Because I'm only average at Math and better than average at most other subjects. It's about a 20 point difference between my Math and English grades.What's AP, why not maths, and no need to be sorry. Nail them.
Because I'm only average at Math and better than average at most other subjects. It's about a 20 point difference between my Math and English grades.What's AP, why not maths, and no need to be sorry. Nail them.
I love history and I'm in AP World History, which means I'm already taking a special AP Exam and a final exam, and now I have to take the SAT on top of that.
So, I love history, I just have problems with standardized tests.
I'm not a fan either.
Okay, you wanted it, you demanded it, you finally got it! Introducing the mysterious Perigee!
March 17, 2009, 9:34 AM, Huntsville, Alabama
“And we’re coming to pick up all the memorabilia this lady is donating to the Center’s library why again?” Joel asked, climbing out of the car. “I could be planning for that Ares I-X test flight this summer…”
“Uh, because we’re nice.” Francine responded, as Teresa was already racing up to ring the doorbell. “And everything’s going fine for Ares I-X, you can’t hide behind that.”
“Besides, don’t you guys want to see what cool stuff she has? I bet she’s got the old newspaper articles on Sputnik and John Glenn’s flight and everything.” Teresa called back.
“Why do I always get roped into helping them?” Joel groaned, walking up to the door with Francine.
A wrinkled old woman answered the door. Her white hair was tied up in a bun and she was wearing a black dress printed with a pattern that looked like little white flowers.
“Here already? My, y’all young folks are fast. The stuff for the Center’s downstairs.” She said, welcoming them in. “Why, I remember when the army first came to town...”
The trio headed downstairs. Cardboard boxes full of old newspapers lay stacked against the concrete walls.
“These look like they’re in good condition.” Francine said, opening a dusty box and sneezing.
“I bet they’re full of spiders. Ugh, I hate spiders. Do you two bleeding-hearts know how many people one black widow spider can kill?”
“No, and we don’t care, Joel.” Francine said, as Teresa opened up another box. She pulled out the top newspaper, from 1949. The headline was about the election of a new mayor for the city. She put it to one side, making a mental note to put everything unrelated to the space program in that pile.
And here’s the classic one from the day Explorer 1 went up: ‘Jupiter-C Puts Up Moon’ We’ve got like a dozen of these in the archives. Everybody and their sister saved a copy. Well, the archives people are still going to want-
“Hey, guys, come look at this!” Francine called, holding a newspaper up. The headline read “Perigee Leads Carrier to Aurora 7 After Tense Search”.
“Perigee? What’s that supposed to mean?” Teresa asked, moving over to get a closer look. The picture at the top of the page looked like a typical 60s scene- a astronaut in the silver Mercury spacesuit stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier after splashdown, talking to the crew, who were all in white dress uniforms.
The unusual thing about the picture was the figure standing near the astronaut. The woman was also wearing silver, a silver uniform with half-sleeves and a miniskirt. Her boots and gloves seemed to be made from the same material, as was the cap from under which her dark hair ran out. A pair of darkened goggles hid the woman’s eyes, and she was flashing a confident grin.
In her best 50s-newsreel-announcer voice, Francine began to read from the article: “‘After successfully completing America’s second orbital flight, Navy Lieutenant Commander Scott Carpenter splashed down in the North Atlantic yesterday. But great tension followed re-entry, as his capsule, Aurora 7, landed outside the prime recovery area. With no communications from the astronaut, rescue ships combed the area for nearly an hour until-’”
“Yeah, yeah, the helicopter saw the raft and the frogmen jumped down to save him. But who’s the chick in the crazy get-up?”
“I’m getting to that, Joel. ‘-until the crew of a rescue helicopter from the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid encountered the familiar high-flying superwoman known as Perigee.’”
“Superwoman?!?” Teresa and Joel both exclaimed.
I never heard anything about a 60s heroine named Perigee helping the Mercury Program. Spider-Man saved that one flight, but I never heard anything about this woman…
“‘After greeting the pilot, she led the chopper to Astronaut Carpenter’s position, where he was calmly sitting on the rescue raft, reviewing scientific notes he had taken during the flight. Once the skin-divers had brought him safely back to the Intrepid, the astronaut received a radiotelephone call directly from the president himself.’”
“Yeah, but what about the superhero?”
“The reporter asked Carpenter about her: ‘Well, after I had been waiting for a while, checking my notes, I saw something shiny flying towards me. As it got bigger, I saw that it was Perigee. She flew down to make sure I was okay. ‘Glad to see you made it back alright, Commander. We got worried when your capsule started spinning like the MASTIF.' (Astronaut Carpenter then explained that the MASTIF is a series of spinning cages used by the astronauts to practice regaining control of a spacecraft in an emergency.) Well, after I’d asked her ‘How did you get here?’ I decided to be a good host and pulled out a water container to offer her a drink.’
‘This remark was met with great laugher from all of us in the media, but, true to her mysterious reputation, Perigee refused questioning and flew away shortly after this photograph was taken, calling back ‘I’ll always be there for our Program!’.”
Both Joel and Francine looked at Teresa, expecting information.
“What? Why are you guys looking at me? I’ve never heard of this Perigee woman before in my life!”
“Are you sure? The reporter and Carpenter both clearly knew who she was, so she must have been an established hero. Dig deep, Tessa.”
“I’ve been digging deep, but I swear, I never heard about her before!” This can’t be real, this has to be some kind of hoax. But…
But what if it isn’t? What if there really was a superhuman helping NASA back in the Mercury days?
It would be nice to know somebody went through all this before me.
What did Spider Man do?
And I'm glad about the miniskirt.
It's sort of an in-joke. In Spider-Man #1, he saved the character John Jameson, who was depicted as being on a Mercury flight. As these details clearly peg the story as taking place in the 60s, and Marvel likes to pretend all their heroes have only been active for about 15 years, the story is rarely refrenced.What did Spider Man do?
At long last, the next issue! We've got Ares angst, Hubble Servicing Mission 4, and more clues to Perigee's identity! Oh, and if you're wondering who Peter Corbeau is...
April 28, 2009, 2:09 PM, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
The room was filled with large pieces of white metal, in various shapes and forms, some stamped with logos. Control units, the capsule mock-up, the escape tower, the explosive charges that would let the stages separate… what all of the components of the Ares I-X rocket had in common were that they dwarfed the hard-hatted humans who worked around them.
From the high, dark ceiling, a large American flag hung down, as did a white banner with “GO ARES I-X!” written on it in large red letters.
Beneath it, the team from Marshall was examining the engine parts that had just arrived, making sure they had survived the train journey. All of the parts had come to Florida this way, traveling by guarded train or truck from their respective NASA centers.
The past few weeks and days had been crammed, preparing the components for travel and then accompanying them. Even with her super-speed, Teresa had only been able to steal a few, too-short moments to investigate the mysterious Perigee.
But, they look okay now, which means maybe I can ask some of those KSC old-timers I traded e-mails with about her! She thought, as the group had a discussion reaching that exact consensus. After a quick talk with their supervisor, the group was free to disband for a well-deserved break.
While the urge to cut loose was tempting, Teresa opted to keep subsonic as she ran towards the main space center complex. It was hard to believe she hadn’t been to The Cape in four years.
Sometimes, I worry. Most of the guests who come here are hearing about Constellation for the first time ever. But ask them who Norman Osborn’s dating…
And if they’ve never heard of it, how can they support it?
She pushed herself faster, trying to outrun the doubts. It was a gorgeous day, and a sea breeze was just ruffling the leaves of the palm trees. And, looking toward the sea, Teresa could just make out two orange blobs that were themselves rather historic.
Two shuttles prepped for launch at once. Of course, they’ll hopefully only have to send up Atlantis for the Hubble mission, Endeavour’s just ready in case anything goes wrong.
Still, two shuttles on the pad for the last time ever!
Nearly at the main visitor area, Teresa slowed down, not wanting to attract undue attention. She’d arranged to meet her first old-timer at the museum.
As Teresa waded through the crowd, she felt someone tugging on the right leg of her pants. She looked down to see a brown-haired girl who looked about six years old.
“Are you that superhero girl who fought the Dark Dreamer on TV?” the girl asked, looking up in a very cute way.
“Well… sort of.” Teresa said, unsure of how to respond.
“Can you fly?”
“Um… yeah. I love to fly. I have a pilot’s license.”
To judge by the look on the girl’s face, this was not quite the response she had expected.
Teresa had already spotted the older man waving near the entrance of the Visitor’s Center and uttered a quick goodbye before leaving the girl trying to clarify what she’d meant by flying.
