J E D Cline
Title: “The Ark of 1984’s Future”
Day 24 of 30
The 3Musketeers GEO-lunar orbit transfer vehicle was scheduled to make a supply trip a bit sooner than originally planned, to provide more nitrogen reserves, and provide materials for a greenhouse that was contiguous with the main station and would be used to grow the proven combination of corn, beans, and squash as did the indians so successfully grow long before, keeping the land healthy with the combination. Would it work in space greenhouses, on the Moon, in lunar soil? It would be important to find out quickly. There would also be sent some supplies for preparation for the next station expansion, such as inter-section airlock doors. Several spare spacesuits were also requisitioned.
Not mentioned was that some of the doors were to be used to secure the various sections of the existing station, such as the pet farm; and that inside some of the doors would be the components for some 3Musketeers weapons: they were going to level the playing field a little bit, where possible.
After the supply ship left, the first place a door went was to isolate the astronomical observatory section, where a hit by the rocket grenade was most likely to happen, as it had the least bulk between it and the surface. Its cameras could be remotely operated, anyway.
And when the patrol ship made its test flight, it was tracked and followed by the lunar telescope, and its field of view linked direct to GEOSpaceDock1 scientists. Scientists who subsequently were quite startled to find the telescope tracking what appeared to be a rocket grenade accidentally lost by the patrol craft, and sent its tracked picture all the way until the astronomical facility went silent when hit by the grenade. The last picture frame clearly showed the business end of a standard Tanfl paramilitary police rocket grenade, along with its serial number. No meteor, that.
At the same time, the lunar StationBase1 went entirely silent. The external wandering robot TV cameras scurried over to the gaping hole in the telescope facility, and then found all power and lights were off even in the Quinoa greenhouse. They must need rescuing, having been hit by a meteor, Tanfl declared, and by great fortune Tanfl had a new spacecraft in orbit that could bravely attempt a rescue mission to the lunar surface. The lunar TV robot was commanded to stay looking at the hole in the astronomical facility, the news station being owned and controlled by Tanfl.
The rather experimental Tanfl “police” cruiser, flown by hardened Leroy Brown Society members, made a rough landing outside the lunar base, buckling one of its base support struts. They were out of their element, but besides being tough men, they were courageous to some extent, too, and so they sealed their spacesuits, exited their patrol craft, and went to the station’s airlock. Opening the airlock, they entered the entrance warehouse, which they found airless and dark; their flashlights scanned the area and found a spacesuited figure resting in a chair. They shot it to pieces, it fell off the chair. Dead men tell no tales, had long been one of their tried and true principles. One of them went back out to sneak up behind the news TV robot and freeze its view to the area of the station around the gaping hole, not risking being photographed carrying machine guns into the facility that they were supposed to be preserving; then he returned to inside of the station.
The way into the next part of the station was blocked by a closed bulkhead, that had not been in the station plans given them. Were there more people still alive here? Never mind, they would soon not be. They closed the outer airlock, and pressurized the shipping warehouse room, so they could open the bulkhead door. The next room also was dark, but they noticed that parts of their spacesuits glowed, there were UV grow lights still working in the room. Which clearly showed their positions in the dark to the sharpshooting base personnel waiting in the room. The invader’s machine guns clattered to the floor as the arms that had been holding them at ready, were made useless by the sharpshooters. One gun, two, all three of them clattered to the floor. The station internal room lights came on, to show three wounded Tanfl spacesuited figures, who immediately attacked using kick boxing against the station personnel, their arms now useless. The powerful Tanfl men had kick-broken the arms of two of the station personnel before their legs were rendered useless by the remaining sharpshooters.
The station personnel retreated into the next section, and sealed the bulkhead door behind them. Removing the spacesuits of the two whose arms were broken, they called up the medical records of the two, and used the skeleton data to reset the broken arm bones to their original exact positions, and sealed an exoskeleton assembly cast to hold them there, while battery powered electrical currents were started to begin the bone healing process. It had taken almost an hour to get this done; the exoskeletons went from both shoulders to the wrists, an elbow joint in the middle, for both of the crew. Again with weapons raised, they opened the bulkhead door to the room to fend off the attackers. But there were too many holes in the attacker’s arms and legs, the fight was gone out of them along with their lifeblood puddling the floor, none remained alive to continue the assault.
