“Houston, we have a problem.”
As the UES Adelaide dove into Pluto’s icy atmosphere, Commander Aaron was thrown from his seat, his huge 6’5 body crushing the lightyear communications system.
“What is yo-” the voice of Mission Control fizzled out, and SIGNAL LOST flashed in red on the main holoscreen.
“Crap,” Aaron spat, blood leaking from his mouth. “Rob, I thought you calculated the exact time when Pluto’s atmosphere had fallen back onto the surface!”
“I thought I did too!” Rob yelled from the c***pit. “We must be a bit early, so Pluto’s atmosphere is in the middle of freezing as it moves away from the sun!”
Ice shards started to appear and cut into the hull of the ship, and when Aaron looked outside, he saw that the air around them was starting to turn to ice. “What the heck is going on out there?” Nick, the navigator, called from the space toilet.
“Get off the toilet and come find out,” Aaron replied, pushing himself up from the broken communications system. “John, how does the hull look?”
“Uh, not too great,” John, the crew’s engineer, stammered from the bridge. In front of him was a holographic 3 dimensional diagram of the ship and its hull. The diagram was constantly changing and updating the Adelaide’s status, chips and cuts in the hull appearing at an alarming rate.
The Adelaide was shaped almost like a rocket, with the c***pit at the very front, the bridge and other places like tables, beds, and bathrooms for its occupants behind the c***pit. The oxygen tank, extra supplies, and the heater/ air conditioner were at the back, and the propulsion unit was attached to the very end. On the bottom of the ship was the gravity generator, which allowed the crew to move as they would on Earth.
The Adelaide’s hull was the minimum strength it needed to be for the return home, and could only protect against small asteroids or debris, not an icy atmosphere such as Pluto’s. Most of the work was put into the ship’s propulsion unit and all the fuel it would need for the 9.34 billion mile round trip.
A sudden blow to the hull sent everyone reeling from their seat. The ship’s front windshield was smashed open, and icy wind blasted inside. “Ahhh!” Rob screamed as his face was frozen instantly, and his lifeless body tumbled out of the c***pit.
“Get your spacesuits, now!” Aaron bellowed. Their skin-tight spandex suits wouldn’t be able to protect them from the -360 degree Farenheit weather for long. Aaron sprinted to the space suit rack and immediately put on a helmet, as his head was the most susceptible to cold. He then began to dress into the rest of his suit as Nick ran up next to him and began to put on his own helmet.
Pieces of ice swirled around the ship and stabbed into their spandex suits, tearing them open. John attempted to put on his own helmet but his hands were frozen solid. “C’mon!” he grunted as he unsuccessfully tried to strap his helmet onto his freezing head. The ship again suddenly jarred, and begin to spin uncontrollably as chunks of ice slammed into its sides. John was thrown around by the spinning, and his now frozen body shattered as it impacted into the Adelaide’s control center.
“Nooo!” Aaron screamed, clinging on to the suit station for dear life.
“Brace for impact!” Nick shouted through the howling wind. Aaron looked through the broken windshield, and let out a howl as he saw Pluto’s surface rapidly approaching.
“Uhhh.” Aaron woke up with a raging headache and an extremely painful throbbing in his arm. He tried to move it but a jolt of pain shot through him and he let out a cry.
“Aaron, is that you?” he heard Nick call his name. The piece of sheet metal on top of Aaron was moved, and Nick’s terrified face appeared in front of him. “I thought I had lost you,” Nick babbled. “I thought I was all alone on this crazy planet and that I would never find help and I would die out here by myself and I would never see anyone again and I-”.
“Shhh, my head hurts,” Aaron mumbled. He lay there for a few more seconds before slowly pushing himself up, his bones creaking with the effort. “So what now? We’re stuck here,” Aaron implored.
“Well, the huge path we cleared through the atmosphere gives us an open way to leave now,” Nick stated, brushing ice off his thermal spacesuit.