“Dr. Corbeau? Glad to see you. First of all, I want to say that I’m honored…” She put out her hand for the man to shake it, mentally reminding herself to slow her speech.
But I mean, seriously! If it wasn’t for this guy, there wouldn’t be any mutants in the space program at all! He was buddies with Professor X when I was still in diapers and he saved the whole team during that Project Armageddon debacle.
“Equally, Ms. Von Braun. Your career track has been rather impressive. Superheroics, then civilian science. Most people do it the other way around.” Corbeau laughed, and started walking.
“Coming from someone with two Nobel Prizes and five spaceflights, that’s quite the compliment, sir.” Teresa responded, following. “Now, can you tell me anything about this Perigee?”
“Perigee… Perigee was a little before my time. Not that they weren’t still talking about her when I joined the Astronaut Corps in ’65…”
“Why did she stop helping us? What happened to her?”
“Now that’s the big question. Nobody ever saw her after ’63. Once Project Mercury ended, she disappeared as mysteriously as she’d come.”
For some reason, Teresa felt a touch of worry mixed with sadness.
That doesn’t make any sense. I never knew this woman, I don’t know her real name, and she might have died eight years before I was even born. And yet, I feel a sort of empathy…
“You said she was mysterious. What did people know about her? Did anyone know her identity?”
Corbeau bit his lip, trying to remember.
“Not a whole lot. The astronauts who met her said she seemed friendly and confident. Power-wise, from the way she flew and levitated objects, it looked like she could manipulate gravity. But from the strain she showed lifting Gus’ capsule, her power definitely had limits.”
“She levitated a capsule with somebody inside?”
“The very first time she showed up- it was back in July of ’61… Project Mercury was just getting started and Alan Sheppard had already made a short spaceflight back in May. Gus Grissom repeated the feat, but after he splashed down- well, you probably already know this story.”
Teresa nodded. “The capsule’s hatch blew off while it was floating in the water, waiting for the rescue divers, right?”
“Exactly. There were already several ships and choppers in the vicinity, but as soon as the hatch blew, the capsule started filling with water before they could respond. It was sinking fast… until, suddenly, the nearest helicopter crew saw Perigee flying in. The capsule started to rise, and they saw her straining from the weight of the metal and water. But she kept it above the waterline long enough for Grissom to climb out and swim away. The minute he did, she let go and it started sinking again.”
“Perigee flew right over to make sure Grissom was okay while he was swimming. She told him ‘Couldn’t have you go in the Dilbert Dunker, Commander.’ The way he told it to me, he was still in shock over being rescued by a superhero.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, what’s the Dilbert Dunker?”
“It was part of the Mercury training equipment. A model capsule on a rail that got sent down into a pool and turned upside-down with a trainee inside. Then the trainee had to escape while underwater. Believe me, it’s not a lot of fun.”
“So, what happened after that?”
“Once Grissom got back onto one of the rescue ships, everybody started asking him what had happened with the hatch. Some of them thought he’d panicked and blown it off himself with the capsule’s emergency trigger. He insisted he hadn’t, and Perigee agreed with him, before she flew away. She knew her stuff, because, as all of the trainees vouched, there was no way to use the emergency trigger without injuring your hand, and he wasn’t hurt. Now, how Perigee could have known that, I have no idea, and neither did Gus. It just added to the mystery.”
Since I was away, this one's extra long! (I would just like to state that the Cronkite references were written before he died.)
May 24, 2009, 11:25 AM, Headliners Newsroom, New York City
It’s the last mission to Hubble and everybody loves the Hubble. I understand that.
So it’s gotten way more publicity that most of the other recent shuttle missions. Mike Massimino was even posting on Twitter from space. I’m all for that.
So Karen Tockman wanted a NASA representative as a consultant during the touchdown. And that’s great. The more outreach, the better.
Ignoring all those protests from the wacko groups took great courage on Tockman’s part- those signs the Friends of Humanity waved declaring NASA stood for “No Abnormals Sent Away”. I won’t deny that.
And I may be the first mutant scientist to be an expert on the news about something that has nothing to do with superhuman affairs. That’s historic.
But seriously, this whole “most visible non-astronaut” thing is getting old…
Teresa tried to look natural behind the consultant desk as the camera crew counted down the time until they would be back from the current commercial break. A blue-tinged map of the world was on the screen behind the desk, which was a shinny maroon. Beyond where the cameras could see, a screen played the NASA TV stream she would be offering commentary on.
Just please, oh please, don’t let them drag in a “as a mutant” question!
Karen Tockman, the anchorwoman, walked back to her place and practiced smiling in her trademark creepily artificial way. She had even kept it up while detailing the escalating gang violence in Australia before the commercials.
Nothing fazes her. Walter Cronkite rubbed his hands together and went “Oh boy!” when Armstrong walked on the moon, but I can’t see Karen Tockman ever doing that. I’ve seen robots with more emotion.
“We’re live in 3…2…1… On the air!”
“Welcome back to Headliners with Karen Tockman, where we get up close and personal with the people behind the news! In slightly less than 20 minutes, the Space Shuttle Atlantis is set to land at California’s Edwards Air Force Base after a dramatic repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. With me is Dr. Teresa von Braun of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, who’s here to talk with us about the agency and the mission.”
“Hello, Karen, it’s good to be here.” Teresa said, giving a much smaller, shier smile. You know, except for the whole stage fright part. Perigee seemed so calm in the pictures and Corbeau’s story. How did she do it?
“So, first of all, your agency has a new leader now, doesn’t it?”
“Well, sort of. President Obama nominated General Charles Bolden to be NASA’s next Administrator yesterday, but he’ll have to be approved by Congress a few weeks from now. Bolden is a former astronaut and he flew four shuttle missions before his retirement.”
“Congratulations to him, then. Could you give us a summary of what exactly Hubble has meant to scientists and the public?”
18 minutes to touchdown. Endeavour would be feeling the most intense heating at this point. If only she could just stop and watch the feed- to keep quiet in suspense and not have to worry about losing her cool. Teresa bit her lip and tried to string together a coherent answer:
“The Hubble has certainly given scientists a much better look at the origin and structure of the Universe. Quite simply, it’s allowed them to see further into space in greater clarity than ever before. And, though the pictures, the public’s been involved in all of it. A lot of the Hubble’s fame obviously comes from the successful 1993 repair mission and all the great pictures that it’s taken since then.”
“Now, the 1993 mission- that was the one that fixed the broken lens, correct?”
“Yes, once the spacewalkers did their work, Hubble’s vision was much clearer. That was the first Hubble repair mission, this one that’s ending now is the fifth and last.”
The audio indicated that Altman’s piloting was going smoothly, though Teresa still remained tense. Atlantis was heading towards the California coast now, if anyone was floating in a boat in the right part of the Pacific, they could see it streaking through the air, surrounded by a plasma fireball.
“What exactly happened on this mission?”
“They replaced the aluminum ‘space blankets’ that help the Hubble’s instruments stay at a constant temperature and installed a new camera that will allow the telescope to photograph in infared and ultraviolet light.”
16 minutes. Columbia had been lost at 16 minutes to touchdown. Under the table, Teresa’s tense hands formed fists, her fingernails digging into her palms.
If anything’s going wrong, I’ll know directly now, the feed’s right in front of me. But I still feel so helpless…
“Now, what exactly is going on with the shuttle right now, Doctor?”
“They’re re-entering the atmosphere and the vehicle is very hot now because of friction. The crew is being protected from that heat by the tiles on the underside of the shuttle orbiter. These tiles, if you remember, Karen, are what failed in the Columbia accident back in 2003.”
Teresa took a discreet deep breath, realizing that she was beginning to talk more quickly than usual. Chill, Tessa. What are the nutters going to say if it looks like you can’t control your powers on live TV?
“But there were no signs of serious damage when the tiles were inspected earlier in the mission, so we feel there is little danger for the astronauts onboard Atlantis.” Teresa finished. Not that it stops us from worrying, though…
13 minutes. About six hundred miles from Edwards and 34 miles up.
“Okay, Doctor, I’m going to split the screen now and let you talk while the video plays. Tell us about what we’re seeing.”
Now, the public could see the feed as well. Many flight controllers were sitting by computer screens around a large room.
“Uh, well this is the Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas. The flight controllers are all helping Commander Scott Altman through re-entry.”
“What can you tell us about Commander Altman?”
“He’s a Navy pilot and he did a lot of the stunt flying in the movie Top Gun. This is his fourth shuttle mission and his second as Commander.”
10 minutes. Atlantis would be visible soon, and the video cut to an expectant empty blue sky over the landing strip.
“Now, Atlantis is going to land in California because the weather in Florida isn’t very good right now. How often do you have to redirect these landing opportunities?”
