Star Force One
© 2016 - 2017 Scribe1971
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
These stories are copyrighted by Scribe1971, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
Dear readers, I want to apologize for he delay in the release of chapters of this story. Back in April, I suffered a life-threatening illness that landed me in hospital being pumped full of antibiotics for 2 weeks. I then spent 2 months off work receiving daily home nursing care. Just being able to walk again and not be taking multiple powerful antibiotics each day is a real milestone. It is a long road to recovery but I am well down that road and I am finding that writing is therapeutic. Stay tuned for more chapters to come.
Chapter 3 - Living in Space
"Ok Taurus, you are go for terminal intercept burn," Mark Andrews announced. He had taken over the next shift as CAPCOM.
"Roger that control, Digital Auto Pilot is on target and we show burn in t-5 seconds on my mark.... mark," Jake replied.
A few seconds later the Shuttles Orbital Manoeuvring engines fired raising their orbit to match that of the Micro Station. Once this burn was complete they would be in a station-keeping orbit 100 meters from the docking port. Jake would then fly the shuttle in and complete the docking procedure.
"Good burn, Taurus," Mark commented. "Optimal shutdown at T+62 seconds."
"Copy that, DAP readout agrees, shutdown at T+62."
A little over a minute after it began the engine burn ended. Ryan glanced up through the upper windows and saw the cylindrical form of the micro station floating just about 100 meters away. "Control, Taurus, we are in a stable station keeping orbit with eyes on the target," Ryan announced.
Jake called up the docking target radar display and the docking alignment display on his control panel and keyed the flight computer to bring up the docking program. "Control, Taurus ready to commence docking procedure."
"Copy that Taurus, you are go for docking."
Jake twisted his hand controller to roll Taurus into the correct alignment with the docking port and then adjusted his pitch and yaw controls to position the orbiter directly on target for docking. He then hit the forward translation thrusters, which slowly propelled the spacecraft forwards towards to docking port.
"Looking good Jake," Ryan said. "50 meters, 2 meters per second closure. Alignment is right on the money.
"20 meters," Ryan called out as Jake focused on his instruments.
"10 meters, prepare for contact"
A moment later they heard a soft thud from above their heads followed by the clunking of latches.
"Control, Taurus, we have soft-dock," Jake announced.
"Good Job Jake," Mark called back.
"Retracting now," Jake announced as he hit a button on the console. There was a ratcheting sound followed by a loud clunk and then a hiss of air as Taurus formed a hard-dock pressure seal with the micro-station."
"We have hard dock," Ryan announced.
"Way to go Taurus," Mark said enthusiastically.
"Great job Kiddo," Ryan said as he squeezed Jake's shoulder. My first time I had a failed approach and had to make a second attempt."
Jake beamed with pride and smiled at Ryan.
After checking the pressure seal, Ryan floated over to the airlock and opened the upper docking hatch. He floated into the funnel and unlatched the hatchway into the Micro Station. He floated to one side and motioned for Jake to go ahead. "After you," he said.
Jake floated "Superman" style into the well-lit interior of the micro station. If he thought the shuttle was roomy, the station was positively spacious. It was a bit longer and a bit wider than a bus. Immediately inside the air lock was a large area that made up the bulk of the station's space. Cabinets and racks lined the walls, floor and ceiling. A large observation window was located on either side and there were numerous workstations. At the far end were the bathroom and four closet-like vertical sleep stations. A galley was located against one wall and there were numerous screens.
"Home sweet home," Jake laughed.
"Comfy eh?" Ryan noted.
He continued, "Control, this is Taurus CDR on board MS-125. You guys did an outstanding job of prepping this thing for us. Very comfortable up here."
"You are very welcome gentlemen," Mark replied.
After the long day, Jake and Ryan settled in for a period of rest and recreation. It gave them an opportunity to explore the inside of the station in better detail.
"There are no borders from up here," Jake observed as he looked out of the large view port facing Earth. "So beautiful."
"We are two of the lucky few who get to see that view first hand. Check this out," Ryan said as he floated over to a console with a large viewing screen. "This is the control unit for the space telescope we get to install on the outside during our spacewalk."
Jake floated over and peered at the panel. "Cool.... imagine the stuff we will be able to see with that!"
