Chapter 12: LOS

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Friday, Sol 16 (001.2.16)  05:16 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Sunday, 20 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT
  • Distance traveled:  83,813,832 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 36 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  308,595,920 kilometers

Megan was not happy. She wanted to be up by 3:00 AM NST, so that she could put together her morning briefing for the Director and her team. But because she spent a late night working on the Musk issue, her personal assistant thought she should sleep in an hour. She had a few critical words with her assistant and then stormed out to the SUV waiting for her.

Upon arrival at the ESEP Center in Nippon she was met by her administrative assistant,
“We’ve lost signal with the Sagan,” was all she said. Megan walked past her office and into the Comm Center. Megan said in a loud voice, “Give me the rundown.”

The on duty Mission Director came over to her and said, “Twelve minutes ago we lost signal with the Sagan. There was no forewarning, and there has been no contact since. Our last data indicates a loss of pressure in the core section and the hatches were sent a command by the computer to seal all sections. We only have about two seconds of data following the first indication of trouble. Whatever happened, it took out the communications, including the redundant systems. We’re trying to figure out how that can happen, short of a catastrophic event on the ship.”

Megan had been looking the Mission Director in the eye as he explained the situation. She knew what he feared. Loss of signal, meant loss of ship. She looked around the room and then looked back at the Director and said, “Call it.” The Director nodded and walked back to his workstation. He opened a flap and pushed the button under it. Instantly every screen read,


The code stood for Crisis Event Protocols and put into place a set of procedures that canceled normal duties. The protocols required that the Council members be informed of the crisis and confirm that the event is a legitimate crisis and gives the Director certain authority to act on behalf of ESEP. There was a contingency that if the Director was not able to perform his or her duties, that the Council would name an Interim Director.

Megan turned and left the Comm Center to go back to her office. At her workstation she contacted Claude Dubois on Earth Prime. Claude was one of the Council members, but she needed to put some tasks into motion before she talked with the rest of the Council. Claude responded, “Megan, we’ve lost signal also.” As Earth’s orbiting spaceport, they maintained contact with every ship and the Commodore knew the nature of the crisis before Megan contacted him.

Megan said, “Do you have a visual on them?” Claude replied, “We still have the ship, but they are over 80 million kilometers away. We have no detail.” Megan said, “I’m calling a Council meeting in six minutes. Give us whatever you can.”

The next hour became a blur. ESEP sprang into action with predetermined teams following a set of protocols that had been devised and revised many times. A message sent to every ESEP employee. It said,

At 5:04 AM NST, all contact was lost with the ESS Sagan. We have a visual on the ship and we know it is not a catastrophic failure; however, all efforts are to be made to identify the cause of the LOS and how to restore contact.

The Council has met and has confirmed the CEP. Crisis Event Protocols are now in place. In addition, Megan DeLuca shall be the Interim Director until we have regained contact with Director Wade and/or the crew of the ESS Sagan.

Earth Prime is directed to configure and launch a chase ship within twenty-four hours if we have not had contact. If your department is not directly involved in the event activities, you are directed to continue to maintain the current duty schedule.

More information will be provided as it becomes available.

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Saturday, Sol 17 (001.2.17)  04:38 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Monday, 21 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT
  • Distance traveled:  87,418,728 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 36 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  304,991,024 kilometers

Megan stood behind a plexiglass lectern and faced the sixty reporters that had been given credentials for the press conference. She was not accustomed to making formal press statements, but she was always close by her former boss when he did, and she had advised him on what questions might be asked, and how to answer them.

However, being the person with the camera lens focused on them, was different than supporting the person with the camera lens focused on them. The room had been noisy when she walked in, but now it was silent. She began,

“As you know from our first news conference last night, we lost signal with the ESS Sagan at 5:48 AM Nippon Standard Time, 1:48 PM Pacific Daylight Time or 5:04 AM Noctis Standard Time. The Sagan had traveled approximately 83.8 million kilometers since leaving Earth orbit.

As we said last night, we have visual confirmation that the ship is intact; however, we cannot see enough detail on the ship to determine any physical damage to the ship.

