Authors: Raymond L. Weil
Raymond L. Weil
Copyright © November 2012 by the
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.
Mission Commander Jason Strong stared at the damaged lunar lander with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. His best friend and copilot Greg Johnson was standing next to him. They both wore cumbersome white spacesuits suited to the lunar environment. All Jason could hear was Greg’s heavy breathing coming over the suit radio. He was also having a hard time keeping his own breathing steady. The landing had been a disaster. There were no backup plans for what had happened. They were stranded on the moon with no way home.
“Damn!” Greg finally said in an unsteady voice. “We’re really screwed now. How could this happen?”
Both men were staring at their lunar lander, which was lying on its side at the edge of a small crater. The crater was only four to six feet deep, but that had been enough for one of the lander’s support struts to become unstable and for the lander to topple over.
“I don’t see any way to set it back up,” commented Jason thinking about what they needed to do and the equipment they had available to them. “We never considered this scenario.”
“How about the mechanical arm on the rover?” asked Greg sounding desperate. “Could we use it to set the lander back up?”
He had a wife and infant son back home. He didn’t want his wife to have to raise their son by herself. He could just imagine how she was feeling. There had been no contact with Mission Control for over twelve hours. Down on Earth, they would know something had gone terribly wrong. He could imagine the people in Mission Control frantically trying to contact them and only getting silence back in return. They had lost all contact with Mission Control just a few minutes into their descent.
“Not strong enough,” replied Jason shaking his head. “The lander just weighs too much. Even in the lighter lunar gravity it’s too much for the mechanical arm on the rover.”
“Then we’re going to die here,” responded Greg glumly. He walked over to the lander in a shuffling gate and put his white gloved hand against the small American flag on the side of the lander. It had been his lifelong dream to travel to the moon. “We’re the first manned mission to the moon in decades and we crashed. It will be years before there is another.”
Jason walked over to stand next to Greg. He reached out and put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. The open hatch to the lander was just above them. They were fortunate the hatch had remained unblocked or they would have been trapped inside. “Any chance of getting the radio working?”
“The antennas are crushed,” replied Greg pointing toward the front of the lander, which was leaning against a large dark boulder. The boulder had put a sizable dent in the side of the lander. They were fortunate it hadn’t penetrated the hull. “Not only that, but that mysterious interference we detected on our descent will screw up any radio signal we try to transmit.”
“That damn interference shut down our computers,’’ spoke Jason recalling the harrowing descent when most of the lander’s systems had suddenly shut down.
It had been all he could do to stabilize the lander and finish the descent to the surface. Without the advanced LIDAR ranging system on line and computers, they had to resort to old fashion radar. Unfortunately, the radar system was intermittent due to the powerful interference coming from the moon. Greg had to look out the lander’s viewports to guide Jason down the last several hundred feet. Because they couldn’t see or detect what was directly below them, they had crashed in the small crater.
Jason was silent for a moment as he weighed their options. None were good. “We have enough air in the lander to last several weeks; if we can get power to the recycler our oxygen supply will last for several months.”
“The batteries are fully charged and the emergency fuel cells are intact,” responded Greg sounding slightly calmer. He had checked those before they had exited the lander. “But that still leaves the question of what we do about food and water? Even on emergency rations, we only have enough for about three weeks.”
“Can we get the rover out?’ asked Jason walking over to stare at the bottom of the lander and the compartment that held the lunar rover. He had a plan that he had been considering. Somehow, he had to find a way to get them off the moon and back to Earth.
“I don’t see why not,” replied Greg coming to stand next to Jason and staring up at the rover’s shielded compartment. “It’s light enough in the moon’s gravity that we should be able to position it properly if there’s a problem. I don’t see any obvious damage to the rover compartment. Why do you want to get the rover out? It’s sort of pointless. I mean, why do any exploration? We can’t get back to Earth!”
Jason turned to face Greg. He knew Greg was worried about his wife and son. “Something is causing that interference that screwed up our landing. It’s still preventing any radio signals from getting out. Don’t forget that the rover has a radio that is capable of reaching our orbiting command module. We just need to find what is causing that interference and shut it down.”
“You think it’s artificial?’ Greg asked in surprise his eyes growing wide. This was something he hadn’t considered. “How can that be possible? We would know if there had been another mission heading for the moon. You can’t keep something like that a secret.”
“The interference has to be artificial,” responded Jason looking off toward the south. “It didn’t start until we began our descent. To me that’s too big of a coincidence. I don’t think it was a manned mission. As you said, something like that couldn’t be kept a secret.”
“You think another country snuck a probe up here hoping to screw up our landing so our company couldn’t get the space contract?” Greg asked with doubt in his voice. He just didn’t see how it could have been done in secret.
He knew that a smaller rocket would have been harder to detect, but it still would have been difficult to land a probe on the moon without it being noticed. Not only that, but they had kept their landing site a secret until the day of the launch.
