Not Because They Are Easy But Because They Are Hard, Part Two

9 02 2011

Spread across the ridge was Wisting Base: a handful of brightly coloured, connected cylinders huddled together on Amundsen’s surface. The main base was a muted grey, dusted in moondust. Separated from the modules were a collection of scientific stations; these were wrapped in reflective yellow foil that shone in the sunlight.

There was a habitat module, the largest feature of the base. After the module carried by Wurundjeri had descended to the surface, the crew disconnected the two ends and – using rovers – dragged those ends apart. In the space between was erected a thick, pressurised tent, girdled by ribs like a concertina. From the ribs, cables were fastened to pitons driven into the surface. Now the entire module was perhaps fifty meters long, and contained the living quarters, CLLS system, and workshop. A high-gain dish rose from one end and faced Fram.

At one end of the habitat was an airlock with a ramp leading down to the surface. Layered across the ramp was a sheet of moondust and, where the ramp met the surface, the thin regolith had been disturbed and the pale rock underneath exposed. Flanking the airlock were two smaller cargo pods, their caps painted yellow, solar panels atop their upper surface. Scattered seemingly at random around the habitat were a number of smaller modules, connected to the habitat by pressurised passageways. These smaller modules were crammed with supplies, equipment, instruments. Strips of solar panels again covered their upper surfaces, and small portholes studded their sides.

Several rovers were parked in the lee of one such equipment module; some pointed toward the habitat and others away, one was parked at a slight angle, and trails of lighter regolith snaked away from the parking lot. Scattered not far from the rovers were half a dozen prefabricated sheets, left over from the assembly of the base and discarded.

A hundred or so meters from Wisting Base was the Ascent/Descent Stage. Radial lines spread out from the landed stage, like the streaked ejecta of a ray crater – here the descent engine had blasted away the regolith. Two hemispheres of the payload shroud were abandoned on either side of the lander, and a generator was connected to the upper ascent stage. The airlock door remained open.

Fram dominated the sky above Wisting Base. The brown-grey northern hemisphere of Fram filled the sky, from the horizon to zenith. The surfaces of the two worlds were so incredibly close, and from the smaller Amundsen, it seemed another world was inverted and folded back to form a ceiling. Fram’s hemisphere visibly curved and dust storms moved elegantly across its face. The rising and setting light of Alpha A and B picked out the craters strung across Fram’s northern hemisphere, and at night the lights of the Colonies and Port Mayflower could be seen.

Rising from Amundsen’s horizon to meet Fram was the inner ring, separated into two bands by the Sverdrup Division. Occasionally, Sverdrup appeared and slowly worked its way across the sky; this was an illusion, for it was really Amundsen that lapped the slower Sverdrup.

And, every few hours, Wurundjeri swept across the sky – now composed solely of the spent FDS and the Greenglass, connected by the needle-thin central stack…


Not Because They Are Easy But Because They Are Hard, Part One

7 02 2011

Wurundjeri was assembled at the LFO Assembly Station in Fram orbit.

Her various stages were pieced together at Port Mayflower; like the legs of a spider spinning a lengthening lanyard, zero-gravity cranes connected each module with the next and the whole vessel extended from Wilbur. From Port Mayflower she was slipped into an elliptical orbit; around her were the various components and modules, pushed about by Grapes and orbiters, that constituted LFO Assembly Station.

It was a pencil-thin stack of components. Cylindrical modules ran the length of a core of scaffolding; some of these modules were connected at right angles to the central stack. Flaring from the flanks were the dragonfly wings of solar panels. Wurundjeri was an asymmetric, delicate, functional design.

Some of the modules were constructed on Fram’s surface, and were too large to send into orbit using the space elevator. These modules were launched using rockets: heavy lift vehicles adapted from those boosters we had used to send our orbiters into space before the arrival of Mayflower. The launches were spectacular, dreamy – voluminous, grey-white HLVs balanced on a tongue of fire and smoke subdued by the thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide. The Fram Departure Stage, Ascent and Descent Stages were lofted into orbit in this manner, in three separate launches over the space of six weeks.

The FDS was at the stern of Wurundjeri. This was a fifty ton, cylindrical module wrapped in solar panels that flared at its end to shield the ship from the engine exhaust. In its base were mounted three small drive nozzles, which drew upon forty tons of propellant stored within the FDS. At the other end of the module was the stage docking system, which connected to the central stack.

Clustered around the scaffolding that was the central stack were various mission modules. There were pressurised logistics modules, containing supplies and equipment for the lunar mission; habitat modules to form the core of a lunar base; and cargo landers to deploy these modules safely to the surface. These modules were arranged in two rows along each side of the central stack, nose to tail, their sides pressed up against the stack. Eight sets of solar panels were positioned perpendicular to these modules. These two groups of four panels formed the Y axis of the ship, like dorsal and ventral fins, while the mission modules formed the X axis.

Toward the bow of Wurundjeri were two more modules, each smaller than the various cargo and habitat modules. These were the combined ascent/descent stages, huddled together in a protective sheath, and the crew transportation vehicle. Both modules were set into the central stack along the X axis and thus in line with the rows of mission modules, but they were connected at a perpendicular angle, so that their noses nestled into the central scaffolding.

The Ascent/Descent Stages were simple vehicles, not essentially different in purpose and execution to the earliest of man’s lunar modules. The protective sheath was mounted high up on the descent stage, such that most of the descent stage was exposed. There was a single, throttleable engine at its base and a grid of manoeuvring thrusters around the cylinder. There were five legs mounted in a star around the circumference of the cylinder that would deploy prior to landing. Between these legs were solar arrays. Upon the power of this stage would the entire module make a controlled descent to the surface of Amundsen.

Sitting atop the descent stage was the ascent stage, a large, bulbous sphere. This sphere contained the crew cabin and a separate air lock from which the crew could egress to the surface. At the north pole of this sphere was a docking port, which connected with the central stack; at the south pole there were four, bell-shaped engines. Feeding these engines, mounted one atop the other, were spherical propellant tanks. While the Wurundjeri remained docked at Port Mayflower, the entire ascent stage was encapsulated beneath the chequered payload sheath.

The Crew Transportation Vehicle was the name given by mission control to the orbiter attached to the Wurundjeri, the David Greenglass. The CTV would ferry the crew to Wurundjeri, and remain in orbit with the central stack after the mission modules and A/DS descended to the surface.

It had taken almost two months to assemble Wurundjeri. As she prepared for her mission to Amundsen, her hull was painted in alternating bands of light grey and black, and the designation of each of her modules stencilled in white. The last equipment and propellant stores were shipped up from the Colonies, and the crew prepared to step onto Amundsen…