Authors: Raymond L. Weil
Once she got
home later, she needed to send a short message to her parents in Kansas City. That was the only bad thing about living on the Moon; family was so far away.
She tried to speak to her parents several times a week, as well as her younger
sister Karen. She was very close to her sister, and it had been hard to be
separated from Karen these past months.
Mase and Linda
took the small electric car to his office, which was in one of the larger administration
buildings. Once inside, Mase went to his office and began working on his
Farside report. He wanted to get it to Jane as quickly as possible. Once it was
done, he would give Steve a call on Star One and then get a bite to eat. Then
it would be out to the mass driver on the wall of Tycho Crater. Since he was responsible
for Tycho City and the Farside facility, his duties seemed never ending.
However, he loved his job and would not trade it for anything. He knew that
Steve on Star One felt the same way.
afternoon, Mase was in a small Moon Buggy, which was traveling down a recently
built road to the mass driver. Tycho City ran a number of mining operations in
the crater as well as in the surrounding area of the Southern Lunar Highlands.
They had found
that the numerous small meteors buried just beneath the Moon’s surface were
rich in various metals and in high demand on Earth. The metals were mined and
then taken to Tycho City to be refined. The refined metals were then taken to
the mass driver on the rim of the crater and put in pods to be hurled toward
Star One and Earth. They also mined helium three, which was used in the two fusion
reactors in Star One.
It was twenty
miles from Tycho City to the rim wall where the mass driver was located. At the
speed they were forced to drive due to the Moon’s light gravity, it took the
Moon Buggy nearly an hour to travel the distance.
drove, it gave Mase time to think. He had been on the Moon for over seven years
without a return to Earth. He wasn’t close to his father and hadn’t spoken to
him in several years. However, he was close to his older brother who was a
captain in the marines.
He tried to
speak with Phillip several times a month and had suggested that his older
brother consider coming up to Tycho City to live once he retired from the
marines later in the year. Phillip had promised that he would consider it. Mase
sincerely hoped his brother would take him up on his offer; it would be nice to
have some family around. Phillip was married and had two teenage children.
out the Moon Buggy’s large viewport as they pulled up to the mass driver
complex. The mass driver was a long 2,500-foot rail that extended from the base
of the rim wall and up its steep side. Large circular electromagnets were
located every 100 feet, which accelerated the mass driver cargo pods to escape
A large metal
building, where the mass driver cargo pods were carefully loaded onto the rail,
covered the beginning of the mass driver. Once loaded, the electromagnetic
coils would be fired sequentially to accelerate the pods. Once a pod was
launched, the coils were recharged and the next pod put in place. The mass
driver could be fired once every twenty minutes. A massive solar panel array,
which spread out for several miles to one side of the mass driver complex,
furnished power to the facility.
pulled into a small, open airlock, which closed behind them. Mase climbed out
of the Moon Buggy and saw Jackson Pierce waiting for him in the small control
room for the vehicle bay. From the look on Jackson’s face, he knew the man wasn’t
happy. Something was definitely wrong; Mase knew he was going to hear bad news.
He went through a final set of airlocks and found Jackson waiting patiently on
the other side.
glad you could come out here,” Pierce began, relieved that Mase had taken the
time out of his busy schedule to come out to the mass driver. “We have some serious
problems that need to be addressed immediately.”
you were concerned about the coils,” replied Mase, seeing the worry on Pierce’s
face. “Let’s go to your office and we can discuss the problem. I want to know
what your concerns are with the mass driver. If we have to, I will consider
shutting it down for repairs. Earth won’t like it, and we will get a lot of
flak from some of the companies who don’t receive their orders, but I don’t
want to damage the damn thing.”
“I agree,” replied
Pierce, nodding his head emphatically. “We have a serious problem developing
that I fear could cause a catastrophic failure of the entire system.”
Mase knew that
shutting down the mass driver would cause him a lot of headaches. Companies on
Earth would start screaming immediately for launches to be restarted. Senator
Farley would be up in arms, saying I told you so to his colleagues. Mase would
also be buried under a mountain of paperwork. If the mass driver was becoming
too dangerous to operate, Mase knew he would have no choice other than to shut
it down. Safety in all the operations on the Moon was paramount, and he
wouldn’t risk people’s lives just to satisfy the companies on Earth.
what exactly is wrong with the mass driver?”
“I think you
will understand once I show you the results from the last few firings,” Jackson responded as he led Mase off toward his office.
A few minutes
later, they reached Jackson’s office, which was set at one-half Earth gravity.
Due to the power limitations, that was the maximum available for the complex,
and only a few sections had the increased gravity. Most of the complex was kept
at one-quarter Earth gravity.
Jackson took a seat behind his desk and waited as Mase sat down in a large, comfortable
chair just in front of him. He knew he was about to severely upset the
problem, Jackson? Linda said you wanted to shut down the mass driver to conduct
repairs. Is it really that bad?”
“It’s worse,” confessed
Jackson, shaking his head with worry in his eyes. “We are experiencing trouble
with some of the magnetic coils that are not firing at full capacity. We have
had to increase the load on the other coils to make up the difference. It’s
putting a lot of stress on the system.”