Lunar StationBase1 electric power came back on, and sent a message to GEOSpaceDock1, that they had been hit by a meteor but had survived, and that an odd spacecraft had crashed nearby too, and that they were adding the dead crew to their digestion vats, and were going to be using scrap from the crashed spacecraft to build a new ore processing facility, as well as do basic repairs to the astronomical room’s roof.
They also reported that the new greenhouse had survived, and the small nuclear electric power generator brought by the second supply ship was providing light for the squash-corn-beans in the greenhouse during the long lunar night, and were growing nicely. They would have a fine Thanksgiving Day feast coming up, real food for some of them for the first time.
But the reality was that half the lunar station personnel were not fully functional, having both arms in exoskeleton-assisted mode, and would be for several weeks. They had a mess to clean up: three messy Tanfl bodies in their main office area, and Idealiana’s spare spacesuit was in the next room, the shipping-receiving warehouse, shot full of machine gun bullet holes; and the packing material with which they had stuffed it so as to have it sitting on a chair, was scattered all over the floor nearby. They shuddered when they thought that it could have been one of them in that shot to pieces condition. Those Tanfl spacemen were tough cookies; they had better remind themselves to be careful next time when inviting Tanfl spacemen over for tea.
The astronomical section was ruined. The automated telescope had been salvaged from an old satellite found in GEO, left over from before the Great Famine; they no longer had all the technology to build one anymore. Eventually they would requisition a standard TV camera robot, and adapt it for an improvised astronomical telescope but it would not be such high quality as before. They brought the shrapnel-ruined electronics from the room out through the gaping hole, and took it back inside to remove whatever parts that could be salvaged. Having learned something about “accidents” from recent events, they also dropped some of the structural debris on the wheels of the Tanfl TV news camera robot, freezing its range of vision to the gaping hole, and the repairs that would be done later. But for now, was better to not have it go over to look at the less-than-crash-ruined patrol craft, at least until the vehicle had been been disassembled into pieces.
Meanwhile, in GEOSpaceDock1, the scientists who had observed the true nature of the “meteor” that had hit the lunar base telescope they had been using, were told to hush up about what they had recorded about the nature of the missile that hit it. Nevertheless, the scientists were irritated that they had lost one of their best astronomical facilities, and their ongoing projects which required it, were permanently shelved from now on.
There had been no data sent from the Tanfl patrol spacecraft during that “test flight” as they had intended to leave no record of what truly transpired in the “unexpected rescue mission” to the lunar base, and as far as even Tanfl could determine, the spacecraft had indeed been destroyed in a bad landing by their operatives, who had been trained in simulators but clearly had never landed such a vehicle before that way.
So, to Tanfl, business as usual. They began to build another space patrol craft to replace the lost one, ready for a similar mission in the future.
Idealiana regularly “chatted” from her Holovision nook in the lunar station, with Artesiana in a similar Holovision nook in her office at GEOSpaceDock1. Idealiana had the vision, and could inspire Artesiana to make it happen physically. The next new kind of task in GEO was to build a prototype Total Recycling Plant.
The basic technology for making such a thing had existed for eons, in the form of primitive early Mass Spectrometers. The basic principles were just being applied here in a big way. And it was to be entirely solar powered, self-sustaining. From the pure materials it would extract from the trash, it would have the ability to build a replica of itself, as well as make spare parts for long term maintenance. At least, that was what was hoped.
The Total Recycling Plant was not a glamorous assignment. Dealing with garbage rarely was. In this case, the main assignment for the recycler was to dispose of various extremely toxic industrial waste products. It was a 3Musketeers project, as Tanfl felt it was not profitable, and there was always someplace to dump their garbage. It had been dumped too many times into 3Musketeers space, however, thus their attention to the project.
The basic components for the first one had to be fabricated on the ground then freighted up along the carousel escalator to GEOSpaceDock1. The prototype was to be only a fraction of the size of the standard one to be built based on what was learned from the first one. The huge and highly successful Solar Power Plants were being assembled on the Indonesian side of SpaceDock; three of them were already beaming Terrawatts of environmentally friendly energy to several countries, three more were being built simultaneously , and they had orders for 21 more to be built as fast as possible. Nearly every country around the world wanted them, and wanted them now, to no longer be a dying energy starved nation. There did not seem to be any room off in that vast free-fall assembly area on the Indonesian side. The other direction from SpaceDock1 was selected for the recycler tasks. But as soon as tanfl found out about that plan, they declared no way, that was to be where their new big hotels were to be built, handy for passengers embarking at the SpaceDock.