“Landings are split about 50-50 between Kennedy and Edwards. When the shuttle lands at Edwards, it’s carried back to Cape Canaveral on a special 747 jet.”
And, unlike what you saw in Superman Returns, the orbiter is not capable of taking off from the back of the carrier plane. A jumbo jet also couldn’t maintain cabin pressure in space, but I’m not here to critique the science of a superhero movie.
I don’t want to talk right now. I just want to focus on the orbiter!
Eight minutes. In the deep blue sky, a small discolored dot appeared, subtly, barely perceptibly lighter than the sky around it, but still blue.
“And that dot that we’re seeing now is Atlantis. They’re about 140 miles from the landing strip now. ”
Everything was silent. Even Tockman seemed to be impressed as slight rumbles were heard in the desert air. The object was now clearly white and an oblong shape, becoming more visibly triangular with every passing second…
6 minutes. 18,000 feet and falling, although the sky looked so much like the sea it almost seemed as if the orbiter might be rising from the bottom of the ocean, preparing to break the surface.
The delta-wings started to become clear, and the color difference between the orbiter’s white top and black underbelly was apparent. The tiles there were charred by the heat of reentry, but they had held, and Teresa silently cheered.
“It’s shaped like the shuttle now, you can see it.” Tockman said.
4 minutes to landing. Louder rumbles could be heard now, and Atlantis’ pointed nose and rear engines were distinguishable. It was about as high as a regular jetliner now, but coming in much faster, at a supersonic 700 miles per hour.
The Commander took direct control over from the computers now, and the camera cut to his view from above the clouds with a green guidance display overlaying the desert floor.
A camera operator got a panicked look on his face before he realized the bangs were only the twin sonic booms heralding Atlantis’ arrival.
The sun glinted off the orbiter’s surfaces as the crew guided it through a circle to burn off speed. When the light was right, one could make out the dark patterns on the tail and nose. This was the space shuttle. There was no mistaking it for anything else. No other craft on Earth looked like that.
And no other operational spacecraft could land as Atlantis was doing now, the far wing becoming visible as it closed the loop, turning towards the camera.
“Field in sight at ten thousand feet.” Commander Altman’s voice, over the radio.
I sound just like all those promos from when I was a kid, but it takes off like a rocket, and it lands like an airplane-
-and that’s really cool.
Seven thousand feet. The cockpit camera showed the runway coming up as the slow glide continued.
Two thousand feet. The orbiter’s nose moved up, the large wings providing a sort of “break” by catching the air.
Three hundred feet. The landing gear popped out as Atlantis floated the last thousand feet to the runway.
And then, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, the wheels made contact, small clouds of dust trailing as a parachute deployed from the back of the orbiter. The nose pitched down smoothly, until the front wheels also made contact-
Atlantis rolled along, trailing the inflated parachute, until it came to a full stop.
“No matter how many times you see that, it never gets old.”
A nod. But it seemed more sincere than the usual Karen Tockman fare. Had she really felt something? No, impossible…
“The final Hubble Servicing Mission is complete, but the Hubble’s mission of discovery is still continuing.”
“Indeed, Doctor. Before we go to a commercial break, could you please tell us what your favorite image from the Hubble is?”
That’s it? No mutant questions? Teresa sighed in relief. She’d been prepared to answer this one, and held up a print out.
“I’d have to say this one, the Deep Field, where the telescope looked at an apparently empty area of the sky and found it was filled with this amazing diversity of astronomical objects. It’s beautiful enough to look at, but what’s really amazing is that at this magnification every point of light you see in this image isn’t a star but an entire galaxy full of stars. And any one of those stars might have planets and civilizations…”
Okay, the next big event in the story is supposed to be the Ares I-X test, and that's not until October, so I guess I'll do more on Perigee. The Apollo 11 40th tie-in will be up soon after a bit of polishing.
This one's got it all- answers, a tribute to Apollo 11, and a walk-and-talk that would make Aaron Sorkin proud:
July 20, 2009, 8:34 PM, US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama
It was the time of day when things were winding down. The very youngest Space Campers were already preparing for bed back in their dorms, and the museum itself had been closed for hours. Janitors were cleaning crushed popcorn and spilled soda out of the IMAX Theater. Outside, fireflies darted around in open areas, like the stars that were beginning to come out. And next to the upper stage of a Centaur rocket that was on display not far from the campers’ dorm, Teresa and Francine were taking a detour on their way home from work.
“What I can’t figure out is how Perigee could have known about blowing the hatch hurting Grissom’s hand.” Teresa said, walking somewhat quickly towards the open Space Shuttle Plaza in front of them.
Francine rolled her eyes, trying to keep pace.
“-I mean, the MASTIF and the Dilbert Dunker would have been things the press would have covered, but Corbeau said only the other astronauts would have known-”
“Tessa-” Francine started.
“-And obviously, none of the Mercury astronauts were women, they didn’t allow women, which is what makes it so mysterious-”
“Tessa! You’ve been going on about Perigee for months! We’re here because it’s the anniversary of Apollo 11, remember?” Francine declared, exasperated.
Teresa stopped and signed, staring up at the full-sized space shuttle display to their left. The orbiter, Pathfinder, was a test model that Marshall’s engineers had used in the 70s to test the cranes and crawlers that would carry the real shuttles, while the boosters and tank were flight-ready hardware. Although Pathfinder could never be launched, in the growing twilight, the spotlit shuttle stack seemed ready to take off at any moment.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Maybe I have been getting a little too obsessed.” She said.
“A little? Every second you’re not at work, you’re at the library, looking at microfilms. And considering that you’re somebody who gets a lot done every second... look, I had this teacher back in middle school, Ms. Rowland, and she always used to say that sometimes the best way to solve a problem was to step back for a bit and wait for inspiration to strike out of the blue.”
“Out of the blue, eh?” They both looked up, at the darkening sky, laughing, and continued their walk. The lights were still on in the cafeteria nearby as a janitor cleaned up, and older teams were still on the sim floor completing missions.
“No lightning.” Francine muttered.
“’Sure would be nice if the moon was up, though. I’d love to pick out the Sea of Tranquility with some good binoculars. And then Shackleton Crater.”
Shackleton Crater was a deep crater near the moon’s South Pole, named for the Irish polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Because of its depth and position, the bottom of the crater was almost always in darkness and radar from probes indicated that it might contain water ice. If the ice was real, it would be a prime site for the first Constellation landing.
“Well, that new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter hasn’t actually found out if there’s ice at the pole yet, so maybe not there. Unless those are some really good binoculars.”
“Really, really good binoculars.” They walked past the cafeteria, into an open area known as Rocket Park where various replicas of space hardware stood on display. There was the distant sound of cars on the highway. Francine took a long look at one of the larger rockets on display, a Saturn I sitting on top of blue metal supports. A “little brother” of the later moon rockets, it had done its own admirable part in the early Apollo missions.
“Hey, Tessa, do you ever stop and look at the Apollo hardware and realize we’re doing the same thing right now? Well, not exactly the same thing, but sort of. We have the same goal they did.” She asked.
Teresa was staring out at the Saturn V model next to the Davidson Center, brightly illuminated.
“All the time, Francine, all the time. What we do is easier because of what they did. They didn’t have a precedent, a baseline to look at for help. Nobody had gone to the moon before, they did it all from scratch. The problems we’re facing now, like for Ares I-X in the fall… are small potatoes in comparison. It’s… inspiring.”
“Is that why you wanted to come here so bad?”
“Yeah, kind of.” They walked in the direction of the Saturn V replica now, headed for the entrance to the Davidson Center.
“You mean there was another reason?”
Teresa walked faster, not saying anything. Francine jogged to catch up.
“Well, what is it, Tessa? Think you’ll see your grandfather’s ghost or something?”
“I don’t know, I just wanted to be with the Saturn V on the anniversary. To… connect, I guess. To feel the past, to feel like I was there. It’s hard to describe.”
They were in the courtyard around the model now, the engines dwarfing them. Teresa sped over to hold the door open for Francine. The stairway to the display area had a bright orange-and-yellow painting of the moon rocket itself firing at liftoff.
“I think I get it.” Their footsteps on the metal staircase echoed in the empty building. “Apollo was incredible. From suborbit to the moon in only eight years. Even when Grissom and Chaffee and White died in the fire, they kept going. What a vision, what a quest…” Francine trailed off as she realized Teresa was stopping to read the quote written in white on the wall at the top of the stairs.