Jackson slid over several computer graphs, which showed the capacity of each magnetic coil
on the mass driver. Four of the coils were showing in the red because they were
operating at only 60 percent capacity. This had caused it to be necessary to
overload a number of the other coils to 120 percent capacity in order to
continue the firings of the mass driver.
the graphs and weighed the information carefully. If one of the magnetic coils
failed, the mass driver could still boost a cargo pod on its course to Star One
or Earth. However, if two coils failed, the cargo pods would fail to reach
escape velocity and would fall back to the lunar surface. Mase didn’t like the
looks of the graphs at all. They were clearly developing a potentially serious
problem with the mass driver.
you need 48 hours to conduct repairs.”
minimum,” responded Jackson, running his right hand through his thick black
hair. “I would really like 72 hours so we can do a thorough preventative
maintenance check on the entire mass driver system. Some of the coils need to
be recalibrated, and we have the new inductors that need to be installed.”
about this. He had been under a lot of pressure from Earth to keep the mass
driver online to cover the lucrative contracts for heavy metals from several
large Earth companies. He had spoken about the excessive workload being put on
the mass driver to Jane Kinsey, and she had passed on his concerns to her
superiors but nothing had happened. Instead, NASA had asked Mase if there was
any way possible to increase the number of mass driver firings made each day.
Jane had objected stringently but had been overruled by higher ups in the
Due to the
money being spent at Farside, she had recommended that they keep the mass
driver online at least until the facility was completed and left it up to Mase
as to whether he would increase the number of mass driver firings. Once the work
at Farside was done, then the mass driver could be taken offline for a full
system overhaul. Jane had said she would go to the president if necessary to
get the necessary approval to shut it down. Mase had reluctantly agreed to this
even though he didn’t feel comfortable with the decision.
Jackson was just about to say something else when the room shook violently and alarms
began sounding. The lights dimmed briefly and then brightened back up. Several
additional rumblings shook the room and then everything became still. Jackson’s eyes widened in sudden concern as his hand reached for the phone on his desk. It
had a direct line to the mass driver building.
the hell just happened?” he demanded, his face ashen. “Was anyone hurt?”
tell by the look on Jackson’s face that he wasn’t hearing good news. The alarms
had been silenced, but Mase could hear excited shouts and running feet outside
the office in the corridor.
Jackson stood up with a worried look on his face. “Three coils failed just a moment ago.
One of the cargo pods was ejected from the rail, struck another coil, and then
crashed into the side of the crater wall. Jase is reporting heavy damage to the
electromagnetic control system as well as the rail itself. This was just what I
was afraid was going to happen.”
uttered with a troubled look on his face. He should have shut the mass driver
down when Jackson first recommended it. He wondered just how bad the damage was.
“Was anyone hurt?”
“Not that we’re
aware of. We’re not showing any pressure leaks, and all personnel are in the
process of reporting to their emergency stations. We should know more shortly.”
“I should have
insisted on shutting the mass driver down when I talked to Jane,” Mase said,
feeling angry with himself for allowing this to happen. “This is my fault, Jackson; I should not have allowed NASA to overrule my recommendation to shut the mass
driver down for a few days.”
He knew that
he had screwed up. He should have come out here days ago, when Jackson first started complaining, for a personal inspection and gone ahead and ordered the
mass driver shut down for repairs, regardless of the consequences. This was the
type of mistake that could cost people their lives!
“We were all
under pressure to keep the mass driver operating,” Jackson replied with a shake
of his head. “I don’t know if there is much more we could have done without
shutting it down, and we both know what the ramifications of that would have
been. I need to go out and inspect the damage.”
“I’ll go with
you,” Mase said, standing up. “I will need to send a report to Jane as soon as
I get back to Tycho City.”
Mase knew he
would have a long night ahead of him. He was about to make a lot of people
upset when they found out about the mass driver, and there would be a lot of
questions as to how this could have been allowed to happen.
Nearly thirty minutes
later, Mase, Jackson, Jase, and several other engineers were standing alongside
the damaged rail where the cargo pod had torn through one of the
electromagnetic rings. A good half of the ring was missing, and only jagged
torn metal was hanging where a perfectly round magnetic coil had existed a few
minutes earlier. On the side of the steep crater wall, two hundred yards from
the mass driver rail, a cargo pod lay shattered in the shallow hole dug when it
had struck the wall.
“I was afraid
this would happen,” muttered Jase, shaking his head in frustration at the
damage. His hands were on the hips of his bulky white spacesuit. “An energy
surge also went through the system as the other coils tried to compensate for
the sudden failure of the first three. The computer systems tried to finish the
launch, but the cargo pod became unstable due to the fluctuating magnetic
“How long to
repair this?” asked Mase, looking over at Jase. Jase was one of the top
engineers on the Moon, and Mase had a lot of confidence in the man’s abilities.
Mase was angry
with himself for allowing the people on Earth to override his judgment. It had
gone against all of his beliefs and training, but he had allowed his better
judgment to be swayed. He knew he should have shut the mass driver down several
weeks ago for repairs. Now, who knew how long it would be down? He was just
thankful that no one had been seriously hurt.
silent for a moment, then stepped over to the other two engineers and began
talking to them on a private channel. All three would pause occasionally, gaze
at different sections of the mass driver system, and point something out.
“We need to
fix this right,” Jackson commented as they waited.
He gazed over
at where the shattered cargo pod lay against the wall. He could see that a lot
of rock and debris had slid down the crater wall. They were fortunate it hadn’t
Mase promised as he watched the engineers. He was determined to correct the
problem with the mass driver regardless of what the people on Earth would have
to say. “We will take whatever time we need. I will explain the situation to
Jane, and she will have to handle the rest.”
around and walked back over to Mase and Jackson. “We have spare coils in the
main mass driver building at the base of the rail. However, we need to check
each coil in the system and also make sure the rail is still stable.”
“I want it
fixed right,” Mase informed him. It was difficult to see Jase’s face through
the dark tint of his spacesuit’s helmet. “How long will it take to go through
everything and put it back in perfect working order?”