MOON BASE DELTA Book One: Solar Storm – Chapter 1.

Date

Moon Base Delta

Book One: Solar Storm

By Gerald M. Kilby 2022

[NOTE: Keep in mind that this has not had a proper proofread yet. I’m waiting to finish the last edits for the entire manuscript before sending it off for a final polish. Should be very soon.]

Chapter 1: Lunar Gateway

When word came to the crew of the maintenance ship, Aurora, that they had less than four hours before the next burst of solar radiation hit them, there was a collective groan of protest. It was bad enough that they were embarking on a very delicate survey operation of the old Lunar Gateway, a very unsound hunk of space history, but having to do so during yet another bout of high intensity solar activity just added to the stress the crew were already feeling. 

And nobody was feeling this stress more than Renton Hicks, the youngest and latest addition to the engineering crew — just fresh out of training, and his first time in space. He had departed from Earth only five weeks earlier and had been assigned to this ship as a junior Mechatronics Engineer. But now his excitement at finally being able to fulfill his dream of working in space was being severely tested, as the harsh and dangerous realities were becoming clearer with each new solar flare alert.

The Captain, Mackenzie Arnold, a brash no nonsense Aussie, had sensed the young man’s building anxiety and had been at pains to assure him that this level of solar activity was rare. 

“It’s not always like this,” she counseled. “You just picked a bad time to join the team, right slap bang at the peak of the solar cycle.” 

She was referring to an eleven year cycle where the sun’s magnetic field completely switches its poles. Midway through this cycle is the time of increased solar activity — the solar maximum. 

“Granted, this one’s a tad rougher that any of the others I’ve ridden through,” she added. However, she then went on to assure him that they were in no real danger — they always got plenty of warning, and even if you did get zapped by solar radiation it was never as bad as people kept making it out to be.

This went someway to allaying Renton’s fears. The Captain was a veteran after all. Someone who had come up at the tail-end of the third wave of lunar colonization, some twenty five years earlier, around the time he himself was born, she had pretty much seen and done it all since then — and lived to tell the tale.  

Yet, since departing their lunar orbital base less than a week ago, the crew of the maintenance ship had had to hunker down inside the most protected section of their vessel on nine different occasions. Each time for longer and longer durations. Renton was no expert on astronomical events, unlike their Systems Analyst, Alice Tyler, the second youngest member of the crew, who was utterly fascinated by each solar flare and subsequent coronal mass ejection. To Renton it seemed obvious that these events were becoming more frequent and intense, not less so. What’s more, owing to the odd elliptical orbit of the old Lunar Gateway they were surveying, they were some 70,000 thousand kilometers from the surface of the Moon and any protection it might have afforded the crew by simply being able to make a run for the night side, putting some mass between them and the oncoming solar radiation. Still, no one else seemed quite as rattled as he was by the constant flaring, so he best get a handle on his anxiety and move on with the job.

“Coming up on the space station. Four minuets to intercept.” The voice of the Flight Officer, Yuna Djinn, reverberated through the Operations Bay of the ship, kicking Renton out of his worrying, back into the here and now. He glanced up at the primary monitor and watched for a moment as the maintenance ship drew in closer to the ancient Lunar Gateway space station. He considered the term, space station, to be a rather grandiose moniker for what was just a few tiny cylindrical modules connected together via rudimentary docking ports, all of which was completely dwarfed by their own ship.

“I can’t believe people actually lived and worked in that thing.” He threw this observation out for the general consumption of the other crew.

“You gotta remember that thing, as you call it, is over nighty-eight years old.” Alice replied, while still concentrating on a data readout, her hands gesturing over the surface of the interface. 

“We’re talking the real early days, Renton,” Matteo Cristoforetti, the second most senior engineer on board piped in. “The very first space station in lunar orbit, where it all started. That’s the only reason they still have it up here. Nostalgia.” Matteo relaxed in his seat. Like Renton, he had nothing to do until they actually started the drone survey. “It’s a piece of history, a reminder of where it all began. And they’ve spent an absolute fortune keeping it orbiting.”

“It’s a lost cause, if you ask me,” said Becker De Havilland, the crew’s Chief Engineer. “It’s been stripped bare of all useful tech, so it’s got zero function other than being a symbol for the old space agencies. When it goes, it will be the end of an era.” 

Renton, being young, had no great attachment to this artifact of human space history and struggled to understand why it had attained such a mythic position in space history. True, it’s where it all started, where the first wave of colonization began, but the time and resources needed to keep it from crashing onto the lunar surface hardly seemed worth it to him.

Yet he was reminded of an old power station cooling tower that had dominated the skyline back in his small hometown. The story went that when it was being built most townspeople objected to this ugly industrial blight being foisted on their pretty little town. Public protests grew and several of the leaders were elected to the town council on this single issue alone. But it was all to no avail, if the townspeople wanted a stable and reliable electricity supply then this was it. Eventually pragmatism won out. But as a compromise it was agreed to give the tower a candy-stripe paint job in an effort to mitigate the sheer brutal ungiliess of it. 

