The Desk Fiction Collection

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Previous entries in this series:

One: The Mission of the ARGO EPIC
Two: The Two Planet Mission of the Argo Epic
Three:The Argo Epic - and the rescue of the Terra Maru
Four: The Final Mission of the Argo Epic
(If you count carefully, you will notice that this would be...)

The Argo Epic five

The Argo Epic: 'out takes' and 'random notes'

©2023 Levite

Compiled by the staff of the Argo Epic's memorial and archive office. With the assistance of the various national space space agencies, and the crew members of the Argo Epic and the Terra Maru.

      Since the Argo has now traveled beyond the orbit of Neptune and is well on its way out of our solar system for its mission to another star, we have gotten innumerable requests for information about the previous crews. Much of which was discussed, or at least mentioned, in the official records as released by the International Consortium. But there were things asked which we feel are of general interest, and with the permission of the surviving crew members of the Argo and the Terra Maru, as well as the estates of those that have now passed, we are releasing some of their journal entries, messages both to and from the ship, and even transcripts of some on board discussions that were either not previously released, or were edited for various reasons.

      For the most part, the entries are in descending order of how many times the information was requested, from the memorial office.
      We will, as much as is possible, establish the time and setting for each note, and in some cases, offer an explanation or comment after the entry.

Specialist Stoticzynski's Death on the Terra Maru

      This first section is a compilation of the requests for the reactions and feelings of both the second and third crews of the Argo Epic and the crew of the Terra Maru regarding the unfortunate death of Crewman Jannon Stoticzynski of Poland in what can only be described as an intentional suicide in space.
      The first entry is an un-broadcast and unpublished section of an interview with Captain Dromgoole of the Terra Maru after they had returned to Earth. We apologize in advance for his choice of words, but they do convey his emotion on the subject in no uncertain terms.

News Program Interviewer: There was a death on your voyage. (long silence) Captain....
Captain Dromgoole: Yes, there was. And I'd rather not go into it. I went to Koszalin and talked to what little family he had, and his commander in the Polish Air Force. The agency released the report on the investigation. I'm finished talking about it.
Interviewer: I understand, but it was an event unprecedented in the history of humanity. Surely as the commander of the mission there must be something you want to add to the official record or that you want to say to the world, or just a message to the people of Poland.
(there is a moment of silence, during which the Captain's eyes got hard while the rest of his face turned to ice)
Interviewer: If there is something you want to...
Captain Dromgoole: Listen asshole, I've said everything about Jannon that I'm ever going to say to anybody. So, as you Brits say, shut the bloody hell up about it. Ask me something else, or this fucking interview is over.
(brief, stunned, silence)
Interviewer: Well, in that case, would you rather talk about when the engine exploded?
Captain Dromgoole: That's what I said we could discuss. So, Yes. ... I was in command when the outboard on two went up. So, yes, I'm more than happy to talk about that. I can still see it, That control panel lit up all at once, every light on it, then, just like that (snaps fingers) most of it went dark.
Interviewer: Was there any sound or vibration or anything in command?
Captain Dromgoole: Oh hell yeah. The whole ship shook for what seemed like an hour. And the noise was something I'd never heard before, and I don't want to ever hear it again. There was a deep 'thud' that shook the entire ship, and then a long loud screeching, and another couple of thuds. They said the thuds were the actual explosions, and the other was the parts being pushed and twisted into space. Then, it got really quiet, and that was even worse.
Interviewer: I can only imagine.
Captain Dromgoole: Yes.

      The next section is from the journal entry of the medical staff of the Argo Epic after reviewing the available evidence, including video from the airlock's cameras:

From Doctor Ranya Aziz, Medical Officer, Argo Epic
      I feel compelled to add a few personal comments to the official report, these are solely my own observations and analysis, and are not directly substantiated by any of the evidence. However, as a student of the human condition, I will dictate them for posterity. Whatever Lieutenant Stoticzynski had expected from the taking of his own life by ejecting himself into space, I don't think the experience was what he had imagined. In his private writings he had stated that it would be the most interesting way he could think of to die.
      However, I am certain that it wasn't what he expected, and he probably regretted it. But, he didn't survive to hold that regret for long.

      Within hours of being asked by the Commander to investigate I asked Mister Bianchi to enlarge and enhance the video images that were available of the Lieutenant's last moments alive as the air pressure inside the chamber pushed him into the void. Carmelo did more than that. Much more. He took a total of five different angles from both the Argo and the Terra Maru and combined them to show as much detail as he could tease out of the recordings.
      Carmelo said he did not enjoy doing it, but he felt obliged to assist the investigation as much as he possibly could. He did far more than that.
      In the final video you could see the man's facial expressions and watch his body movements as he tumbled away from the ship. You can see his airless screams with his face contorted in pain for about ten seconds as one of his eyes exploded out of his head. His arms and legs flailed in space for some time before they stopped. But even then, he was still conscious enough to feel pain, and then he vomited dramatically. But I believe he had lost conscious control of his body before that happened.
      Only then, some thirty to forty seconds out, I couldn't see any more movement that indicated anything other that involuntary muscle contractions in his body.
      If he had expected this death to be instantaneous and painless, he was obviously mistaken.
      I have saved that video with this recording.
      Do not watch it unless you want to see a man experience twenty-five seconds of total and absolute agony.

      For this compendium, the editors watched the enhanced video she mentioned, we will not be making it available to the public.

      The next entry is from Ken, who became the Third Officer of the Argo Epic for its final crewed mission, and was later the European coordinator for the refit for its journey out of our system. He told another interviewer about this while the ship was being refitted for its last mission.

      "We were on our way to capture an asteroid when I saw Crewman Jannon's body on the high resolution sensors.
      "At first I thought it was a piece of debris so I targeted it with one of the big telescopes. It was Jan.
      "I thought about asking the commander if she wanted to retrieve him. Then I realized just how upset everybody else would be, including his family on Earth and the crew of the Maru, I sat at the work station and watched him for a minute, then I refocused the telescope on an actual piece of debris, deleted the photos it had taken of him on the science server, and never mentioned it to anybody until now.
      "Later I checked the trajectory of the engine cover that hadn't been far from him and looked like it was moving about the same speed, and where they were going. You know, if neither of them hit anything, they should be out past Jupiter now. I guess that's where Jan wanted to be."
      Ken paused for a long moment, then he continued.
      "The Argo will pass him, he's not moving very fast, but it won't be able to see him, he's very small, and a long way off its flight path.
      "I kept a couple of the photos on a secure storage server on the ship and then when I got back I transferred them into the ESA secure server. They're still there, but I'm not going to release them."

      For this compendium, the editors viewed two of the saved telescopic images. We will not be making them available to the public.
      The next entry is on the same subject but is the last we've chosen on the matter.

Assistant Engineer Stanley Smith, Argo Epic, from the return journey on the Terra Maru
      I had told the Captain that I would be honored to cover Jan's shifts on the Maru on the trip home. He had nodded and thanked me. But then, after we undocked from the Argo, he took me up on it and put me at Jan's navigational station in the control room of the Maru, and told me what to do.
      And so I spent the trip back to Earth working instead of sitting for interviews and have them take bone marrow samples from places on me that I didn't even know had bone marrow.

      We all worked together, and I spent a lot of time bouncing some of our ideas off Chief Engineer Gomez, as well as Ken, and a selected few on Earth, and we finally got our speed up to where it didn't feel like we were crawling back home.
      The main concern was that the Terra was no longer as maneuverable as it had once been, and still had a bit of a tendency to drift off course. But we'd burned all the communications bandwidth we had and used every minute of computer time we could find, and everybody that had ever plotted a course for anything had weighed in and crunched the numbers and, well, let me put it this way: We were making A Lot of very small course corrections every day, and then, about once a month, we made a somewhat greater course correction, which may even involve powering down the engines and using the thrusters to realign the ship with where we were supposed to be going.
      The consensus from all the navigators in the world, and those on both ships who actually knew what they were doing, was for us to aim for a good distance this side of where the Earth was going to be when we got that far, some six months from now, and then if we had to, we'd wait on it to come to us. Otherwise, if anything happened and we lost speed, then it'd be a very long time before we got home.
      Overall, the ship is running better than it had on the trip out before it had the engine problems.
      We think it is the addition of a crew of absolute expert spacers, the Captain is certain that it is simply that the idea that the homeward part of a journey is always better. ...
            ..... "or both." -the editors.

