- Mars Date/Time: Year 1, Sur One, Tuesday, Sol 52 (1.1.52) 21:39 NST
- Earth Date/Time: Thursday, 25 February 2016 2:00 PM PST
- Distance traveled: 1,036,235 kilometers
The good news was that the ESS Queen Elizabeth II was on her way to Mars. Current velocity was 41,039 kilometers per hour. They had grazed past the Moon eighteen hours ago and it nudged their path enough to put them where they needed to be in order to rendezvous with Mars less than four months from now.
The bad news was that they might not be going to Mars. Less than 24 hours ago they were supposed to fire three series of pellets that exploded behind the ship to bring them up to escape velocity from the Earth. The first two series happened just as the engineers and munitions people had designed. A pellet was pushed out the aft section on a tether, a blast door closed, and the pellet was detonated at a precise distance. In milliseconds the computer analyzed the results and selected the next pellet based on explosive power and sent it out the aft to a precise distance. It took about seven seconds between the firings of each pellet.
Earth to Mars in 110 days
The first series was six pellets and the second series was ten pellets. Those sixteen worked perfectly. It was the third series of twelve pellets that were threatening a premature end to the mission.
As with the previous two series the pilot, Keira Choi had programmed in the firing sequence before initiation. The computer had established that the first two series had been too sweet, meaning the impact the explosions had on the velocity was greater than expected. They now needed the final series to be ‘sour.’ This involved the munitions person, Jeramy Prater, setting up a different rack of pellets, which required giving the computer new instructions. They had four minutes between the second and third series of firings to accomplish the changes.
Jeramy had a problem with the computer accepting the changes and did not have time to do a visual check of the pellet racks. When the time came for the series to fire the computer pushed out the first pellet and did not fire because the blast door did not close completely. The computer sensed the failure to detonate and compensated by immediately releasing the tether on the first pellet and pushed another pellet out with the same result. Every four seconds the computer pushed out another pellet with no detonation. In 48 seconds the ship lost twelve pellets.
Keira and Jeramy worked frantically to shut down the Impulse Cycle Propulsion or ICP drive. Jeramy was able to visually inspect the rack with cameras in the propulsion drive and within seconds he determined that the rack was slightly out of position. That caused the pellet to slide out and tap the blast door causing it to fail to completely close.
Jeramy and Choi had determined the problem, fixed it, and had a plan to resume the process within 115 seconds. On the Command deck Choi said, “Commodore, we have the solution. I can manually fire.” Ken looked at his First Officer, Anna, who watched Keira work through the problem, she gave a nod to say she agreed with Keira. Ken then looked at Jenna just as she was getting a text message from Nick the Director at ESEP Center on Earth and it said,
“ESEP advises ABORT.”
Jenna glanced at the message. ESEP had no authority to order any action. This was, as it said, an advisory; however, it meant that the smartest minds on Earth were giving her a course of action that could not be lightly ignored. Jenna didn’t hesitate. She knew what Keira had planned to do and agreed that it was an acceptable solution. Jenna didn’t need to say anything, but she wanted it to be clear this decision was on her.
In the next two minutes Keira manually ordered the computer to fire a pellet, detonate it, and then evaluate the result. She then ordered the next firing and the computer made the calculations of which pellet and how far away to detonate it. The process was slightly slower than the computer-managed firing, but produced the desired results.
Keira announced, “We are at speed and on course, Commodore.” Jenna looked at the Comm Director and said, “Naomi, Code Alert and tie in ESEP Center.” Naomi tapped on her pad, and said, “All hands, all stations, CODE ALERT from Admiral Wade.” Jenna then touched her tablet and said, “All departments, we need a full assessment of the event and of our current status. Report every at every quarter hour to your Director until further notice. All Directors report to my quarters immediately. Expect a long night.”
By midnight the failure was completely understood and a solution was devised and tested. The issue was that they were only at escape velocity from Earth and in two days they would have another firing, followed by a third series and in five days. They had lost twelve pellets which reduced their margin of safety inventory by a third.
ESEP Center was advising that the ESS Carl Sagan not initiate the Orbital Transfer Firing in two days, and that the ESS QE II begin operations to return to Earth.
Jenna relieved the crew and Command team at one AM. She decided that they would start again tomorrow and reassess the status of the mission with a decision to be made by the end of the day.
It was now after 9:30 PM NST and the entire crew was either in the Command deck section, or on monitor from their assigned station. Jenna began,
“Our current status is that with the failed third firing yesterday, we have lost a significant portion of our fuel safety margin. We feel we have addressed the issues of the ICP and resolved them; however, if we return we can be back to Earth in a few days and ESEP’s plan is to refit and relaunch us early in Sur 2. All of you have reviewed the report of our situation and have contributed to the assessment of your department. We now need to decide. Do we go or abort?”
Before her words had stopped echoing in the ship Paige Flores said, “Go.” within ten seconds everyone on the crew had joined the chorus of “GO!”
Ken and Jenna smiled at each other. This was the best crew. Jenna looked at Paige and said, “Ms. Flores, would you connect me to ESEP Center.” Paige smiled and said, “Yes, Ma’am!” Nick’s image came up and Jenna said, “We’re going to Mars. What’s next?”