Thursday, October 24, 2013

Interview With An Astronaut - Part Two

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

Read Part One.

Only a few minutes to go.  Dan was now strapped into his seat on the DreamChaser.  The DreamChaser in turn was strapped to the font of a large slick looking airplane.  He was just finishing up his pre-flight check list.  The instruments looked great.  All the flaps worked.  The pressure gauges for the main engines and the RCS system looked good.

"Catcom, Dan.  I'm ready to go.  Pre-flight check list is complete."

"Roger that, Dan.  Standby one, please." That was Dan's backup pilot and friend, Tony.

Tony was a great guy with a wife and twins on the way, a first rate pilot.  Dan didn't have anyone special.  His last girlfriend was looking for money.  Unfortunately for her, test pilots have more flight-time than money.

"Dan, Catcom.  Okay we're ready to go here.  We will resume countdown on my mark. Mark!"

Dan placed his hand on the abort handle.  His brain started to race.  His eyes glanced over the instruments one more time, then down the longest runway he'd ever been on.  It wasn't his first time on it, but it was sure long.  He'd hoped the helmet glass in his pressurized suit didn't fog up like last time.  That was a wicked landing.  Flying by feel was hair-raising.

"And three, two, one..."

He felt his body sink into the seat.  His ears heard a tremendous roar.  His chest felt the roar trying to beat his heart out of sync.  Then the runway started to run away.  It took a whole second for his brain to realize his ship was moving down the straight away at a unbelievable acceleration.  Good thing mission control and artificial intelligence software were piloting.  "Three G's," he told himself.  It looked like more since he was on the runway.  He grunted all the way trying to keep from being crushed.  He kept his hand on the abort handle not wanting to move it one fraction of an inch.

The nose of the craft lifted up pointing towards the sky.  The craft leaped off the ground rocketed into the wild blue yonder.  The craft was made up of two crafts.  The DreamChaser lifting body spaceplane was attached to a much larger unmanned mothership that had rockets and scram jets.  Suddenly Dan felt the carft rumble.  "Transonics," he said.  Then the scram jets lighted up and the first stage rockets fell off making clunking sounds.  This staging cause his body to lung forward and then back in his seat.  "Seat straps are doing their job," he said.  Then he felt his body increasingly sink in the seat as the craft roared to mach five.

"How we doing?" Dan heard Tony's voice.

"Your doing fine, how about me?" said Dan.

"Spare me your self importance and tell me you status."

"Just a little jolt.  Otherwise OK."

"Good to hear."

"Now remember you need to.....," Tony was interrupted.  "Fuel pressure is rising.....too high....ab..t."

"Abort," Dan finished the sentence as he activated the abort handle.  Just then a series of explosive bolts fired freeing the DreamChaser form its mother.  Then her engines ignited, and she fled from the mother craft.   Dan grabbed the handle in time to veer right and see a flash of light as if behind his craft.

"Aborted safely," Dan yelled into his mic.  "Need vector.  Altitude 91,000 ft."

"OK. We.......you.  Try ve.........52."

"Repeat.  Can't make out your transmission."

"I said w.........," then all Dan heard was static.  His comm was out.  Now he head to find his bearings on his own.

He checked his artificial horizon and pointed the craft straight up.  He was changing his flight from an orbital to a suborbital.  He thought this will buy him time to find the airport and runway for a landing.  Then his thoughts were about his lifeline, the DreamChaser itself.  If the comm was damaged by the explosion, what else was?  Will the flaps still work? Will he find the runway? Does he really need to give Donna her sweater back?  He always like that sweater hugging her curves.  She broke his heart and then left it behind.  It's funny what you think about when your life is in danger.

Suddenly the engines stopped.  The ship started to pitch slowly.  Dan could see dust flying around the cabin and he felt weightless.  It was no time to ease up, Dan had to think about reentering the atmosphere.  He flipped some switches and activated the Reaction Control System (RCS).  He pointed the nose of the ship at the appropriate angle.  The only question is what direction should he face, but he had a little time to determine that.

After five minutes, he could feel his body settling in the seat again.  The ship around him started to rumble, then shake slightly.   He was coming through the transonics.  Now that he was subsonic, he had to figure out what direction he needs to head in.

"Oh, where. Oh, where. Did my little landing strip go. Oh, where. Oh, where has it gone?" He hummed to the tune of 'Where, Oh where has my little dog gone.'

He shut down the RCS and tried to maneuver the craft in a broad circle.  The controls seemed sluggish, but at least they were responsive.  He scanned the terrain and started to identify things on the ground.  Moments passed, and his altitude was falling fast.  Finally he caught sight of the Space Port and the landing strip.  He glided his craft in a direction to take him in a landing path.  "Whew! The major hurdle was down.  Now for the rest of the landing.  C'mon Dan. Get land this puppy!"

In the mission control room, Tony was watching the landing.  They were getting the video feed from the camera guys outside by the landing strip.  "That Bastard's going to stick the landing without us."

"Well, at least he's bringing her home," said the Mission Control Commander, Mike.

"Yeah.  But where does that leave us?"

"It leaves you an opportunity for next flight, Tony.  So get it right."

"Yeah, I guess your right.  He's landing now.  Guess, I'll go out and greet him."

Tony walked out onto the flight line in time to see the DreamChaser touch wheels on the strip.  A beautiful sight, even though not all the mission objectives weren't met.  He got in one of the trucks heading out to the craft with the recovery crew.

The crew opened the hatch in the rear of the craft and Dan emerged in his shiny pressure suit.  A couple of photographers snapped his picture.  Then Tony came up to him and shook his hand.

"Way to stick the landing, you son of a bitch."

"Thanks, Tony.  She's a good craft." Tony helped Dan out of his unused parachute equipment.

"Any craft is good that brings you home."

"Can't argue with you there.  But she also withstood some explosions along the way."

"Yeah.  Hey, we got a debrief in about 20 minutes."

Just then some young looking blonde reporter came up to Dan, "Dan, That was an extraordinary landing for a extraordinary flight.  How do you feel?"

"I feel fine.  The Dragonfly mission will go on.  We have a second mothership.  Of course there will be a study in what happened and we'll adjust.  But we will fly again."

"That's great to hear.  Anything you like to say?" The reporter smiled and looked really cute in Dan's eyes.  She was thin and well trimmed and didn't look like she'd get her hands dirty for anyone.

"Here," said Dan picking up his dusty parachute pack, and plopping it in the reporter's arms.  "Tell Tom Riverfall that it's all about living no matter what.  And give him the chute."

He walked away with Tony and the crew leaving the reporter to struggle withe the weight of the parachute.