      Our next two subjects are somewhat lighter in nature:
      The first entry in this category is one that nobody bothered to enter into any official documentation, but ended up being one of the most talked about incidents on the Argo's third mission.
      One of the cargo pods that arrived several months after the Argo separated from the Terra Maru ended up containing something unexpected. There was an official inquiry into the matter, but nobody in the entire United Kingdom admitted to having put ten cases of 12 cans each of specialty canned meats with the label of a famous London purveyor on them in a cargo pod that had been loaded and sealed at Oxfordshire's Brize Norton airbase, under direct supervision of several ranking ministers and at least two Members of Parliament.
      But even in the videos of the event, where the final supplies for the asteroid capture mission were being loaded there were no kilo cans of roast beef anywhere around.
      The sealed pod was then airlifted to the Kennedy Space Center and was launched in a matter of days, with the British seal intact.
      Yet very nearly six months later when the pod reached the Argo, having been maintained just above freezing by its internal heater to keep the chemical solutions for the testing of the asteroids there they were, strapped to each other with heavy plastic ties and secured to the wall of the pod just like the rest of the cargo.

      The problem was that they were not easy open cans. They now had corned beef, ham salad, spicy chicken, pickled herring, and more. But there wasn't an actual can opener on the entire ship. And when the engineer tried to open one with a rotary cutter it made a mess.
      We'll let Commander Pedersen finish the story...

Mission Commander Madelyn Pedersen, The Argo Epic,
      Mission Control spent the first hour denying that the tins of meat were on the cargo pod. The pod had been launched at the correct weight, and if there had been nearly 150 extra kilos of meat and cans and cardboard packaging in the thing, they would have investigated and found it.
      But then we showed them the stacks of cans, sorted as to their contents, and the one that we'd tried to open with a cutter before Ken remembered that there were can openers on a couple of his multi tools. Then we had a feast of amazing variety.
      But there was still no answer as to how this selection of delicacies ended up out here.
      And not only that, for the next year or so, on about every other pod, there would be some sort of highlight of shelf stable canned food on the thing. Including canned Polish hams, Japanese canned bread, and brined chicken from India. And all of it was in cans that we had to use one of Ken's tools to open.
      But they were appreciated by all of us as a change from the regular meals.

And on the subject of food we have a word from:
Assistant Engineer Jimiyu Kipruto
      You know, we knew not to waste anything out on the mission. Especially the metal from the cans. We found all sorts of uses for everything from the round and square ends to the tubular section of the can itself.
      I don't think anything was wasted, I heard that one of the scientists even fed the grease from some of it to some microbes that were outside the ship to see if they'd still eat while frozen in the void. I don't know what happened to them.

From the editors
      We checked the files on the Tardigrades that were in that experiment. When the creatures were outside, they entered into a state of suspended animation through desiccation. So the ones that do eat animal protein did not consume any of the material that was outside with them. However, once they were brought back into the habitable part of the ship, they came back to life, and ate everything in reach

      In the official record Mister Bianchi of Italy recorded the welcome arrival of all manner of seasonings in small individual packets. Such fare became a regular part of the outbound supply pods, and, on Earth, for a time, there was a rather heated competition between several providers to have their packets sent... and then have somebody on the crew send back a picture or video of them using their product on the Argo.
      The best received image that way was when there was a special dinner for a crew member's promotion and several of the packets of a 'seafood seasoning' could be seen on the table. It wasn't a staged image, but had been in a 'space news' broadcast and somebody noticed the packets to season the shrimp that had been sent out for the dinner in great secrecy.

      The first entry from the crews in this category is from Doctor Lorraine Latour who now describes herself as "the most traveled Frenchwoman in history". And if you consider the distance she's covered, she's correct. In this personal log, she gets quite emphatic about a manufacturer's request for video of her, dressed in one of her famously stylish outfits, using one of their packets, in the recreation pod on the Argo Epic, with Mars in the background.
      The entry was recorded in French, Doctor Latour approved our translation for release, even laughing about the matter when she called us about it.
      "Really, I'd forgotten all about it. Then, I was really upset. But now, it was just something that had happened, and really, when you think about everything, it was quite humorous. And the other day when I got your email about it I laughed, and then laughed more when I found the photos and the advertising they made from them. So thank you for brightening my day."

Lorraine, Private Journal entry, ahhh, I don't know what day it is, I think it's Thursday, lunchtime on my science shift.
      I went back and looked at the letter from the (name of condiment manufacturer redacted) people. I don't care how flattering it was that they called me the most beautiful and glamorous woman to ever fly a space mission. They NEVER mentioned my work up here, other than addressing me as 'doctor' in the opening, they never again mentioned my academic title, and then they had the gall to specify the clothing they wanted me to wear because it highlighted my decolletage.
      I understand that they are a private manufacturer, working in a very competitive market, but they're not even French, they're Flemish, they say so on their home page. That's a double insult. To have an address in Nord, on French soil no less, then to wave the flag of Flanders makes no sense to me. They probably can't get away with that in Belgium, so they set up shop in France.
      But, even with all that in play, I am intrigued by the idea. So I decided to wear that outfit, with a different skirt that shows my legs to good advantage, and I adjusted the blouse to highlight even more of my cleavage, and I have my hair down. And I had Carmelo, who is always a good sport and enjoys taking photos of me, take the pictures, and I spent some time posing just so with packets of several different Japanese and American sauces and seasonings that I enjoy using. And I made sure that not a single package from Flanders was anywhere in the rec room.
      I'm not sure Carmelo needed to take as many shots of me as he did, but I wasn't going to argue with him. Several of the ones that he showed me were excellent. So I picked a few of those that were so sexy that nobody would notice what brand of fish sauce I was using, which was precisely the point, and sent them to various outlets on Earth.
      Oh, and not only did he get Mars in the background of the majority of them, the ones we decided to send also had one of its moons in the shot. Top That, Flanders.

Editor's note:
      We found two of the photos she mentioned in the condiment manufacturer's advertising from the time. We are sorry to report that the Japanese company cropped the quite excellent view of her legs out of photo in favor of a text about how their fish sauce is low sodium. The American company ran the full photo, in high resolution, with barely enough text to tell you they were selling spicy mustard. On the whole, we liked the American version of the ad more than the other.
      As for the company that made the original request, they were oddly silent over the issue when we contacted them for a statement.

      The next entry is from Assistant Engineer Jimiyu Kipruto, Third Mission of the Argo Epic.
      We feel that we must explain that he was the first Kenyan national to ever leave the planet. And that while he was on the third mission, he did not seek the notoriety that many felt he should have, and therefore, not long after the mission was over, he returned to the African Continent and worked with Specialist Adebayo to promote the sciences throughout the region.
      This entry covers the question he was sent was from some Kenyan school children. We've included his original unedited remarks, translated into English, as well as a more appropriate remark to the children that he later re-recorded.

Question from the Fourth Grade (Lower Primary) Classes of the Public Primary Schools: Dearest Captain (Kenyan Air Force Rank) Jimiyu Kipruto. Do they have the food of your home village on board, or do you have to eat the food from America and Europe? What was your favorite home dish?

Assistant Engineer Kipruto's original answer:
      To use an expression I've heard from others, I'm sick and tired of being asked about my tribal food and customs. I didn't like it when I lived there as a child, that's why I left to go to University in Germany, and then to pursue space in America and then back in Europe. The last time I was home they gave me the cattle blood drink and it made me vomit. I also do not like to do the dances. I am a space vehicle system's engineer from Kenya. Isn't that enough? Maybe when I am back on Earth, and then retire, I will become homesick for my village. That is not yet, and I do not see it soon.

      His first answer was rejected by Mission Commander Pederson.
      Two days later he submitted this:

      My tribal region has a very unique and precious cultural heritage. And I am certain that the schools in Kenya have all featured our observing several of the festival times on board the Argo in school assemblies with such foods as can make the journey out here, or that we can approximate with what is on board. One of the things I am looking forward to when we return to Earth is seeing my people and celebrating a festival with them.
      I am here not only as a Kenyan, but as an African, and our people should be proud of our continent's continuing contribution to the history of human space exploration. And for me, it is an honor to be the one making the contribution.

      His second answer was what was published. And was, by all accounts, well received by both the school and the country as a whole.