The eventual junk materials flow up the carousel escalator was expected to be immense, when all was up and running. It needed to have an easy path to the recycling plant. Yet the hotel people would have none of it, the thought of tons of toxic trash being hauled continuously past their beautiful hotels, was not tolerable. The squabble was holding up even the prototype’s construction, and they knew that things never worked perfectly the first time, there needed to be redesigns of everything along with prototype constructions based on what had been learned from the prior prototype. Time was needed, and the squabbling over where to put it was eating up that time. It was like before the first space escalator carousel was prototyped, the business haggles held it up for precious decades, during which the environment collapsed, which the carousel escalator and the facilities it could enable built in GEO, could possibly have prevented that terrible collapse of the world ecosystem, and its resultant Great Famine and loss of most of the species on the planet. Now the squabbling was going on again.
Idealiana suggested that the first prototype be built on the lunar surface, near StationBase1. It was the endless hard vacuum that was the essential for its functioning economically, and the lunar environment had a good supply of that vacuum just as GEO did. Besides, the little recycler would be useful at their tasks, even able to extract some ores that were so far not economical to process by using only local supplies and solar power. Even though the solar powered recycling plant could operate a dozen days a month, due to the two week long lunar night, they could surely process materials while the sun was shining.
So it was agreed, the initial prototype development would happen on the lunar surface, not in GEO. Hopefully by the time the full sized ones were ready to be built and used in GEO for real, the decisions as to where to built them would have gotten settled. The GEO-lunar orbit transfer freighter was stocked with the components for the recycler, a special lander was designed and built to be the base station for this project and would land most of the larger components all at once. it landed a kilometer from StationBase1, looking much like the Apollo landers of the early 1970’s, except was huge, having to be rocket propelled only from GEO. The major propellant use was for soft landing it on the lunar surface.
Idealiana was one of the first to ride the slow solar powered rover out to visit the new inhabitant of the Moon, blazing a dusty trail across the bleak lunar landscape, that would be the basis for a permanent road and railway soon. Much of the setup of this prototype would have to be done by hand.
This was to be a very tiny recycler plant, with a top throughput of perhaps 500 kilograms per day. What they learned about it was the most important part of it for now, yet Idealiana foresaw this recycler to be a key facility here for them from now on. It was a fairly flat horizontal plain on which the lander had arrived. Idealiana got out of the rover, went over to the huge lander, tied a tether to it, and walked out into the plain to the end of the tether, a hundred meters. She tied the loose end of the tether there to a stake, and pounded the stake into the lunar soil solidly. Returning to the lander, she untied the tether from the lander, then using the tether as a radius, she walked the 100 meter radius circle perimeter, driving in more stakes every 30 meters.
Next the 30 meter long curved segments were lifted off the lander, and placed around the circle, to simulate the similar structure needed in GEO where there was no lunar surface to hold things in specific places. Day’s work done there, they returned to StationBase1 for mealtime and rest.
The next morning the crew assembled to do their usual calisthenics, laughter yoga, and meditation after breakfast, then held a review of the day’s plans. Two were still coping with the exoskeleton assist for their arms, like robot arms from their shoulders to their wrists. The exoskeleton assists had enabled them to get back on the job even the day of the attack, but were needed for months, since the Tanfl operators’ kickboxing had really efficiently smashed up their arm bones as they defended their heads with their arms, but had bought them a few seconds of life, enough for the kick boxers to be deprived of that weapon, too. Not complaining now, glad to be alive, they had adapted to the temporary life partly like a robot. It was enough they could handle eating utensils, for example, which they applied with enthusiasm this breakfast.
Idealiana introduced them to the total recycler’s basic principles. It is just a very large but primitive type of mass spectrometer, she explained. The material to be processed was first converted into an ionized plasma by the intense radiant energy focused from the sun onto their container, the particles were constrained to a vector speed and direction, and then loosed as they sped past a permanent magnet’s field. Their direction was bent according to their mass-charge ratio, thus each element went off in its characteristic direction. Containers placed at those directions, along the circle gathered the pure material elements, restraining them according to their properties, gasses being pumped down from the collecting sphere, other elements such as aluminum bouncing around in their collection sphere’s insides until sticking to the wall somewhere.
When the collection containers were full, they would be swapped with an empty container, and the purified materials wold be brought back for making things anew. Solar energy would be used to restore the materials that had been entropically decayed in the industrial fabrication processes, making the materials good as new once again. Or so the theory went. It was up to them now to make theory into practice, then on to the next stages of uses of the materials.
