He’d never make preferred after this fiasco. Colonel Rex Stone watched the horizon swallow the glowing asteroid. He’d be on the darkish facet of the planet; his gadgets would simply miss the occasion of the millennium. For months, the sector had watched the extraordinary object hurtling out of the southern sky. Within an hour, it’d thread the needle among the earth and its moon. Closest technique might occur on the opposite aspect of the planet. By the time his International Space Station swung around again, the alien item might be halfway back to the moon arc length calculator.
Lesser gadgets in better positions have been online expecting the asteroid. Army flying telescopes were filming from height altitudes; Navy radar changed into staring straight up. They’d get the exceptional records; the Air Force would get the dregs they left behind.
The wall of monitors taunted him. The Space Station presentations were blank; his most advantageous instrument could see not anything. Rex shook his head. This would not happen with a contemporary Space Force-one ready to set up everywhere every time.
Live tv feed at the pinnacle left display screen nevertheless showed Rex at the command console. Clean reduce, team cut-he accepted. He turned into the picture of his boyhood idol, John Glenn the astronaut/senator who had nominated him to the Air Force Academy. The piercing brown eyes of a more youthful fighter pilot screamed his intelligence. Thank God for Botox! Here become the photo of a charismatic leader. If the mission had succeeded, that they had have had to make him a standard-the first widespread of the brand new Space Force.
A dot, blue like a herbal gas flame, jittered in the centers of a few video display units. Live insurance shifted to a break up screen. White stars streaked across black backgrounds because the cameras tracked the asteroid.
At remaining, the Hubble Telescope display lit up. A couple of hours of Hubble viewing time for Rex’s project had taken Congressional intervention. NASA had negotiated a package deal deal: Dawn Thomas and their telescope. She become Hubble’s mother. Officially, Dr. Dawn Thomas turned into the Hubble Chief Scientist; no person fed anything to her telescope without her approval. Rumor had it she’d replied, “Especially now not a few over-the-hill fighter jock…” to Rex’s venture proposal. She’d alternatively do it herself. Her Hubble Telescope turned into the most effective undertaking object not below his direct command.
Dawn had sat proper there beside him withholding her instrument until the remaining possible 2d-allegedly to preserve cooling. She claimed the telescope had trouble looking so close to the sun.
A fuzzy 3-lobed clump stuffed the photograph earlier than it flashed white. “Oh great!” Rex slapped the Hubble monitor. It did not respond. After all that, Dawn have to have pointed the rattling thing at the solar, he thought. Then he noticed the alternative monitors: they have been white too. “Must have exploded again-and we neglected it,” he grumbled. It had occurred more than one times available in deep space. When the item impacted some thing, its xenon plasma sheath had erupted. With all of the muddle of near space, he had warned them every other collision became inevitable. They should have been prepared.
“Let me take a look.” Dawn driven off and floated toward squint on the yellow numbers scrolling throughout the white photographs. “I think my man is out for the duration.” She thumped the Hubble display screen. “How long before yours recover, Colonel?”
“Who knows?” Rex shrugged. “They’re Army birds.”
“Army! Air Force! Who cares?” She threw up her palms. “Can they get whatever?”
“Visible cameras have been remaining minute add-ons to the Airborne Surveillance Testbed,” he said, “the AST technicians likely aren’t proficient with the brand new equipment but. We may additionally need to look ahead to our men downrange. Maybe they are able to get a few pics after AST arms off to them.”
Dawn pointed at the lowest row of monitors. “Radar is still getting something.”
“Just a massive blob, it really is all. The plasma bubble got bigger when the goal blew up; they nevertheless can’t see internal.”
“Can you blow the radar photograph up?” she requested.
“Sure.” Rex bent over his console and clicked his manner thru to the radar photograph manipulate panels.
Dawn studied the lumpy cloud filling 1/2 the display. “It looks like a Valentine. Can you carry us in tighter?”
The cloud wafted to the right. “Better no longer, I’m dropping it already.” Rex switched back to the broader view; the blob turned into fainter and drifting off-middle. “They’re sluing too speedy.” Radar went blank.
More video display units switched on. The baton had exceeded; the second one tier observers were looking. White dots traced arcs on black backgrounds. The entire wall displayed an empty sky.