With his table connected to the Wi-Fi network onboard the station, Jake pulled up an action movie he had downloaded and the pair enjoyed it on the large main screen until it was time to turn in.
"Good night kiddo," Ryan said with a yawn as he squeezed Jakes shoulder and then closed the door on his sleep compartment. He then retreated into his own before doing one last check of his email before turning in.
About 8 hours later the speaker system came alive with the strains of Elton John's "Rocket Man!" as their wake-up call.
Ryan floated free of his cubby and effortlessly slid into his blue flight suit using the zero G to his advantage.
Jake soon emerged from his cubby wearing his boxer briefs and looking flustered. "It's hard to put these on when everything is floating around."
Ryan chuckled. "Let me show you a trick." He then grabbed Jake's legs and positioned him just right. "Bring your knees up to your chest and hold the suit like this," He instructed. Then just push out with your legs and pull up with your hands."
"Good morning Taurus crew," Beverly called up from Mission control. "Welcome to day two of your mission. Nice undies by the way!"
Jake turned beet red. "I forgot about the camera inside the cabin!"
"What's for breakfast?" Ryan asked.
"How about Sausage and Hash browns?" Jake replied as he rummaged through the food locker.
"Sounds good," Replied.
Jake floated a meal pack to Ryan and took one for himself. He then floated to the galley and began preparing his breakfast. He could not help but feel like he was on a camp out. Aside from the weightlessness, the sleeping upright inside a closet-like device and the lack of a fire, it was like living inside a big trailer with a spectacular view.
After breakfast, their primary task for that day was to unload the pressurised equipment module and haul all the supplies and gear into the Station. The station was launched with a basic compliment of stores and as the first occupants; their job was too fully outfit is as a compact science and research station.
In addition, there was a space exposed cargo pallet carrying large equipment to be bolted onto the outside of the station. This included a space telescope and gear used for measuring space weather.
The task of unloading the cargo module and stowing the gear took most of the morning. When they were done, they emptied the trash compactor and deposited their refuse bag in the cargo module for the return to earth. Unlike bodily waste which was blasted out into space by the complex space toilet, garbage was hauled back to earth for disposal. Jettisoning it would simply create more space junk and there was too much of that already. Ryan was keenly aware of the dangers of space junk and was determined that neither he nor his crews would contribute to the problem.
After their lunch break, Jake floated into Taurus to perform routine daily system checks while Ryan did the same on the station. All systems were nominal in both vehicles and the mission was proceeding without a hitch. When Jake returned to the station, they sealed the hatch and lowered the air pressure gradually to about half of normal. They did it gradually so as not to cause either of them to get a case of the bends. They needed to be acclimatized to that low pressure ahead of the next day's space walk. Space suits are kept at low pressure to stop them from inflating like rigid balloons in the vacuum of space. If that happened they would not be able to bend their arms to work on the station.
They spent much of the afternoon checking their space suits and preparing for the next day in which they would spend a total of eight hours outside in space. Ryan had performed many spacewalks, but it was to be a new experience for Jake. He was outwardly enthusiastic, but more than a little nervous.
"Don't worry about a thing kiddo," Ryan reassured him. "I'll be there with you and I won't let anything happen. Believe me, once you get out there you'll love it."
Jake looked over at Ryan and smiled. He knew this man would never let anything bad happen to him and he relaxed.
"Just think, you will earn another record as the youngest person to walk in space. You are already the youngest to fly in space, the youngest to orbit Earth, and the youngest to dock a spacecraft."
"I wonder if I'll get to walk on another planet?" Jake thought out loud. "You walked on the moon and Mars. What was that like?"
"It was amazing. I was the first Canadian on the moon - flew with a NASA mission. I was on the second Mars landing and was the second in our crew and the 10th person overall to set foot on Mars. It was a lot different from the moon - it has an atmosphere with wind and dust storms. Takes a lot longer to get to Mars than the moon. We get to the moon in around three days, but it takes six months to reach Mars."
"Amazing," Jake replied.
"Let you in on a little secret - you are going to walk on the moon and visit Outpost One, the permanent lunar base."
"Cool!" Jake shouted and hugged Ryan.
"Something else, remember that big mission I told you we're building to.... It will likely be to Saturn and Jupiter and involve landings on several of the rocky moons around those planets."
Jake gaped at Ryan, almost dumfounded by what he had just heard. "It will be ten or twenty years in space which is why they want some young crew-members along for the trip."