“‘The rocket will free man from his remaining chains, the chains of gravity which still tie him to this planet. It will open to him the gates of heaven- Wernher von Braun.’ You must have read that a million times, why do you stop and-”
“Well, when I was in school, I took art appreciation once. And we had a teacher who was talking about the great cathedrals in Europe…” She pushed open the door to the main museum.
“You think this building is like a cathedral? Well, maybe a little, I guess…”
Underneath the Saturn V, a group of campers were receiving a lesson in space history from a councilor.
“Not the building, no.” Teresa muttered, distracted as she wandered beneath the hanging stages in awe.
“What then, the Saturn?” Francine asked, tapping her co-worker on the shoulder.
“What our teacher told us was that in the Middle Ages, nobody who designed a cathedral could ever hope to see the finished structure. They’d work their whole life on it and teach their children to be engineers and keep building it, and the same with their children and so on.
“And then, however many generations it took, somebody from that family would be there to see the cathedral when it was beautiful and finished, with all the carvings and stained glass, and they’d remember their ancestor who first dreamed it up.” She walked towards the model of the Orion capsule that had recently been added to the museum, running her hand across the outside.
“And that’s what I feel sometimes, a sense of being part of a legacy like those medieval architects. Like space colonization is my cathedral, my grandfather’s legacy to me.”
Francine nodded. “Hey, some kid forgot their workbook!” She picked the book up to take back to the councilor, showing it to Teresa.
It was open to the space history section, the page about Mercury in particular. The camper had taken some notes, but what caught Teresa’s attention was a photo of a group of women at the bottom of the page.
“Thirteen female pilots known as the ‘First Lady Astronaut Trainees’ or ‘The Mercury 13’ passed the same tests used to select the seven Mercury astronauts, but were never invited to join the astronaut corps.”
Last edited by KaiYeves; 2009-Aug-11 at 09:08 PM.
Very nice! Also, I think Ares IX been pushed bact to October 31 . I like Mercury 13 bit, they're rarely mentioned in literature.
Also, when the Pathfinder shuttle was first built, It only had the rough size, shape, and weight of an orbiter. This page from A Field Guide to American spacecraft shows Pathfinder in both its current and original shape:
Finally, minor nitpick, the Saturn in the Rocket Paark is a Saturn I Block II rocket however there is Saturn 1B on display at a rest stop on the AL TN border. Also, there's a small rocket park at MSFC, which has a Saturn I Block I on display as well as several other interesting rockets. I haven't been to it in years though.
Last edited by Gemini; 2009-Aug-11 at 01:25 AM.
I think I wrote September the day before the announced the push-back. Just fixed it in the story. Nice excuse to dress up like an astronaut for Halloween, though.Very nice! Also, I think Ares IX been pushed bact to October 31 .
Since I've started writing, I've done a lot of research about female astronauts, engineers, and pilots, to get an idea for the kind of people Tessa would look up to, and I found the Mercury 13 so fascinating I just had to include them somehow.I like Mercury 13 bit, they're rarely mentioned in literature.
Also fixed.Finally, minor nitpick, the Saturn in the Rocket Park is a Saturn I Block II rocket however there is Saturn 1B on display at a rest stop on the AL TN border. Also, there's a small rocket park at MSFC, which has a Saturn I Block I on display as well as several other interesting rockets. I haven't been to it in years though.
Thanks for the feedback and help. Especially since I saddled your hometown with a superhero and all. (At least she doesn't have much of a rogue's gallery.)
Well, Huntsville isn't my home town, but I'll be spending a great deal of my time there starting next week.
I guess I just assumed based on how much you talk about it.
I'll make sure all the superhero battles take place while you're out of town.
Teresa: "I'm worried about what Norman will do."
Teresa: "No, Augustine!"
I really do have no life...
The "theme song" for this chapter is probably Starship's "We Built This City", both in reference to the struggles of the Mercury 13 and those of Teresa and her friends.
August 27, 2009, 3:24 PM, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
A sense of tension hung over the Cape, not because of any approaching hurricane, nor related to the shuttle that was due to launch in a few days. Tourists at the Visitor Center continued to laugh and joke as their children lapped up quickly-melting ice cream, but among the Center’s employees, there was an undercurrent of worry, barely perceptible, but certainly there.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m worried about what Norman’s going to do regarding us.” Joel confessed, between slurps of an icy soda in the cafeteria.
“And you don’t mean Osborn!” Added Max, the avionics expert who sat to his right, earning a laugh from Teresa and Francine.
“Exactly, Max. I mean Augustine.” He said, wincing from a brain freeze. It was an occupational hazard of working in Florida in late summer.
Norman Augustine was a former Lockheed Martin official who was the head of the president’s commission on the future of spaceflight. For the past month, they had been listening to testimony from experts and insiders. When the committee finished, they would release a report to the president on what NASA and its partners should do in the next decade. This might- or might not- include exploration of the moon.
And it was that uncertainty, similar to the night of Pluto’s demotion, which created the tense mood at KSC.
“We’ve been working so hard to get ready for this test, and I don’t want to see it all turn into a house of cards and collapse.” Joel elaborated.
“Well, we’ve got to be prepared for anything, don’t we? Prepared to start from scratch if need be.” Francine said. “Right, Tessa?”
“Uh huh.” Teresa muttered, already taking her tray to the drop-off line.
“Leaving so soon?”
“There’s an expert on the Mercury Program speaking in half an hour, and I managed to work things out so I can see him beforehand and ask about-”
“-About Perigee and the Mercury 13, we know, we know.” Joel finished, rolling his eyes. “I never did go in much for history, but if it floats your boat…”
“You know the cliché, Joel. Those who don’t study history are forced…” Francine countered, although her friend didn’t hear any more, as she was already out the doors of the cafeteria and headed for the auditorium.
The entrance to the auditorium was in the main Visitor Complex, with a poster outside advertising upcoming events.
It wasn’t that the Augustine Commission didn’t worry Teresa, but since there seemed to be little she could do about it personally, she felt worrying excessively would be a waste of energy.
Yesterday, Sean G Christopher presented about Cassini… and today, Keith McDonnell talks about Project Mercury! She speed-read while showing her identification to the security guard at the door. Inside, a brown-haired man was connecting a laptop to a PowerPoint projector at the front of the room. Teresa was behind him in a flash.
“Doctor McDonnell?” She asked, startling the man, who looked right and left before turning around.
“Right! Ah, yes, that’s me.” He put out his hand to shake “You’re the woman from Marshall who said she needed help?”
“Yup. Pleased to meet you.” She shook his hand. “What can you tell me about the Mercury 13?”
Dr. McDonnell turned back to the laptop and brought up a slide covered in small black-and-white portraits of women with 60s haircuts.
“Here they are. In the late 50s, William Lovelace was a medical expert tasked with assessing the fitness of astronaut candidates. Since the capsules were so small, and women are generally smaller than men and require fewer consumables, he thought female pilots would make great astronauts and asked record-setter Jerrie Cobb-” he circled the cursor over a picture of a blond woman “-to take the same tests the official group of male astronauts were taking.”
“What sort of tests?”
“Reaction time, calmness, immunity to motion sickness- that one involved having cold water injected into your ear-, heat and cold tolerance, psychological health… One of the tests involved how a trainee reacted to isolation by having them float on the surface of a water tank in a completely dark room without any sound or light. Most people cracked after several hours and started hallucinating things.”
‘Sounds like a supervillain’s torture device.
“How did Cobb react?”
“She passed with flying colors. Cobb came out after ten hours completely lucid. Dr. Lovelace was convinced and asked her to recruit other pilots she knew to take similar testing.”
“Did they use the Dilbert Dunker and learn about the workings of the Mercury capsule?” Teresa asked, scrutinizing the faces of the women on the screen. Several had dark hair like Perigee, including two who looked very similar. “Are those two twins?”
“Yes, Jan and Marion Dietrich were identical twins from California. And yes, those were two elements of the training.”
“How about her?” She asked, pointing to a picture in the top left corner. The smile seemed sort of familiar, although Teresa admitted that might have been just hopeful imagining.
“That’s Janet Quincy. At the time of selection she was an assistant engineer and former calculator living in Chicago, who-”
“She was a calculator?”
“In the 50s, a ‘calculator’ meant someone good at math who worked in a lab checking the figures, sort of like a secretary. And, like secretaries, calculators were mostly female and underpaid.”
Worked in a lab, huh? Could it be…
“What kind of lab did she work in?”
“The serious kind. Los Alamos.”
“The place where they built the atomic bomb?”
“The same. Although the specific project Ms. Quincy worked on was a peacetime effort involving domestic fusion energy. Needless to say, they were unsuccessful, and the project was disbanded.”
She worked on a nuclear energy project?