“Colonel Stone,” a thick accessory in his earphones intruded, “that is Moscow Control: ground facilities have lost your goal.”
“We noticed,” he muttered.
“They try to reacquire-”
“The Station might be in function to guide the search in forty minutes. Request permission to-”
“You are legal to proceed at your very own discretion.” Moscow’s transmission ended.
Dawn’s taunt echoed Rex’s mind. “How do you lose some thing that large?”
“I do not know. It veered off the trajectory I calculated.”
“How may want to it? It’s undergraduate orbital mechanics.”
“It’s not that simple. This factor falls up.”
She grew to become and checked out him like something that had simply crawled out of her salad. “Huh?”
“There’s greater than easy gravity happening obtainable. When the asteroid decelerated into the solar, it turned into falling up. Besides, it must have hit something accessible-some thing large.”
“Could it have shattered?” she cautioned.
“We may additionally in no way understand. With the Space Station on the wrong facet of the planet, we had to put within the 2d string. If we would had the distance aircraft, we should have positioned right device within the proper region at the right time.”
Rex watched Dawn push off the ceiling and flow lower back to her console. “Whatever,” she mumbled. She bent over the keyboard redirecting her instrument to scan for the misplaced frame.
Asteroid rise was mins away. If the target followed the anticipated trajectory, it must seem in the northern sky as they rounded the earth. If the explosion had knocked it off direction, it might nevertheless be within the neighborhood someplace. How a long way may want to it stray in 40-5 minutes?
He’d look for it. Rex had commandeered each tool that might be turned to look above the horizon. The Mission to Planet Earth would need to stand down; it become an all-astronomy day. The Station’s 5 geologists could catch up on their data, or their sleep, or their housekeeping. He and Dawn have been in rate.
The shocked asteroid might be sparkling at some violet and ultraviolet wavelengths. Rex might have favored to scan the sky for those shades and see the asteroid’s unique glow towards a vanilla background. The hyperspectral telescopes weren’t that consumer-friendly. They had been programmed for a snail’s tempo search at 100 wavelengths. The lost asteroid would be faint, transferring rapid, and shining thru the stratosphere: he’d in no way discover it that manner-that took too many photons. Too many photons took too much time. He programmed a broadband sky survey. The asteroid-or some thing was left of it-needed to be someplace in a narrow footprint around his original trajectory. Any glow or glimmer not in the NASA database will be the target; he’d domestic in on it and take hold of all the records he could.
Monitors switched on as quickly because the tip of the goal location rose over the horizon. Instruments painted an arc of white dots on a black heritage. There had been no flashing crimson circles-no unidentified gadgets everywhere.
Rex widened the quest vicinity. A wall of white flecks mocked him. The simplest purple spots he should see were in the Gordian wire bundle at the back of the video display units. The astronomy control middle have been kluged together for the xenon asteroid challenge. Monitors have been bolted into lab racks along one wall and wires duct taped along the passageway from the everyday device labs. It turned into unprofessional; it changed into a protection violation; however it became brief. Dawn and Rex centered at the screens and waited.
Months tracking the asteroid handiest to overlook its ten minutes of glory-he’d blown it. Forty-5 mins earlier or 40-five minutes later, the Space Station might have grabbed a ton of facts and he’d were a hero. But it wasn’t. The Station had been behind the earth when the element exceeded; his back up were given skunked, and nobody were given some thing. It befell on his watch; it became his fault.
With right gadget, he may want to have accomplished the task. The Space Station should handiest be in a single region at a time, and that became out to be the wrong place. Expanded space insurance changed into confined: response times had been in years and some orbits had been tough to attain. The travel changed into high-quality when Spiro Agnew’s group conceived it, however the area program had outgrown it. The Orion pill changed into a step backward whilst Bush proposed it. Even worse after it was emasculated in one price range reduce after every other. It changed into simply an overgrown Apollo pill. How many times had he preached that the Pentagon wished the flexibility of a space aircraft that operated from normal airfields? With it, a U. S. Space Force may want to set up to the right place at the proper time whenever.
They wouldn’t make him a widespread for I-instructed-you-so. Generals have been winners. They ran massive programs that were given large consequences. Rex Stone could be coming home empty passed.
