January 16, 2018
By , Berkeley, CA

Saturn is a distant, cold planet. Far away from humanity and out of reach. Sounds like no place for humankind. But you see, humans are curious. Humans see a mountain as a challenge, so they climb it. The Interplanetary Drone Ship had arrived and achieved a stable orbit around the planet. Their mission: scout the natural satellites of Saturn and assess possible colonizable moons. Cathy and Bhart were chosen as the Red 3 team. They were assigned to Iapetus, Saturn’s third largest moon and one of the most distant.  The plan: Orbit Iapetus, collect scientific data, land, leave and return to the Drone Ship.

Cathy inhaled the limited supply of air. Their ship had supplies for 8 days for two people. Bhart put on his suit and climbed into the lander. The lander was more of a tin can with a seat than a comfortable spaceship. He activated his radio com;

-“Cathy? Do you copy?”

-”Loud and clear, Bhart.”

-”Ok, Undocking…”

-”Proceed to landing area. See you soon.”

-”Thrusters at 10%. Over and Out”

Bhart was excited. Ever since he was a kid he had dreamed of exploring the world around him. He had worked hard to come here. “A degree in chemistry and a Master’s in Engineering… You’ve got this.” He told himself. The lander had come to a slow 100 meters per second, enough to get out of orbit and to start his descent. Bhart deactivated his radio. Cathy was out of range now anyways. Tink. Something hit the fuel         tank. Bhart Ignored it.

The altitude gage read 5km. Time to slow down and land. Bhart turned on the engines. He slowed down to 10 meters per second. He approached an altitude of 200 meters and started to get ready for touchdown, which would be a quick jolt of 3g’s. “50 meters.. 20 meters.. 10 meters… Slowing down… Touchdown. Red lander 3 has landed, the world's first manned mission to Iaptus has been complete.” Bhart said in a television broadcaster kind of voice.

*** The sound of an alarm blaring is an obvious one, but sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum. Iapetus had no atmosphere. Bhart was collecting samples when the lander’s computers noticed a significant leak in the fuel tank. Bhart sighed. He had willingly devoted his life to science and yet, he still felt like he lacked a trust in it. The mission was underfunded and the engineers weren’t paid well. He was surprised the Drone Ship had even gotten to Saturn. He started his walk back to the ship. He jumped over the hill. The lower gravity allowed him so. Bhart turned on his radio. Static… “That weird…” he thought. Something must be wrong with the radio transmitter from the lander. He came over the horizon. Confusion and fear. That’s what Bhart felt when he saw what looked to be the leftovers of the lander. The fuel tanks had leaked and exploded, causing the metal hull to fly apart.

Bhart stood there in horror. He looked around. A piece of the command module and airlock had survived. He hurried over to the scap. He sat down and cried. He was to die a lonely, horrible death. He was the first to survive and to not survive on this moon. Radio was out. His way home was out. How could he even get back to the ship? Bhart took a deep breath. If he was to die he should at die trying. “Numbers… I need the numbers.” he though. He typed the numbers up on his handheld touchpad. Typing was difficult in a spacesuit, but possible. He had 8 hours of oxygen, he had 3000 meters per second of possible deltaV  in his unused Spacewalk jetpack. Around 3500 if he ditched some weight.

That basically meant he could fly up to a speed of 3 kilometers per second and either achieve orbit, run out of oxygen or fall back to the ground at one of the fastest speed anyone has ever gone in a jetpack. The option Bhart would like to take was to get into orbit, rendezvous with Cathy, and get the hell out of here. And that was if he could get off the ground in that thing. Bhart focused. He took a piece of metal shrapnel and cut of the autopilot, belt, lights, and outer shroud. Bhart now had a fuel tank with 13 controlled exhaust engines attached to him. He test fired his contraption. Tssssk … it worked, ish…

He waited for the Cathy to come right above him, where the trajectory on her orbit had her as close as possible. He activated his radio and waited. “Red 3 do you copy?”

“*tsshh* Loud and clear, lander” Bhart was relieved.

