The Desk Fiction Collection

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©2019 Levite

The Two Planet Mission of the Argo Epic

NOTE: All Mission Logs Have Been Translated To English For This Edition.

      Joint mission statement begins:
      The Argo Epic has been retrofitted with advanced engines and life support equipment. The main computer and the majority of the secondary information systems have been updated to quantum standards. The mission specific scientific equipment has been updated or replaced. While Captain Merrick and the others of the original crew would certainly be able to recognize the command deck, they would find most of the command and control systems, and all of the primary monitoring systems are significantly different, and we'd hope, easier to use.
      The auto repair and self-sealing features of the ship have been improved as well.
      There have also been substantial changes to the docking ring and the cargo handling systems. Some of those changes include cargo delivery which has now been automated to allow larger units to be sent to the ship, then off loaded from the transport vehicle outside and then moved into the Argo through a new airlock.
      In short, while it isn't a brand new ship, it is everything but.

PART ONE: "Ticket to Venus"

Ken's Story:
"I don't know how I can explain why I did it. It was like, I had to...."
      From the earliest days I can remember in school. Whenever we had a science class that had anything to do with space, the teacher always talked about the Argo. I remember photos of the crew in the classroom, and we had a class project that used a big model of the ship, and I remember my report about the way the outside service robots kept the solar panels clean.
      I read all about the engineer and tried to hang a sleeping bag in my room like he had in the engineering section. Except my room on Earth had gravity in it, so it didn't work.
      It was the Argo that I did most of my school papers on when I had a choice about the subject. If it was a language class, I wrote about the different languages the crew members spoke and who did the translations for them when it needed to be done. If it were a social studies I wrote about the different cultures of the crew, or how the various mission control teams worked together. I even did a display board for a life and living class about the food on board.
      I had four scale models of the whole ship, one that was almost two meters long, and another of the command deck that came with two action figures, one that they said was the captain, and another that was supposed to be the chief engineer, but the uniform was wrong for Chief Engineer Baxter.
      For awhile I even kept track of how many cargo pods were attached to the ship when it was out on its arc beyond Jupiter, and changed them out on my model to keep it accurate.

      Then when they brought the ship back in from orbiting around the moon and began to refurbish it. I kept track of everything. I kept my second largest model in the original configuration, and made the changes to the largest one that were being made to the ship in space.
      I even worked on my model of the command deck. I absorbed the video special of the retrofitting of the environmental systems like it was the Sermon on the Mount.
      I was the only graduating senior in my class that understood the nitrogen scrubbing system in the Argo's life support apparatus and why it was so important.
      I walked onto the campus of the community college with a declared science major in applied aerospace technology.
      When I moved into the apartment with two other roommates, they couldn't believe that I had more Argo stuff than I did furniture. The largest model sat on a shelf in the living room of the place while the other one hung in the room I shared with Tony. My parents said they thought I'd outgrow my obsession with the ship and its missions.
      I didn't.

      When they announced the new US crew members to attend the training for the next mission, I was really disappointed that they didn't have an open recruitment process like they did for the first one in this country. They simply went out and recruited from the youngest ones of the original batch of applicants and chose from those who were still interested and eligible.
      I would have applied to join them in a heartbeat. But they never asked.
      I didn't think it was fair, several other countries recruited new applicants and began training them. The US didn't.

1. "This is the Continuing Mission of the Argo Epic"
      I have given considerable thought to how I would begin the official commander's log of the mission. I thought about when to begin it, how to open it, the tone I would use, and all of that.
      Then once we were on board and the ship was fully active and we were on our way to do our survey of Venus before returning to Earth for a brief respite and perhaps some crew replacements, then we would continue on to Mars where the Argo would become a permanent fixture in Martian orbit to be used as a space station and base for further exploration and, as was the plan, eventual colonization of the planet.
      That was my plan. It was a great plan.
      So goes the best laid plans of mice and mission commanders.
      I forgot all about it until we were a week from Earth and I realized I hadn't done it.

      For one, our leaving Earth orbit was almost TOO easy. There was a brief ceremony where I accepted the ship from the space station commander as fully manned and operational. Then they sealed the docking hatch and we simply let the ship's own momentum ease us away from the station. Then I ordered the engineer to bring the engines to one quarter power and take us to a higher orbit where we did one last system's check, we opened the protective shields over the command deck, and began to get the Argo to rotate to provide its famous artificial gravity.
      It only took a minute or so for the petals over the huge space windows to open, but the rotational thrusters needed some time to get the ship revolving around its long axis.
      With everything in order, or so we thought, I ordered the engines to one half and told the flight engineer at their station to set our course for the best approach to the planet Venus and bring the engines up to power.
      I had to pause for a moment. Never in my life would I have believed that I would have given such an order, but there it was.
      It took a couple of minutes, but then the overall sound of the ship changed and you could see the star field begin to move, then we were aimed at where Venus would be three months from now.

      One of the things I had vowed that I would do was a thorough inspection of the entire ship once we were both fully operational, fully crewed, and lastly, on our way.
      It's a big ship. It took a lot longer than I thought it would.
      One problem was that while I was very familiar with everybody on the crew, and with what their mission specialty and assignment was, now they were in their element and almost every one of them wanted to show me what they were doing While they were doing it For Real instead of in the simulator.
      So what was originally a three hour tour when I was first on the ship during the final stages of the refitting, was now well into its second day. I had stopped the tour for a few hours of sleep in my bunk and two meals of somewhat disappointing space rations because while I was the mission commander, my stomach had waited until we were moving to decide it did not like the combination of both no or low gravity and our food. But even as bad as I felt, I was in nowhere near as bad of shape as another member of our crew, and, in fact, after a small dose of the medication and a couple of trips to the head, and a clean uniform, I was pretty much over it and able to continue my duties.