“In case you haven’t noticed, our ship is a little destroyed right now, so we aren’t going anywhere fast,” Aaron snapped. “The communications system is broken too, so we have no means of talking to Mission Control. Got any other ideas?”
Nick’s face contorted into a frown, and his bright blue eyes stared hard into the ground, a sure sign he was thinking hard. His eyes suddenly lit up and he exclaimed, “What about the lightyear radios in our suits that we were supposed to use when we needed to talk to Control while we were out collecting data? Those probably still work!”
He clicked a button on his suit near his waist, and a blue light went on, but went off a few seconds later. “Shoot. Mine must be broken from the crash,” Nick griped as he smacked the radio on his waist.
Aaron tapped the button on his own waist, and the same blue light lit up, but stayed on. “It works!” he laughed. “Houston, Houston, are you there?”
His radio fizzled a while before the greatest sound he’d ever heard replied to him, “Commander Aaron, is this you?”
“Yes, this is Commander Aaron,” he sighed, his held breath escaping him.
“Commander, this is Lieutenant Nolan. Could you explain exactly what happened and why we lost communication with you and your ship?” Nolan probed. He sounded very relieved, and Aaron didn’t want to ruin that by telling of the crash, but he knew it had to be done. Aaron explained the miscalculation, the ship being torn apart, and the loss of Pilot Rob and Engineer John. After he finished, it was very quiet in Houston, and all Aaron could hear was mumbling and the occasional loud whisper. Soon, Nolan started to speak again.
“Well, your situation seems very dire. From the sounds of it, the Adelaide is totally trashed and unfixable. You’re down 2 men and only have a limited amount of food and water. We’re sending help right away but there’s no telling how long it’ll take for them to get there, if they get there at all. Since you guys are on the planet though, you can start collecting the data you were supposed to collect when we sent you to Pluto in the first place. It’ll be harder with less people, but you guys have time.”
Aaron looked over at Nick and they stared at each other for quite a while trying to take it all in before Nick shrugged.
“Eh, why not?” he chuckled. “We have nothing better to do.”
“Ok,” Aaron said, giving Nick a questioning look. “Lieutenant, we’ll try our best.”
“Good, thank you guys so much. We’re sending help as soon as we can,” Nolan reassured. “Good luck out there astronauts. Oh, and one more thing: try not to die out there ok?”
“I’ll make sure we don’t. Thank you, sir,” Aaron sighed, turning off his radio. Aaron and Nick walked outside the ship, only to see a huge ice storm swirling around them, making it nearly impossible to see.
“Is this normal, Aaron!?” Nick yelled through the howling storm. Even though they talked via their suit helmets, the wind was so loud it was still hard to hear.
“Hmmm, I’m not sure!” Aaron shouted back. Trying to block the ice from attacking his visor, he tried to remember everything he knew about Pluto. All of a sudden, he flashed back to a time on the ship during the journey. Rob was talking about Pluto’s atmosphere, how to avoid it, and what it caused on the planet itself.
“When Pluto moves away from the Sun,” Rob was saying, “its atmosphere begins to freeze. This causes a lot of ice to start to form in the air around the planet, maybe even an ice storm. When Pluto’s atmosphere fully freezes, the huge frozen hunk falls back down onto the planet, leaving Pluto with no atmosphere….”
Aaron looked up, and the ice around him started to slow down. The icy atmosphere stopped moving, and turned into a solid block of ice.
“Nick!! Ruuunnn!!” Aaron screamed, as he started to dash towards the ship.
“What is it?” Nick exclaimed, before looking up to see the falling chunk ice come down on top of him, crushing him into Pluto’s surface.
Aaron sprinted for the ship, but thermal space suits don’t allow the greatest range of movement. He tripped on a piece of ice on the ground, looking up just in time to see the rest of the frozen atmosphere start to fall. He turned on his radio and quickly reported one last message to Mission Control: “Houston, we have a problem.”