Okay, it could be just a coincidence, but seriously, it would be easier to count the science heroes who didn’t get their powers from lab accidents. It’s a chance, a lead to follow.
“What did she do after that?”
“Quincy moved to Chicago and took a job as an assistant engineer for an electrical company. She also participated in several air races, which was how she met Jerrie Cobb and got recommended for the program.”
The guard stuck his head in through the door, informing them that the first guests would arrive shortly.
“What happened to the Mercury 13? I mean, I know they didn’t get to be actual astronauts, but what happened in the end?”
“The customs of the day just wouldn’t allow it. Institutionalized sexism. There was a government hearing, and President Johnson decided to shut down the training program.”
“Wait, one more thing- what do you think about Perigee?”
“I’m not the biggest expert on her; superhuman history was never my strong suit. Sorry if I can’t help you there.”
“Oh, that’s okay, Doctor. I think you told me enough already.” She turned to leave as the first guests came in. Joel and Francine would already be back in the Vehicle Assembly Building.
So, suppose Janet Quincy was in some kind of accident at Los Alamos back in the 50s. Let’s say she did develop superpowers because of this. Maybe she was Perigee in Los Alamos or Chicago but she didn’t do anything big enough for Corbeau or the Huntsville Times reporter to hear about it.
But still, if I could find a newspaper article or something…
It's the 3 billion dollar question, and an answer seems to be hard to find...
September 18, 2009, 6:30 PM, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
The temporary workstations the Marshall employees had been given at Kennedy were small, but adequate. Especially if all you were doing was watching C-SPAN on a desktop after everyone else had gone home.
“Mr. Augustine, you can say it till you're blue in the face. I can say it. Bolden can say it, but the American people are going to listen only to the president. If we're going to have a program, it's going to have to be on the president. He's going to have to put the juice to the program." Florida’s Senator Bill Nelson argued, in a replay from the day before.
The Commission’s report had been hopeful, but blunt: “Human exploration beyond low Earth orbit is NOT viable under the Fiscal Year 2010 budget guideline. Meaningful human exploration is possible under a less-constrained budget… up to approximately 3 billion per year above…”
Three billion dollars. Three billion bloody dollars… or nothing. Teresa thought, watching the video while sighing. That was why the follow-up hearings were so focused on asking the government for the extra money. At least Augustine seemed to find the Constellation system practical if the money could be found:
“If it were to be abandoned, we think there ought to be compelling reasons to abandon it," he said. "Constantly changing programs is one of the worst things you can do. You should only make changes for very compelling reasons."
“Hey, Tessa, you ready to go home yet? Francine sent me to ask. The janitors are going to be coming in pretty soon!” Max called from the door.
“What? Uh, yeah, I’m coming, just a second.” Teresa closed her browser and set the computer to shut down, pulling off the large, black headphones. The rubber-insulated curly wire connecting them to the monitor coiled up as she placed them on the tabletop and pushed the swivel chair in.
Francine and Joel were waiting near the door to the outside. Joel was in the bad mood he had been for days, glaring at everything in sight as if he considered it a threat, even the pushpins on a nearby bulletin board, and he seemed to be in the midst of a long rant that Francine was doing her best to tune out. It seemed that Max’s volunteering to fetch Teresa had been as much out of the desire to get away from Joel as from simple kindness.
“… and what are we going to end up doing if they cancel the program? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to end up working at Burger Doodle! I refuse to flip burgers! It’s beneath my dignity! Besides, I have very sensitive skin and the fry oil…”
“Hey, I’m ready to go.” Teresa said, giving Francine a sympathetic look.
“Hello. As I was saying, it’s disgraceful the state this country’s in. Convicted criminals are serving as Avengers, but honest people like us are begging for a bit of good will to continue everything we’ve worked and dreamed of on for years…”
“Joel, do you want to rant or do you want to go eat? The pizza place closes soon.” Max protested, cutting off the incoming barrage. Teresa opened the door and they stepped out, into the night air. Jupiter could be seen to the southwest, a bright point of light.
“Of course, some of us can’t just go back to Mojave.” Joel added, under his breath. Teresa pretended she hadn’t heard that part.
“So, uh, anybody read any good books lately?” Francine asked, trying to break the tension as they walked down the sidewalk.
There was a long pause as they continued walking.
“Jeez, don’t all answer at once. Well, I read something very fascinating the other day about Admiral Byrd. You know, the guy who explored Antarctica back in the 30s?”
“That sounds interesting. What exactly did you read about him?” Teresa added, hoping to keep the conversation going.
“The interesting part was how they said that Byrd’s second expedition in ’34 was actually followed by more people than his first. It was during the Depression, obviously, and everybody sort of needed something positive to focus on and make them feel better. Escapism, y’know?”
“So?” That was Joel.
“So, I was thinking that’s kind of like our situation. Maybe times like these, with the Civil War and that Skrull business and now all this stuff with the Avengers… that’s when our budget always takes a hit, but maybe… maybe that’s when people need us the most.”
“Like Admiral Byrd. Or Apollo in the 60s with Vietnam and all the other chaos.” Max nodded.
“Hey, if I hadn’t had the shuttle to follow, school would have been a lot harder for me, I hear what you’re saying.” Of course, my schooling was a bit more stressful than most…
“Eh, yeah, yeah, that touchy-feely stuff is great for you guys, but the bean counters don’t think like that. You can’t measure inspiration, you can’t put a number on it.” They were almost at Max’s car.
Teresa turned to look at the VAB, spotlit in the distance. Inside was the Ares I-X test rocket, now fully stacked over 300 feet tall. Just a few hours before, they had stood underneath, feeling immensely small before it. No living thing except the tallest California redwoods was anywhere near that size. They had felt such pride before their massive creation. But what if it was all for nothing?
What if Joel was right? She didn’t consider that long.
All things considered, I beg to disagree. The Hubble servicing mission back in May wouldn’t have happened if people hadn’t pressed the management to keep Hubble going, and look at that new data we just got from the improved instruments.
There’s a value in that.
A familiar image filled her mind, of her younger self sitting at the desk in her room at Xavier’s, feeling overwhelmed by a tricky bit of chemistry homework from Dr. McCoy. She looked up, at the poster of the solar system that hung by her bed, and smiled.
There’s something to be said for inspiration.
Okay, there's a very good explanation for why this thread will be updated less frequently now- I've gotten to the present day, and I obviously can't write about LCROSS or Ares I-X until after they happen. Once I "clear" those, I will be able to write about the more distant future in less detail.
A short comedic segment dealing with the unique travails of working at NASA in the Marvel Universe:
Constellation Quarterly Progress Report, October 1, 2008, 3:10 PM, Marshall Space Flight Center
“Okay, we’ll take a few questions.” The division representative said, having finished the wrap-up of the progress made on the various projects related to the Vision that had been made at the different NASA centers in the previous few months. A larger-than-usual group of reporters sat before the podium.
He called on a blond woman near the front of the room.
“Michele Peters, sir, Associated Press. I understand that you’re going to crash a probe into the moon to look for water. Will this affect the werewolf community in any way?”
“You’re referring to the LCROSS probe next week, I presume? We’ve actually researched that possibility very extensively, and our resident expert, Mr. Jameson, has assured us that LCROSS will be completely harmless in that respect.”
The reporters scribbled down the answer in their notebooks as the representative called on a short man with dark hair on the left side of the room.
“I’m with Space.com, sir- what do you believe we have to gain from returning to the moon?”
“Well, with the Apollo missions, we returned a lot of strangely-colored, superpower-granting rocks that unfortunately were stolen from the Lunar Receiving Lab before they could be analyzed. If we could recover more samples to study in greater detail, think of what that could do for our energy crisis.”
“Mr. Representative, what are some of the difficulties faced in going to Mars?”
“One of the biggest is the amount of time the crew would be exposed to cosmic radiation. From prior experience, we have learned that in the event of a severe radiation event without proper shielding, astronauts would stand a one-in-four chance of being turned into a rock creature, a risk level we find unacceptable.”
“Sir, our readers want to know- on future sample-return missions, what precautions will be taken against hostile lifeforms within the extraterrestrial material?”
“All samples will be examined under the strictest security in isolated quarantine labs, possibly even in orbit. In the event that a Symbiote is encountered, sonic and heat-based weaponry will be available to all the researchers. However, in all of our previous sample-return missions, not so much as a single extraterrestrial microbe has been returned, so rest easy, you’re not going to catch Mars germs.”
Is that all? Usually there’s one guy asking something totally off-the-wall…
I was playing around GIMP recently and made a cover.
Wicked! Thanks! I wasn't sure if I would treat it all as one book or the story arcs as separate books, but that certainly puts me in favor of the former.