“Cathy, the lan… The lander crashed. I need you to lower your orbit so I can rendez-vous in the Spacewalk jetpack… I  have 5 hours of air left I nee-”

“Bhart! Slow down! Stressing out wastes air. Just.. just tell me what happened and what you’re about to do.”
“OK, I.. The lander must of had a fuel tank leak or something, it exploded and now I’m stuck I… I made the EVA spacewalk jetpack lighter so I could get back to you and now I need you to lower the orbit of Red ship 3 so I can rendezvous.

“I’ll need to *tshhh* calculate. Wait until *tsshh* orbit *tshh*”

“Cathy!” The radio quieted down to a low static and buzz.

Bhart waited. He tried to slow down his heart rate, and fall asleep if he could. He needed to conserve air. Resources were limited.

Bhart came back to consciousness when he was awoken by a high pitched tone in his radio followed by static and a muffled voice. Cathy’s voice came into hearing.

“Bhart, listen to me, you have 30 minutes to get yourself into a suborbital trajectory over Iaptus.”

Bhart’s head hurt. He was getting low on oxygen.

“Tell me. Tell what to do.”

“Do you have your EVA jetpack on?”


“I need you to burn upwards for 30 seconds then burn forwards for as long as I tell you to”

I took a few tries for Bhart to get the controls right. The joystick and buttons were pretty confusing. Bhart remembered little from his mission debrief and instruction he had on the Drone ship. He pushed the button in front of the joystick. He felt a tug pulling him up. The jetpack was only supposed to be used for orbital activity or in a zero G environment.  But with the moon’s low gravity and Bhart’s “modifications”, the thing managed to pull him off the ground.

“7...6...5...4” Bhart listened to Cathey’s instructions and propelled forward when he reached the count of 30.
  “Cathy what now?!” He asked.

“Bhart I need you to stay calm and wait for my signal”

Bhart waited.

“OK Bhart you can turn of the thrusters now.”

Bhart let go of the button. He was now high above the surface and traveling fast above it.

Cathy waited quietly. All she could trust now were her calculations. She had calculated the time they had come into contact and took into account the thrust and weight of the jetpack with Bhart on it.

“Bhart? How much deltaV did you say you the jetpack had?

“About 3500 at the start. Why?”

“Just checking.”

Cathy plugged in the new numbers into her equation. This would mean Bhart was on a trajectory with an apsis of anywhere from 10 to 11km.

“Bhart, you’re about to reach your apsis so I’m going to need you to start burning in about 40 seconds, okay?

“It’s the highest point in an object’s trajectory.”

“OK. 40 seconds. Got it” Bhart said in a tired voice. “36...35..34..”He wasn’t sure how much oxygen he had now…”3..2-” Bhart waited until his slow spin pointed him forward and burned forward.

“Thrusters activated”

“Good timing. Now keep this up. You should start to see my ship soon.” Cathy waited. She kept faith in her calculations. “OK that’s enough!” Bhart stopped the jetpack from burning. He could see a glimmer in the distance. Bhart waited. He was tired. Really tired.

“Cathy I’m low on oxygen”

“Hold on a minute… Do you have eyes on the Red 3 ship?

“Yeah. I see you…” Bhart said, looking at the spec of light, slowly approaching him. In a couple minutes he could make out shapes and aspects about the ship, like the solar panels and air lock.

“Bhart I see you. You know what to do now.”

Bhart knew what to do. He used to jetpack’s thrusters to move up and down, to the sides until…

“I’m getting close… I think I’ve aligned well.”

Bhart started to drift towards the spacecraft.

“What’s your fuel situation?”

“I’m almost out.”

Cathy looked around in the small shuttle she was in. Bhart had taken the only spacesuit. There was nothing she could do now but wait.

Bhart was getting dizzy. His vision started to black out.

“Cathy I’m out of oxygen!”

“Bhart, listen to me. You’re going to get back to this ship. Get in the airlock and everything will be okay. We’ll go back to the Drone ship and make sure this never happens again.”

“Cathy I can’t breath…”

“Almost there... Almost…”

Bhart approached the airlock. He was close.

“Bhart, you’re close...5 meters...4...3...2…”

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