials, construction, and operation of the systems inside and out. They knew both the theory and practice behind them. No one in his unit had less than 25 years of experience in their areas of expertise.
As the maintenance crew disassembled the scrubber they duct taped the parts together not for function, but to keep them together so that they didn't get lost. With a big hole on the opposite side of the scrubber there was no telling how many parts had been lost already. The bundles were then taped to the opposite wall. On top of that they had to be very careful with many of the parts. The strike had created a substantial amount of twisted and sharp metal. The compartment was approaching vacuum and the last thing they needed was someone's suit decompressing due to a cut in the material.
The simple act of turning a wrench in zero gravity is a feat in and of itself. You are more likely to spin yourself than the nut or bolt. Therefore you need to be properly braced so that the torque is applied to the intended item. This too was a challenge. But, gradually the scrubber came apart. When the crew found debris from the object which hit them they bagged it for later analysis.
It was almost two hours after he first entered the section that Tom could see the entry hole in the hull. It was actually slightly smaller than the first one – probably 8 cm (3.25 inches) in diameter. He reported the damage to the Captain and proceeded to have his crew patch it. An hour later the hole was patched and the material cured.
"Captain," Tom said over his link.
"What is the status down there," the Captain replied.
Tom stated simply, "We are ready for a pressure test." This would be a significant and somewhat dangerous step in the repairs. Tom fully expected the patches to hold. That is what they were designed to do. However, there was always the possibility they could blow out and they would have to do the job all over again – not to mention the risk of injury or death.
Captain Goodman turned to Daria, "Increase pressure to ship normal, but slowly. It should take about a half-hour to reach that level. When fully pressurized shut off airflow into the section. We will make certain there is no leakage."
"Aye, Captain," Daria deadpanned and carried out the order.
Tom stated, "We have an hour left in our tanks."
Captain Goodman replied, "Acknowledged. When you are done down there we will need calculations on hull integrity." Turning to the helmsman he went on, "Helm, you will need to recalculate the engine firings so that we do not exceed our hull integrity."
The helmsman replied, "Aye, Captain."
Daria watched the pressure rise and prayed that everything held. Tom's spacesuit kept him as safe as he could be given that he was in that section. The indicators finally reached normal internal pressure and held their values. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Captain Goodman got out of his chair. "Secure from hull breach alert," he said. "I'm going to go to Sick Bay and check on our wounded." With that statement he left the bridge.
Daria was thankful that the rest of her watch went without anything happening. The patches seemed to be holding and Tom was out of Section 27. Now the maintenance crew was mainly moving the parts from the scrubber to the machine shop. From their message traffic it sounded like the engineers would be busy redesigning the unit so that it could function again. The engineers back in Houston would be working on the same problem.
When Daria's relief arrived she quickly briefed him on what had happened. Then she headed for the gym. The daily exercise required was probably the thing she liked least about going to Mars, but she understood why it was needed. Today it would certainly work off some of the tension. She was looking forward to being finished with it and seeing Tom back at their quarters. Then they could have some dinner together and call it a day. Maybe they could have a little zero G fun tonight to work off the last of the tension! Daria kind of liked the fact that out here gravity didn't win. Some things which sagged under gravity on Earth returned to a certain level of perkiness out here!