Our engineers have gone over the possible scenarios that would cause a loss of signal with the ship, and the two most likely scenarios are an explosion on the ship, or a strike by a small meteoroid. Almost any explosion would cause the ship to spin and/or deviate from course, which has not happened.

We believe that a meteoroid strike is to most likely explanation for the loss of signal. Specifically, a meteoroid strike in the ship’s Communications or Comm section would be able to disable all the communication temporarily; however, the Sagan has two Comm Sections. The one in use was the section that was originally part of the ESS Queen Elizabeth II. The Sagan originally had a smaller Comm system that was used prior to the merge of the two ships. It is located in front of the QE II’s original Comm section. It is possible that both were damaged, or for some reason, the crew is not able to access either Comm sections. 

Two hours ago we sent a chase ship after the Sagan. This ship, designated Charlie One, consists of a Comm Section, an ICP drive section, a fuel storage section, one Hab section with four, seven-section Quills and eight cargo Quills each with four sections. It is coming up to velocity, which will be just over 300,000 kilometers per hour, or twice the speed of the Sagan.

Although the Sagan has traveled over 80 million kilometers, the Earth has been moving in the same relative direction as the Sagan, and the distance between us and the Sagan is only 43 million kilometers. It will take nine days for Charlie One to overtake the Sagan, which will be sometime on March 30th or Sol 25 of Sur Two. It has a crew of 18 on board. 

I’ll now take questions.”

“What possible reasons might prevent the crew from reaching the Communication sections?”

“To your question, if this was a meteoroid strike, the section would be sealed to prevent the loss of atmosphere. They would have to repair the damage to the section to repressurize it, before they could enter it and begin work of repairing or switching to the other Comm Section. There is also the possibility that the damage is to both sections. We should face the possibility that we may not have contact with them until Charlie One reaches them.”

“Elon Musk has said that ESEP has moved too fast and that this situation is a direct result of ESEP ignoring the safety concerns of several engineers and the former Director of Security, who committed suicide because of his despondency over the situation.”

“First, Elon Musk has no capability of getting out of low Earth orbit, let alone to catch up with our ship, so he cannot know the cause of this situation. Second, the people he is referring to were all involved in the criminal takeover of ESEP in attempt to create a dictatorial-style management over our space program. They used the tragedy of the loss of our Director and several others to kidnap and lock out the people who were the decision-making authority and they illegally took command of the Mars mission and attempted to end it. The Director of Security was the leader of this group and his suicide occurred after he was arrested for multiple felonies associated with his actions.”

The room erupted in reporters asking questions, but Megan’s focus was on one person. The Mission Director had walked into the room and was now coming up to whisper something to her. She listened and then held up her hand to silence the unruly behavior of the journalists. She turned back to the lectern and said,

“We have contact with Director Wade. The crew is safe. We will have another press conference later today after we have had a chance to talk with her.”

Megan then left the room as the journalists erupted into an even louder outburst of questions, none of which were intelligible. None of that mattered. Everyone was alive. 

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Sunday, Sol 18 (001.2.18)  03:59 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Tuesday, 22 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT
  • Distance traveled:  91,023,624 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 42 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  301,386,128 kilometers

Jenna was up early. She wanted to record her statement for the 7:00 AM Nippon Standard Time press conference, and then focus on the morning briefing. The ship was hit by three meteoroid fragments and passed through the Comm section. The damage was so extensive that the Comm section was considered a total loss.

Fortunately, the benefit of having Zeke Jackson on board came through again when he was able to help the engineering team take a Quill section and refit it with the communications equipment in storage and antennas from the original core section. The team accomplished a week’s worth of work in twenty-four hours, and was able to reestablish full communications with Earth. Redundant systems would also be reestablished, but with Charlie One on the way, the rebuilt Comm section would only be needed for a few days.

Jenna showered and dressed. She then made some tea and sat down at her workstation. She began recording,

“Good morning. As Megan has explained, I am recording this statement for the 7:00 AM news conference. I will have several of our staff available at that time to answer questions; however, we will end the press conference at 8:15 to allow our crew to resume their duties. Megan will give you a list of people who will be available and you may submit your text questions at any time during the conference. We will do our best to answer your questions. Because of the time delay, there will be no follow-up questions.