One of the most asked questions by the Fourth Graders was: "Why did you become an astronaut / cosmonaut?"
      We won't list all the reasons here, only the most unusual ones, some of which were rejected by either the mission commanders or the agency involved and never made it back to the fourth graders.
      Those included a half serious "if I didn't join the space program I would have ended up on a submarine and I hate being under water." And another statement was: "it was one sure way to get away from my ex-boyfriend."
      On the other end of the spectrum was a probably the most honest answer of all: "I liked the pay and benefit package".
      Reportedly, the answer the fourth graders, and others, liked the most was Ken's: "I'd always wanted to be part of the space program, and especially the Argo. I thought it was the best space ship ever built, and now that I'm on it, I know that's true. Everybody should try to join their country's space program, and if your country doesn't have one, move to one that does."

And now: the un-publicized food poisoning incident on the first mission
      Another issue with food that wasn't widely broadcast occurred on the first voyage when a round of a food borne illness taxed the mission's medical staff, not to mention the sanitary facilities, to the extreme.
      This portion of the medical log is one of the few sections that were not released after Dr McCarthy's tragic accident on an EVA. We present it here in tribute to him.

Doctor Robert McCarthy, acting CMO, Argo
Medical log, this date, all that, enter.
      At least eight others of the crew are suffering more or less intense symptoms of whatever the contaminant was. I've had some mild symptoms, but the worst of them have passed, thankfully.
      Engineer Baxter is now running the ship from his stern station, as for everybody else, they're coming and going as they are able to keep us flying, but all that is being done is the absolute essentials.
      The only other crewman that has been helping out is Narda who said her stomach was slightly upset for a little while, but it had passed, and she didn't think about it until the others got sick.
      Candice had been trying to keep up appearances in Command, but she finally admitted she's so weak that by the time she gets up there she has to take a nap before she logs onto the command station.
      Livia and Ulrich had to be confined to sickbay on IV fluids. A couple of the others are under medical orders to stay in their bunks and drink whatever they can keep down.
      And that's the other problem. The entire ship smells like a unkempt lavatory. Baxter has given up changing the air filters until this is over because he's already gone through half of our reserves.
      As for the sanitary system, it is so overwhelmed that two days ago he vented the entire holding tank into space. From what I've seen on the monitor there is a new, oddly shaped, and off-colored comet of ice, and other stuff, now in a long slow orbit of the sun.

Entry continues the next day.
      I believe I have isolated the cause to some 'bake in space' bread dough that either wasn't entirely stable for its journey to us, or had some aberrant ingredient, or contaminate, that was slow to manifest its symptoms.
      One of the clues was that I only tried a couple of bites of the bread, as I don't eat a lot of carbohydrates. Baxter didn't eat any of it because he seldom eats with the crew. And Narda said she only 'nibbled a piece' because she's trying to keep her weight down. I had very mild symptoms that passed quickly, and the other two didn't have any to speak of.
      There were some that had several different servings of the bread, for two or three meals before the symptoms appeared, and then it was a couple of days until they began to recover.

      So far it seems that the symptoms take about a day to manifest, and then last until about two days after the last consumption of the bread. Which means with a couple of them, they've still got a ways to go.
      I've got several samples held back for full testing when the medical situation is less, interesting. Close log

      We went back and found his entry from after the crisis had passed, the editors.
Medical log, Doctor McCarthy, Argo Epic
      It was the bread. It had been contaminated by some liquid from the deep freeze where it had been chilled before being packaged for shipment out to us. The side effects of ingesting the coolant was a carbon copy of what we experienced. And the quantity consumed confirmed the line from the old doctor "it's the dose that makes the poison".
      Fortunately, other than being digestively unpopular, there was no long term side effects and in a few days everybody was back to normal.
Close log

      The samples that were sent back to Earth confirmed his test result.
      And the entire process of sending certain food items to the crew was completely redone from the farm to the ship.

Doctor Dira De La Rosa, CMO, First Mission
      I am not a vegan, and not entirely a vegetarian. I do eat some meat, even red meat, one reason is that by doing that I maintain my proper intake of naturally occurring iron, and it is much better to get your protein from a natural source than from a supplement.
      But even with the variance available from the meals supplied on the Argo the fact that I made an effort to avoid over processed or blended meats restricted my available choices. I never ate anything the provisioning contractors that supplied the Argo labeled 'sausage'. Nor did I even try the fake crab meat entrees once I read the list of ingredients that barely contained any crab at all, and did not specify what part of which sort of crab it did contain.
      I will mention here that it wasn't long when the abundance of those meals declined significantly as there was only a one member of the crew that requested them. When a couple of them arrived, somebody put Baxter's name (the Chief Engineer) on them and they were his.
      With a reasonable exercise program, and my self imposed diet I did not gain or lose any significant muscle mass during our voyage.

.... and now BOOZE.
      Everybody who has heard anything about the Argo Epic has probably heard about the infamous still that Engineer Baxter used to make what we will simply call 'starshine', as versus 'moonshine', liquor. What they may not know is how he had constructed it, with some assistance from some of the original technicians and engineers that assembled the Argo in orbit.
      All of the parts were approved for use aboard the ship, although none of them were originally intended to be used to make his infamous alcoholic brew. He had a set of canisters that were part of the backup for the liquid waste processing system which had been redirected to main engineering and then installed and used to ferment the mash which he then distilled in a pressure vessel that had originally been intended to hold the reserve fuel mixture for the outside work units that assisted in the construction of the ship.
      The filters and the condensing coil was from the fresh water system, as were the containers he collected the final product in.
      The only thing that was really unaccounted for on the equipment manifest was the heating unit that boiled the fermented mash to extract the alcohol. Somehow, Baxter had acquired and transported to the ship an infrared heating unit that could maintain his container at just below the boiling point of water for an extended period of time with very little maintenance. It worked, and worked well.
      We found the test results where he sent an early sample to the various science labs on the ship, including medical, for a bit of off the record testing, and that it was all drinkable ethanol, up to seventy percent (140 proof) on most tests, with very little other type of alcohol or contaminants present, and was perfectly safe, no matter what it tasted like in its raw form. And, as no other adult beverage was available, it was what they had.
      Baxter spent some time perfecting the ingredients that he added to his brew, including honey, and later even added some of the leaves from the various herbs in the botany pod in an effort to turn it into something leaning toward the flavor of gin. By all accounts, his best received brew was simply a slightly watered down version of the unflavored product. And even then, the majority of the crew that partook of his elixir added it to everything from reconstituted fruit juice to coffee. On the second mission, the commander was known to fortify certain Portuguese wines even further with a generous splash of 'starshine'. And there are rumors that on the third mission, somebody spent considerable effort and ingenuity to create "space gin ice pops" by putting a flavored concoction with it in a mold and then put it outside for a time, when they brought them in, they had a frozen treat that was sweet, and powerful.

      Both the chief engineers from the second and third mission fired up the still and got it to work. And the reports from their crews are somewhat mixed as to whether or not the quality of its product ever improved.
      And that is in spite of a limited amount of "real" commercially produced liquor being supplied to the ship with the understanding that it would only be consumed off duty and in responsible and limited quantity. As it turned out, some crew members performed their duties more enthusiastically when they had a sip, or three, during their lunch break. Although every time any of them were asked about it, they'd shake their head and say something about they were as sober as the ground crew.
      As we'll see in the following section, the sobriety of some of the ground crew is suspect as well.

More of the infamous Fourth Grader Questions
      Earlier we mentioned one of the infamous fourth grade questions that was answered by Engineer Kipruto from Kenya. Now we'll look at a few others that had initial, and sometimes spontaneous answers that were rejected by the various mission commanders, or space agencies, and had to be either rewritten or totally redone, in a few cases, by another crew member.

      We believe this original question was from a fourth grade class in Australia, however, that information was somewhat muddled in the resulting live exchange between the ASA headquarters in Adelaide and their counterparts in Europe, who were directly in contact with the crew for the matter, and then with input from other agencies who monitor the open ground loop text relay.
      The first response we found was in reference to the answer from a crewmate from the third mission.

ASA, A, SA: We understand that there is no natural rotation to the water in the commode basin on the Agro in the central passage, but there are fixtures in the lab ring which do have a natural preference. Perhaps that could be addressed for the student's question.

ESA, B, B: We will relay your suggestion to Commander Pedersen, she can ask them to do it again, or maybe get somebody else.

ASA, A, SA: All somebody on the AE would have to do is to fill a sink up in the botany pod and then pull the stopper and see which way it drains. And video it. That'll answer them, and it'll be fun to see.

ESA, B, B: We'll relay that recommendation as a test procedure to the commander as well.

ASA, A, SA: I'm just saying how easy it would be to check.

ESA, B, B: Understood Adelaide.

NASA, H, TX: We'll check on the qualifications of the current crew to see if any of them have training on the sink in the botany pod.

