Chapter 10: Secret Cargo

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur Two, Sunday, Sol 11 (001.2.11)  08:29 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Tuesday, 15 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT
  • Distance traveled:  65,789,352 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 12 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  326,620,400 kilometers

My next guest has degrees in engineering and psychology, and a master’s in social psychology. She served ten years in the Royal Navy and then joined the Earth Space Exploration Program, or ESEP in 2010. As we speak, she is traveling faster than any human has traveled, and she and her crew are now farther away from Earth than any human has been in history. She is leading an expedition to the fourth planet in our solar system, and upon arrival will establish our first human colony on Mars. 

Due to a recent tragedy, she has been put into the position of not only commanding the first mission to Mars, she is concurrently responsible for the operation of the entire organization from millions of kilometers from Earth.

Please join me in welcoming Director Jenna Wade.

Thank you.

First, our condolences to you and the organization for the recent loss of your Director, Nick Castillo, and the rest of the ESEP people on the plane that went down in the North Atlantic. How do you recover from that kind of tragedy?

I’m not sure anyone can fully recover. We cope, we adjust, and we move on. Director Castillo was a very dear person who was able to see through the issues and problems and create an environment for everyone to succeed. He will be missed.

There were problems at ESEP when the news arrived that the plane was missing. How did you find out and what happened at ESEP?

I didn’t find out for over twelve hours. There was a power struggle in the organization that Director Castillo had dealt with, but upon his death, a person who disagreed with the Director’s decision fell into a key role after the news broke, and he decided to take advantage of the situation.

It took you several hours to regain control of ESEP, and as I understand it, your crew was largely responsible in that effort. How did you accomplish it?

We were able to take back control of the main computer at ESEP. Paige Flores, on our crew, isolated the ESEP administration and then shut them out. Once that happened the people involved were powerless.

After the incident you were made interim Director, and now you are the permanent Director. How did that happen?

I have to admit I didn’t think this through. I assumed that once we had taken back control, I would turn over control to the leadership of ESEP, but what we realized was that we had a leadership vacuum with the loss of Director Castillo and the other administrators. There was no one to give control back to, so I became temporary Director. The member countries did not want to risk destabilizing the organization again, so they asked me to be the Interim Director. At that time we were all operating under the assumptions that a new Director would be named. Within a few days I was approached about taking on the Directorship permanently, and I was backed into a corner by several different people. It made logical sense, I just wasn’t convinced I was the person for the job.

I like to change the subject. For decades there has been discussion of sending humans to Mars. Now, this summer we will have 28 people arriving at Mars. Why is this possible now, and why isn’t NASA, SpaceX, or the European Space Agency doing it?

That’s a great question. First, a correction, with our recent addition, we are now a crew of 29.

I think the reason we are on our way to Mars is largely thanks to operating under a different paradigm. Up to now the assumption had been that any mission to Mars would be governed by the Hohmann Transfer, which assumes a slow, but very fuel-efficient method of getting to Mars. The problem is that it takes eight months under ideal orbital conditions and there is only one window of opportunity every two years. ESEP adopted a modified pulse drive that has been known since the beginning of the space age, but had not been accepted by the scientific community as a viable option, largely due to the idea that a pulse drive is unworkable to get from surface to orbit. Once in space, the pulse drive is a very practical drive system for moving a large ship in a relatively short time frame.

As for why ESEP is doing it as opposed to others, my opinion is that NASA became too political and lost all of its support to do anything but wade near the shores of space. The European Space Agency attempted to be smaller version of NASA and also became too political. As for SpaceX and all other commercial operations, they can’t succeed because the exploration of space is not profitable for an investor-based, profit-based program.

What will our presence on Mars look like?

Our first landing will be relatively small. It will be one ship and five people. They will take about three days to do a site survey. Once they have confirmed the site, they will map out the landing sites for the next several ships and place an electronic marker guide for each ship. Within two weeks the site will be established as our Command Center, and at this point, it looks like we will have an ESEP Administrative Center up and running within three weeks.

At the same time, our Science Director, Lanny Deaton, will be heading up the exploration team. Initially that was to be six people; however, now we are looking to double that within a month after landing. Food, water, and oxygen production are the highest priority for the Science and Engineering teams; however, we have to have a detailed analysis of nearby resources to know what Mars has available.

The Engineering team is tasked with creating a small village in a short period of time, followed by expansion to about one hundred people by the end of 2016. They will have to create power systems, habitats, and air and water processing systems. By the end of 2017, we will have two small cities and four remote stations on Mars. 

In addition, Mars Prime, our orbiting spaceport, will become the cargo and personnel center for Mars. Almost everything and everyone will be processed through Mars Prime before going to the surface.

I want to go back to something you said. You said that commercial operations can’t succeed because it’s not profitable?

Yes. We learned in the 1960’s that space exploration creates jobs and technologies, but not profit. Space is great for the economy, but the business model of making money is not viable in an exploration environment. Business and space exploration are incompatible, and we can see that in the fact that NASA is basically a defunct space organization since it has been turned over to the private sector. SpaceX is essentially trying to reinvent the same technology of the 1970’s, and is merely adding a few new tricks such as landing reusable boosters that contribute nothing to space exploration. Eventually, investors will grow weary of waiting for a financial return that will depend on NASA buying SpaceX systems, which NASA could have done on their own if they were still a viable space program.