And so, over time, it became part of the landscape, this candy-striped tower, and the new generation that grew up couldn’t imagine the town without it watching over them. When the power station eventually became too old and too inefficient to operate it was decommissioned and the great plumes of water vapor that had poured forth from its gaping maw ceased forever. Yet the structure remained, and since it was a municipal facility, public discussions had to be conducted on how best to utilize the land that would now become available. Needless to say, this lasted for decades and the town council found itself in the unenviable position of having to maintain the crumbling tower, patching up the masonry, and giving it a new paint job every so often, since by now it had embedded itself in the cultural fabric of the town. 

It had even become a favorite vista for local artists whose work adorned the walls of local cafes and bars, some of whom adopted it as a logo or theme. Its image also became part of the town’s public relations efforts, being introduced into most of the promotional paraphernalia that was pumped out every year for the annual orchard festival. Peak love was reached when townspeople started wearing the t-shirt.

But time and entropy finally caught up with the aging structure and moves were gaining momentum to have it demolished. News of the impending destruction of the town’s beloved tower invoked a furious reaction, and for the second time in its life mass protests were called. In an ironic twist, the children and grandchildren of the very people who had wanted it demolished all those years ago, now protested for its salvation. It had become a totemic symbol for the people and its loss would rip the very soul from the town.

In the end it survived. It was now the centerpiece of a recreational park. Its lower flanks were a climbing wall, its upper level a cafe and observation deck which afforded people spectacular views across the valley. People flocked from miles around to experience it. It was where Renton himself had spent many a happy day with his friends.

As he readied the survey drones for deployment and instigate the initial visual scan of the old station, he could see the parallels between this aging piece of space history and the beloved town tower. This artifact had also become totemic in the minds of many who lived and worked on the Moon’s surface and orbital platforms. It had been faithfully orbiting the Moon for over nighty-eight years, even though its functional life ended more than sixty years ago. Since then it was kept in orbit by continual maintenance, most of which consisted of patching up the aging hulk. The Federation of International Space Agencies, FISA, had hoped to keep it going until the centenary celebrations, but the truth was they simply couldn’t afford it anymore — and things had moved on. As FISA’s dominance in lunar colonization had faded so to did the symbolism of the Lunar Gateway. Their budget was stretched to the limit and something had to give, so it was agreed that the old Lunar Gateway would be decommissioned. The question now, was how this should be done?

They had a number of options. The first, and technically the easiest, was to let it crash land on the lunar surface. But it had an unusual orbit, a near-rectilinear halo orbit, bringing it around 3,000 kilometers from the lunar North pole at its closest point, to over 70,000 kilometers from the South pole. A lot of surface infrastructure had been built up along the track of that orbit so simply letting it crash-land was fraught with potential problems. While coming down on a populated zone was statistically unlikely, there was still a sizable chunk of lunar landmass that various other agencies and organizations had laid calm to. If it came down in a sector not controlled by FISA then this had the potential to be a political nightmare, at best. At worst, they could be sued out of existence. 

The other option was to strap a booster to it and send it off into deep space, never to be seen again, assuming it was structurally sound enough to take the stresses without disintegrating and raining space junk down on the lunar surface.

However, at the last moment, the Dizzy Corporation arrived with a proposal. They were in the process of building a theme park in the Northern quadrant of Amundsen Crater and wanted to investigate the possibility of salvaging the Lunar Gateway by towing it over to one of the orbital shipyards, dismantling it, and bringing it down to the surface bit-by-bit where it would be reassembled and form the centerpiece of their new Space History Museum. What’s more, they would even pay for the structural survey to be conducted to assess the feasibility. FISA jumped at the offer. 

Up on the primary monitor the crew could see the survey drones exit from the under belly of the maintenance ship and make their way over to the old Lunar Gateway. They soon began to orientate themselves into a preprogrammed configuration and start to run passes along the length of the structure. With each pass, they would look deep into the molecular fabric of the station and build up a detailed picture of the internal structure of the metal struts and beams that held it all together. From this the crew could then accurately calculate what stresses this ancient space artifact could support. But all this would take time to accomplish — approximately twenty hours, give or take.

Renton glanced at the solar radiation alert timer, it ticked down from 3:47:00 By the time it world hit zero, the crew would need to be hunkered down in the storage bay, as per the safety regulations. It would be a least a two hour wait before they could exit again. For the Captain, and some of the other crew, it was just more wasted time, time they couldn’t afford if they wanted to claim the bonus offered for hitting the project completion deadline.

Yet this was not Renton’s primary concern. What occupied his mind most was the repair job he had done on drone Five. He prayed it would hold up and the machine wouldn’t start glitching again. Because if it did… well, he didn’t want to think about what might happen. 

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