JAXA, O, J: We can relay the specifics on that particular sink if they are missing on the ship.

ESA, B, B: We are grateful for the assistance but we have the matter well in hand.

ISRO, Beng: If needed, we believe one of the cleaning robots has an appendage that can operate the supply valve on the sink. If the crew can manage the drain stopper it could fill the basin with water on command.

RFKA, M, R: There is a Cosmonaut on board with extensive experience in all manner of sinks.

ESA, B.B: Thank you all again, if the Argo needs any further assistance they will send notice.

      It is worth mentioning that while the ground loop is recorded, it is not accessible by the public or the press. And that is most definitely a good thing.
      In the end, the requested test was conducted several times in the various lab pods with plumbing in them, and the results were inconclusive. Without outside influence, the draining water in the sink would rotate, or not, apparently at random, solely under the influence of the 'artificial gravity' from the rotation of the lab ring.

      There was some consternation on board the ship during the first mission when Baxter, the chief engineer wrote an answer to a fourth grader that he didn't have any off duty hours so he had to sleep, drink his homemade liquor, and fornicate, while on duty.
      That answer was flatly rejected by Mission Commander Merrick, so Baxter retreated to his engineering domain and refused to cooperate further. The Commander then forged his name to a quite good reply that received considerable airplay, which was then relayed back to the Argo and its chief engineer, who then either had to explain the fakery, and why it was done, or play along with the knowledge that in a few news cycles it would be forgotten.
      This is the commander's answer to the question of "What does the Chief Engineer do during his time off duty?"

Chief Engineer Baxter, Argo Epic
      I have a full duty shift that is usually scheduled for eight hours, but sometimes, if there is a serious matter that needs to be addressed, or a critical experiment that needs engineering support, I will work a double, or even a triple shift. But then I will get some time off. Usually, when I do get an off duty period the first thing I do is get a good meal in the recreation pod, then I'll take a long shower, and get several hours of sleep. After that there are a wide range of recreational opportunities on the Argo, games to play, exercise machines to use, and even movies to watch. But sometimes all I do is to go to one of the pods with the large exterior windows and watch space, and its endless collection of stars, go by. And then it is time to go back on active duty maintaining the essential systems of the Argo Epic.

      Baxter, to his credit, when asked later about 'his answer', even added that he'd gotten quite good at picking out the various planets from the vast expanse outside.
      Later, on Earth, Baxter admitted that he'd had several rough shifts in a row when he'd sent his first answer, and, maybe, had a bit more of his 'starshine' liquor than he had realized when he wrote it. But he never admitted to the Commander's forgery.

The Great Space Vacuum Cleaner
      Not only did the Third Mission Crew capture the one small asteroid for study that their mission brief called for. They captured four, of three different types, including some of those composed of "metallic glass" that had caused so much damage to the Argo on its first mission. And, as was said by some parts the crew, 'a bucket and a half of asteroid dust' with their 'space vacuum cleaner'.
      We'll let them tell us the rest of the story.

Science log supplement by Commander Pedersen, third mission of Argo Epic
      Our primary assignment was to capture at least one small asteroid from the inner edge of the innermost band of the Asteroid Field. Thanks to the excellent scans of the Field by the first Argo Mission, we had an idea of what we were looking for and where to find them. So once we were on our way we plotted our best course and started working on the various apparatus that we'd need to adapt the Mars Return system, which was an adaptation of the Venus Probe capture system, to now capture an asteroid.
      And then I heard a rumor that Doctor Turnbul was working on an invention that, at first brush, sounded so ridiculous that at I thought it should have been Ken's idea. But no, she said that it had come to her while she was waiting for one of the cleaning drones to work through her lab when she had released a bit of printer toner while trying to change a cartridge.

Doctor Melrita Turnbul, Interplanetary Dynamics:
      I was going to print out a 'cheat sheet' of the interference lines in the visible light spectrum and other sensor returns when my lab printer refused to cooperate. But I got the changing sequence out of order, and so I had the empty cartridge still in hand when I was supposed to have already removed and secured the now full waste cartridge, and I ended up with a cloud of toner floating in the low gravity of my lab amidships where the artificial gravity was less. Instead of waiting for it to settle and then have a mess to clean up I went and hijacked a cleaning drone and set it to vacuuming up the toner.

      Then I remembered that one of the original mission's observations was how much dust was in the Field. That while a lot of it was dispersed throughout the region, there were pockets where it was almost a haboob.
      If I could use a drone vacuum to suck up a cloud in my lab, why couldn't the Argo use a similar arrangement, without the air of course, to 'suck up' some asteroid dust with magnetic fields and direct it into a container?
      The first thing I did was to grab the cleaning drone and look at how it directed the thrust from half its rotors into a series of electrified baffles and filters so it could fly while cleaning in everything from zero G and low gravity, like the lab, all the way out to the near 1 G in the ring, and pick up even the smallest contaminants while flying. For the Argo to capture some uncooperative asteroid debris we could use a similar arrangement and direct it through a series of curves to slow it and then contain it in with an electrical field in something that we could lock and secure without contaminating it with our air.
      While I am a planetary scientist, I'm not an engineer, I used the autocad in the recreation pod to draw it out. Then I talked to the engineers, and then we started digging through the spare parts cargo pod to see what we could find.

Third Officer Ken
      I knew the job of third officer had grown on me when I saw somebody doing something that looked like things I had actually done on the monitor, namely, try to maneuver a pile of junk held together with bungee cords, and I went down to the docking ring and went through the whole thing about how 'weight-less doesn't mean mass-less' and if one of the cords had come loose, the crewman trying to guide the bundle would have been in real trouble.
      I was told later that that was probably the high point of irony for the entire history of the Argo. Me, The Stowaway, now explaining to a mission scientist how badly things could go if she didn't follow the recommendations for moving bulk cargo.
      Then Doctor Turnbul told me what they were getting the stuff for, and it sounded fascinating so I offered to help as I had had a lot of experience adapting the power supplies for the robots to do just about anything.

Commander Pedersen
      The problem was that there is no air in space to make the vacuum work, but, we knew that the dust would respond to a charged grid, either being attracted or repelled by it. Which really didn't matter, as long as the material ended up in our containment boxes.
      I think almost everybody on the ship, as well as much of the ground staff offered ideas and opinions on the matter, but we got a prototype built anyway. I personally verified that one of the metal screens we had in it was electrically charged. Which resulted in my first visit to medical because of an on duty injury.
      I am also here to report that electrical burns in space are just as painful as they are on Earth, as I have now experienced both.
      From then on, the testing of the charge of any portion of the device was done with insulated gloves and a probe wired to one of the meters.

Doctor Turnbul:
      It took a full day to get our contraption into an airlock and assembled so the outside robots could deploy it on a docking arm. And we had no idea if it would work or not.
      We had detected a likely looking cloud of dust not far ahead of the ship, and we were determined to maneuver the Argo so the docking arm could sweep our collector through it.
      Well, the Commander made sure the rest of the ship was at minimal risk while Ken pushed the docking arm to its full extension and I ran the device at full power.
      It took almost an hour for the ship to pass the cloud, and our collector went through what we judged was the thickest and most dense section.
      Then I shut it down and closed the collection boxes. Then we had to maneuver it back into the airlock.
      We could tell just from the way the robots were moving it that it was now a lot more massive than it had been.
      But we were in for a shock when we emptied the boxes into secure storage containers. We needed more containers.
      The collection was a massive success. And we used it two more times before the components had taken so much damage from their collisions with the dust and rocks to be used any more. In fact, one of the battery packs had a hole in it with the bullet-like natural glass meteoroid still embedded in it.

From the editors:
      The initial discoveries on the ship of what sort of materials were to be found in the asteroid field amazed and astounded everybody on the ship, and on Earth, including exotic minerals that are called "Rare Earths" on this planet. It had been theorized that organic material would be found, and it was, what was amazing was the amount and different types of organic material that was found. And then as the material continues to be analyzed on Earth, even all these years later, new compounds are discovered, including some that were thought to be exclusive to Earth.

"I wake up all confuzzled"
      During one of the interview sessions of the Third Crew a student editor from the campus newspaper at a small college in the US asked the crew if they ever forgot they were on the Argo. The resulting answers were so amazing, and in many cases so humorous that over the next several months whenever anybody from the first two crews, or those that had served on the Terra Maru were asked the same thing. Here we will run some of the better answers, and a few of the other sort.
      First, one of the best answers from the original interview.