Okay, at long last, the Into the Cosmos LCROSS issue, featuring my other Marvel character, Martin Nebula, as well as the Californian teen hero team known as the Runaways. Enjoy!
October 8, 2009, 10:29 PM, Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, California
Dr. Martin Nebula took a moment to just soak in the moment. In just a few hours, the LCROSS probe would drop its spent booster rocket into the crater Cabeus, near the moon’s South Pole, creating a plume of debris that would hopefully be visible from Earth. By examining the debris for chunks of ice, they would know if there was usable water there… or if there wasn’t.
It felt so strange to think that these were the last few hours of not knowing, that people now going to sleep would wake up in a world that might know the answer to the question that burned through the minds of all the people who had come to watch the live coverage of the impact. He had come in from nearby Pasadena to help explain the event to them, really an extension of his astrobiology job at CalTech, although LCROSS wasn’t a Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission.
“When are they gonna smack the moon, Nico?” A young voice asked, from behind Martin. Following the sound with his head, he saw a brown-haired girl of about eleven tugging on the sleeve of an older girl whose favorite color, judging from her clothes and makeup, was black.
“I don’t know, Molly, I’m not a scientist.” The older girl said. Three other teens stood nearby, a blond girl in a Beatles t-shirt, a tall Hispanic boy, and a shorter boy who was also blond.
It’s good to see some kids with an interest in this sort of stuff. Martin thought, walking over towards the group.
“The main impact is supposed to occur around three-thirty AM. Did you all come as a group?” He asked.
“Yes, we’re a group.” The taller boy said, laughing a little bit.
“We come here a lot.” The blond girl added. “You look familiar. Weren’t you in that Discovery Channel show about Saturn?”
“Probably, I’ve been in a few. I work at the university analyzing the data from the missions as it comes in. I’m Martin.”
“I’m Karolina. He’s Victor, and he’s Chase.”
“So, when the rocket hits the moon, we’ll be able to see it from here?” Victor asked, checking the current time on his digital watch.
“Yes, there will be a live feed from cameras around the world on the screens in the museum. Observatories in lots of countries are participating, in addition to the Hubble in space and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will be very close to the debris cloud.”
“Didn’t you already find water on the moon, though? I thought I heard about that on the radio a few weeks ago.” Nico asked.
“Well, what we found was water in the soil in some parts of the moon. While it would be useful to colonists, extracting that water would be much harder than melting polar ice would be. Would any of you be interested in visiting the moon someday?”
“That would be really cool!” Molly shouted.
“It would be very cool.” Martin smiled, as Chase whispered something to Karolina.
“Um, we’ve got to go, but we’ll try to come back for the impact.”
“See you, then.” He said, waving good-bye to the group. It was a school night, after all, and they were kids… still, it was nice to see that they’d come at all before running away.
Perhaps one of them would go to the moon someday. It all depended on what would happen in the next few hours, and then the following weeks and months as the observations were analyzed. And what they would find then- only time would tell…
Here it is, Ares I-X!
October 28, 2009, 7:27 AM, Kennedy Space Center
After three years of planning, construction, budget woes, supervillain attacks, bad weather, doubts, the previous day’s scrub, and lots and lots of hard work, it was finally here. Ares I-X was on the pad and ready for launch, with no weather more extreme than a slight breeze off the sea.
And in the shadow of the great rocket itself, the members of the Marshall propulsion team were completing their final checks.
Teresa lifted her hard-hatted head upwards, past the gantry arms and cables, up the 327-foot length of shinning white metal stabbing the turquoise sky.
Six years ago, this vehicle wasn’t even a glimmer in an engineer’s eye. Three years ago, it didn’t have a name. Six months ago, it was a collection of parts in various states.
And in a few hours, it’ll be 150 miles away, bobbing in the ocean.
And we built it, together.
“Final report, guys?” A manager in a suit asked, his mind more on the bolts and rivets than the bigger picture.
“All clear for launch on this end, sir!” Francine answered, excitedly.
Being “nonessential personnel” beyond this point, the group walked quickly to the bus that would take them to the special “employees only” viewing stand.
Teresa tried to be calm as she took her seat, but her X-gene-induced inclination for hyperactivity showed itself as she tapped her fingers rhythmically on the side of the seat, averaging about five taps per second.
Nearby, Joel was droning on about how the cashier at McDonalds had refused to give him a discount on his breakfast sandwich and iced coffee because of the occasion. Francine’s face suddenly lit up as she remembered something and began to rummage through her backpack.
“Oh yeah, Tessa, I bought you these yesterday…” She handed Teresa a small blue case, which held a pair of retro, polka-dotted, sunglasses.
“Thanks for the…60s sunglasses? They’re nice, and I needed a pair, but… why the style?”
“Because of the Apollo legacy, silly! Remember that pic with your grandfather and President Kennedy watching the Saturn I go up? Everybody was wearing shades like this.”
“The pictures from the visit a week before he got shot? Yeah, that’s right. Thanks.” She put them on. “How do I look?”
“Goovy!” Francine pulled out her camera-phone. “Now say something in a German accent.”
“No way. That’s just lame and weird.”
“No, nuh-uh, nix, no way…”
T-minus four minutes and holding. From the bleachers, the Constellation workers had an excellent view of Ares I-X on the pad, surrounded by even taller lightning towers, but binoculars and cameras with white zoom lenses still predominated.
These are actually the same pair I bought for the Return to Flight back in 05. It’s a wonder I didn’t lose them or anything. Teresa thought, examining her black binoculars.
This time, however, a prominent loudspeaker took the place of the portable radio. The Flight Controllers in the firing room would soon complete their final readiness check, at which point the countdown clock would restart with four minutes to launch.
Had her grandfather felt like this at the first Saturn I test launch?
In the old pictures Francine was talking about, he was wearing one of those real fancy sixties suits with the shinny shoes and the hankie in the pocket, and he had a Rolex and…
She looked down at her own sneakers, beige Capri pants, and t-shirt bearing the Ares project logo.
… of course, I don’t see President Kennedy sitting next to me, so perhaps I have an excuse for not dressing up. And the slicked-back thing doesn’t look good when your hair’s green.
Believe me, I’ve tried.
But did he feel this tense despite knowing he’d built everything as well as he could?
There’s just so much that could go wrong. “On what wings dare he aspire, what the hand, dare seize the fire?”
“A poll of the Launch Authority Team here in the Firing Room says that we are go for launch. T-minus four minutes and counting. Flight data recorders are being turned on.” A voice came over the loudspeaker.
“Here we go.” Joel said, in an odd combination of a sigh and a cheer.
Everyone in the viewing gallery seemed to tense up. While the engineers themselves were largely silent, the noises of conversations from elsewhere at the Cape seemed to suddenly decrease, to a low hum, as if a magic spell had been cast. And, through binoculars, the Ares I-X did bear a slight resemblance to a high-tech wizard’s staff.
“T-minus three minutes thirty seconds, solid rocket motors and flight termination system are now armed.”
Flight termination. Let’s hope we don’t need it.
Teresa adjusted the knob on her binoculars, bringing the long, thin, white rocket into the clearest possible focus. It looked odd to see what had been a virtual animation or a concept drawing for so long as actual, physical reality. She could make out the five decals on the upper stage- an American flag, NASA, the Constellation project, the Ares symbol, and a special Ares I-X logo that had been created for the test flight.
For the first time in almost 30 years, something other than a space shuttle stood at Pad 39B. Ares I was digital no more.
“T-minus two minutes. Ares I-X vehicle now switching to internal power.”
Nobody was inside, of course. The Orion “capsule” was just a dummy, or “boilerplate” as the engineers liked to say. But despite the Augustine Commission’s statements that Constellation might not continue without more funding, Teresa could see the rocket’s white dummy upper stage as an orange fuel tank similar to the space shuttle’s in her mind’s eye. And just faintly, six astronauts seated inside of the Orion capsule, their darkened helmets hiding their facial features. Just imagination, or a vision of the future?
What happened next might determine the answer.
“Control has been transferred from the ground computers to the flight computers within the rocket. T-minus one minute to launch.”
Now, all was silent. Teresa felt tense and heavy, hanging on every passing second… but also a crackling kind of joyous calm. A deep stillness mixed with an urge to rush ahead. Perhaps no living being could know the feeling better than a woman who ran at Mach 4 for relaxation. This was an electric Zen.
“We are go intertial, the navigation system has been activated.”
“Onboard power units have started.”
“T-minus sixteen seconds, sound suppression system activated.” With a whirring sound, the water spilled into the tanks.
