You probably missed the news, but MIT has a football team. They play in the NCAA’s Division III for small schools with limited athletic department funding or limited enrollment.
The idea of an MIT football team has so many jokes that write themselves, but the fact is that this year they were pretty good in their division. They were actually 9-0 in the regular season , then won their first game in the Division III playoffs. Things don’t end well from here on, since they got beaten by Wesley College, 59-0 yesterday. It probably wasn’t even that close – Wesley scored 35 in the first quarter, 14 in the second, 10 in the third, and zero in the fourth. It might be assumed that in the fourth quarter they were just playing out the clock, trying not to intentionally embarrass The Engineers.
Today as I’m trying to write the next chapter in this NaNoWriMo that’s going to fall well short of the targeted 50,000 words, I can empathize with those MIT players in that fourth quarter. I’m not going to “win,” but it’s important to play to the end. (And for the record, I’m well aware of all the good things that come from NaNoWriMo even if you don’t get to 50K words, so I’m not feeling like a “loser” per se.)
Thanks for reading along!
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.
As the department heads gathered for the Monday morning staff meeting, the early arrivals hooked their feet into restraining straps around the walls of the conference room. Some chatted idly, some were checking out reports and news stories on their pads, almost all had bulbs of hot coffee stuck to their jumpsuits somewhere.
As Alsby and Tanaka came in and took their places at the end of the room, the conversations died.
“Good morning, everyone. Another virtual day, another virtual dollar, I guess, although dollars are pretty much history. Naoki, what have you got for today?”
“All critical systems are nominal,” the First Officer said. “Our orbital parameters remain essentially unchanged. We are seeing orbital perturbations than are slightly larger than we expected in trying to stay in a Rhea-synchronus orbit over the drilling site. It’s nothing that we can’t easily compensate for, probably caused by gravitational effects of bodies in the system that are slightly more or slightly less massive than we thought. It looks like we’ll need to make a corrective maneuver every three or four days at most, the drift isn’t that much. The optical comm system can easily maintain its links between Cronus and the surface even at a much higher angular displacement than that.”
“Okay, is it worth trying to track down the source of the discrepancies in our calculations or should we just live with it?”
“I would recommend just living with it, but if Fan wants to take it on as an exercise or an observational program, I’ll of course give her full access to the nav data for her to analyze.”
“Fan,” asked Alsby, “that’s why I asked you to be here today. Is that something you want to take a look at? Do you have the time for it?”
“I don’t think it needs to be a primary investigation, the results would be more technical than observational. For future navigation it might be useful to know that moon forty-five is ten point three two six five four times ten to the thirteenth kilos instead of ten point three two six five two, but that’s closer to cartography than astronomy. But I would be happy to take the data and start running some background analyses to see if it can get worked out.”
“Don’t let it interfere with your primary work,” said Alsby, “but if you can get it done on the side, you never know when that might be useful later. As far as your other research goes, is there anything new to report?”
“Nothing spectacular to report. We continue to map the weather patterns on Saturn and do spectrographic analysis of the top layers of the clouds that we can see. SaSEM and I are working on some interesting proposals for possible exploration vehicles that could be dropped into the Saturnian atmosphere, blimps and balloons of various sorts. We’re also continuing a survey of the system to identify any remaining small moons or captured asteroids. By the time we’re done we should know where everything over one hundred meters wide is in the system.”
“Any feedback from anyone at Ceres or Earth about your work or anything you’re finding?”
“No, I and McNamara on JuSEM might be the only practicing astronomers these days. Everyone else back in-system has been put to work on other, more critical tasks. All of the research AIs are logging the data and cataloging it for future reference, but for everyone else, if it doesn’t help keep everyone alive, it’s on the back burner for the foreseeable future. The only work being done is by automated systems, monitoring solar activity, searching for incoming comets, flagging supernova, that sort of thing.”
“Well, as long as you’re out here and we’ve got the equipment, keep at it as best you can.” Fan nodded.
“Betty, how are we doing on the excavation?”