Doctor Chow, Assistant Medical Officer, Argo Epic, third mission:
      "Oh yes. It seems like a couple of times a week I'll dream that I am someplace else, and wake up all confuzzled. Just like the other night, I dreamed I was back at our basic training wilderness camp. And that I was there, dreaming about making the space mission, and then I woke up, and thought I was there, and this was a dream. Except I had fallen asleep in the medical bay on one of the bunks there because I had been watching an experiment, so when I woke up, I had no idea where I was, and tried to figure out which camp building I was in. I even got out of the bunk thinking the hatchway to the ring was the door to the showers in the bunkhouse at the camp. When I stepped into the ring, it scared me and I actually screamed.
      "It seemed like half the crew heard me and either came to check on me or called command and reported an emergency. They had been monitoring the VOX on Earth and sent an alert out to all stations that there was an incident on the ship.
      "After that, I made sure I slept in my quarters."

Assistant Engineer Kipruto, Third Mission
      "With me, I'd been dreaming about being on the mission for about three years, and now that I'm here.... I still dream that I'm on the mission. I remember not long ago I spent all night dreaming that I was cleaning the filters in the air handler, and then when I woke up, I thought it was done. Just to find out that that was what I was scheduled to do. So it was like I did it twice. I'd rather dream about surfing at Bell's Beach (Victoria, Australia), or maybe out hunting at my uncle's game ranch near our home village. But no. I dream I'm here on the ship."

Third Mission Commander Madelyn Pedersen, Denmark,
      "I've done that once since we've been out here on our own. It wasn't long after the Terra had left to return to Earth, I had been working double shifts while we got going and were on course out to the Asteroid Belt, and I knew I needed a break. So I made sure everybody was up to speed, including my new third officer, and I went down to an little used lab pod amidships that had become something of a private rec room, and locked myself in, and turned up some music that I like, and had myself a mini vacation.
      "Well, evidently I had indulged in a bit more of the Argo's Engineering Elixir because I had a very vivid dream that I was in trouble at school because I had gone streaking with a group of girls from my dorm. I won't comment on whether or not that incident actually happened, but I will say that we talked about it a lot. But when I woke up, all I could see was the stars outside and there's just enough false gravity in the pod to keep you in the chair. So for some reason I thought I was someplace else. So I reached for my telephone to call my friend Shirles to come get me.
      "In any case, my hand knew where it was, and it activated the com panel, and O'Driscoll answered in command. I was confused for a moment, but then I asked if there was an open channel to Earth available. He said there were a couple of them, and I asked him to put me through to the ESA and I'd like to make a personal call to somebody once it was established.
      "It took some doing, but I did end up talking to Shirles, and she laughed about my wanting her to come get me. We had a good chat, and at the end of my day off, I was ready for whatever the Asteroid Field had in wait for us."

Third Officer Bakker, third mission:

Editor's Statement: First we must say that the surgery she had on the Argo Epic to reduce the pressure on her spinal cord from the injury was an unqualified success, and only needed minor follow-up type procedures on Earth, which she would have had to have if her surgery were done in London or Los Angeles instead of halfway to Mars. She made a full and complete recovery, and is a walking and talking example of the best of space medicine, and most of that walking and talking is still done to packed convention audiences who give her a standing ovation.

      "It was, and is, a nightmare that I still have. The accident after the engine explosion plays in my mind. I'm out on the EVA where we're assessing the damage and, it happens. Sometimes it is the same, and I can feel my back go out while I'm trying to move the destroyed engine housing so the engineers can see the internal damage, and sometimes something else happens and my suit rips, or a piece of metal breaks off and smashes my helmet's visor, or something explodes and tosses me out into space. Anyway, it's like my subconscious can't deal with what happened and is wanting something worse to have happened, or maybe it is showing me that what did happen was for the best, and I still made the trip out there and back, or maybe it is something else.
      "It wasn't so vivid while I was on the Argo or the Terra coming back, but now, I'll wake up and feel the space suit around me and even though I'm in bed, I still feel weightless and I'm almost afraid to open my eyes because I think I'll see the jagged broken end of a huge engine stay about to crash into my visor.
      "I'll wake up sweating, and sometimes screaming.
      "My boyfriend had gotten used to it, but I'm not sure our neighbors have."

Narda, first mission. "Everybody knows me as Narda from the First Mission, so call me that and they'll know who I am."
      "It wasn't just in dreams that I'd forget I was on the mission. I'd be working on some of the orbital interactions that we were seeing on the outer moons of Jupiter or something, and forget where I was, and think I had to go to a faculty meeting or something, and look up and totally not know that I was on the Argo.
      "One time I'd been sitting in the rec pod watching one of those movies that they sent up and it got to a dull part, I stood up and was going to go to the kitchen in my apartment and get a snack, let me tell you that it was the biggest shock of my life to turn around and see the rec room and the stars outside and realize where I was.
      "That was worse than a dream, because I always slept in my bunk, and there was no problem knowing where I was when I woke up in there."

Ken, (his claims of being the most space-traveled human in history has been verified- the editors):
      "I spent more time sleeping in the old storage compartment on the Argo than I had anywhere else in my life. When I was a kid, we moved twice, so I had three different rooms growing up. Then I was only in the apartment for a couple of years, and then, I spent all that time on the Argo, and I kept my same quarters from the day I got up there, to when the ship came back at the end of the third mission to be decommissioned.
      "I mentioned in my original personal logs how I'd wake up and think I was in the apartment or somewhere, but now, I'm in an apartment and I wake up and think I'm on the ship. It happens most often when I'm in a hotel in London or even back in America and I'm over tired and trying to get some sleep for another long day and I wake up in the middle of the night.
      "It's even worse when my phone or computer is beeping at me about a message. I'll think it's a call from Command or Engineering and something has happened and I need to go see what I can do. There's even been times when I start to panic because I can't find the com panel to see what they want. Then I wake up enough to realize where I am.
      "The problem is that when it happens when I'm traveling, I have trouble going back to sleep."

a special look at Doctor Lorraine Latour from the Second Mission
From the European editor for this collection:
      One of the items that has come up continually since the crew of the Second Mission returned, and indeed came up in this assembly of otherwise unpublished or unreleased accounts from various aspects of the four missions, was the perceived vanity of Doctor Latour.
      She had even commented in her official logs about how she refused to wear the designated uniform for most of her video links to Earth, and even wore heels on most occasions even though on the ship they were a hazard to herself and the on board equipment.

Doctor Lorraine Latour in a long format interview for a European program.
      "Vanity? Why is it that any woman that is worth looking at is considered vain in some quarters? I know I am prettier than the average female scientist, and I've been told that I am the most beautiful woman to have ever flown a space mission, but I take it as a compliment and as recognition of the effort that I put into maintaining my appearance.
      "The first thing I do is to eat right. Even on the mission, even before the mission, I didn't consume the masses of junk food that I saw others indulging in. Consider this, the wife of one of the professors in my office complex at the University had won competitions against professional pastry chefs for making cheesecakes from some of the softer Swiss cheeses. He would bring in her practice items to our dining room. I would take one corner of one piece to taste and tell him my opinion of her effort. Others would all but fight for a full slice, or even more. I took care of myself, then, and on the ship, and still now that we are back on Earth.
      "I used the exercise equipment on the Argo. I didn't publicize it, nor did I promote it, but I did. I also walked laps in the ring. Even on the Terra Maru on the way home, I used the fitness device they had there. I didn't do it to build unfeminine muscle, but to maintain my figure and appearance as a women. And I believe it worked. And it still works."