I should explain that because of the time delay between Earth and the ESS Sagan, Director Wade is receiving a series of questions, and I don’t hear her response for over three minutes, therefore if I have a followup question it will be over six minutes after her response. We’ll take a break. 

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Monday, Sol 12 (001.2.12)  07:50 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Wednesday, 16 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT
  • Distance traveled:  69,394,248 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 18 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  323,015,504 kilometers

“She said we should treat him like a graduate student. I’m saying we should make him a graduate student.”

Alexander Rivera was not one of the names most people on Earth would know. He was the Biology Officer on the Mars Mission, and yet, his function was one of the most important. He was responsible for all of the natural sources of air, food, and water.

Zeke, or Ezekiel, Jackson had been assigned to Alexander for a work detail. He had Zeke manage the bamboo plants throughout the ship. Every hab section has large wall sections of bamboo to produce oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. Zeke’s job was to learn about caring for bamboo and monitoring their growth.

Zeke’s work impressed Alexander, and now he was discussing his idea to help Zeke earn a master’s degree, with the Science Director, Lanny Deaton.

“I have contacts at UC Davis who will be happy to serve on his thesis committee, and I could be Zeke’s advisor,” Alexander continued, “We’d have to work out the topic of his thesis, but everything we do is groundbreaking work, so whatever he does will help us report our findings back to our colleagues on Earth.”

Lanny replied, “Let’s go farther. Let’s check with UC Davis and MIT about establishing a remote study program for several fields. I’ll talk with Roman about engineering programs. Once we’re on Mars we will be the first graduate program offworld. We need to make it count.”

Alexander smiled. Everything about the mission was becoming more significant than just a first landing on Mars. The mission was big before, but now it was awe-inspiring. Alexander looked up to see Zeke coming down the Quill.

“Zeke, we need to talk.”

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 1, Sur Two, Tuesday, Sol 13 (001.2.13)  07:12 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Thursday, 17 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT
  • Distance traveled:  72,999,144 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 16 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  319,410,608 kilometers

The core of the ESS Sagan consists of a Command section, a Communications section, three Hab Sections, three cargo sections, an engineering section, a fuel storage section, and the Impulse Cycle Propulsion or ICP Drive section. Most of the core sections look like 50-meter hexagonal tubes; however, from outside the ship it is difficult to see the Hab and cargo core sections because the Quill sections extend out from each side of the core section.

Almost all of the Quills have at least four 30-meter sections, with the crew Quills extending to seven quills away from the core to provide near-Earth simulated gravity in the crew quarters in the sixth and seventh sections. The Hab One core section has 60 Quill sections attached. The Science division occupies two Quills each with seven sections.

The Command team has access to all areas; however, since Jenna had agreed to accepting a secret cargo, one of the labs in the sixth section had been off-limits to every crew member except Alexander Rivera. Now Jenna and Lanny had been asked to come to that lab by Alexander.

As Jenna, Ken, and Lanny climbed down into the sixth section they saw Alexander standing outside the door of Lab 6Cb, three decks down. When they reached him he said, “I know this was supposed to remain secret, but now that Mr. Castillo is gone, I think you should know what the secret project is that was put aboard just before we undocked.”

Alexander unlocked the door and all four entered. He then crossed over to a work bench to a clear plexiglas chamber lit with appeared to be ultraviolet light. Inside we’re what appeared to be eggs in individual cradles. Jenna spoke first, “Eggs?”

“Chicken eggs…fertile chicken eggs, “Alexander replied, “I began the incubation process a little less than a week after we received them and they should start hatching next week. I don’t know how many of them will be successful.”

Lanny said, “We were not supposed to have live animals. Why did they send this up?” Alexander said, “This is an expendable experiment. If there are any problems, I’m to dump it.”

Ken asked, “Why the secrecy?” Alexander replied, “Earthside was concerned that the crew may develop expectations of fresh eggs and meat, only to be disappointed. They wanted it to be a happy surprise, but if not, they wanted no one to know.”

Jenna said, “We have to develop a plan in case they survive. We can’t just let them run around on Mars. They will have to have a hab unit…and preferable one with its own atmosphere.” They laughed. Alexander said, “I know, which is part of why I wanted to talk to you about it. I was the wrong person to handle this. I don’t even like pets; however, Zeke was mentioning that his family raised chickens. I want to ask him about making this his graduate project.”

Lanny thought for a moment, “It has to be an option. We can’t force him to do it.” Jenna touched her tablet and Zeke’s voice said, “Yes, Director?” Jenna smiled and said, “Zeke, could you come to Lab 6Cb?” Zeke said, “On my way, Ma’am.”

A few minutes later Zeke walked in the door, saw everyone standing around, then saw the eggs. All he said was, “WE’VE GOT CHICKENS!”

Zeke Jackson, Chicken Wrangler of Mars.