“T-minus ten… nine… eight…”
This is it! Now the engineers talked again, but only to count down with the loudspeaker:
“Seven… six… five… four…”
Unlike the shuttle, there was no waiting. Everything looked perfectly still on the pad until…
“Three… two… one…”
The booster ignited with a roar, steam spilling across the pad as it hit the water in the sound suppression tanks!
There were no few seconds of waiting, wreathed in its own smoke, Ares I-X immediately above the cloud it created at the pad, atop a burning white column.
“And we have liftoff of Ares I-X, testing concepts for the future of new rocket design!”
In four seconds, the gantry was cleared, in seven, the rocket’s blazing end was above the lightning towers. The rocket burn sounded like a constant, persistent hum, with measured ticking sounds as it rolled to change course.
It was in the sky now, level with the puffy clouds, an ever-growing pillar of smoke beneath it as Teresa tracked with her binoculars.
Go! Go! Go!
“Altitude now two miles.” Two miles in half a minute. Ares I-X was nearing the region where it would experience the greatest structural pressure, right before going supersonic. A white halo of shocked water droplets appeared around the top of the rocket, growing larger and longer, until the rumbling sonic boom could be heard in the viewing stands.
This time, however, Teresa was not the only one with her ears uncovered. Everyone here had contributed to the test flight, and they wanted the full experience!
The shock halo receded, and then vanished, as Ares I-X continued to climb. Just over a minute into the flight, it was at Mach 2 and ten miles high. The flame became paler and more ragged. If anyone had been onboard, they could have seen the curvature of the Earth at this point.
It became harder to track the rocket as it moved behind clouds, already 32 miles away, 20 miles up, and moving twice as fast again. Even Teresa could have hardly kept pace with that kind of power on the ground for long. But Ares I-X was not on the ground. It was ghostly behind the clouds as the solid booster brightened and burned out. The upper and lower stages separated, tumbling away from each other.
In just under three minutes, Ares I-X had climbed to 23 miles. But with this planned surrender to gravity, it could only travel downwards from this point on.
A messy squiggle of smoke hung in the air, like a small child might make by running with a crayon down a hallway. The clouds moved in to cover it, as the long fall continued.
“Not too much to report, the vehicle is gently returning to Earth.” The loudspeaker voice announced, stating the obvious.
“We did it, we really did it!” Francine shouted, as spontaneous handshakes, fist bumps, back-thumps and jumping air-punches broke out.
There was a splash on the horizon as the upper stage hit the water.
The sounds of applause could be heard, echoing off buildings.
Everyone’s clapping… and they’re clapping… for us!
As a superhuman and an aerospace fan, Teresa’s biggest complaint had always been not being able to fly. But at that moment, buoyed by the cheers and the sheer, unadulterated joy at the Cape, she felt she could have rocketed off just as quickly, and kept going and going and going. Never mind that her feet were firmly on Earth, never mind that Francine was hugging her tightly, in her mind Teresa was flying free, and nothing could drag her down.
It was time to go back to the launch control building, and the others were filing down the walkway, still excited. She grudgingly let the moment pass and followed her friends out.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s amazing and all, but you heard what Augustine said, what we end up flying to the moon might be something nothing like this. I broke my back on Ares for three years and what if this three-minute flight’s all I’m ever gonna get?” Joel muttered, to another man from the Marshall group.
It was pure emotion at this point. Pure emotion as Teresa opened her mouth.
“Joel, we built that rocket. We spent three years on it, we worked late, we bit our nails, we drank too much coffee, and we did our best. We made something that we were proud to say we worked on. We launched it, and it flew perfectly. So you know what? You know what, we just did something very impressive. And even if it doesn’t matter to the world or to history, it matters to US!”
Joel was silent.
“Tessa’s right. We did something very hard and we should celebrate. Who wants to go to Disney World?” Francine asked, beaming.
And, Teresa followed, processing all that had just happened, she realized she was crying again. She remembered her promise at the astronaut memorial what seemed like centuries before.
“Just like you’d have wanted, Judy. All for you.” She whispered, looking up into the blue Florida sky as the smoke trail faded, blown by the new wind that carried it out to sea.
Order of Kilopi
Halloween Special, Part 1:
October 30, 2009, 7:31 PM, Kennedy Space Center
It had been three days since the successful test flight, and the technicians from other centers had been allowed to stay at the Kennedy Space Center to take part in the follow-up. But at the moment, most of the Constellation personnel were taking advantage of a free moment to decorate their workspace for Halloween, in the festive spirit that still remained.
Max and Joel stapled orange tissue paper to the bulletin board in the hallway, while Teresa hurried around the cubicles, gently placing a mini-pumpkin on each desk. Francine and a KSC employee named Jenny were hanging up a poster of a witch on a broomstick.
“Perfect!” Jenny shouted, placing the last tack. “How’re you guys holding up?” She asked, looking down at Joel from her ladder.
“Well, then, I’ve got a DVD player and some movies in my drawer, want to watch a Halloweeny B-movie?” Max asked.
“Of course!” Jenny shouted.
“Halloweeny’s not a word.” Joel protested.
“Joel...” Jenny glared.
“Uh, but, sure, let’s see a movie!” He quickly responded.
“Okay, what do you want to see? I’ve got Night of the Living Sled, Zombies in the Aquarium, Invasion from Planet X, Attack of the Spaghetti Sauce Monster…” Max counted off on his fingers.
“Wasn’t Invasion from Planet X on Mystery Science Theater 3000 once?” Francine asked.
“Yeah, I think I remember that. It was pretty funny.” Teresa said.
“Yeah, they did a good job mocking it. And since it was filmed right here at KSC back in the 50s, maybe we can do even better!”
“Heh, that’s right. Planet X it is!” Joel said, thrilled by the idea of mercilessly complaining about something in a socially acceptable setting.
Max set up the portable DVD player on his desk, as the others moved their swivel chairs into a rough horseshoe around it. The turning off of a few desk lamps created a makeshift movie theater.
A very fuzzy black-and-white photomontage of outer space appeared on the screen.
“The infinite reaches of space! As man begins to plumb their secrets, he discovers many wonders. But the cosmos can also hold many perils-”
“Like gamma-ray bursts, Near-Earth Asteroids, and black holes.” Jenny muttered.
“And bad, pre-Hubble, unfocused images of galaxies.” Joel added.
“But man’s first cautious steps into space have not gone unnoticed!”
“-Except by the media.” Max said, making the others laugh loudly.
“Yes, far out in the inky depths of space, on a world so mysterious it is known only to Earth astronomers as Planet X, strange and insidious minds are drawing plans against our species…”
The movie panned to a painting of the Earth in space, zooming in on the United States, and then to Florida.
“Oh no, the camera’s coming to get us!” Teresa joked.
“Can humanity ever hope to survive an INVASION FROM PLANET X?”
“I don’t know, you tell us, dude.” Joel said.
The picture changed once again, to a nighttime view of KSC in the 50s.
“Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. None of the men at work here could ever imagine that tonight they will face an unprecedented threat-”
“Budget cuts so soon after Sputnik?” Francine asked.
A light flashed across the sky. Inside of an office, a bored-looking blond woman sitting at a desk was filing her nails while a military-looking young man looked out a window.
“I tell ya, Robby, working for Dr. Leberecht is swell an’ all, but half the time, I can’t understand a thing he’s sayin’. This morning, he was going on an’ on about the gyre, the gryo- the gyro-somethings.” The woman said, in an accent straight from New Jersey.
“Gyrostabilizers, Clarissa. Essential for proper spacecraft navigation.” The man answered.
“See, you understand these things, Robby. That’s why you’re in the astronaut program. But do ya really understand everything da doctor says?”
“Jurian Leberecht is one of the best scientists our missile program has. He’s an asset to this nation. And I know enough to know I love you.”
“Action hero with airhead secretary girlfriend. Clichéville, dead ahead.” Jenny muttered.
The lights flickered in the office, and a bright light flashed from the window. Clarissa hurried over to look out.
The light in the sky streaked above the building, vanishing beyond the nearby trees in a brighter flash.
“Oh, Robby, what was it?” She hugged his arm as she asked the question.
“I don’t know. Probably just a meteor. There aren’t any rockets taking off from the range tonight.”
“No, we like our Vanguards to blow up in bright daylight, thank you very much.” Joel said, referring to the Vanguard rocket that had exploded just after launch in 1957.
“You know, if they haven’t closed the cafeteria yet, I think I could get some popcorn.” Francine said, standing up.
“Sure, sure, you just want to leave before all the scary stuff happens.”
“No, I just think we should have some popcorn. Movies are better with popcorn.” She headed for the door.
The screen now showed what looked like a mass of silver foil and painted plywood lying in the swamps near the space center.
