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  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur One, Saturday, Sol 49 (1.1.49)  23:35 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Monday, 22 February 2016  2:00 PM PST

Earlier today the ESS Queen Elizabeth II undocked from Earth Prime and moved into a higher orbit. Everything proceeded smoothly and now the QE II has settled into an orbit that is 5,174 kilometers at apogee, and 3,317 kilometers at perigee. The ship’s current speed averages a little over 22,000 km/hr.

The QE II used chemical propulsion to move away from the spaceport, but once the ship was 400 kilometers away from the Earth Prime spaceport it test fired one of the small propulsion pellets for the Impulse Cycle Propulsion or ICP followed by the firing of a larger pellet almost three hours later. The ship will now remain in this orbit for two days before leaving Earth for Mars.

After Jenna had found her would-be stowaway on her ship again, she asked Commodore Claude Dubois, the Commander of Earth Prime spaceport to have a constant guard on Zeke Jackson. She also asked to have Zeke somewhere she could see him as the QE II moved away from the spaceport. She meant somewhere there was a camera so she could visually know he was still on the spaceport and hadn’t snuck on her ship again.

Claude did her one better. As the QE II drifted away, Jenna, and everyone on the Command deck saw three people in pressure suits outside the core Command deck of Earth Prime. One of them was strapped down to the bulkhead, and when she zoomed in she could see Zeke Jackson’s face in the suit that was strapped down. Zeke had a big smile and gave the QE II a thumbs up, which caused an outbreak of uncontrolled laughter on the ship and back on Earth Prime.

That was thirteen hours ago. Now it was quiet. There were no issues or crises. The ship was on its own power and they were now the farthest human beings from Earth.

ESEP recognized that the first mission to Mars would inflict psychological and emotional stress on the crew. That’s why the schedule was designed in stages. Like someone testing the water, then wading in it, then swimming in it. In future missions the closeout, undocking, moving to a higher orbit, and firing for the orbital transfer will likely happen in a ten-hour period.

But this mission has taken one major step at a time and grow accustomed to it, then take the next step. Jenna wondered if that was a form of cruelty for the crew. The feeling of being slowly torn away from everything and everyone they know.

Jenna was in mid-thought when a quiet knock came on her door. She didn’t say anything, she just walked over to the door and opened it. There stood Wendy with a bottle of wine. Wendy said, “I know it’s late, but…” Just then Ken opened his door just below and across from her. He apparently thought the knock was at his door. Wendy, saw him and asked, “The more the merrier?” Jenna nodded ‘yes’ and waved for Ken to come up.

In a few minutes they were all sitting and drinking a glass of wine.  Ken said, “What was the deal with Zeke Jackson? I thought he would be unhappy to see us leave.” Jenna said, “I think I’m starting to understand him. He really likes us and while he wishes he could be going with us, he wants to see us succeed.” Ken shook his head, “Interesting guy.” Jeanna smiled and said, “You don’t know the half of it.”

Wendy said, “Did you know how many of the crew are friends with Zeke?” “No,” replied Jenna. Wendy continued, “Everyone I’ve talked in the last few days knows him and most refer to him as ‘Space Angel.’ He apparently got to know the entire crew and is, well, was the person to go to if you needed anything from the construction crew.”

Jenna became serious and looked at both of them and said, “Are we ready? Is the crew ready?” Ken spoke up first and said, “Yes, We are. We’ve had some distractions, but I think getting away from the spaceport will be good for us.”

Wendy waited for Ken, then said, “I agree with Ken, but maybe from a different perspective. We all knew that this phase of the mission would be one of the hardest. The closeout and undocking are two physical manifestations of separation from everyone we know. We expect some emotional trauma and I will be in constant contact with the crew. Honestly, that’s why I came here tonight. I needed to see how you’re doing,…so, how are you doing?”

Wendy wouldn’t normally put someone on the spot in front of another person, but Jenna and Ken are a team, and this was a perfect situation to let them establish a bond and push Ken into a more realistic perspective of what was happening to the crew.

Jenna understood Wendy, and she knew why Wendy was skating close to the edge of counseling protocols. This was an important moment for her and Ken. Jeanna paused and said, “I’m the type of person that lives through the emotions of the people I care about. I can separate my feelings from theirs, but it is important for me to see things from their viewpoint. I wouldn’t have wanted them to deal with the last-minute issues we have dealt with, but I’m fairly confident these experiences will be valuable later in the mission. It is highly probable that we will lose someone in the next two years, actually the projections are that we will lose three, but we will have to bear down and move on…”

At that point Jenna was interrupted by a tone from her workstation. Comm Center was trying to reach her. She stood up and crossed to her workstation and touched the blinking icon, “What’s up, John” John was the Comm Specialist on duty. He replied, “I’m sorry. We have an urgent call from Commodore Dubois. He asked me to wake you.” “Put him through,” Jenna said. John looked down, touched something on the panel and his face disappeared and Claude’s face appeared and he looked pained. Claude said, “Jenna, I thought you would want to know. Zeke Jackson just killed himself.”