"You got it buddy," Ryan replied.
That night, Jake drifted off into a comfortable sleep in zero G with visions of the future playing out is his head. Just as intrepid explorers of the past had crossed the oceans, he and Ryan and others were going to cross the vast ocean of space and explore places than humans had only dreamed about since the first man considered the night sky and stared in wonder at the array of bright lights that filled the cosmos.
The next morning, the sounds of Aerosmith's "Walk this Way!" roared from the speakers. The old song chosen as the wake-up call for the day of their first walk in space for the mission.
"Rise and shine crew," James McDougal called up from Mission control. "Today you guys get to take a walk on the wild side!"
"What's for breakfast?" Jake asked as he emerged from his sleep compartment, this time fully clothed in his blue jump suit.
"You can have whatever you want, but my suggestion would be to stick with a large protein shake."
"How come?" Jake asked.
Ryan smiled and reached into a storage compartment and tossed a wrapped object to Jake. "Because of these," Ryan replied.
Jake realized he was holding a wrapped adult-sized diaper and gaped at Ryan.
"There are no toilets in the space suits and we can't come back inside just to take a dump. If you don't want to have to do number two in one of those, don't eat anything solid and make sure the last thing you do before suiting up is use the facilities here."
"Good idea!" Jake exclaimed. "Toss me a shake will you, please?"
Ryan floated over to the galley and prepared two large chocolate protein shakes for their breakfast.
They downed their shakes and then put the cabin cameras on privacy mode while they stripped down completely and began getting into their space suits. Unlike the orange pumpkin suits, these were larger and bulkier and had larger air packs and even had small nitrogen gas thrusters on them to allow them to move around.
Each of them put on their adult diaper and then climbed into their thermal undergarments. These undergarments regulated their temperatures in space and had all kinds of tubes throughout them for circulating water to warm or cool them as need be.
Ryan floated over and helped Jake into the main body of his suit, legs first and then zipped up and sealed the back. The boy grinned at him and then returned the favor.
After snapping on their helmets, hosting their life support packs and donning their gloves they headed to the airlock.
Jake pulled the hatch closed behind them and sealed it tight. A moment later a green light lit up indicating a good seal. "Control, we are ready to depressurize."
"Roger that Jake, you are go for EVA1. Begin depressurization."
Jake hit the button on the control panel and vents opened up draining the atmosphere from the small chamber. They could hear a whooshing sound at first, but then everything became dead silent except for the sounds inside their suits.
"What's that rushing sound I can hear?" Jake asked. "Sounds like a pump."
"That kiddo, is the sound of your own blood circulating through your body. It is so quiet that you can hear it."
"Wow, that's cool."
A moment later the control panel showed that they were in full vacuum and it was time to open the outer hatch. The hatch silently swung open as Jake hit the button and the pair of them floated up and into space.
"Oh my God! The view out here!" Jake exclaimed.
They were floating above the station airlock. Below them was Taurus with its open payload bay and above their heads was earth, looking like a bright blue marble hovering in the blackness of space.
"Breathtaking," Ryan agreed.
"Can't wait to see it for myself," James called up from mission control. "Looks brilliant on the HD television cameras."
"Ok Jake, let's get started. First item on the checklist is to install the space telescope on the station. Ryan fired his cold jet thrusters and headed down into Taurus's payload bay to the area behind the pressurized cargo module. Jake followed close behind.
A large cylindrical object was strapped down to a pallet, which was securely fastened to Taurus.
Jake reached out and attached his cargo tether to the telescope as Ryan went to work on the release mechanism for the straps.
"Ok, she's loose," Ryan announced.
"Good Job Ryan," James called up.
"Way to go," Jake grinned.
While they were weightless, the telescope still had considerable mass. They had to be careful moving it so that it did not get away from them. With Ryan on the end that would attach to the station and Jake on the end that would be opened to space, they gently carried the delicate instrument up the side of the station to the intended mounting bracket.
With Jake holding his end steady, Ryan fitted the base of the telescope into place.
Jake took the power wrench from his tool belt, and prepared tighten the first of the six large bolts.
"Jake, be sure to lock your feet into the restraints before you do that," Ryan cautioned.
"How come?" Jake asked.
"Watch..." Ryan laughed. "Give it a try while you are floating free."
