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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Slow and Steady"

This poem came out of the July 3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from ellenmillion.  It has been sponsored out of the general fund based on an audience poll.

Slow and Steady

Looking up at the Moon,
humanity realized that it would
take teamwork to get there.
The nations of the Earth
pooled all of their knowledge,
proceeding with courage and caution.

On October 24, 1960,
Chief Marshal Mitrofan Nedelin
ordered improper shutdown procedures
on an experimental R-16 rocket.
The technicians pointed out the risks
and shut things down properly.

On January 27, 1967,
the command module caught fire
during a ground test at Kennedy Space Center
Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward H. White,
and Roger B. Chaffee grabbed their fire extinguishers
and thanked God for safety regulations.

On January 28, 1986,
the space shuttle Challenger
was pulled from launch due to
concerns about the condition of its O-rings.
The questionable parts were replaced,
and the space shuttle launched safely in March.

On February 15, 1996,
programmers found a glitch
in the Intelsat 708 Satellite,
a Long March rocket.
They made the necessary repairs,
and the rocket faithfully followed its course.

So it took a little longer
to get from the Earth to the Moon,
but humanity got there anyway.
The crews were multicultural,
nobody died on the way into space,
and once they got there they didn't stop.

The rocket scientists and astronauts
came from many different countries,
but they all agreed that safety is paramount.
"Take your time, ladies and gentlemen,"
the supervisors always said to the inspectors.
"This is not a race."

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9 comments or Leave a comment
fayanora From: fayanora Date: July 8th, 2012 01:12 am (UTC) (Link)
This is definitely how the people of Traipah would have gone about it, and probably did, the first time. Before the Reformation, they weren't perfect (still aren't) and in fact were still a bit crazy like humans, but the combo of there being not enough metal on Traipah to waste, and the promise of mining asteroids, meant that it probably took them a generation or more of trying before they finally got up there, not in rockets but in re-usable space craft. After all, beyond the safety factors are the cost factors, and when metal is precious enough to recycle everything that isn't being used, you don't want to be losing pieces of it in space if you can help it, and only in the ocean if you can retrieve it.

And yes, the people of Traipah went out into space and mined asteroids, bringing the metals and other stuff back with them. Their ships used rocket power to get to one of their three moons, where they had moon dust processing factories to extract helium-3 from the moon dust, to power the fusion reactors that would, in turn, power the ion drives (or whatever) to get them to the asteroid belt (which, in their system, is slightly closer to their planet, since they don't have a rocky fourth planet between them and the asteroid belt) and back again.

Things were going well for them. Metal prices plummeted, but the space industry was good for their economy despite that. And then The Reformation happened, and shit hit the fan. Anyone on the surface either died in the chaos, or got rescued by the Yahgahn, who were living underground. Anyone still on the moon or in the asteroid belt either returned and faced the same chances, or died while waiting to hear back from home.

And all this back before the Ancient Egyptians had even invented the plow. It's been making me think very strongly about a story or stories to do with archaeology in space, in their system. But I don't know how much of it, if any, would survive ten thousand years in space.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 8th, 2012 01:21 am (UTC) (Link)


>>And all this back before the Ancient Egyptians had even invented the plow.<<

That sounds cool!

>> It's been making me think very strongly about a story or stories to do with archaeology in space, in their system. But I don't know how much of it, if any, would survive ten thousand years in space. <<

Well, let's see ...

1) Anything designed to survive vacuum should last indefinitely in vacuum. Damage from micrometeorites, etc. accrues very slowly.

2) Anything designed for a rigorous environment is likely to retain at least the shell and some innards, if it's in a dry and non-molten environment. So for instance, dead landers on Mars would probably still be identifiable as such, although they'd be sand-blasted and possibly buried.

3) Ruins of pressurized habitats would be fragmentary. Much of the stuff inside would probably not survive depressurization well. However, most of the damage done would be done immediately. It wouldn't degrade much after that in vacuum or light atmosphere. A more aggressive atmosphere could obliterate almost everything a lot faster, though.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: July 8th, 2012 02:21 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Thanks for the info! That should help a lot. :-)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 8th, 2012 02:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

You're welcome. I also recommend running a search over at NASA. I've read recently that discussions are underway to protect the first landing site on the Moon so it doesn't get messed up by other, later traffic. So there may well be further material on how long certain types of signs and equipment last.