He broadened the footprint more. The asteroid had to be there someplace. Every minute he lost, it flew a few thousand miles similarly away carrying valuable records with it. Still the pc recognized each glimmer at the display screen. The fuzzy shadow crawling up the screen turned into the earth; the asteroid’s footprint turned into placing.
Rex glanced over at Dawn. It became rumored she became lady, but she hid it nicely. At five seven her top was gender neutral. Beige blonde hair pulled tight in a ponytail wasn’t distinctive at NASA-a variety of NASA nerds wore their hair that manner. Her tan one-size-fits-all jumpsuit presented no clue about the frame interior. You may want to disguise a skank or a stick insect in there, however Rex doubted she had.
No rings, no makeup, no nail polish-but by some means feminine. Her skin changed into smooth and clean with the first traces of forty-some thing on the corners of her eyes. If her frame fulfilled the promise of her face, Rex guessed it might be at the plus aspect of narrow with a moderate discern. She’d possibly clean up pretty properly, maybe to a seven. It became going to be a protracted six months-she’d be a 10 by the cease of it.
Dawn turned into concentrating-programming Hubble to take one final appearance when it rounded the earth once more. Her massive blue eyes locked on the display screen, her lips moved as her hands raced across the keyboard.
The din of compressors hammered at Rex whilst he took off his headset. His head throbbed. He may want to use a lager-a lager and a cigarette-approximately then. What the Space Station without a doubt wanted became a bar, he notion. He slipped in a pair of earplugs and closed his eyes. That changed into as properly as it was going to get till he were given domestic.
A jab at his arm roused him. Dawn pointed to her earphones and lip-synced “It’s for you, Colonel.”
He nodded. He was hoping it wasn’t some -celebrity calling to cowl his personal ass. Oh what the hell. He slipped his headset back on and took the decision. “Stone, here.”
“Houston Mission Control, Colonel,” a acquainted drawl greeted him. “We have a probable sighting of your goal.”
“What have you acquire?”
“It changed into visible over the North Pole by means of-”
“Being pulled by using eight tiny reindeer, no doubt,” Rex interrupted. “The asteroid could not be that a ways off beam.”
“No, Colonel. This one looks credible.”
“Go beforehand, Houston,” Rex stated as he motioned to Dawn to concentrate in.
“An Army Scout rocket picked up a glint of blue plasma thru the Aurora Borealis. The spectrometer aboard diagnosed xenon lines superimposed. An alert operator referred to as NORAD.”
“What did NORAD have to say about it?”
“Their radar failed to find whatever coming over the pole, so that they referred to as us.”
“Can you supply us a vector from the Scout sighting, Houston?”
“Affirmative,” Mason Dixon, the voice from Mission Control, paused, “We’ve transmitted the geometry on your laptop. It’s quite crude, Colonel. Scout optics have a extensive subject of view.”
A black-and-white line caricature popped up on Rex’s display. The sphere with an arrow thru it represented the earth. A cone emanating like a megaphone from its north pole bounded the suspicious sighting. “That’s a huge chunk of actual property, can you pin it down any, Houston?”
“NORAD radar didn’t locate whatever beneath one-hundred-and-eighty miles. They’re looking higher.”
“Thanks, Houston, allow us to understand what they find. We’ll take every other appearance while we come around the bend once more. By the manner, did the Army let you know how rapid the component was shifting?”
“Negative,” Dixon answered, “it’s now not that accurate a spectrometer.”
Thanks a lot, Rex concept. The Army! If every Highway Patrolman within the global can examine speed, why can’t an Army tech?
“Thanks, Houston, we’re going to maintain searching.”
Rex looked over at Dawn; she had the same cartoon on her display. “What did you think of all that?” he asked her.
“I do not know.” She shrugged. “What was the Army doing with the Aurora anyhow?”
“Trying to discern out what takes place to the atmosphere when it’s hit with radiation. With the solar wind lighting up the sky up there, they have got been the use of the North Pole as a giant radiation chemistry lab in view that Eisenhower become in workplace.”
“And they nevertheless don’t know?”
“Old infantrymen never die, you know.”
