The Enterprise is badly damaged, the Genesis Device is counting down, Kahn is quoting Shakespeare, the warp drive’s offline, we’re trying to escape at half-impulse, Checkov’s letting us know just how close we still are to the big BOOM! that’s coming, Sulu says, “We’re not going to make it, are we?”, and Kirk looks over at his long-lost bastard son, who just shakes his head woefully.
If my equivalent to Spock’s next move is out there in the real world of this NaNoWriMo project, now might be a good time for that particular plot twist to manifest itself. The needs of the many, and all of that.
While I normally put in a lot of internal links to previous, related posts here, I won’t be doing that for what I hope will be this year’s thirty NaNoWriMo posts. If you have jumped into or stumbled onto this story in mid-adventure, there are plenty of other ways to navigate around the site to find previous installments. Actually doing so is left as an exercise to the student.
CHAPTER EIGHT (continued)
The spiders were being guided by images taken from Cronus as it orbited above every forty minutes. While they had been dropped into relatively “safe” locations, they needed to get to more “interesting” locations as soon as possible. They were looking for any sign of land.
It had been known for over one hundred years that Rhea primarily consisted of frozen water ice, with other volatiles mixed in for variety. But in addition to the ice, Rhea had a fair amount of solid materials. While the vast majority of the solids were buried at the center of the moon under hundreds of miles of ice, some of it was still on or near the surface.
“Any luck yet?” asked Alsby.
Miller threw two map images up onto the wall. “We’re getting there. We knew we were putting the probes down close to some mineral and solid deposits, but we only have so much precision from this high up in orbit.”
A knock on the door frame preceded the entrance of Carson and Phillips from engineering. They looked tired, but today they each had a smile.
“Captain, we’ve got some ideas on the station design that could let us kill multiple birds with one stone.”
“Let me see,” said Alsby.
“SaSEM, can you please open the station drawings I’ve been working on?” Phillips asked. A 3-D image appeared above the conference table in front of her, showing a cross sectional slice of Rhea’s surface. “The preliminary data we had for Probe Two showed the largest deposits under Tirawa, which would make sense. It’s one of the largest impact basins on the moon and it was almost certainly created by the impact of a large asteroid. Much of that stony or nickel-iron material would be buried there, but we don’t know how deep.”
“Do we have any good guesses? We’ll be lucky to be able to dig down even a couple of miles, so if it’s fifty or a hundred miles deep, we don’t have any chance of getting to it.”
“It can’t be that far down,” offered Carson, “simply because we can detect it as being differentiated from the background. It might be a mile or two down, but it might also be huge. It will be slowly working its way toward the core over time, but probably hasn’t had a chance to go too far.”
“What about the other probe?”
“Probe One has found several magnetic signatures that appear to be less than a mile deep,” Phillips said. “They’re scattered and much smaller than the Tirawa deposit, but they’re also much easier to access. When we figure out which of them is the biggest and shallowest, that will be where we should build the station.”
“You said something about two birds?”
“Right, we think that we have to try something radical here. All of the existing stations on the Moon, Mars, and Ceres are on or near the surface. They may be underground enough for some radiation shielding, but that’s trivial. We’ve been assuming that we would do the same here and have a mine of some sort to bring the ore up.”
“We want to turn that on its head,” said Carson. “Here we think we should build the station down where the ore is, even if it’s a mile or more down. It will make it much easier to mine and process the ore, while also giving us complete shielding from radiation.”
“You want to dig down over a mile and build there? Do we have that kind of capability?” Alsby asked.
“If it were rock, no way,” said Phillips. “But it’s 99% water ice, so all we need to do is melt our way down. That just means energy, but we’ve got multiple sources of that and we can pretty easily get it to where we need it.”
“But that’s the best part of all,” said Carson. “Instead of just vaporizing it and letting it bleed off into space, we think we have a system that will let us simply melt it, then pump it off to the surface.” He pointed to the diagram floating over the conference table. “We can use that like concrete to put into whatever forms we want to, which will make it much easier to start shipping back to Ceres, Mars, and Earth.”
“They’ve been working on that back at Ceres,” said Miller, not wanting to be left out of the conversation completely. “The high-G ship coming out with the station AI and other supplies will also be carrying dozens of small guidance boosters with autonomous navigation systems. They’ll tell us how big the solid ice shipments need to be, we’ll attach a booster, and it will use a slingshot maneuver around Saturn to speed up its trip. Catching it when it gets there will be their problem, but they seem to have a few good ideas on that already.”
“So we’ll tunnel down,” said Phillips, “sending water and volatiles up the shaft and ready to send back. When we get to the deposits, we’ll start hollowing out our station and start mining and processing the ore. I would kill to find some aluminum, but there’s sure to be plenty of nickel and iron, so we’ll work with what we have.”
“How stable and safe will a station be hollowed out of the ice that far down?” asked Alsby.
“It should be fine, there’s no tectonic activity that we’ve been able to detect so far in the ice. At these temperatures it’s like steel so long as we don’t heat it up too much. We’ll make the station wider and less compact than a normal surface station, since we’ve got all the space in the world to branch out. If we have small station sections scattered over a wide area with huge columns of ice left intact, there should be little chance of a collapse.”
“Alright, let me know when you’ve got your plans and blueprints a bit more firmed up, then make sure that you run them through CeresOps for a double check on the concept. This looks great. Anything else that you need?”
Carson and Phillips looked at each other for a second, before Phillips took the lead.
“There are a couple of things, one for this project and one personal.”
“Go ahead, Betty. What do you need for the project?”