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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Saturday, Sol 42 (1.1.42)  4:58 AM NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Sunday, 14 February 2016  2:15 PM PST

As the Rear Admiral and commander of the Mars Mission, Jenna Wade approved every item coming on board the ESS Queen Elizabeth II and the ESS Carl Sagan. Cargo didn’t leave Earth until Jenna approved it.

Now the ESEP Director was telling her that something was already on the way to the spaceport, Earth Prime, to be loaded on to one of her ships. Nick wouldn’t be calling her if it was routine cargo, and it wouldn’t be in route unless ESEP wanted it to go on the mission.

It was about 5:00 AM and Jenna had not slept well. It was Valentine’s Day on Earth, and the crew was dealing with loss. This was not a good time to be forcing a new wrinkle to the mission.

Jenna looked at the monitor the man who stood in his office 2,500 kilometers below. She masked her emotions and then said, “What’s the cargo?” Nick was in a difficult spot. Jenna had the authority to refuse any change to the mission and with what had happened this week, any other commander might take the position that no further changes would be made before the ships leave Earth orbit. This was now a test of Jenna’s emotional state as much as it was a change in the mission.

Nick said, “We have two experiments for you to approve.” One, you’ve been briefed on, and the other I can’t tell you about.” Any other person might have launched into a tirade. This was a breach of her command authority and according to protocol she should reject the new experiments.

However, Jenna did not become the first commander of a mission to Mars by accident. She had an extraordinary ability to listen and gather all the information before taking actions. She also was able to act quickly in a crisis on whatever information she had at the moment. Nick’s statement intrigued her, rather than enraged her.

Jenna smiled and said, “Go on.” Nick knew this was a good sign, and he was a little disappointed with himself for thinking that Jenna would behave like a normal person.

Nick continued, “The OPB team had a break through and they want to send a test batch with you to Mars.” Jenna was very familiar with the subject. OPB stood for Oxygen Producing Bacteria and an experiment was planned for this mission, but they couldn’t find a way to turn off the bacteria if it got out of control. There were strict rules about introducing a biologic element to Mars if it couldn’t be controlled.

“Did they find a switch,” Jenna asked? Nick smiled and said, “Exactly, they have a counter agent that not only switches it off, but kills the bacteria and then consumes itself. The end result is a filmy paste that doesn’t spread or blow away. I watched them kill a batch. It’s impressive.” Jenna was not surprised that Nick observed the experiment. He wouldn’t have considered the experiment unless he observed it.

“What’s the set up,” Jenna asked? Nick replied, “A three-chambered experiment within an isolation box. The bacteria are sealed inside a container inside one of the vacuum-sealed chambers. Martian soil and atmosphere is added to another chamber and sealed. First atmosphere is allowed to enter the third chamber and the air is shared with the bacteria chamber. If all goes well the bacteria is then exposed to the soil. Parameters have been established for growth rates and oxygen production. Too much of either and the bacteria is killed. We still need your Science Director to approve it.” Nick waited.

Jenna was hesitant about OPB. If it survived in the Martian environment there was the potential that it could escape and grow uncontrolled. Bacteria and viruses had a bad habit of unintended consequences, especially when they are human-designed. Jenna also knew that if she didn’t take the experiment it would be on the next mission, and she preferred to have direct control of the program than have to oversee another commander.

Jenna said, “Alright. I’m sure Lanny will go for it. He was disappointed when we canceled it. Have your Science team brief Lanny. I’ll let him know he has the authority to approve it.” While she had been talking she typed out a text to her Science Director. Jenna knew that it might be a matter of seconds before the ground science team contacted Lanny.

Jenna then looked up at Nick and said, “Now, about that experiment you can’t tell me about.”