Most of the part where solar energy was focused onto a crucible to plasmatize a sample was built into the lander, along with the solar electric photovoltaics to power the electronics; all they had to do on that part was load a sample into the hopper, then observe where the stuff went as it exited the lander’s magnetically-bent exit aperture. From then on, it was stay out of the way. They put a wall up blocking the view of StationBase1 and its ore processing facilities, and the Quinoa greenhouse, as the impurities of the first samples would head off with no catchers for them yet. They set up catchers at the locations that preliminary calculations predicted that aluminum, silicon, and oxygen would land, to test the catcher’s functionality as well as the actual beam direction and width at the catcher sites.
They placed a sample of lunar ore which they already roughly knew its composition, then activated the recycling machine. it unfurled its parabolic reflectors around the crucible, aimed in the direction of the Sun. Thousands of solar radiant watts focused on the small rock sample, which in seconds exploded into ionized vapor, headed down the path o be deflected by the magnetic field at the exit aperture, sped on through the low lunar gravity to impact somewhere. It was all over in seconds; they went out to their catchers, and observed the electrometer deflection to see how much charge had been imparted by catching charged particles. A tedious task ensued, where they moved the catchers a little bit, put another similar mass sample of the same or in to be vaporized, go out to observe the electrometer, plot amplitude versus position. Then placing the catcher in the peak area of that diagram of caught intensities, they varied the catcher’s aperture size, plotting the charge received function versus size of the hole they went through. More got in the larger the hole got, until it was bigger than the effective ion beam width, then particles began escaping the catcher, dropping the number of particles it caught, and dropping the electrometer reading proportionally.
Then they grounded the catchers to an instrumentation line they placed around the circle, and installed microammeters between each catcher and the ground wire, and then observed the current flow from each sample, making the observation possible telemetered to StationBase1, while uniform sized pellets were dropped into the crucible and vaporized, it all being a repetitive process of about one a second at this point. Then they weighed their catchers, weighed the ore aggregate mass, set it up with the crushed ore dropping into the crucible and being puffed out toward the circle of catchers, and left running by itself for ten hours. The catchers were retrieved, brought back to StationBase1 and again weighed to see the recovery efficiency. All fairly crude technique, but they got it done, while the people in GEO and on earthsurface were still squabbling to get the real machine located somewhere else except where they wanted to be in GEO, the typical problem with trash handling. Nobody wants to take the trash out, or haul it, or dispose of it; and definitely wants it elsewhere. It is all a messy process. Yet if it was not removed it would foul one’s nest. So what they were doing here is preparing a step in the cleaning up of their nest. And they were doing it to stuff that nature, even in her finest condition, could not biologically recycle.
Their experimental results sent to the engineers, their part of the job was done. They had the lunar prototype available, it was theirs to keep. Primitive, yet they kept it running, put out more catchers so as to gather some of the elements that their other processes could not obtain from the lunar ore. occasionally they would go out and fill the hopper with marble sized chunks of ore, and collect some of the catchers, and leave the recycler to do its thing when the sun shines.
In the GEOSpaceDock, room for engineering to go on directly there had been built, along with basic machining and electronic fabrication facilities, so now the development cycle was shortened a lot, no longer always needing to commute up and down the carousel escalator. The escalator trip itself only took 5 and a half hours, going up or down, but the commute after that, from the Andes Mountains in Ecuador to cities elsewhere in the world, was what took the time. A next version of the prototype was built, this time intended for use on the lunar environment; it was built into another lander configuration, shuttled over to lunar orbit by the GEO-Lunar orbital transfer freighter, and soft landed in a new place yet still near StationBase1, so that it could be evaluated by personnel already there.
Idealiana and her crew were not as enthusiastic this time, yet made the trip out to the new recycler’s landing site as soon as it had landed. This time all they had to do was pull equipment bays down, drag out tubing for a ring that would lay on the ground to make the circle, attach the new type catchers on their marked locations. It came with a group of materials to be separated into component elements, samples that were precisely known in composition already. turn the power switch on; it was fully automated from there on, unfurling its huge solar concentration reflector and photovoltaics for its internal electrical power. They recorded a few meter readings, aimed its communication laser at StationBase1 to supply information to be uplinked to the engineers in GEO. They were getting data 3 hours after landing; the team was getting good.
And when the latest recycler prototype had been evaluated and data delivered back to the designers, the lunar processing site had another way to totally process lunar ores, as well as some of the scrap such as from the Tanfl patrol craft’s bent landing strut.