Jake placed the tool on the bolt and hit the trigger. Much to his surprise, instead of the bolt turning, he began to rotate. "Hey!" He exclaimed.
"See?" Ryan laughed.
Red faced, Jake fit his feet into the straps and quickly tightened all six bolts.
Ryan then went to work hooking up the electrical and data cables and then it was time to test it. Ryan and Jake floated back from the newly installed telescope as ground control commanded it to power on. The protective lens cover retracted and the telescope pointed itself at a distant point in space. A minute later, the displays in their helmets up with a beautiful full colour image of the planet Jupiter.
"Awesome job guys!" James said from control.
"Can't wait to try this out later once we're inside!" Jake added.
With the telescope installed and functional, they floated back to the payload bay of Taurus. Ryan looked at his timer and was surprised to see that they had already been out there for four hours. Their first spacewalk was half-over.
They spent the next four hours floating back and forth between the outside of the station and the cargo bay of Taurus. They installed a variety of antennas, sensors and other equipment to the outside of the station and fully activated it as a functioning scientific research lab.
"Ok gentleman, good job. I show everything on the checklist as being done," James called up from control. "Time to get back inside."
"Fantastic. I'm hungry!" Jake replied.
"Yeah I could eat too," Ryan agreed.
They made their way back to the airlock, floated inside and latched the hatch behind them. Jake pressed the button to pressurize the chamber as soon as the green light came on showing a good seal. A few seconds later the pressure light lit up indicating that the chamber was properly pressurized.
Ryan unlatched and removed his helmet and began to remove his gloves.
He glanced at Jake who was already climbing out of his suit. "First dibs on the hygiene station!" he called with a laugh as he peeled off the temperature control undergarment, tucked it inside his space suit and stowed the whole thing in the correct compartment. He picked up his tablet, set the internal cameras to privacy mode, and then pulled off his diaper, placing it into the receptacle. He then opened the hatch and floated nude into the space station.
Ryan exited a moment later and saw that Jake had already unwrapped one of the dampened wash cloths and was wiping himself down. The wash cloths were just like jumbo hand-wipes only they were used to clean the whole body. There was special soap that did not use water, which evaporated quickly and a shampoo cloth that did the same.
"If only Brenda could see you now!" Ryan teased.
Jake turned beet red. "Not as if you're not putting on a show too!"
"Well I'm old enough to be her father and you're the one she has the hots for."
Once they were dressed, they settled in for a large dinner followed light duties for the evening. Most of the official activities for the evening involved testing the newly installed telescope and other instruments. With those items installed, the station was essentially a fully operational micro-science lab. The next day was New Year's Eve and they had a light schedule ahead of them on New Year's Day and a special dinner package.
"You know I could get used to this," Jake said thoughtfully as he took a big bite out a tortilla peanut butter and honey sandwich.
"Yeah, I started buying tortillas instead of bread after my Mars mission," Ryan replied.
"So, what about Otis if we go off into space for a long time?" Jake asked.
"I've thought of that and I think he'll come along. In fact we'll bring several dogs and puppies with us as working dogs and for morale reasons. Nothing cheers a person up like a cuddly puppy."
"How will he handle zero G?"
"For the most part he won't have to. The habitation module on the deep space mission will have artificial gravity and they are developing special Velcro dog booties to allow him to stick to surfaces in the odd times we have no gravity"
"Cool!" Jake replied.
After their dinner break, Ryan floated around, carrying out a set of routine checks of the docked station and spacecraft and fond that everything was optimal. While he did that, Jake fired up the newly installed space telescope and began to put it through its paces. He used the TDRIS (Teedriss) Tracking Data and Information relay system to pinpoint the location of various spacecraft in orbit as well as other planets. He took some breathtaking photos and relayed them to mission control.
"TDRIS has really made life easier in space," Ryan observed. "It was pretty crude at first and was intended to facilitate earth-shuttle communications and tracking. Now it's been expanded and enhanced to track just about anything in space and even has seek/search capabilities."
"It made getting here very simply," Jake agreed.
"Here is something for you to check out," Ryan suggested. "Search for DSV Titan."
Jake keyed it into the terminal and the response was immediate. "Hey! It says Vessel located, location, tracking and other data classified."
"Enter command override, Delta, Quebec, Foxtrot, Tango, Romeo, Sierra. Authenticate Anderson, Ryan."