“I guess now not… Anyhow, your original trajectory puts the thing out right here where I’m scanning.” She poked the air above her reveal. “It might must have slowed way all the way down to nevertheless be anywhere back here.” Her finger dropped again to the comic strip on her display screen. “I do not think I accept as true with a collision that hard, however-”
“It’s a long shot, however it’s our first-class shot. Is your man ready to search for it?”
“It’s twenty minutes to a safe look attitude that near in. Before that, earthshine will blind me.”
“Can you glide south at the same time as we are ready?”
“I’ll do some geometry with the Alaska sighting and propagate it forward in time. If we’re lucky, we’re going to locate the goal there whilst we come over the hill.” A new form flashed on their screens-a truncated cone, wider than the first and a planet-duration north.
Monitors switched on because the target extent rose into view. Rex watched and hoped as his devices mapped emptiness. White sparks peppered black backgrounds-all objects diagnosed through the laptop. No red marks signaled some thing uncommon there.
Distance slowed the radar seek. Signal to noise ratios have been down; stay instances had been longer. Space Station radars were maxed out. Blank screens mapped vacuum.
In twenty minutes, they would be able to see the whole sector. Rex wrung his palms whilst he waited. This become the Space Station’s closing chance; after this revolution, the xenon asteroid would belong to the astronomers.
“Yes!” Rex pointed at a smudge at the Hubble reveal. “You located it!”
“Afraid now not,” Dawn shook her head. “I’m down to geosynchronous altitudes; that’s simply one of the Global Positioning Satellites.”
“Why is it so fuzzy?”
“That’s the great I can do at close range. Hubble is some distance-sighted, you recognize.”
Rex slumped in his chair and watched vacancy unfold across the wall of video display units. The target wasn’t there. “I don’t see it,” he admitted. “We’d higher look farther north.”
Dawn smirked and returned Hubble to searching her manner.
The horizon rose up and swallowed the goal zone; the xenon asteroid wasn’t there. How may want to he have misplaced it? Could it have skipped off the environment?…Or vaporized within the collision? He simply didn’t know.
The asteroid became long long gone; it became time the Space Station back to everyday. “Colonel Stone here,” he introduced to the crew, “we recognize the loan of your devices. The astronomy task is now complete. The Space Station might also resume its regular sports.”
For Rex, regular responsibility changed into pilot duty. Driving the Station became as dull as using a military delivery. It roared like a turboprop in a storm. It handled like an iceberg. With only some small thrusters, there wasn’t lots he could do; with autopilot, there has been even less to do. It could be a long six months, but it’d earn the astronaut benefit badge he’d want at some point.
“Hubble still did not discover something,” Dawn interrupted him. “I’m releasing it.”
“Might as well, there may be not anything to take a look at round here.”
“Rotten success: all Hubble got is one body earlier than the issue erupted, and it is no splendid shakes.”
“That…And multiple lengthy shots from AST-can’t imagine the evaluation taking lengthy. Let’s get started.”
“It’s a blob. You could waste the rest of the afternoon on it. Run the photographs through all of the photograph enhancement software program in the global; ultimately, it’ll still be a blob.”
“You by no means recognise ’til you strive.”
“You pass ahead. I’ve got a telescope to run. That’s what I signed on for-six months of actual technology and not using a phones, no committees, and no conferences. The xenon asteroid turned into an advantage, however my plate became already complete without it. We placed a few fascinating observations on hold; I want to place the Hubble again on-line and capture up with them.”
Rex studied the Hubble body with the aid of himself. A three-lobed cloud masked some thing interior. The heritage become acquainted from his thesis at Arizona-four years looking the sky for brown dwarfs. Even with the comparison turned up, he saw no strangers there. Whatever had hit the asteroid become too faint for human eyes to look; maybe the laptop should discover it.
Hubble regarded back in time. Halfway throughout the universe and five billion years ago, one young celebrity machine sawed through any other. The image of carnage flickered on Dawn’s screen. Ghost galaxies collided; stars exploded where one ripped into the opposite. The image become underexposed. She reprogrammed her telescope to stare-collect light open-shutter for another hour. A parasite would siphon off mild for a spectroscopic post-mortem of younger stars shattered.