“What else,” Jason replied with growing conviction in his voice. “This exploration contract for the moon and Mars is worth potentially hundreds of billions of dollars. There are even companies in our own country that would like to see us fail.”
“It would have cost a hell of a lot of money to get a probe to the moon just to sabotage us,” Greg replied doubtfully. “But I can see how the space contract would have made it tempting. With our failure, there are several other companies that will be jumping in to get their share.” Greg was silent for a moment as he mulled everything over.
“So, do we get the rover out and go looking for the source of the interference?” Jason asked once more. While Jason wasn’t married, he still had a brother and sister he would like to get back to Earth so see. He also knew that Greg wanted desperately to get back to his family.
“I guess it’s better than sitting around here waiting for our air to give out,” Greg replied after thinking about it for several moments.
“If we can shut down the interference, we can contact Mission Control from the rover. There is a good possibility our company could send a supply drone to the moon. It would allow us to replenish our supplies and survive until our people down on Earth figure something out.”
“They could even send us something to set the lander back up,” Greg spoke with some excitement flowing into his voice. “If we can set the lander back up, we can go home!”
“Perhaps,” replied Jason looking up into the star-studded sky. The Earth was plainly visible above the distant lunar horizon. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We still have a lot to do and even if we can contact Earth, we may be on the moon for quite some time.”
The two climbed back up into the lunar lander and shut the hatch behind them. After a few moments, they had the small airlock pressurized and they opened the inner hatch to the inside of the lander. Helping each other out of their cumbersome spacesuits and stowing them away, the two crawled over to their acceleration couches and sat down. Due to the way the lander had fallen over, they were in a reclining position, but all the controls were still within easy reach.
“Anything on communications?” Jason asked still hoping that the interference would come to a stop on its own. They still had short-range communications from an internal antenna.
Greg pressed several buttons and flipped several switches, but all that came over the speakers was static. The same thing they had heard for the last twelve hours.
“No same as before,” Greg replied disappointed. “It looks like we’re going to have to take that trip to wherever this interference is coming from.”
Jason was silent for a moment. He could see the worry on Greg’s face. He knew that his best friend was thinking of his family back down on Earth.
“Don’t worry Greg, we’ll get out of this,” Jason said determinedly. “Once we find the probe that is broadcasting this interference and shut it down, we can arrange a rescue. We will also make sure whoever sent that probe is taken care of. I will personally make sure their company is put out of business.”
“Let’s just find that probe first,” replied Greg reaching forward and dimming the lights in the cabin.
“Mission Control should be picking up this interference,” Jason commented as he mentally went over the companies and even countries that might have sent the probe.
“Possibly,” Greg spoke in agreement. “But there is nothing they can do. The source of the problem is here on the moon.”
“We’ll break the rover out in the morning,” responded Jason knowing they both needed some sleep. “It shouldn’t take us to long to find the source of the signal.”
“I hope so,” replied Greg reaching into his pocket and taking out a photograph of his wife and baby. He looked at his family in the dim light. He swore to himself he would do whatever was necessary to make it back home to them.
Jason tried to relax knowing they would have a strenuous day coming if they succeeded in getting the rover out. Jason had been a military test pilot for six years before retiring and applying for the job of chief pilot for the new space company that Greg and he now worked for. His sister had been against him volunteering for this mission. She had said it was too dangerous, especially with a new space vehicle built by a private company. She had reminded him that if something happened on the moon, they couldn’t be recued.
His brother had been excited and had slapped Jason happily across the back when he found out that Jason had been chosen as chief pilot and mission commander. His sister had been very quiet and had gone into another room for a while. She eventually came back out and wished him good luck knowing this was what Jason had always wanted. However, Jason could tell from his sister’s demeanor that she really didn’t want him going to the moon.
Jason closed his eyes and tried to sleep. His sister had been right, and now Greg and he were stranded on the moon with no way home. Jason knew that his sister would be at Mission Control and would not leave until she heard something. Her husband was currently over seas working as a consultant for an oil company. He wasn’t due back for another month. Someway Jason had to find a way home. He couldn’t let his sister down.
Jason and Greg had risen early and were out working diligently on the hatch to the rover compartment. It hadn’t been designed to be opened from a nearly horizontal position. After a little work, they managed to get the hatch open and secured so they could get to the rover.
The rover slipped out of its compartment a lot easier than Jason had expected. A little pushing and shoving and they had it positioned far enough away from the obstructing landing struts that it could be activated.
Jason stepped forward and pressed a large recessed button on the side of the rover. Instantly the rover unfolded and the six large wheels rotated around until they were touching the lunar surface. It looked just like a giant spider unfolding its legs.
“That was easier than I expected,” commented Greg looking at the rover.
“I don’t see any damage,” Jason replied. The rover compartment was well shielded and the crash didn’t look as if it had harmed the rover.
Jason walked slowly around the rover carefully inspecting it. The rover was a fully contained vehicle with a nuclear power source furnished by the American government. It was equipped with cameras and communication equipment that would allow them to communicate with either the lander or the orbiting command module.