Chapter 3: Thump!
Daria thought to herself that it was a good thing she was not particularly claustrophobic. Laying here on the seat in the MLV with a dozen of her closest friends was kind of like being packed in a can of sardines. Tom was next to her and that was a good thing. The MLV was designed for a one-way trip – orbit to the Martian surface. She sure hoped that it would work as advertised. One of the people on board was the 'pilot,' but that was mostly in name only. The computers would guide the craft. The pilot only took over if there was a massive computer failure, which was very unlikely. Daria was just as glad that it was the computers at the helm.
There was a distinct 'clunk' and the MLV shuddered slightly as it separated from the MTV. Daria caught a final glimpse of the MTV as they fell away from it. She momentarily wondered if she would ever see it again. Would she and Tom wind up spending the rest of their lives on Mars? Would they survive to their 5 year and 10 year decision points? They were already 60 and there would be no real retirement on Mars, not to mention needing to be healthy long term. Of course, she wanted to see her children again. She would also like to see Jane. Video letters were one thing, but not the same as touching, hugging and feeling the skin of her children or Jane for that matter.
Tom reached over and squeezed Daria's hand. They were beginning to get sensations of motion, which meant the MLV was starting to have contact with the atmosphere. It was just moments before the buffeting began as they came into the aerobraking phase of the landing. Soon it became the shaking rollercoaster ride that didn't seem to have an end. A bright red glow was visible out the window as the heat shield ablated under the intense frictional heat of atmospheric entry. Even Mars' thin atmosphere, which at the surface was about as dense as the air a transcontinental airplane flight finds at cruising altitude, could really slow the craft.
There was another noticeable shaking as the parachutes deployed. The aerobraking was over and now they would be slowed by parachutes for a while. Unfortunately, the thin Martian atmosphere was unable to fully slow them under parachute. Daria caught herself holding her breath for the final phase of their descent to begin. If this didn't work as planned, then there would be a very big 'splat' on the Martian surface!
Finally, there was a sharp noise and a shaking as explosive bolts blew the heat shield off of the MLV. A moment later Daria heard, though maybe it was more like felt, the retro rockets firing. Now they were in the final phase of descent. The process that started over an hour ago was now in its final moments. In less than three minutes the MLV would be sitting on the surface of Mars or they would all be dead. There was no middle ground here. At last she felt the MLV settle onto the surface.
The pilot looked out his window and made the statement to all in the MLV and over the radio that had become a tradition, "Houston. I see a red planet all around us!" To date the first word spoken upon any human landing on a body in space was 'Houston.'
It would be 20 minutes before that message was received. It was pretty much pro-forma. The fact is that they were on their own. Soon a different message came over the radio, "MLV One this is Rover One. Welcome to Mars! We are about 20 minutes from your position. Please have everyone run a full suit check on their suits and prepare the MLV for opening. Everyone leaving the MLV will need to bring their umbilical cord with them. They will use it to plug into the air system on our transports. We are bringing two transports. Each will hold nine people."
The pilot responded, "Roger Rover One. We are looking forward to seeing you. MLV out. OK everybody you heard the man. Do a complete suit check and report the results to me."
Daria began the process of a detailed check of her suit. She and Tom started out by doing the best visual check of each other's suits they could. Then she started the automated checks. The check covered everything from pressure containment to heating and cooling. Externally it even covered checking that the umbilical cord was correctly screwed on and had not skipped any threads. All-in-all the complete suit check took about 15 minutes. She reported to the pilot, "Daria Sloane – all systems green."
The pilot responded, "Daria Sloane – check."
Moments after the final response on suit checks there was a knock at the door. Over the radio Daria heard, "MLV One. Are you ready for hatch opening?"
"Roger," The pilot responded. "Pressure is at 6 millibars. You are clear to open the hatch."
As the hatch was opened sunlight streamed into the cabin. The thought came to Daria's mind that this was the first time in two months that she had seen sunlight filtered through an atmosphere. Carefully Daria leaned over and pulled her personal item carrier out from under the seat and carefully made her way to the hatch.
She blinked as she exited the MLV. It was so much different seeing true ambient light than just seeing the sun as a bright orb in the blackness of space. It was also the first time in two months that she had felt real gravity under her. The rotating MTV exercise ring was fine, but it was not the real thing and it was just large enough not to make one motion sick when simulating Martian gravity.
Daria followed Tom to a waiting rover. The rover was outfitted with one seat on each side of the vehicle. The two found seats across from each other, stowed their personal effects, sat down, and plugged in their umbilical cords.
Tom looked over at Daria and motioned for her to turn on her private channel to him. She did. Then he said, "Well, it looks like we are on the bus to our new home. What do you think?"
"I'm speechless. We walked here on the surface of another world. This will be our life's greatest adventure. My head is spinning from all the thoughts in it. At some point I just need to sit down and start writing."
"Maybe we should start with a video mail message to the kids and I'm sure you will want to send one to Jane."
"At least they will know that we arrived on the surface OK. Houston will send a message to all family members. I wish our parents could get the message."
"Our parents being gone is probably the biggest reason we decided that we could come on this jaunt," Tom said sympathetically. "Maybe they know about it."
Daria looked out the window as the transport started moving. The transit time from their landing area to the habitat was expected to be about an hour. As the scenery moved past Daria found it to be oddly beautiful, though it was devoid of life. She was actually surprised at the variations in color! The red planet was not the relatively uniform red that she had expected.