“It’s actually going ahead of pace, we’re making good progress. We’re over a kilometer and a half down at this point with an estimated three-quarters of a klick to go. At this rate we should be there in about twenty days. The system for keeping the shaft clear continues to work as expected. The average bore diameter is about seventy centimeters, well within parameters. We’re continuing to just let the ice being removed get melted and then sublimate and vent out the top of the shaft.”
“Good. Ben, what about the work on modifying the diggers for the next stage?”
“We have the first three of them modified, with the fourth and fifth under way. We’ve got time on those since we’ll be sending them down sequentially, each boring out the shaft diameter roughly another meter. We’ve tested those three down to about fifty meters, but we don’t want to go too far down until we get the primary bore hole done all the way to the deposit.”
“Good, anything that you need for that?”
“Just more hours in the day, ma’am. We’ve got Volkov and Simpson supervising six of the crew from other departments to try to speed it up, but there’s only so much space and materials to work with down in that hanger bay. It’s going to be a grind, but don’t worry, we’ll get it done.”
“I know that you will. Todd, anything new?”
“Cheryl has insisted that yet another complaint be filed about the so-called ‘desecration of this virgin planetary body.’ And yes,” he said, holding up a hand to forestall the obvious question, “I have reminded her yet again of the stakes at hand for us and our families, as well as the amazing opportunities she will have for taking samples from all long the access shaft after we’re done. It seems to go into one ear and out the other.”
“Have you suggested that she kick her complaint up the line to her bosses at Ceres and Earth?” asked Tanaka.
“Yes, she’s already done that. They’ve been pretty terse with her as far as I can tell, and with the time delay she can’t really argue with them like she would like to. Since we’re here in real time, we’re a lot easier to yell at.”
“As long as all she’s doing is bitching, we can all live with that. I can understand her point from a strictly scientific point of view, but it’s a big moon in a big system. Staying alive is sort of high on my list of things to do, so she’s just going to have to live with it. How is she doing with the data from Iapetus and Titan? Any problems there?”
“No, that’s one of the things that’s keeping her as quiet as she is. Both the floater and the crawler on Titan keep sending in more data than she can look at, and the Iapetus probe is doing the same. The Enceladus orbiter continues to monitor the outgassing from the tiger stripes, as well as mapping the moon in considerable detail. Given the chaotic nature of the surface there, that amount of detail is generating quite a data set. She’s usually happy with that, as long as no one points out that we’re drilling down below on Rhea.”
“Any ‘interesting’ results from either Titan or Enceladus?” asked Alsby.
“If you mean have we found little green men, no, not yet. There are some obvious complex organics in the Enceladus plumes, as well as some fascinating trace elements. Lots of carbon and oxygen, but also chlorine, sulfur, iron, copper, nickel, and arsenic in more than trace amounts. After that, half the periodic table is there in trace amounts. But no little swimming critters that got sucked out of a vent into space. At least not yet.”
“What about Titan?”
“That’s a more complex problem, way too much going on to sort out easily. There’s so much chemical activity going on in the environment with the methane cycle and other hydrocarbons, we’re really in the dark over the origins of ninety-nine percent of it. We also have the problem of it being a dynamic landscape, so things are changing over a few days as we look. Sort of like the way snow falls, drifts, and then melts on Earth. So far though, the only tracks we see on the methane beaches are our own. If we run into anything else shambling around, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Thanks, Todd. Mark, life support?”
“We’re doing fine, Susan. The hydroponic gardens continue to be stable and productive. In fact, they’re so productive that we would like to try a pilot program where we will take some of the soy and small vegetable plants and put them throughout the hallways. They’ll still be producing, but scattering them around will allow us more room for additional plants, while also softening up the living environment with some green, living things. If people want to take charge of plants in their particular areas, we can train them up on what needs to be done. It might not be cats and dogs, but maybe pet plants can be a partial substitute.”
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” Alsby said. “Any possible environmental issues in the crew quarters and living areas from anything associated with the plants’ nutrition, lighting, or other factors?”
“Nothing that we’re aware of. We’ll be monitoring it closely to make sure that everything stays stable, of course, but it shouldn’t be any worse than the byproducts that the crew and equipment is already putting into the ecosystem.”