In the interview, she was asked about her wardrobe on the ship.
      "I am conscious about what I wear, and how I look in what I wear. Is that wrong in some way? Does that make me conceited? I know what looks good on me, and also, what I look good in. What colors I can wear well, what styles. And trust me, those crew jumpsuits and duty uniforms were neither. I also am aware of how a woman that presents herself at her best is thought of, and I have had science editors of major publications accuse me of being nothing more than eye candy and not having valid scientific credentials, then I bring an edge to my voice, which I am fully capable of doing, and ask them if they read the report on the time differential experiment we did with the probe that we launched into the sun. Most of them haven't, but if they say something about it, I ask them what they would like to ask me about the interpretation of the results of the combination of angular velocity relative to the general motion of the solar system and just plain high speed to the passage of time as recorded by the on board devices compared to time both on the ship, and on Earth which we used as the control. I've only had one engage in a rather well thought out debate with me where he stated that time was a constant and what we were measuring was variables within the testing apparatus caused by the local conditions not changes in time itself. Which I disagreed with, but I could see his point.
      "Some of the other males would begin to act like misbehaving children and then apologize. The worst ones are the women, some of them are just flat out jealous of me, and come in as catty as any you've seen. One even asked me if I was going to pose for a 'men's magazine' now that my space career was over. I turned it around and asked if she was once her TV career was over. Then I found out later, that she already had. The other worst one was a European journalist who I was told was homosexual, you know, gay, but he spent the preliminary part of the interview actually leering at me and making comments that led me to believe that he was looking for a date. I stopped it and said that I'd been told he was gay, and he said that with certain women, he was 'bi', I said that I was only interested in men that were only interested in women, and he got offended and walked out. Because of that the network he had been working for fired him."
      "It was incidents like that that masked what some people, and not just leering young men, wanted to know about, which was sex on the ship."
In the video, when she said that her smile turned almost wicked and her eyes sparkled. We checked another interview she gave where the topic was broached, and her reaction was almost identical.
      "I always say that it happened, but it happened less than you'd expect. And there were times when it didn't seem to happen at all, and then this one and that one would have a fling, and word would get around, and there'd be more 'flinging' for awhile, then it would die down. And that I know there was more physical intimacy of all flavors at a private co-ed university where the staff and the students were supposed to have signed an agreement of chastity. I know they did, because since we've been back I spent some time there as a visiting scholar and let me tell you, compared to a long weekend in the faculty apartments, the Argo was a boring holiday at your grandmother's."

Then she was asked about how she had managed to maintain both her extremely glamorous persona and be one of the top theoretical physicists in the world.
      "I work at both every day. Remember when I said I walked laps in the ring on the Argo? When I did them, I would have lectures or panel discussions by others in my field playing on my headset. Even if their topic wasn't directly about what I was working on, sometimes it would give me ideas about what we were doing. Or I'd have the computer reading a published paper by one of my colleagues, even if I thought their work was... marginal, as I'm sure they thought my work was, I still wanted to know about it. And often it would give me an idea, and I'd stop at a terminal and send myself a message about something I wanted to check out or look up later. Sometimes it would pan out, and sometimes it wouldn't.
      "And I still do that. When I'm on the treadmill in my apartment, I have on scientific reports instead of boom boom music. When I walk along the lake, the same thing. The only place I go that has music is the gym where I do my weights. I've asked them to let me run that science show from the BBC, but they said no."

Then they thanked her for being patient and a very good sport for all this and then they asked her if there was anything she wanted to add.
      "Just this. If you want to go into science, go into science. It doesn't matter what you look like, or what color your skin is, or even who you sleep with. Go into science, whatever field you wish to try, or maybe even you might switch fields, I spent two years as a student studying medical technology before I switched. I know someone who had been an oceanic plant biologist who got out of it and began studying stellar dynamics.
      "Let your interests and abilities take you as far as you can go. And even if you aren't a great theorists, maybe you'll be the best lab technician your university has ever seen. People that do that are needed as well, and they are needed in industry as well as in schools. And don't get me wrong, you will be judged by what you look like and how you present yourself, as I am still, but in the end, it is your scientific work that will carry the day. If you do good science, they'll have to take you seriously, or it will come back and make them look bad when you succeed elsewhere."

Captain Merrick, from before the first mission launched:
      Deep in the archives of the Johnson Space Center's history office we found something from while the Argo Epic was being assembled in orbit.
      Captain Merrick had just been named Mission Commander, and he attended a live test of the maneuvering thrusters that would bring cargo pods into docking range with the ship at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The new commander was welcomed to the center with great fanfare, then they all drove out to the smaller E test stand where the thrusters were mounted on a portable rack for controlled firing as if they were moving a pod with a mass of a couple of tons.

      Captain Merrick related the incident to the oral history project, which was then promptly buried it in the archive. and we were lucky to find it

      "Everybody was standing in the viewing room across the canal from the test platform, and one of the tech guys was explaining the sequential firing arrangement to minimize the stress on the pod as the computer aligned it with the Argo's docking ports. Then the test coordinator announced that the countdown was commencing and in a moment the computer would run the simulation, moving the wheeled contraption with its simulated pod docking port first to one side, then rotate it slightly and then move it forward to model docking port with a control arm that was the target.
      "We were all silent as the coordinator continued the play by play commentary as the countdown went to all zeros and then started counting up. And, as advertised, we could see on the video monitor and live across the canal as the first series of small rocket motors fired and the rack moved slightly to the left, and then it moved a little more. Then the coordinator announced that the computer would check its position with the target and if needed, it would fire the thrusters again, and if not, it will rotate it.
      "I was looking across the water and saw the puff of exhaust from one of the units, then there was a giant puff of smoke and ball of fire consumed the top of the wheeled rack which sent the entire thing flying toward the simulated docking port with enough force to bend the port backwards and throw the robotic arm off the test platform and into the water.
      "The coordinator stopped in mid word and paused for a second. Then he said 'it appears we've had a somewhat energetic failure.'"
      On the tape, Captain Merrick smiled and laughed.
      "Then without breaking stride he announced the end of the test. One of the wheels had been blasted off the corner of the platform and was still rolling around in circles on the video monitor, once it had spiraled in and then oscillated itself to where it wanted to be one of the NASA administrators looked at me and said that one of the casinos over on the coast had the best buffet he'd ever seen, 'then tomorrow,' he said 'we'll come back and let them explain what this would have done to your ship.' I said I had a good idea what it would have done to the ship and nodded to the docking arm sticking out of the water.
      "A week later we were all back for another test. That went point by point as advertised, and then they even ran it in reverse to pull the simulated cargo pod away from the docking port and nothing exploded. It was a lot less exciting to be sure. But they did convince me that they not only understood why the first one failed, they had sorted the problem out and fixed the failed piece of hardware, a valve that opened the wrong way at the wrong time, and it would never happen again."

      The tape was still running, then the Captain added something, "Oh, yeah, and the buffet at the casino was excellent, as was the woman in the bar that played keyboard and sang. As far as I could tell, she knew every country song ever written and almost every rock and roll hit there ever was."

There's another series of comments and remarks that were never published, but the editorial staff found fascinating. We'll call them "the Smell of Earth".

We lead with a comment from one of the more colorful members of the first crew:
Personal Log, Third Officer and Mission Specialist, Livia Tremblay Cote, l'Agence Spatiale Canadienne
      "I discovered it by accident, and then because I can't keep a secret, it became a thing. Every time a pressurized cargo pod came in whoever wasn't sound asleep would want to be there when we opened it to smell it.
      "Sometimes it smelled wonderful. Especially if it was launched from South America, then it would smell like a rain forest. It didn't matter that it had been sealed up and in space, and kept barely above freezing for a year, it still smelled like the outdoors, and we loved it.
      "But sometimes, the pod would stink, and we'd have to run out and vent it to space and then re-pressurize it.
      "One time, we all got called down and played a game of trying to guess who had been the last one in the pod before it was launched from California because all you could smell inside the thing was some really strong perfume that reminded me of something some of my grandmother's friends wore to church. Somebody called Vandenberg and we found out that the loadmaster for the pod was a lady general that was on her last assignment before retirement. Instead of making fun of her perfume, we made a video especially for her and sent it to the base to thank her for her service."

Editor's note: evidently everybody's grandmother had friends that wore perfume like that.

Dr. Svetlana Kambov, Second Mission, Ship's Systems.
      "Of course we had all heard about how some of the crew from the first mission would all race to the docking ring when a pod came in that had air from Earth in it. And to tell you the truth, when we were in training we thought that was a joke they were trying to pull on us rookies. We were on our way to Venus when a pod came in that had been launched from Russia, and when they opened it they said you could smell Russia in the pod. I remember what I heard over the com, 'it smells like vodka and that cabbage and sausage and onion dish.' So we all went and checked it out, and some of us could detect at least one cigar in it as well. But after that, if one came in with atmospheric pressure in it, and we weren't busy, we'd go smell home in the cargo pod."

