Routine, cheap spaceflight
at last. Research on board the Treehouse revealed a way to make room-temperature
superconducting microchip dies the size of floppy disks using a point 0.12 micron process.
Subnotebook computers as powerful as supercomputers where ten years ago are now on the drawing boards, with every major
function of the system crammed into a single, gargantuan chip. Such a discovery,
if made before the advent of Bluestar, would be lamented because producing it on orbit would be too expensive to be useful.
You watched the Shuttle-C2
carrying the gigantic Space Production Facility (SPF) launch last week on the derated space shuttle stack. (After Bluestar became operational after a series of 147 test flights, along with 14 orbital flights, only
two of them with crews on board, the space shuttle was derated from human spaceflight and is now used only for cargo flights. NASA now proudly shows off its pioneering shuttle orbiters on traveling displays,
including some eye-catching drops from the Shuttle Transport Aircraft, just like they did in the old Approach and Landing
Test (ALT) program. Imagine Endeavor and Discovery flying formation at the Paris
Air Show!) This new station gets to keep its External Tank, which you and your
crew will convert into the worlds first ever microgravity production floor over the next dozen Bluestar flights. The main module houses the docking ports, accommodations, solar panels, life support systems, etc.. This External Tank is the first tank launched in over 25 years that was actually painted. It is painted white, with a big NASA meatball logo on the backside near the top, the
SPF logo underneath it, and a wraparound of all the participant countries flags near the base.
Youre the pilot on this
maiden operational flight of the Bluestar orbiter, OV-202 Columbia, riding atop RBV-099 Challenger. (This orbiter, unfortunately, is destined to be destroyed in my backup recovery story in a scenario very
similar to STS-107.) You are riding on the crew recovery vehicle which helped
you from the Shuttle flight earlier. The vehicle takes you to the booster. The three fins of the orbiter stick out of the top of the booster, and that is all
thats visible as the rest of the orbiter is buried inside the Concorde-like booster.
From the T-38 chase plane circling overhead, its easy to see the outline of the orbiter sitting in the top of the booster,
but from the ground, it takes a semi-trained eye to even tell the orbiter is in there at all.
As you take your front seat in the right-hand side of the cockpit and strap yourself in entirely without the aid of
the closeout crew, which is rolling around the booster in the scissor truck that elevated you to the hatch making sure that
the elevons, rudder, and gimballed rocket engines of the booster functions as the boosters commander and pilot test them one
last time before taking off. Before beginning your checklist of selectively powering
up the Columbias systems and verifying the guidance ephemeri, you take your first look out the orbiters front windows this bright and sunny day and are greeted with ... blackness. The orbiters nose is buried in the booster until staging so that its ungainly, blunt shape does not affect
the boosters airstream on the way up.
The orbiters systems
are not entirely alien from that of the Space Shuttle: It uses fuel cells to provide electrical power to two main power buses,
Auxiliary Power Units (APUs) provide hydraulic power for the orbiter to gimbal its main engines and run its control surfaces. Differences are that the Bluestar carries its propellants on board, unlike the space
shuttle and its orange external tank; the Bluestar also has a separable cockpit, which is able to survive the sudden, catastrophic
emergencies that occasionally accompany human spaceflight (actually, its got two, one for the booster and one for the orbiter.) The booster commander requests that you activate the fuel cell power transfer, which
allows the booster to start its engines without draining its batteries (allowing the batteries to last longer.) Once one of the boosters engines is started, it turns a DC generator which can start the other three. The booster, unlike the orbiter, only has one APU, because the four big jet engines
provide primary hydraulic power, just like on an airliner.
The yellow fuelling/tow
truck pulls away shortly before the Challenger starts to roll towards the runway.
Challenger, Houston, we are picking you up at L-20 minutes and would like to do a comm check. The countdown ends in midair at an altitude of 20km (66,000ft) above sea level at high subsonic speed,
as the booster will cut in its afterburners and the autopilot is in control for the launch.
The booster commander
responds, Houston, this is Challenger CDR, good morning, we got your last LEP (Launch Entry Point) uplink. We show a checksum glitch on the Mode 102 program and need to uplink that again.