"Access granted" Jake replied after he keyed in the necessary codes. A moment later the image of a very large spacecraft filled the screen. Gantries and smaller vessels surrounded it making it clear that it was under construction. "What is that thing? It's huge?"
"That is the Deep Space Vessel Titan and it is going to be our ride into deep space."
"Unbelievable! That thing is enormous. How many crew members?"
"Around 50 crew including a full medical staff. Titan will be our home away from home for years while we explore the solar system."
"How fast is it?" Jake asked.
"Put it this way, my Mars flight took six months each way. Titan can do it in 30 days in optimal conditions."
"Mars in 30 days?"
"We have the second EVA tomorrow, right?" Jake asked.
"We do indeed. We'll attach the supplemental fuel tanks to the outside of the station and attach its experiment compartment and small robotic arm. It's a shorter spacewalk than the first and we'll spend the rest of the day testing the station's small engines for small orbit changes."
"We do the teleconference on New Year's Day. That should be fun." Jake said thoughtfully.
"Yea, we'll give a grand tour of Taurus and the station and answer questions." Ryan replied.
Little did Jake know that there were also some tests of his command skills planned. The first was just about to start.
A series of strobe lights on what was accepted as the ceiling of the station began to flash and a loud alarm began to sound.
"Control, Station, emergency warning system activated." Jake called into his radio headset. "Display shows solar flare warning."
"Station, control, we copy. We confirm solar flare warning received."
"We are sheltering in hardened areas," Jake said. "Ryan! Close and seal the hatch to Taurus and get to your sleep station, close and seal the door."
"Roger," Ryan replied. He smiled to himself. He knew this was a drill and Jake was doing everything right.
Jake floated to the station master console and quickly powered down and put into safe mode all critical electrical systems. He then secured the hatch and airlock and floated to his own sleep station.
"Cape Breton Control, Taurus crew is secure, spacecraft is secure and station is secure."
"Roger that Jake, Good Job," came the reply from control. Just then, all the alarms stopped and there was a knock on his sleep station door. Jake opened the door and saw Ryan floating outside.
"Good job kiddo, top marks."
"This was a test?" Jake stammered.
"It was indeed and you passed with flying colours."
They had dinner and relaxed in front of the main display screen watching a movie - an old favorite of Ryan's from way back before his time in the 1980s. The summer camp comedy called "Meatballs".
The next morning Mission Control woke them up in patriotic style broadcasting the pipes and drums version of "The Maple Leaf Forever" as their wakeup tune.
"Let's get this show on the road," Jake said enthusiastically as he and Ryan began to suit up in their EVA suits for the second and final spacewalk of the mission. They had just finished a light breakfast and had both made a point of using the washroom facilities before suiting up for six to eight hours inside a space suit.
Once they were ready, they floated into the airlock and closed the hatch behind them. There was a brief hiss of air as the small chamber depressurised before opening the outer door.
"I never get tired of this view," Ryan observed.
"Same here," Jake agreed. Can't wait to see it while walking on the surface of another planet or the moon."
"That'll be our next mission. The two of us, along with one or two more youth astronauts and one more adult astronaut will do a lunar landing and visit the lunar base near Tycho crater."
"VERY COOL!" Jake exclaimed.
"Once you've done that you'll be fully astronaut qualified and can crew, pilot or command any vessel or mission in our fleet."
They got to work moving the large fuel cylinders from the Taurus payload bay to the outside ports on the station. They were in a weightless environment, but the mass of the large filled tanks was still an issue and it took both of them to haul each of the three tanks into position and connect them up. They also installed a variety of sensors and antennas and a couple of video cameras. One of the most complicated tasks was installing what looked like a mini version of the Canadarm. Their final task was to install a box like structure that was effectively a mini airlock. It was connected to a special port on the station and opened to both the inside and the outside. It allowed experiments and small payloads to be released into space and retrieved.
"Good job crew, we show all tasks complete and you can head inside." Mission control informed them.
A few moments later, they were inside, climbing out of the space suits and the sweaty under garments that were worn under them.
The two astronauts settled in for a relaxing New Year's Eve after cleaning themselves up and getting into fresh blue jump suits. They dined on rehydrated roast beef with potatoes and carrots for dinner and settled into watch some more movies. As the stroke of midnight approached Atlantic Time they tuned into a New Year's Eve celebration broadcast live from Halifax.