“I’m going to seize some lunch. Do you need anything?” she presented.
“Sure, why now not?” Rex grimaced. NASA food became worse than airline food. The cafeteria became a microwave; the pantry changed into a locker bolted among aluminum I-beams across the room.
“Chicken, red meat, or fish?” Dawn summarized the plastic pouches at the shelf.
Salt-unfastened, texture-loose-the lukewarm paste in his mouth tasted chalky like a protein shake. That taste were the worst a part of bulking up for soccer at the Academy; Rex nonetheless hated it. “Okay, which one turned into it?” he requested.
“Does it count?”
“You’re proper, it’s been that sort of day.”
“Tough destroy on the asteroid-did you manage to get anything out of the Hubble photograph?”
“No, I fiddled with it, then I fed it to more than one photo enhancement codes. I attempted your NASA software program-not anything. The CIA package deal did no higher-”
Dawn shook her head. “It should not have; the mathematics is pretty much the same in both of them.”
“That makes experience, I wager. I had in no way notion about it.”
Rex squirted his water bottle into his mouth to chase the aftertaste of lunch. “I had no higher luck calling home this morning. It became 9:30 and I forgot the ladies had their first class at 10:00. Ten o’clock! College ain’t what it used to be; reveille was at oh-six-hundred returned on the Air Force Academy-”
“And you walked barefoot through the snow to magnificence too, I bet.”
“Okay! Okay!” He raised his arms in mock give up. “How about you? Sun’s up on the West Coast. Are you going to squeeze in a call home among observations?”
“My cat doesn’t anticipate me to call; my ex might as an alternative I did not.”
The call-waiting icon flashed on their pc monitors. “Then it truly is no longer for you,” Rex said.
“I failed to supply all and sundry my paintings range. It’s probably your spouse.”
Rex toggled the privateness button off and answered the call.
“Colonel Stone,” an jap accent addressed him. “This is Moscow Control. An unidentified object sighted over the Pacific might also pose a navigation danger to the Space Station. Initial reviews imply there may be a potential for collision all through your subsequent bypass over the Atlantic. Mission Control recommends you continue with your navigation radar in long variety mode.”
Rex hated nebulous threat briefings. “Do you’ve got more precise information, Moscow?”
“No, Sir, the newbie reports are unreliable and floor monitoring stations have not obtained it yet. It is seen to the naked eye, and the music of the sightings is regular with polar orbit. Worst case scenarios have a huge object passing over Antarctica and coming at you out of the south.”
“Roger that,” Rex acknowledged. “Bandits at 3 o’clock.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Never thoughts. Who are those men?”
“The starting place is unknown, Colonel. Satellite surveillance has picked up no unexplained launches. We haven’t intercepted any transmissions from the aspect. We don’t know what it’s far. We do not know in which it’s miles. We’re now not even certain that it’s far. To be safe, Mission Control indicates you run together with your radar huge open.”
“How lengthy earlier than you could refine the trajectory?”
“Ninety minutes, Sir. Projections positioned it over the Atlantic and out of variety of land assets in this bypass. We estimate first get right of entry to with Siberian radar in fifty to sixty minutes because it comes over the pole.”
Intercept interior thirty minutes-90 mins would be too past due; he needed data in fifteen. “I even have Aegis radar devices returning from the xenon asteroid project within the South Atlantic. Let me attempt them.”
“Very exact, Sir. Please advise us of their consequences so we might also refine our seek parameters.”
“Thank you, Moscow Control,” Rex signed off. He switched to internal verbal exchange and announced, “Rig for evasive maneuvers.”
Dawn cinched her seatbelt tighter. She became to invite why. Rex disregarded her.
He hailed Ticonderoga over the army line for Project Xenon and ordered the government officer to wake the captain.
“Ticonderoga, here,” a 1/2-awake voice answered. “This is the captain speakme.”
“Captain Yengst, that is Colonel Stone USAF piloting the Space Station. We have an emergency and request Ticonderoga’s assistance.” Dawn tensed whilst she overheard the phrase emergency. She flipped a switch to snoop on the communication.
“An unidentified object is mentioned on a collision course with the station. We need designated radar statistics ASAP to take evasive maneuvers. Can you pick out it up over the South Atlantic and transmit the records over the xenon assignment traces, Sir?”