Roger your 102 checksum,
Challenger, and were taking a look at that, and will have your uplink underway momentarily. And Challenger PLT, comm check.
The booster pilot thumbs
his mike and speaks. Challenger PLT, Houston. Good morning, Im looking forward to seeing routine spaceflight finally take off.
Houston has a bit of
humor, Roger, and we think so too. Better late than never. Columbia, Houston, CDR comm check.
The commander of the
orbiter, sitting just to your left on the other side of the caddy running down the middle of the cramped cockpit, presses
his mike switch. Houston, Columbia CDR, good morning. We have no uplink errors and are showing all cryo pressures, temperatures and quantities to be exactly
where they oughtta be. The scenery here inside the orbiter bay is as usual, pretty
boring and we look forward to getting underway.
Good to hear Columbia.
Uhm...Houston, Columbia PLT (thats you) comm check.
You hit the mike switch
on your suit hose and start speaking into the little mike inside your helmet. Houston,
Columbia PLT here looking forward to seeing my new space station.
Houston, MS1 comm check.
From the seat behind
you and to your left, directly behind the commander, Yeah, uh, Houston, MS1. My
comm is happy and excited, just like me. Good morning!
Everybody enjoys a good
chuckle as the booster approaches the end of the runway and begins to turn onto it.
And Houston, MS2.
From right behind you,
Houston, MS2 here, uhm...good morning. Shes kinda excited and a bit scared. Shes
a production manager from a big electronics company who never expected shed actually ever get to go into space and get paid
After the Challenger
takes off and begins to climb towards the launch entry point, the commander issues one last briefing. Okay guys. Weve all been in the simulator. Im the only one who has actually rode this thing to orbit before.
Staging is gonna come as a real shock, so dont panic. Remember, its MECO-pop-one-two-MESU. Make sure you keep your arms on your seats till after MESU (main engine start-up.)
we have your latest state vector, and you are go at HAC final, L minus 30 seconds.
we have autosequence start.
You can hear the Houston
commentator over the civilian radio. NASA TV is showing the Bluestar approaching
the DOAMS tracking camera from a distance. Ten seconds ... eight, seven, six,
five, four, three, two, one, and afterburner ignition and launch entry of the worlds first fully reusable spacecraft on its
first operational flight to the SPF, our first space factory.
go at Launch Point.
Roger, go at Launch.
For the next three minutes
the vehicle accelerates gently to Mach 3, the fastest it can go on air breathing engines.
Suddenly the push wanes and there is a brief pause in the noise as the jets cut out and the rockets start up. You hear the high pitch roar of the rockets and are thrust into the bottom of your
seat as Challenger pulls up violently into a zoom-climb.
are go at 102 and CSI (Control Surface Inhibit.)
Roger, showing Max-Q
and climbout are go, Challengers pilot radios. Columbia, Challenger, report
SVU (State Vector Uplink)
You radio back the green
light that lit on your screen, Challenger, Columbia, go at SVU.
On NASA TV a faint double
sonic boom sounds just after the Challenger passes overhead of the DOAMS tracking station.
The commander counts
down the last few seconds to the violent staging, MECO in four ... three ... two ... one ... MECO! The accelleration cuts out and you suddenly find yourself weightless, almost as if the ship hit something,
scared youre going to float out of your seat at this worst moment, even though you are strapped in tightly. BOOM!! All six of Columbias ventral - Z translate thrusters
fire at the same time Challengers CAMS (Compressed Air Maneuvering System) blasts the Columbia out of its cavity
and into space. You are sucked into the bottom of your seat for a second, then
suddenly feel weightless again. You feel as if youre going to fly out of the
roof of the ship when the orbiters main engines cut in, pushing you back into the seat in the same way the booster did, only
the engines sound different.
Someone in the shuttle
cockpit exclaims just after the main engines light, Whoa, dude...what a rush!
go at staging, we show you in 201, Houston calls up.
Its your job to return
that call as pilot, but youre still a little frazzled from your first Bluestar staging.
You squeak back, Uhm...Houston, Columbia, Roger, regaining a bit of composure, Go at staging, 201.
The commander, also
a bit frazzled, looks over at you and says, Bet you cant wait to do that again!
The lady behind you
chirps, Yeah, but give me a couple weeks.