"Here we go," Ryan said. "10 - 9 - 8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1... Happy New Year!"
Jake and Ryan embraced as mission control broadcast Auld Lang Syne over the radio.
"Happy New Year crew," James MacDougal called up over the radio from Cape Breton Island.
Jake looked over at Ryan for a moment and looked pensive.
"What's on your mind kiddo?"
Jake paused and then replied, "What was your son like?"
Ryan smiled wanly. "He was a great kid. Loved fishing and hunting. Had a great sense of humour and he was very curious about how things worked. He was always taking things apart to see what made them work."
Jake smiled "That's good to know."
"Kiddo, listen. You don't have to try to replace Ben. You just have to be yourself. It's you that I've...." He trailed off.
"That you've what?" Jake asked.
"It's you that I've come to love like a son. You just need to be you and the two of us will do just fine. The three of us counting Otis."
"That's the first time anyone has said they love me since my parents died," Jake observed.
Ryan floated over and pulled Jake into a strong embrace.
"I love you, too," Jake said as he leaned into Ryan's shoulder.
They were able to sleep in the next morning. With nothing but light duties including a teleconference with some school kids at the Ontario Science Centre scheduled. Jake woke up first, checked in with Mission Control and then set about making breakfast for Ryan and himself.
He'd just set out the rehydrated bacon and eggs when Ryan emerged from his sleep station. "Morning Jake," He said groggily.
"Morning Ryan," Jake replied. "Breakfast is ready."
"Fantastic," Ryan replied as Jake handed him a drinking tube of coffee.
"This takes some getting used to," Ryan observed.
"What does?" Jake asked.
"Drinking coffee through a straw!" Ryan chuckled.
They finished breakfast and then spent some time checking the systems they had installed the day before. Jake floated through the airlock into Taurus and performed the daily systems check on their spaceplane. Everything checked out A-Ok. The new spacecraft, built by Bombardier Aerospace was performing flawlessly.
Back in the station, Ryan completed the final daily checks and reported back to Jake when he returned through the tunnel. "We are good to go here," Ryan said.
"Now that this station is complete, it needs a proper name." Jake observed.
"I agree. Did you have anything in mind?" Ryan asked.
"How about micro space station Adventure?"
"I like it. As commander of the Youth Space Program, I approve! As commander of this mission, you may inform mission control"
"Cape Breton, this is station crew."
"Go ahead station crew," came the reply.
"Control, be advised that by order of General Anderson, this station shall now be known as MSS Adventure."
"Roger that Adventure Crew, duly noted."
After lunch Jake and Ryan headed into the Taurus to begin their teleconference. They established contact with the group of school kids from across the country gathered at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto.
"Ok Ontario Science Centre, welcome aboard Taurus," Jake said. "This spaceplane is the mini-shuttle that carried General Anderson and myself up here to the Space Station Adventure." Jake proceeded to give the kids a guided tour of Taurus and then the station Adventure itself.
"That concludes the tour," Jake said. "Anyone have any questions?"
On the monitor, they saw several dozen hands shoot up. "Ok then, we'll try to get to as many of you as we can," Jake said.
Jake spent the next hour answering questions and referring the occasional one to Ryan. He seemed to be enjoying himself and Ryan busied himself with some personal business including some private calls to Mission Control. He was cooking up a plan with a big surprise for Jake.
"Good job kiddo," Ryan said to Jake after the teleconference ended.
"I need something to drink," Jake said. "My throat is dry from all that talking."
Ryan handed Jake a drink tube full of orange juice. "We have a little more talking to do before dinner I'm afraid."
"Oh yeah? What's up?"
"We have a private video link setup with mission control. Some personal business to attend to."
"What kind of business?" Jake asked.
"Related to our future. You'll like it. Trust me"
"I do trust you Ryan."
The two of them floated over to one of the workstations lining the walls and turned on the monitor. The image flickered to life and showed several people sitting around a conference table. They recognized several youth Astronauts as well as Jacques Demers, head of flight crew operations. At the head of the table sat grey haired man in a dark robe and to his right sat a woman with a laptop computer. To his left sat a smartly dressed man in a business suit. As the man in the suit began to speak, the woman with the computer began to type.