Idealiana had decided that the presumably destroyed patrol experimental craft could be an asset in the future, since even though it had been proclaimed to be built just to patrol around in GEO, it clearly had been designed to land and take off from the Moon. It still had the fuel in it to return to GEO, for example; so they instead fabricated and attached a new landing strut to replace the one crumpled in it landing, and built a pseudo ore mound heaped over the spot where the patrol spacecraft was hidden. Maybe someday it would be needed, maybe fuel brought in for a more extended mission. No one at the station knew how to fly the thing, however, as Tanfl had the only training simulators. So for now it was merely a collector’s item, along with the two prototype total recycling plants.
A few more months and engineering was ramped up to full speed in the new GEO engineering development facilities. They still had the same agreement as the first joint project with Tanfl, that for each Tanfl engineer on the job in a 3Musketeers plant, a 3Musketeers fledgling engineer would be learning from him/her on the job. Already there were fully qualified 3Musketeers engineers on the job, who had originally been flunkies back in the original sliding armature plant facilities, working with Tanfl engineers.
The Total recycling Plant facilities had been put on the back burner, as the data from the early automated or processor, which were part of the lunar StationBase1, had been assimilated and a new generation of lunar ore semi-automated processors were designed and prototypes being machined and assembled in the new GEO facilities. Soon another lander was being shuttled over to lunar orbit, and down to the surface near StationBase1 again. It was getting harder to find a clear landing area near the facility, there being piles of processed ore, besides the equipment scattered around. Deployment did not need to be fully automated since there were the staff there to help deploy components from the lander, saving a lot of engineering and prototyping effort. However, the station staff still had to work in spacesuits, which did not permit a fine touch to tweak adjustments. To do that, the subassemblies had to be carried into the station, subjected to atmospheric pressure, while being set up by the crew in the shirtsleeve environment inside the lunar station. Then the equipment was again subjected to depressurization when it was returned to the lunar landscape to do whatever its job was.
These new ore processors were still chemically based processing, intensively using solar energy; yet one had a small mass spectrometer that was part of its evaluation section. Interestingly, this small mass spectrometer did double duty in that when it was not being used to monitor the input and output of the ore processor, it was shifted over to do a micro version of the big total recycling units, gathering trace quantities of some otherwise rare elements. These small quantities could be useful in making integrated circuits and micromachines, even in the small quantities being produced as a byproduct of the primary ore processing. The little mass spectrometer still bent the path of its ionized particles according to their ratio of mass to electrical charge, but did not use buckets to collect the distributed elements, but rather used their kinetic energy to bury then in a foam strip. calibrated places along the strip would have the kinetically embedded particle bunches, which could be cut apart and the pieces then baked or dissolved to release their special collection of purified material, even the gasses. The noble gases were all grouped in one bunch, however, not being bent at all due to their lack of charge, yet still propelled fast enough to be embedded in the strip material, to be baked out later in lab facilities.
Transporting the huge aluminum subsections from the lunar surface to GEO was still a big problem. It was a problem that had slid through the crack in the whole project to build cities in GEO, in fact. The sections could be hauled up an anchored tether, either through L-1 toward the earth, or at L-2 on the farside of the Moon, away from the earth. Either tether could be built of space-manufactured fiberglass. A space carousel escalator could be built from the lunar surface, one version could loop from the lunar farside around to connect with L-1 on the earthside of the Moon; the other possibility was from the center of the earth-facing side of the moon, around to no further than L-2 above the farside of the Moon, without having the escalator structure be highly tensile stressed.
O’Neil type mass launchers could be built to heft buckets of lunar soil up to where it could be processed and fabricated into the required structural members. And the buckets could be ingots of metals processed on the lunar surface. How and where to do the catching was the problem, anywhere there would be the preservation of momentum of catcher and caught masses. the catcher would not stay still, unless it had a reaction motor for station keeping. And that used up precious resources.
Whatever was used, it was going to have to be done big time. The structural members and aluminum dual hull skin over them, to build places for 10,000 people to live per city, to move a million people a day for 20 years, meant building homes for them in GEO at the same rate. It would require building 100 cities per day. That was a lot of aluminum, a lot of delivery. The task had always seemed utterly impossible from the beginning, crazy beyond crazy, yet it was now showing signs of possibly being doable although a task still almost beyond comprehension.
It had been said long ago by a powerful team, that the impossible just takes a little bit longer do do. They needed that motto right now, again.