Saturday, September 21, 2013

Interview With An Astronaut - Part One

The following is a work of fiction. The characters are fictional.  Any resemblance of characters to real people is a mere coincidence and unintentional.

"Test, test.  Is this thing on?" said Tom Riverfall checking his microphone.  He tried to look past the blinding lights to see his audio guy.  All he could see was the camera men.

"It's working, Tom," came a voice in his earphone.  He adjusted his suit and got ready for the mission at hand.  Then he looked straight into the nearest camera.

"2030 is the year of more commercial space progress.  The Dragonfly project is going to take off tomorrow around 6 am in the morning.  The project will test an in-line air boost to orbit concept in the hopes of competing with the reusable rocket family from SpaceX.  This is Tom Townsend live from Cape Canaveral.  Here with me is the pilot of the mission, Dan Darger.  Dan, what got you interested in space?" Tom looked starlight at his guest in a silver pressure suit that had several logos of sponsors on it.

"Well, Tom.  That's a good question," Dan said trying to calm himself to say the right thing. "I think it started when I was pretty young.  You see, my Dad got me and himself tickets to ride a Virgin Galactic spaceplane.  I guess it was love at first launch."  Dan felt really good about that answer.

"Was that the SpaceShipTwo class or later classes?  I think were up to SpaceShipFive if I'm not mistaken."

"Uhh. Yeah.  It was a small ship that seated six passengers and took us up to about 100 clicks."  Dan paused a moment with his finger ponting to Tom with a up an down motion. "The thing that struck me was the view of the Earth.  I always thought the rocket ride up would be the coolest, but the Earth....Man!  That was something." Dan's mind went back to that moment, that emotion.

"I heard it's a magnificent site."

"You haven't been up? Oh man! You gotta go, you just gotta.  You don't know what your missing until you go." Dan smiled at Tom feeling a little superior.

"Well, I guess I just might.  But let's talk about your mission tomorrow.  What is the significance of it?" Tom attempted to gain control back after feeling a little put down.

"Well, Tom.  It's a winged craft with scram jets and a orbiter attached to its nose.  I will be riding in the orbiter.  The two crafts will take off from the space runway here at the Cape with the first stage rocket.  Then that will be jettisoned.  It will scream up into the atmosphere gaining acceleration as it goes using the scram jets.  At about 100,000 ft, the orbiter will detach with a small rocket and go into space.  Once in initial orbit, that small rocket is jettisoned, and the orbit is stabilized by the orbiter's main engines."  Dan could feel himself relaxing and getting the hang of this interview.

"OK.  What will happen to the mothership?"

"Oh, right! It will fly back down to the runway."

"I know the project is about the mothership, but tell us a little about the orbiter."  Tom put on the best interested tone he could muster.

"Well, the orbiter has been to space before.  In fact, it's been in orbit more than a hundred times and was retired about 5 years ago.  It was built by SNC and it was the original Dreamchaser.  It's a lifting body style craft that flies well in space and the atmosphere.  It was refurbished and retrofitted for this mission." Dan went through the data in his mind to see if that was enough for the answer.

"So, why are you not piloting the mothership rather than the orbiter?" Tom smiled smugly at the camera then at Dan.

"Well...uh....isn't it obvious?" Dan looked quizzically.

"Not everyone is a rocket scientist, Dan.  The folks out there want to hear your expert viewpoint.  So tell us why your in the orbiter."

"Oh...right!  Well the project is about getting to space cheaply.  So the mothership was designed to fly without a pilot on board.  The actual pilots will be on the ground.  It is also smart so it can fly independently if need be.  I'm in the orbiter to do orbits.  Yeah, for the system to be proven, I have to get the orbiter to orbit and then land back safely on the runway."

"Good.  That sums the mission up pretty good." Tom felt back in control and Dan was all smiles patting himself on the back. "So, Dan, what are you wearing?"

"This is my pressurized flight suit.  It keeps me alive in case of a loss of pressurization."  Dan looked down at his silver suit. "As you can see it has logos of my sponsors."

"Yes, it's very colorful.  And loss of pressurization means when the orbiter looses air Dan won't die because of the suit."  Tom felt a little ticked that Dan didn't elaborate on that detail.

"Yeah, that's it!  On top of this I will be wearing a parachute."

"A parachute?"

"Uh....yeah! In case something bad happens." Dan felt that was enough said.

"Something bad?  Like you blow up?"

"Ah...well....yes, but not exactly.  If the orbiter blows up I blow up with it and the chute is no good.  But if the mothership has a bad failure I can just detach the orbiter and fly it down to safety.  Now if the mothership is badly damaged and the orbiter is damaged as well but in one piece but can't get back to land, then I have the chute to bail out and fly another day."  Dan felt that that was a blunder of an explanation and it was uncomfortable to say.

"Oh I see.  You just want to live no matter what."  Tom stated the obvious but he felt it needed to be said.

"Ah, yeah! Don't you?" Quizzical look again showed up on Dan's face.

"Sure I do.  And we all do." Tom laughed his way through embarrassment.

"Well, good luck on your flight tomorrow.  I hope the Dragonfly project is a success," said Tom concluding the interview.

"Thanks Tom," said Dan with a big smile.

Tom gave a cut sign to the camera men.  The cameras lenses dropped like horses stopping to graze.

"Feel nervous about tomorrow?" asked Tom.

Dan slumped back in his seat with a sigh. "Not as much as I do about this interview."

Tom looked at him quizzically.

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