"Nova Scotia Superior Court, Family Court Division is now in session, Honourable Justice Harold J. Evans presiding. All those with business before this court come forward and you shall be heard. Your honour, we are here today to hear the matter of the adoption of the minor child Jacob James Collins, ward of the province of Nova Scotia by General Ryan Michael Anderson. The minor child and the petitioner are presenting themselves to the court room via video linkup. Mrs. Gloria Shultz is present, representing the crown and acting on behalf of the minor child."
"Good afternoon. I am pleased to be part of this historic event... the first adoption to take place while the parties are actually in outer space. Mrs. Shultz, have you read the petition?" the judge asked.
"I have your honour. While this situation is certainly unorthodox, the crown is satisfied by the information provided by the petitioner that this move is in the best interests of the minor child. We do not oppose this adoption and wholeheartedly support it."
"Thank you Mrs. Shultz. Jacob or Jake as I understand you like to be called, what do you have to say about this?" The judge asked.
Jake looked like he could have been knocked over with a feather. He was grinning ear-to-ear. "Your honour, I don't know what to say. I don't know what words I can use to express how happy I am. I have grown very close to Ryan since we both entered this program. He has often felt like a father to me and I would be the happiest kid alive if you made it official."
"Young man, I will do just that. It is the order of this court that the adoption of Jacob James Collins by the petitioner Ryan Michael Anderson be approved. Congratulations to you both. Once you land you can sign the papers to make it official."
The assembled witnesses in the makeshift courtroom broke into loud applause. Jake turned to Ryan and hugged him fiercely. "I love you dad," he said.
"I love you too son," Ryan replied. They both felt whole and complete again for the first time in a long time.
"How about that." Ryan observed. "Two more space firsts. First adoption in space and first father-son space mission."
The next day was to be their second last in space and involved preparing the Adventure station to be put into hibernation mode waiting for the next crew. They had to tidy everything up, collect their personal items, stow gear and power down systems that did not need to be left running. The final step was to sign off with mission control and then board the Taurus.
"Cape Breton control, this is Adventure Station Expedition One crew. The station is secure and prepped for vacancy. We are signing off. Over and out."
With that Jake and Ryan powered off the main console and floated through the airlock into Taurus closing and latching the outer and then the inner hatches behind them.
"Cape Breton Control, this is Taurus crew, two aboard, ready to depart the Adventure Station."
"Roger that Jake, you are go for undocking and departure fly-around."
With that Jake flipped up the cover over the Undock button and pressed it. A small thud followed and the Taurus was disconnected from the Adventure station.
Ryan floated near one of the rooftop docking windows with a video camera as Jake piloted the small shuttle through a tight look around the station before aligning property for the departure burn. He keyed the parameters into the flight computer and activated the autopilot. A second later the orbital manoeuvring engines ignited and carried them into a lower orbit aligned with the latitude of Cape Breton Space centre for their re-entry and landing early the next morning.
As comfortable as the interior of Taurus was, it was much smaller than the inside of the Adventure station, but the astronauts made the best of it. They ate their evening meal and settled in for the night. Jake had butterflies in his stomach anticipating the landing to come the next morning. The computer would fly the re-entry right until what is known as the HAC or heading alignment circle. At this point, some 35,000 feet above the runway and travelling at just over Mach 1, Jake would take manual control, align with the runway and bring them in for a smooth landing. He had done it hundreds of times in the simulator, but this was to be the first time doing it for real.
Wakeup call came at 04:30 Atlantic time. Jake and Ryan got up, dressed in the white undergarments worn under the orange pumpkin suits and ate breakfast before suiting up for re-entry.
"So this is it kiddo. We will be back at the house by supper time tonight."
"I am looking forward to seeing Otis. I love being in space, but being home will be nice too."
"Yeah it's always nice to head home."
"I feel those butterflies in my stomach again," Jake said.
"You'll do fine kiddo. You mastered this in the simulator and I'll be right there next to you."
After stowing their breakfast debris, they donned their pumpkin suits and strapped themselves into the cockpit seats.
"Cape Breton, Taurus, commencing transition from Orbit Ops to Re-entry checklist."
"Roger Taurus, good deal. All systems are go and the weather is clear for landing at the cape. Secondary landing site at Schiphol is also clear." Brenda Thorn was Capcom that morning.