As you are now aware, the Communications section of the ESS Sagan took a direct hit of three golf ball sized meteoroid fragments that passed completely through that section. We believe that one of those fragments or debris from the impact damaged a Quill section in the First Hab section. That section also had a hull breach; however, we were able to repair that from inside the ship, with further work done on the outside after it was repressurized.

The core Comm section damaged or destroyed all of our data, voice, and visual transmission equipment, as well as the main and redundant power conduit through the section. We were able to receive data and voice from Earth on a redundant system, once we had power routed to it. We knew that Earthside ESEP was aware we were intact.

Our engineering team had to pull out the Comm section and replaced it with a smaller Quill section. The antennas from the original section were transferred, and Comm equipment meant for Mars was used to reestablish full communications. We did have the option of trying to establish a data transmission unit first, which would have allowed us to contact Earth one or two hours earlier, but it would have delayed the establishment of full communications for an additional six to eight hours.

We still lack some redundant systems, but now that Charlie One is in route, we have decided to forego additional work and simply integrate the new Comm section into the Sagan.

No one was injured as that section is usually uninhabited and as most of the crew were still in their quarters. We did experience a pressure loss in multiple areas. The Comm core section took over seven hours to patch and reseal the section; however, it is now attached to the Command section of the Queen Elizabeth II and the hatches are closed in case one of the patches fails.

We also increased velocity by a few kilometers per hour in order to move out of the debris field that resulted from the meteoroid strike.

The ship is back to normal operations, and we are looking forward to bringing the crew of Charlie One aboard in a few days.

We will now answer questions.”

  • Mars Date/Time:  Year 001, Sur Two, Monday, Sol 19 (001.2.19)  03:21 NST
  • Earth Date/Time:  Wednesday, 23 March 2016  2:00 PM PDT  10:00 PM France  6:00 AM JST
  • Distance traveled:  94,628,520 kilometers   Time Delay:  3 mins 48 secs
  • Distance to Mars Rendezvous:  297,781,232 kilometers

It was a pleasant day in southern California. Two men sitting on the deck at the Cheesecake Factory at Marina Del Rey did not seem out-of-place. It was two o’clock and they were enjoying the Sun, the ocean breeze, and a late lunch. One man was wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap and sunglasses. The other was overweight, and looked like a tourist.

“I hope you understand that we have to move fast,” said the man in the baseball cap. The other man answered in a heavy Russian accent, “Mr. Musk, I assure you, we understand the urgency of the situation; however, we cannot pay for your space program on our own. If you can bring our friends in, then I think we can do business.”

Musk leaned forward and said, “The United States is no problem. After this election, ESEP will be as hated by Republicans as much as the Mexicans, and as for China, I’m working on them. They’ll come around.”

The overweight man replied, “But Mr. Musk, it does not seem that the Republicans will win this election. I don’t see how this helps us.” Musk answered, “Liberals hate space programs. If they win there will be no money for ESEP, but we can leverage the Republicans to demand funding for our program as a matter of national honor. Americans have to be one of the elite, and if we offer a Mars program that is exclusively run by the three super powers, they will not want to be left out. In fact, they will leap to be in a space race with ESEP.”

“Well, Mr. Musk,” said the big man, “you are very good at talking. Rest assured that if you bring the US and China to the table, we will be there, too.” Musk smiled and sat back. He had two partners in the bag. Now he needed China.

“Excuse me,” Musk said as he stood up, “I have two launches next month and I need to get back. Thank you again, for your support, and please let Mr. Putin know that he is welcome anytime to come to Texas and see our facility.” Musk walked through the restaurant and headed to the front door. As his driver opened the door he pulled out his phone and called Charles Bolden, Administrator of NASA. Musk started the conversation, “Russia’s on board if I can bring in China. What can I offer them?”

Musk’s call lasted almost all the way to his office, with several outbursts on his part, reminding Bolden that NASA was rapidly becoming irrelevant. In the end, Musk had what he wanted. China would build, Russia would launch, and the NASA would let SpaceX run the show. If Bolden didn’t feel like Elon’s administrative assistant before, he did now.