What’s the worst that could happen?

Captains invariably hated the word ‘problem’. I did too, because it conjured up so many different scenarios, each more scarier than the last, and maginified exponentially because we were in space.

We took a closer look, and it was the sort of damage if it was back on Earth, one would associate with weapons fire, lasers to be exact.

Yes, in the 24th century we had ray guns, hand held, and ship bound.

The only problem was, only the cruise class vessels, like the one I was now on, were allowed to have them, and using them, well, the paperwork alone could keep a complement of 20 working day and night for a month.

Test them, yes, less paper work, use them, no. There had never been a reason to.

But someone had, and on a freighter, which only meant one possibility, that whatever the freighter had been carrying, had been worth violating a thousand regulations and rules.

And bring their ship and selves out into the light.

It was, of course, Space Command’s worst nightmare realised, that the ideal of space exploration as a united effort by everyone, had a member who had decided against unity.

Unless, of course, the improbably had happened, there was life outside our solar system, and we were dealing with a new planet, or people.

Except I would not expect them to use something as conventional as a laser.

Myrtle had put us very close to the damaged area and taken a number of photographs, and the engineer had analysed the damaged area.

Then, cleared to enter the freighter, she took us up to the cargo doors and waited as we watched them open.

It was the same time the engineer’s hand held computer started beeping.

And a warning light on the console in front of Myrtle started flashing, accompanied by a warning klaxon.

Another vessel had just entered our proximity zone.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

A trip back through memory lane

We were diverting to Venus, sitting out there in screen, lonely as a cloud, if there could be clouds in space.

So, I wondered if the Captain had a special reason why I should head the team going to the freighter.

It was an opportunity to take one of the new class of shuttles, reported to be faster, more stable, and larger so that we could carry more people and cargo. It would be overkill today.

The crew assigned to collect the cargo were aboard, and my co-pilot for want of a better name was Myrtle, an officer that joined the ship with me, and had excellent qualifications.

We were going through the preflight, ready to lift off.

“First time?”

“In a shuttle, no. In space, real space, more or less.”

I don’t think I wanted to know what more or less meant.

“There’s nothing to it.”

The captain’s voice came over the speaker, “You’re cleared for departure, they’re expecting you imminently.”

“Very good, sir.”

It was never a gentle lift off, unlike landing, and that initial jerk was an annoyance. Then engaging the thrusters, we began to move forward slowly towards the cargo door, and at the synchronised time, the doors opened and there was nothing but empty space before us.

Outside, we increased speed, turned, and flying under our ship, just to get a look at it, something I knew the people aboard might be interested in seeing, then onto the Aloysius 5 drifting off our port bow.

“Do you see what I see?” Nice to see Myrtle wasn’t blind.

“I do, and that’s worrying.”

What was it? A scorch mark on the side of the Aloysius 5, in a place where we couldn’t see it from our ship, and a direct hit on one of the exhaust manifolds. That would stop a ship dead in it’s tracks without wrecking it.

“Captain,” I said, hoping he was listening.

“Number one?”

“I think we have a problem.”

© Charles Heath 2020

It’s not like you can pull over to the side of the road…

In space, it’s a little difficult to just suddenly stop.

But, given several hundred thousand kilometers, anything is possible.

Especially when there’s a request to divert to Venus.

You can’t always tell when the ship drops out of cruise to what could be considered a dead stop, not that a dead stop is necessarily achievable.

I was down in the mess hall when the call came from the officer of the deck for me to return. I was half way through a half decent cup of coffee, and had just had the donut delivered.

Both now had to be sacrificed.

I looked out the window into the inky blackness of space and it was difficult to say if we were in idle mode. There was, however, another ship just off the port bow, a old cargo ship that had seen better days, and we both looked like we were drifting together.

I suspect that meant we were keeping station, much the same as we would if we were visiting a planet.

I took the elevator and arrived on the bridge where the captain was in earnest conversation with the chief engineer and chief scientist.

He looked up when he saw me approach.

“Ah, number one, there’s a team waiting down on the transport deck. The Aloysius 5 has some vital equipment on board for repairs at the mining colony on Venus, and we’ve been diverted to pick them up and them there post haste.”

“Out of commission?”

“A temporary issue with the drive. We’re sending an engineering team over to help with the repairs and will pick them up on the way back. They should arrive on the deck the same time you will.”

“Yes, sir.”

Should be simple, I thought. Take one of the shuttle craft over, load up, drop the engineers, get back, head for Venus, about 5 hours from out current position. Much the same as a pleasant drive in the country.

And I needed more shuttle time.