From an interview with Aeron O'Driscoll, Second Officer of the Third Mission
Interviewer: So, could you really smell Earth in the cargo pods?
Second Officer Aeron O'Driscoll, Third Mission of the Argo Epic: Usually. If there was air in it that is. If it had leaked into space, or was depressurized before launch, there wasn't anything to smell. But if it had been sealed up outside or something. Or if the loading crew in Korea had had kimchi for lunch, we could smell it. And sometimes it wasn't pleasant.
Interviewer: It's been said that the ones launched from French Guiana smelled like the rain forest. Did you get any of them. O'Driscoll: Yes. Yes we did, several of them. And one time there were a couple of dead tree frogs in it to prove it had been sealed up down there.
Interviewer: Not counting the dead frogs, what was the worst of them?
O'Driscoll: Well. OK. I remember one. But there were others, some just smelled stale, or like something inside had leaked. But there was one in particular that the heater had gone bad in, and the inside of the pod had gotten way too hot for way too long, and when we opened it up, it gagged us.
Interviewer: Was the air toxic?
O'Driscoll: Probably, but we didn't let it stick around long enough to hurt us. We closed it up and bled it out.
Interviewer: You let all the bad air go into space.
O'Driscoll: Yes. There's an emergency valve that will let everything in a pod vent directly into the void. It's there in case something inside is on fire or there's a chemical leak or whatever, it protects the ship. Other than for something that really stank like that, I don't think it ever got used for what it was intended for. It'd depressurize the pod in less than a minute.
Interviewer: Did you ever find anything besides dead frogs that wasn't supposed to be in a pod?
O'Driscoll: Oh yeah. That happened on every mission, and on almost every pod. There'd be joke items, and newspapers from wherever the base was that launched the pod, and sometimes things like a surprise for a crew member from their family and things like that. Once in awhile an entire pod would arrive and almost nothing in it was on the declared manifest. But think about it, they were going to the trouble and expense to send out some replacement parts, or a new experiment or whatever, and a few more kilos of odds and ends aren't going to make that much difference. So, they'd send stuff. You've probably heard about the cases of canned food that we couldn't open until Ken remembered his multi tool.
Interviewer: Yes, that incident is a space legend. Can you tell us the most unusual item that made it out to the ship in a pod? O'Driscoll: Besides our third officer? (both laugh) Well, OK, I know, There was a case of cat food in little plastic bowls that was sent out.
Interviewer: Cat food? What did you do with it?
O'Driscoll: They fed some of it to the microbes in the lab. We found out after it had arrived that it had been purchased at the base commissary and was supposed to be sent to one of the workers in the office complex to take home, there was even a charge card receipt taped to the case. How it ended up on the cargo pod on its way out to the Argo is something they never did figure out.

Music and Space
From the editors:
      It has been mentioned in other forums how important music became to the crews of all three missions, and to those on the Terra Maru as well.
      One of the rumors that we spent some time confirming and then getting the facts about was a reported "Bad Music Contest" on board the Terra Maru on its return trip from the Argo to Earth. It took considerable effort on behalf of the editors to get to the bottom of it, but we did. And we'll tell you the 'winner' at the end of this section.
      On the Argo, the open mics on board the ship confirmed that there was usually music playing somewhere on the ship almost constantly on all three missions. From religious hymns of every faith that ever traveled on the ship to popular releases and everything in between. One reason was that there was a considerable music library loaded onto the entertainment server on board the ship for the first mission, and for the next two it was just added to. Its storage capacity was doubled for the second mission, and then for the third, they took two more memory units with them.
      Not only that, but there was a dedicated crew support team on Earth that spent the majority of their time trying to fulfill requests from those in space for everything that wasn't a 'science based' or 'ship systems' request, those had their own teams of specialists and technicians. So if a request for a list of all known organic compounds that had been found in meteorites came down, as it did when the second crew was analyzing the information from Knobby, the Near Earth Asteroid they discovered, the ground science team went to work world wide. The information was found, compiled, and transmitted on the primary high gain communications system. But later when a request came down from a crewman for a half forgotten song by Little Jimmy Dickens, it was the crew support team that went through hours of audio and video from Nashville until they identified the song, then it was transmitted on a side band to the ship. And then "I'm Little but I'm Loud" was added to the entertainment server, where it remained as the ship left our Solar System on its final journey.

      One of the most popular music location was the lab ring passage speakers to play music to run or jog to. The other location that played the most music was oddly enough, the command deck, where whoever was on duty would often run back to back videos on the largest monitor while the smaller side monitors were relaying information on the ship's systems, course, and engine status. There is a record of one of the command officers on the second mission playing recorded live concerts of a British rock band every shift for fifteen days straight because it kept some of the other crew off the command deck.
      Fortunately such incidents of personality conflict did get resolved before it went further than the Rolling Stones. But it is interesting to note that they were able to do it and not repeat a concert video more than once every three or four days. One of the members of the third crew did a calculation and came up with the estimate that if you told the server to play every single song in its database once, from top to bottom, with no repeats, and it ran nonstop, that it would play for something just over 40,000 minutes, or about 28 days. And that was not taking into account the numerous full concert audio or video recordings, which would add several more days to the total.
      Others had a list of their favorites and they'd have the system play from it at random into their lab while they were working. And then there were crew members that had a stream of a ground based radio station recorded and transmitted and then they'd have it start at the beginning of their shift and play through, some of them even included their hometown news or weather a the top of the hour, and if they started the recording at the right time, when the "News at Noon" came on, it would be their lunch break.

      What was determined by those returning to Earth on the Terra Maru to be the worst, or at least the "most annoying" song of all time, across all genres, bar none except official patriotic anthems?
      The song was a somewhat odd remake of the old classic, "Blueberry Hill" by a European cover band that had evidently never heard the original, and for whom English may have been their third or fourth language, but which had hit the charts and was played all over Europe for some time just before the Maru left on its mission.
      For this section the editors listened to the versions by both Fats Domino and Louis Armstrong and a select few others. Then we listened to, and watched, the newest remake of it. We have to agree with the ship's crew that, when compared to those classic renditions, this one well deserved the award from the crew. It is worth noting that we attempted to reach the European group that did the recording to ask them about their thoughts on the matter, only to find out that they had broken up not long after the album of covers had been released and could only find a three of the members that would talk to us.
      Two of them agreed with the vote by the ship's crew. The other said they didn't want to talk about it and they were trying to forget that portion of their music career.

And now, about that "alien ship encounter protocol".
      One of the questions the editorial board has been asked numerous times was did we really feel that there was a chance that the Argo Epic, or in its turn, the Terra Maru, would encounter an alien space vessel.
      Most of the editorial board would reply with some version of: "while it is unlikely, it is not beyond the realm of reasonable possibility, so it was better for the crew to be prepared if it did happen instead of one showing up and them not having any idea what to do. Which would probably end badly for our ship and crew."

      And so the infamous Alien Contact Protocol came into being, and was updated occasionally. As has been pointed out, the original idea of flashing the exterior lights was unworkable because the clearance markers and running lights weren't designed to 'blink', so they would have to be disconnected at the main service panel in engineering or at one of the secondary panels that fed the lab ring. Which was impractical.
      Other ideas included broadcasting a greeting and message of friendship in various Earth languages set to some soothing music. When reviewed later it was agreed that the recording was about the lamest thing ever recorded and was relegated to something other than the first response if an alien space cruiser was encountered.
      While each crew, including the Terra Maru, had a designated First Contact officer, it was eventually decided late in the second mission that if something like that did happen, whoever was on duty would be the one to decide how to proceed.
      The crew of the Terra are on the record of saying their ship was a "Big slow moving target that's painted pretty colors," because several of the individual components had been painted by their supplying nations with everything from cultural symbols to a scenic view of Tokyo Bay.
      The only 'alien craft' that was ever encountered was something that was briefly in the path of the returning Terra Maru. And it turned out to be of all too human origin. It was the Snoopy Lunar Ascent Module from the Apollo 10 Mission in 1969. Fortunately for the still crippled Maru, "Ol' Snoop" stayed on his course and was well off in the distance before they got any closer to it. But they did get some fantastic images of the oldest manned spacecraft still known to be flying.

      As the Third Officer on the third mission, Ken ended up being assigned to be the First Contact Officer. And as he was known to do, he took the duty seriously and reviewed the entire prescribed protocol and the various resources allocated to it, including the replacement Message of Friendship.
      "I'm sorry, but if the aliens heard that, they'd probably either shoot us down, or take off and report that the people of Earth aren't worth contacting," Ken put in his official log. "Instead of playing that, if I'm on duty, I'm going to simply call over to them and invite them to dock with us and we'll have a big dinner."
      On the whole, that would probably have been better received than the animated multi-ethnic person speaking what amounted to gibberish about the good intentions of our people toward all other intelligent life.

      For the ship's final mission. Ken did record several greetings, in his native language, and then some boffins got together and worked out what they hoped was a recognizable mathematical translation matrix for it. We'll never know if it worked or not.