“What is it, Colonel-some type of interceptor? Whose?”
“Don’t recognise, Sir. Can you do it?”
“One more component, Captain,” Rex interrupted Yengst earlier than he could dangle up.
“Be aware that your facts could be fed unfiltered to the Russians.”
“Thank you, Colonel; we will endure that during mind when we system our records. I’ll get again to you from the manage room while we are on line.”
Rex switched returned to nearby conversation. “I’d better move up front and force the bus,” he excused himself.
“I’ll watch the monitors at the same time as you are long gone,” she spoke back. Her eyes fixed on the wall of comatose video display units. She failed to look up.
The Navy radar screens flickered to life as he left the room.
A cramped area with a joystick and a bank of levers-the Space Station cockpit appeared like something out of a Mercury tablet. The window became larger, but the pilot become nevertheless spam in a can. The old-time scopes and gauges were moved to the laptop display; a touch display and keyboard had been delivered.
Rex screwed his six-foot body into the seat. Careful of the joystick, he reminded himself. One contact could disengage the autopilot and turn manipulate over to him; he’d be as busy as a sinner at a revival assembly until he turned it lower back on. He toggled the radar to wide search mode; a rectangular rectangle stretched across the pinnacle of the cockpit display screen. Nothing confirmed but.
“Colonel Stone, that is Captain Yengst,” the voice in his ear stated. “Ticonderoga is scanning, but hasn’t placed you or your interceptor but. Can you offer further statistics?”
“Yes, Sir,” Rex replied. “We should be the most important object within the sky whilst we seem northeast of you. The boogie is stated to be in polar orbit rising out of the south.”
“Okay, my human beings have some thing. Let me see.” Muted voices crammed the silence. “No, it truly is simply you.”
Rex watched and waited. He saw nothing at the horizon, but that could exchange rapid remaining at 5 miles a 2d.
“Stone, Yengst right here, we have some thing growing over Antarctica.”
“I see it on the screen,” Dawn’s voice interrupted.
“Houston Control right here, Captain Yengst, is the Space Station in hazard?”
“We do not know yet, Houston. What? Wait a minute.” The Navy connection dropped off.
Captain Yengst came returned on the air. “I’ve ordered my humans to double take a look at their findings. Preliminary readings suggest a large body or bodies journeying at orbital speed…. Just a minute…. Yes, they affirm there are a couple of huge our bodies-”
“How large is huge, Captain,” Mason Dixon asked from Houston Mission Control.
“Two to ten times the scale of your Space Station, Houston,” he spoke back. “We see 4 to 6 of them so far. Doppler radar cannot distinguish their speeds; they are flying in tight formation.”
Dodging a swarm that big may want to take greater divert functionality than the Station had. Rex knew he’d ought to jam at the brakes and swerve to overlook it-however in what course? “At what altitude, Captain?” he demanded.
“They’re fifty miles above your orbit for now, Colonel.”
“Thank you! Sir!” Rex breathed a sigh of alleviation.
“You’re welcome. Oh, by the manner, Colonel, those aren’t herbal gadgets. They’re clean and geometric.”
Woodrow Wilson is a Caltech PhD with extra than thirty years enjoy in studies and improvement for the army and intelligence communities. He has explored area and different distinguished environments within the laboratory and within the computer. He contributed to the layout and testing of area-primarily based and ground-based totally anti-ballistic missile defenses. He has studied chemistry at 10,000°F, 30,000 mph collisions, plus fires and explosions in zero gravity, the aurora borealis, and greater. Wilson’s paintings in army programs of space puts the technology in this difficult technology fiction work Dead Astronauts.
His interests are eclectic. He posted The Champagne Taste/Beer Budget Cookbook imparting eating place nice food without pleasant restaurant prices. He is a Distinguished Toastmaster, and a Toastmaster District executive. He has addressed clinical conferences in Russia and Germany, and all through North America. He addresses standard audiences on technical and ancient topics.
Wilson lives in northern San Diego County with his spouse and their two yellow labs. His two sons and four grandsons stay nearby. He is working on his next novel, The Utah Flu, a clinical fiction piece.