Ryan pulled out the checklist and began reading the steps to Jake. Jake configured the flight computer for their primary and secondary landing sites, closed the payload bay doors and carried out the rest of the tasks to prepare Taurus to re-enter the atmosphere.
"Ok we are go for de-orbit alignment," Ryan announced. Taurus was over the Indian Ocean and was set to begin its de-orbit burn north of Australia.
Jake took the hand controller and yawed the spacecraft around 180 degrees so that it's essentially flying backwards with its engines pointing into the direction of travel. He keyed the computer to lock in the attitude and start the retro burn countdown.
"We show you set for retro burn," came the call from Brenda. "5 seconds 'til commencing burn."
Exactly five seconds later Jake and Ryan felt themselves being pushed back in their seats as the OMS engines fired and slowed the spacecraft down enough to drop it out of obit.
"Cape, retro burn complete, computer shows that we're right on the money."
"Copy that Taurus, we show the same. Go for pitch-over."
Jake again took the controls and pushed forward on the stick. Taurus began to pivot around so that it was flying with the earth below the bottom of the spacecraft with the nose forward and raised 40 degrees above the horizon. Once at that attitude, Jake locked in the attitude and engaged the re-entry autopilot. They were passing over the pacific and just over 100 miles above the earth.
"Starting to feel gravity again," Jake observed.
"Me too," Ryan agreed. Outside the heat shield of the spacecraft began to glow bright orange and red streaks of plasma gas began to shoot past the windows.
"Taurus, you are coming up on your first S-turn," Brenda announced.
"Copy that Cape," Jake replied.
During re-entry the autopilot would perform a series of steep banks left and right to effectively extend the distance the orbiter would travel in the atmosphere and slow it down more gradually.
"This is a lot more comfortable than re-entry in a capsule," Jake laughed.
"Tell me about it!" Ryan agreed. "Max 3 or 4 Gs compared to 9!"
A moment later they felt Taurus bank sharply to the left. It held that attitude for a few minutes and then banked back past vertical to right. The spacecraft alternated back and forth until just a few minutes before landing.
"Taurus, looking good. We show you at 40,000 feet, Mach 1.25 you are go for manual control and HAC"
"Showtime kiddo," Ryan said.
Jake took a deep break and took the control stick in hand. A tone sounded in his headset indicating that the autopilot program had completed and he was in manual control. "I have the spacecraft," he announced.
"Begin right hand HAC, bank angle 30 degrees on my mark," Ryan said. "Mark!"
Jake pulled the stick to the right and the rapidly descending shuttle began to bank to the right. A glowing green "pipper" on his heads up display showed the desired nose position and a smaller crosshair showed the actual nose position. Jake quickly aligned the two.
"On target Taurus, we show you sub-sonic"
The shuttle was a glider from here on in. Once aligned with the runway, Jake had to hold the optimal glide angle and guide them in.
"ILS armed and active. Signal acquired," Ryan advised him. "We are intercepting glide slope in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1."
Jake expertly righted the shuttle and made a few minor adjustments positioning them right down the centre of the glide path.
"Great job Taurus, 10,000 feet and dropping. We show you 10k short of the runway."
"Doing great kiddo. The tough part is done. Just hold this heading and gravity will do the rest."
Jake smiled broadly. "Arm landing gear please."
"Landing gear armed." Ryan replied.
"Ok give me the altitude readout please."
"We are at 900, 800, 700, 600, landing gear down," They heard a hydraulic whine followed by a bump as the landing gear was deployed and locked. "All gear down and locked, 350 feet and dropping. Crossing runway skirt, 200 feet, 150, 100, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10, main gear contact."
There was a light bump and a brief tire screech sound as the main gear hit the tarmac.
"Deploying breaking chute," Ryan announced.
There was a pop and a clunk from behind the orbiter as the small breaking chute popped open and began to rapidly slow the orbiter. A second later the nose wheel touched down and Jake applied the brakes."
"Wheel stop, Control." Jake called.
"Copy that Taurus we show wheel stop. Welcome back."
Jake and Ryan both removed their helmets.
"Jake, son, as head of the youth astronaut program, let me congratulate you on a successful check flight. You are now certified as a command pilot astronaut. Congratulations son."
Jake ignored the offered hand and hugged Ryan tightly. "Thanks Dad."