Bad Tech Days
      Another question that comes up was what did the crews do when the technological equipment on board the ship acted like technological equipment on Earth is known to act. And none of this is about what happened on the Maru when two of its three engines failed.
      On the first mission there was the main computer server error when it didn't receive an update and took down the majority of the onboard systems. Fortunately the crew had several systems experts available, and they were able to restart the system, and basically lie to it about its update status. Then they did a total power down and restart.
      Some of those on the editorial board did not believe that they did the same thing the crew had done to the Command Module on Apollo 13, a total shut down and power disconnect. Then, after a cold soak for about an hour, then they began to reconnect everything and bring it all back on line. But instead of taking the Odyssey down while next to the moon and then bringing it back to life as they neared the earth, the Argo was between the orbit of Mars and the Asteroid Field, ten months from Earth. If the restart hadn't worked, and they weren't able to regain control of the ship, they wouldn't have been alive when the unpowered ship drifted into the field. Which would have resulted in its total destruction.

      Other equipment failures were minor and sporadic.
      There were cleaning robots that "ran amok" and began chasing people around the ship, or got fixated with a spot somewhere and tried to scrub their way through the deck.
      Then there was the old treadmill in the rec pod that everybody on the third mission thought was haunted because it would start going when there wasn't anybody in the pod, or the light would begin to flash and numbers would come on and it would record current the pulse rate and the kilometers per hour somebody was running, when it wasn't being used. It took awhile, but they finally figured out that its wireless monitoring system that was supposed to interface with a wrist module whoever was running was to wear was picking up a new device in the pod. It took somebody contacting the manufacturer to find out how to change the frequency and code that it used, then it was fine.

      There were also the problems on the second and third missions with solar storms. Two storms of similar intensity over a year apart. The Argo was able to weather the one while they were in orbit of Venus by using the planet's minimal magnetic field to induce a greater field around the ship by skimming the top of the atmosphere.
      The Venus storm was bad, but it could have been much worse.
      The storm while the Argo was docked with the Maru was less intense, but of a longer total duration, and the ships did not have a planet to hide near, so while there was less serious damage, the minor damage was more widespread. However, they also had the advantage of two full Argo crews and the crew of the Maru to diagnose and repair the damage.
      Another advantage they had during the second storm was that there was no hurry to get the ships repaired. They were not in a deteriorating orbit around Venus, there was no pressing scientific experiments that would be ruined by the delay. There were several supply pods already on their way to them with spare parts, food, and even what turned out to be some needed gag gifts and practical jokes.
      When it was built, the Argo was the most complicated mechanism ever constructed by man. And by some measures, the Terra Maru was the second most complicated in that while, unlike the various space stations that were larger than the Maru, they stayed in orbit, the Maru didn't. So to repair both the damage to the Maru's engines, and then to repair the damage caused by the storm, and install the prescribed upgrades and new systems on the Argo that had been sent out on the Maru was called a miracle in some circles. And, while it may not have been miraculous, it was remarkable, by any account.

      But even a year later the third crew of the Argo was still finding minor subsystems that had been damaged. One of them turned out to be one of the most unpopular recreational programs on the ship that had been installed when the Argo was built and had been the subject of some derision on the first mission and had been all but ignored on the second.
      The psychological training strategy game had been ingeniously designed to anticipate that players may not want to engage with it, and then the first crew just as ingeniously circumvented its proximity sensor with a double layer of hand towels. The second crew left the towels in place for most of their mission after they discovered just how annoying the game was. But after the ships separated and the Argo was on its way to the Asteroid Field somebody uncovered the thing, by accident as it turns out, and found out that the interface between the unit and the ship's informational systems had not been repaired, and the machine was now quite effectively insane. Which turned out to be more engaging and entertaining than the original 'game' had ever been.
      The damage was internal, to both the software framework as well as some of the independent unit's internal circuitry. But it still functioned, after a fashion.
      When one of the members of the crew got curious about the device after reading about its original purpose, they went to the rec pod and turned it on and started playing the strategy game. They got into the second round of five related questions when the game suddenly informed them that the third President of the USA was a Siberian Tiger. Then for the first question of the next round, it maintained that the Mississippi River was the largest city in France.
      Later they learned that Edgar Allen Poe was a Holy Roman Emperor. And every time the game was played it asked who the last Tzar of Russia was, except its 'correct' answers ranged from King Solomon to Edsel Ford, and then later it added Pat Nixon to the list.
      Several members of the crew and the originators of the program on Earth tried to diagnose the problem, and got nowhere. The diagnostics all said it was functioning just fine. But then after it just passed its own test, they'd start a session and learn that the giant sequoia trees in California were the range of mountains that ran down the middle of Italy. And the next question would insist that jellyfish used sonar to locate insects while flying in complete darkness.
      After the entertainment value of the errors wore off, the third crew recovered the unit with its towel and ignored it again.

      It wasn't until the final refit for the mission to another star that the problem was identified as microscopic fractures and shorts in the internal circuitry of the unit that had been caused by the static discharges from the second storm. What was unexpected was that it was the unit's own 'self healing' feature had made the attempt to reroute what functions it could that resulted in the entertaining answers it was coming up with.

We were asked to address this one specifically:
How close the third mission came to getting the plug pulled before launch.
      As we near the end of this special we feel that it is the right time to comment on the round of negative publicity that happened in the months before the third crew launched to board the Terra Maru for their trip out to the Argo Epic.
      There were comments from all quarters about how the mission's budget had skyrocketed and that it was not worth the expense to send the Maru out when the Argo could make the trip back to Earth in less time, and then the massive old ship could be decommissioned and turned into an orbital hotel and museum or something.
      The only problem was that the calls for the end to the Argo wasn't coming from anybody official in any of the space agencies or universities that were directly supporting the mission. If any of them were in favor of ending the program with the return of the second crew to earth in the Argo, they never went on the record saying so.
      Much later, as the final uncrewed mission was being put together, some of this editorial board came across internal memorandum from various officials from several countries that were sent back and forth. All of them marked "not for public release". And all were discussing the immediate termination of all future plans for the Argo, and the recalling of the ship and crew to return to earth as soon as possible.
      This matter was still being discussed as the Maru left to rendezvous with the Argo. And came to a head when the Maru found itself crippled and unable to complete its own mission without being rescued by the ship it was being sent out to resupply. There were recriminations and investigations and counter-statements and then it would all go around again, and again, until the Maru was back in Earth orbit and the people, and scientific material that was on board were safely on the surface. Then it slowly died away as the third mission produced spectacular results with their asteroid capturing work and the news that everything from organic and pre-biotic compounds to precious metals were in the dust and rocks between Mars and Jupiter. Which made commercial outfits take notice and begin designing robot miners to make the trip.
      And then one of the rock samples that had been returned revealed something totally unexpected, and caused a round of speculation that asteroid prospecting may indeed pay off in unexpected ways. Diamonds were discovered in a rock that showed signs of having been subjected to intense heat and pressure at time time in its life in space, and one of the diamond crystals was actually of sufficient size and quality that the words 'gem quality' were used to describe it.
      Now the 'Rare Earth' robot miners were being designed with an extra feature, not only would they look for metals and metallic compounds in small to medium sized asteroids, they're be searching for gemstones to be returned to Earth in canisters

Last one: "Will there ever be another Argo Epic?"
      All we can say is we hope is that the Human Race hasn't launched its last major space mission.
      Yes it took a lifetime for us to return to the moon, and then another lifetime to build and man the Argo. But in the mean time there were other space efforts that did contribute to the Argo Epic.
      And even the most stalwart 'space mission critic' can be forced to admit that what was learned about our star system, and also, what was learned about humanity, was, in the end, worth it.

      But "will there ever be another Argo?"
      No. The ship was a unique experiment that, by the time of its refitting for its final voyage to another star, was an antique by every measure. Not only could it never be replicated, we, as a species, shouldn't even try. Should we build a new ship, with greater capabilities, with a newer, more 'cost efficient' design? Yes, of course, and right now, there are working groups doing exactly that. Will anything ever be built? Well, there are those of us on the panel that remember when there were people who were "in the know" who said the Argo would never get beyond the ground test prototype stage.
      One of those prototypes is now in a museum not far from this office, with one of the models Ken had built in his bedroom next to it. It was built, it flew, and it became a legend worthy of its name:

The Argo Epic


One: The Mission of the ARGO EPIC
Two: The Two Planet Mission of the Argo Epic
Three:The Argo Epic - and the rescue of the Terra Maru
Four: The Final Mission of the Argo Epic

The Desk Fiction Collection

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