Oh, and there's this article with pictures of our traces on other worlds, some that stay intact in low-activity environments and some that are erased very soon in more active ones:

I wrote a series of poems about the images.
siege From: siege Date: July 8th, 2012 01:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Another note to consider is that Skylab and Mir both had problems with mold and algae accumulations. Scrubbing the dust of human occupation from a zillion computer panels daily would have helped, but since those panels were all behind the walls, and most of them were active, and the occupants had other things they needed to do, there wasn't much choice to do that.

Also, Mir is described in its Wikipedia article as having had problems with coolant leaks, impacts, and radiation.

On top of that, radiation is known, over time, to cause many metal alloys to become brittle, especially carbon steel (due to the possibility of carbon decay). So impacts and other accidents would cause increasing damage over time as the materials lost their ability to rebound and thus absorb the kinetic energy.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: July 11th, 2012 12:52 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

siege From: siege Date: July 8th, 2012 01:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

With my previous comment in mind, I'll speculate what a ten-thousand-year-old space habitat might be like.

Let's posit a "rock bubble" habitat, made from an asteroid which was hollowed out, heated until soft, then spun gently until cooled enough to begin construction. Its surface would be pitted and scarred. If the walls weren't thick enough, it would be punctured. Thick walls help protect from radiation as well as impacts, so there's that.

The inner surface would probably be lined with metal, insulation, and plastic, to hold atmosphere and to protect from impact with the hard, potentially rough surface of the habitat's inner wall. That metal would have absorbed a lot of radiation, thus eventually becoming penetrable to impacts that pierce the rocky walls; and the plastic would have probably outgassed fully due to a lack of climate control, leaving just a very thin onion-skin-like film in its place. Any insulation would have decayed according to its nature -- in other words, glass fiber would still be there, while shredded cellulose or plastic would have broken down.

Power supplies are very important. A rock bubble would generally be near or within the asteroid belt, so an external power supply would be in constant danger. Let's presume a thermopile network between the sides (as one would be hot and the other cold at all times due to solar heating), or a small nuclear reactor. Possibly both, if larger amounts of power were needed. Solar panels are possible, but would have had some sort of protective barrier over them. They'd be smashed, and probably broken off if extended on a boom or girder.

Communications would have required some form of antenna, probably outside the shell. Entry and exit means a hatch of some sort. Everything that passes through the shell would need insulation and implies a hole that could let out atmosphere if the inner lining were damaged.

Food supplies might still be present, but would be inedible. One would probably be able to make an educated guess as to their nature and recipes, though.

Activity stations are not always clearly defined in space, because habitable areas are at a premium. Sleeping spaces might be anywhere you can attach a bag or pod, but always in a zone with active airflow (otherwise one's own breath would accumulate in a bubble and cause suffocation). Computer stations might be able to do multiple kinds of work, but some work stations would be designed for specific tasks -- like a panel with the joysticks and/or waldo(s) of a robot-controller's seat.

Kitchens and eating areas would likely have extra-duty air filters, because of all the food particles and other material that can get away from hungry people.

Exercise machines would be present in nearly all cases where long-term habitation occurs, even if artificial gravity is available.

The size of the habitat can sometimes suggest the number of occupants or the kinds of activities that happened inside. Larger bubbles might have been barracks, or just as likely factories.

If stasis or cryogenics are available, after ten thousand years, there's a good chance that you'll find anyone that was inside such chambers, but they probably wouldn't be viable. Vacuum-dried mummies are more likely than rotten corpses or bones.

Integrity of records would depend on the storage method. Holographics are disrupted if the crystals are etched or cracked, and might be altered by radiation. Magnetic storage gets corrupted by radiation and heat. Written materials would decay much like old documents we find on Earth. Etchings and carvings might be scratched, but would at least be visible unless kept in a destructive environment.

If you open a bubble and water floods out, you might have found a scintillation chamber, used to observe and evaluate radiation or hunt for specific kinds of particles; these are always kept sterile. If it wasn't a scintillation chamber, you might just have an environment worthy of many different scientific disciplines, provided you didn't let the contents out! So external scanning methods would be used first, possibly after a couple of lessons learned on just leaping in.

That's pretty much what comes to mind for me, keeping in mind LJ's character limit on comments.
kyleri From: kyleri Date: July 9th, 2012 10:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Take your time, ladies and gentlemen,"
the supervisors always said to the inspectors.
"This is not a race."

Gods above and below, we are so STUPID sometimes. I so, so wish it had gone this way.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 9th, 2012 11:10 pm (UTC) (Link)


I have very little patience with people who rush safety processes. Competition isn't always the best way to do things.
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