“Oooh, littering in Canaveral National Seashore, they’re gonna get in trouble…” Jenny said.
Dark slime oozed out of the “alien pod”, bubbling and churning.
“And toxic waste, too? Where’s a park ranger when you need one?” She added.
The slime formed the shapes of two dumpy-looking blob creatures.
“This is the planet they sent us to conquer?” The first alien said.
“Yes, our Supreme Leader fears they might become a threat if they expand into our territory. That is why we must assume native forms and infiltrate their space program.” The second alien replied, oozing away.
“I don’t know whether to be flattered that we’re considered worth infiltrating or upset at being infiltrated by such lame aliens.” Joel muttered.
The scene changed to a hallway inside of the space center, where three interns in shirtsleeves and ties were talking.
“I know, right? The Yankees totally should have won last night.” One skinny man said, waving to the others as they left.
“See you tomorrow, Brian.” They said, waving back and turning the corner.
The alien slime was seen oozing across the tiled floor.
“Clean-up in aisle twelve!” Max called.
The two interns stepped carelessly into the slime, which engulfed their feet, pulling them down to the ground, out of frame.
“Ah! Agggh! Oh god! Help!” They shrieked.
“They finally realized how their flat-top hairdos really look.” Jenny said.
The actors portraying the interns stood up stiffly, with stern expressions on their faces.
“The forms of these workers will serve our purpose nicely. Now let us go to gather information.” The taller man said, speaking in the voice of the first alien.
They walked off, the camera panning down to the slimy footprints the two disguised aliens left on the tiled floor.
Meanwhile, outside of the workspace-turned-cinema, Francine was making her way towards the cafeteria. Everything seemed so creepy on Halloween at night when there was nobody else around. She briefly scolded herself for getting so worked up over the movie. The aliens on the DVD cover didn’t look scary, even in the classic exaggerated style of monster movie poster art.
Francine’s eyes darted back and forth, just to make sure nothing was going to jump out at her. She was so busy looking from side-to-side that she ended up never seeing the man she collided with-
“Eeeeek! Oh… sorry. Nerves… Halloween… you know how it is…” She apologized to the toolbox-carrying electrician, who nodded knowingly at her embarrassment.
Laughing at her own foolishness, she walked on, turning the corner to the cafeteria, which had, luckily, not yet closed. Striding over to the vending machines, she pulled out her wallet and paid for five mini bags of popcorn. Francine was just about to check for the cheesy kind that only Joel liked, when she saw a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye, near the food counter of the empty cafeteria.
It was probably nothing, but still, she had to check…
Halloween Special, Part 2:
On the DVD player’s screen, a janitor was humming to himself as he mopped the hallway, coming abruptly upon the slimy footprints that the alien “interns” had left.
“What in the world…” He muttered, cleaning up the trail and noticing that the footprints extended all the way down the hall.
The janitor followed the footprints until they came to a door with a large glass window in the top. Through the glass, he could see the two interns shaking the knob to a door marked “Classified, Restricted Entry”, and finding it locked.
“Well, gee, you can’t leave classified stuff lying around where dumpy-looking aliens could just waltz in and see it.” Teresa said.
After conferring with his partner, the shorter man sighed, and the camera cut to the janitor’s horrified expression. In his true form, the slime alien slithered under the door.
“He’s not human!” The janitor whispered, horrified, running away as fast as he could.
“No duh!” Everybody shouted.
Still running for his life, the janitor nearly crashed into Clarissa and Robby, who were walking up the hall with a white-haired man in a lab coat.
“Hang on now, where’s the fire?” Robby asked, holding up his hand to stop his progress.
“I saw… I saw…”
“What did you see, sir?” Clarissa asked.
“Your face.” Joel suggested.
“I saw two of those slide-rule boys trying to break into a classified room…”
“Are they spies for… The Other Side?” Robby asked, horrified.
“Wait, The Other Side like the afterlife? So they’re alien ghost spies? Awesome!” Jenny asked.
“He’s talking about Soviet Russia, stupid.” Joel said.
“Uh, sarcasm?” Jenny countered.
“No, no, they’re not even human! They’re some kind of monsters!” The janitor said, eyes wide open in fear.
“Monsters? Vhat kind of monsters are zhey? Vhat did zhey look like?” The old scientist asked, provoking laughs from the four viewers.
“See, how’s that for the German accent Francine wanted?” Teresa asked.
At that moment, the room was plunged into darkness.
Francine found herself caught behind the salad bar when the lights went out. Screaming, she ran for the red “Exit” sign, knocking over a jar of relish on the salad bar that shattered on the floor. Slipping on the relish, Francine fell to the floor, still screaming, as the lights turned back on.
“It’s just… that electrician testing… the fuses. Thank… gosh.” She breathed heavily, standing up and gathering the popcorn bags that she had dropped when she slipped. Seeing the broken jar, she decided that finding a janitor was an important priority and hurried off into the hallway, leaving footprints of green relish in her trail…
“Ha, ha, just like the movie. Very funny, Francine.” Joel said, looking up to the door, expecting to see his coworker at the light switch near the door with her popcorn. “Francine?”
“She’s probably hiding behind the door to freak us out.” Max suggested, pausing the DVD. Teresa sped over to the door as only she could. “Hey, joke’s ov- she’s not there.”
“Let me see…” Joel stepped out into the hallway, affirming that Francine was not there. “But there’s some funny stuff on the floor by the corner.”
“It better not be green slime.” Jenny said, as they walked over in a group to the corner to see just what it was.
Just then, the lights went out again, but only in that hallway.
“I’m getting out of here!” Joel shouted, hurrying back to the well-lighted corridor that led to their office block, and slipping on the relish in the process. “It IS slime! Like the movie! Like in the movie!” The lights turned back on, revealing his panicked expression.
“Joel, you can’t seriously believe…” Teresa started, looking down to see the “slime” closer and to smell it “This is just pickle relish.”
“Uh, well, no… but just in case, Max, how does that movie end?”
“Dr. Leberecht, the old German guy in the lab coat, figures out that the aliens are burned by the touch of Jello. Robby, Frank the Janitor, and Brian the intern manage to lure the aliens into a room and drop a big garbage can full of Jello on top of them, which kills them.”
“Jello? You’re serious?” Jenny asked.
“It wasn’t on MST3K for nothing.”
“Well, then, why don’t we go to the cafeteria? Not because I want to get Jello, just to, uh… to see how Francine’s coming with that popcorn. And now that you mention Jello, I think I’d like to eat some, too.” The fright in Joel’s voice revealed his blatant lies.
“Oh, alright. If it makes you feel better, we’ll get some Jello.” Max said, rolling his eyes as they headed for the cafeteria.
“Guys? Guys? Hey, I got the popcorn, where are you?” Francine asked, walking into the workspace after having found a janitor. The room was empty, and the DVD player was paused. “Guys, please don’t jump out at me, that’s not cool, you know how sensitive I am.”
About a minute of silence passed. “Okay, you know what, it’s late and I really should go back to the hotel.” She left the popcorn on Max’s desk with a sticky note describing this plan, and headed back out into the hallway.
Still not sure if she was being tricked, Francine headed for the exit in a state of high alert. She was almost at the door when a nearby movement caused her heart to skip a beat. A man about as tall as she was stood near the exit sign. He hadn’t been there before… or had he?
“Sorry, did I scare you?” He asked, smiling. The clean polo shirt and crew cut suggested he was from the military, maybe the Air Force. His eyes looked kind of small and squinty, but not in a way that suggested dishonesty.
“Yeah, I was watching this monster movie with my friends… have you seen four techies around anywhere? I don’t know where they went.” Francine asked.
“A woman with green hair, a dark-haired woman wearing glasses and two men?” The man asked.
“Yeah, that’s them. Tessa, Jenny, Joel and Max.” Francine said, excitedly.
“They were headed for the cafeteria, looking for you.”
“Thanks a million! Hey, has anyone ever told you that you look kind of like Gus Grissom?”
“Actually, I get that a lot.” The man answered, smiling again, as Francine hurried off. “Happy Halloween.”
Back in the cafeteria, the janitor was working on cleaning up the relish off to the side, an angry look on his face.
“What happened to him?” Francine had asked, after her friends had caught her up on everything that had happened.
“Oh, Joel burst in here shouting ‘Die, alien, die!’, and generally acting like a headless chicken, and that didn’t go over so big with him.”
“Did you seriously think the movie had come to life?” Francine asked. Joel said nothing.
“Well, now that we’re sure there are no aliens here, what do you say we finish the movie with our popcorn… and our Jello?” Max asked. Everybody laughed.