In the elevator I was joined by one of the security staff, a gung ho type lieutenant named Andrews. A man always looking for trouble, the sort who would shoot first and ask questions later.

Maybe it was not going to be a pleasant outing after all.

© Charles Heath 2020

Let’s pause a minute, in space, to get it right

Out there, in space, it’s not like being on the highway, going from one side of the country to the other.

That, effectively, is only a few thousand miles, or kilometers as we measure distance in this country.

But late at night, and astrophysics, or astrology, or whatever the science of space is called, is not a subject to take up, particularly when you’re tired.

The other night I was tired, and confused, and hence got all my numbers muddled up. The thing is, when numbers go up to billions, with all them zeros, it could be confusing for everyone.

Or maybe it was just me.

But, the first constant is the speed of light. That’s approximately 1,079,251,200 km per hour, Pretty fast, eh.

But, as I’m told, nothing can go faster than the speed of light.

So, in this story, it’s a given.

Space ship speeds, in this story, are measured as SSPD’s.

SSPD 1,000 is the speed of light. This new spaceship will not go that fast. It is capable of SSPD 5, but even then, it’s not recommended. So, we are, from the beginning, are going to accept that it will go SSPD 4. Trials got it to 4.5, but that was when the design engineers were aboard and could fix any problems.

So how fast are the SSPD increments?

SSPD 1 is 1,079,251 km per hour. SSPD 2 is double that. That’s the fastest cruising speed the current ships can travel.

This new ship goes twice as fast so at SSPD 4 it can cruise at 4,317,004 km per hour.

Now, where I got everything wrong, is the distance of the planets from earth, and the time it would take to get there.

Mars: about 56 million km when in line between the earth and the sun, but has a min of 54.5 million km

Venus: between 38 million and 261 million km

Mercury: averaging about 77 million km to a max of 222 million km

Jupiter: from a min of 588 million to a max of 968 million km

Saturn: from a min of 1.3 billion to 1.7 billion km

Uranus: from a min of 2.57 billion to 3.15 billion km

Neptune: from a min of 4.3 billion to 4.7 billion km

Since in the story we are stopping at Mars briefly, the time it might take, given the position of mars at the time (about 60 million km), could take us about 14 hours.

As for the ultimate destination, Neptune, at 4.5 billion km approximately, it is going to take 1,042 hours, or 43.5 days.

Hopefully this time I have some semblance of credible measurements and times.

Now you can go back and read the amended text of the previous episode, corrected for distance, speed, and time.

It is here:


© Charles Heath 2020

Back on the spaceship…

We’re moving slowly out of the space dock, heading into clear space.

We can see the people inside the wings of the dock, lining the passages watching the big ship depart. In olden days, on earth, when a ship left port, people on the dock would remain connected to the passengers by streamers, until the ship started to move away.

It was impossible to do that in space.

But, it was a notable day, the first of it’s type, heading out into the unknown, or, later, if the shakedown worked out.

The Captain had decided despite the success of the trials, that he wanted to have one more trial, this time putting the crew through their paces.

I looked sideways, one eye still on the screen, now showing three possible midrange destinations, at the Captain, also looking at the screen.

Uranus was about 2.8 billion kilometers.

Neptune, where our orders were to go, was 4.5 billion kilometers.

I had done the rough calculations on time to destination, in round numbers, basing the speed of light, what we regarded as SSPD 1,000. That was in km’s about 1.8 billion kilometers an hour, give or take.

Our first ships were under SSPD 1, and the series before this ship had a maximum of SSPD 1.25, which in understandable numbers was about 1,349,063 km per hour. Our ship was capable of SSPD 5.

So, given that our previous fastest ship could move at a maximum of SSPD 1.25, the time it would take to the first destination at SSPD 2 (no one ever travelled at maximum) was a little over 86 days, and to Neptune about 139 days.

In this ship if we were to hit SSPD 4.5, the same time frames would be 24 days and just over 38.5 days.

“Put in the co-ordinates for Neptune and once we’re clear of the dock and given clearance, lets start her out slowly on SSPD 2.

The helmsman put in the co-ordinates and set the speed. “Co-ordinates and speed set, awaiting clearance.”

“Very good. Best have a seat Number One, just in case.”

“Yes, sir.” I took a last glance at the screen, now only showing Neptune on the long range scanner, and sat.

“Adventurer, you’re cleared for departure.” The voice of the dock master came over the speakers.

No need for further orders, the helmsman pushed the button on his screen, and there was a slight lurch, and we were under way.

Next stop Neptune.

© Charles Heath 2020