      It was with some trepidation that I listened to both of my medical officers explain that the condition of my planetary scientist was worsening and they were not sure what was wrong with him, other than he was 'space sick'. They assured me that they would do everything they could for him, and even Doctor Kristoffersen himself assured me that he was just getting used to the low Gs and recycled air and he'd be fine in short order.
      Doctor Aziz, my chief medical officer, looked at me and shook her head slightly.
      As I was standing there, the planet specialist seemed to be fighting to stay focused and coherent.
      "I know you're all taking the best possible care of him. Thank you."

      After that I listened Biological Environmental Specialist Adebayo tell me about how he was going to deploy atmospheric sampling drones into that toxic soup that passes for air on Venus looking for, of all things airborne microscopic life.
      Then I took a break and spent some time by myself checking out the new lab pod that had been installed amidships.
      The new pod was one of the quietest places on the ship because when they removed the damaged one and mounted this one to the hull, they used a coupling made of advanced materials to isolate it from the rest of the ship in every way possible. The only thing it shared with the ship was the air that circulated through when the connecting hatch was open. And if you shut that door, you could even have it disconnect from the ships power so it was effectively its own self contained environment.
      The reason for that was so that several sensitive experiments could be run with the absolute minimal interference from outside.
      I decided then and there that during the mission, when the pod wasn't in other use, that it would become the Commander's retreat.
      It was so quiet that I even fell asleep for a time on that first visit. Just hanging there in the low gravity and the quiet watching the stars go by is the best tonic ever for both a stress related headache and an upset stomach.

      Later I emerged, checked the command systems for any messages that I may have missed, then continued my tour back to the docking ring. The last area that I had yet to inspect.

      Or, again, so I thought.

      I did not know that there was one crew member who had conceived and implemented an absolutely ingenious plan to become the most famous stowaway in the history of humankind.

Ken's Story

      "It wasn't that I wanted to be famous. Or that I wanted to leave home. I just wanted to be on the ship. And I knew I could do it."

      There was only one way to get on board without going through the astronaut or cosmonaut training. Most of the supplies were being ferried up on supply rockets from places like Vandenberg or Canaveral in the US, or from the Russian Vostochny base, or the old space facility in Kazakhstan, or even from Guiana Space Port in South America. But there were the occasional launches from Wallops Island in Virginia, which was pretty much in my back yard compared to the others.
      I'd been to Wallops dozens of times over the years. We'd even been taken on a tour of the launch facilities a couple of times with school groups. For one of my reports I'd gotten the topographical maps of the island they use for the actual launches.
      I studied the maps and photos of the base. And went through every bit of information about the cargo containers that were being sent up to the ship that I could find, and the idea just happened.
      I knew I could do it, the only question was when.
      The idea that I wouldn't make it really never occurred to me. I knew I could do it, and I knew I would do it.
      I even picked out the spot just before the causeway where I could park my car and nobody would notice it for awhile.

      With that in mind I began assembling supplies that I could carry, and that would be useful in the time I'd be on board the supply ship and then on the Argo itself, hopefully, well after they had left Earth orbit and when I either came out of hiding or was discovered.

2. "Well, I'm the chief medical officer of the Argo."
      My name is Doctor Ranya Aziz, and, I may as well get it out of the way now. I am the first Saudi born female medical doctor to do several different things, including join the European Space Program, and, to leave the planet.
      When we were first being considered for the program, the interviewing panel had an issue with the fact that I was willing to wear the standard astronaut uniform instead of demanding that I be allowed to wear a full abaya and perhaps even a niqab veil both in training and in the ship. The fact that I, as a medical doctor, had an opinion on the matter didn't seem to surprise the members of the Saudi panel that interviewed us, the fact that I would express that opinion in no uncertain terms to the members of the panel, several of whom were members of the royal family, absolutely astonished them.
      "The standard space uniform is not about the physical appearance of the body of the wearer, but is designed to be wholly serviceable and provide protection to the wearer from the apparatus on the ship as well as to protect some of the more sensitive instruments on the ship from the wearer. There is clothing we wear in the hospital environment that does the same thing."
      Then they asked me a similar question about the posture for prayer in space, and I answered it as well with no hesitation or false modesty in my voice. And again, the royals in front of me were visibly flabbergasted.
      My sister, who sat in the gallery with her veil in place, because, as she said "there were members of the royal family on the panel", said they probably voted to send me to the training to get me out of the Kingdom before my progressive views on the matter corrupted other women.

      We have two full time dedicated medical staff on board the Argo Epic. I am the CMO for the mission, which means the well being of the crew is my responsibility, and Doctor Shinno is the mission medical specialist, which means she is one in charge of everything to do with the experiments and observations related to that side of things. I do have my own mission objectives and experiments that I'm running.
      There is one nurse who is also a mission specialist working with some of the advanced technology, but he will assist us with any serious issue that comes up. As when our lead planetary scientist, Doctor Kristoffersen, who is just as quick to deny that he is any relation to the famous singer and actor as Doctor Shinno is to point out that she is a Very Distant Cousin to the current ruler of her country, became, became, what I would call, Spectacularly and Acutely Space Sick. To the point that for a day or so, we weren't sure if he would survive.
      For the entire first mission of the Argo, nobody needed an IV or oxygen administered. Now, on this mission, it was the IV, the O2, and a remarkable array of injected medication that kept Doctor Kristoffersen alive.
      After he became ill he said that as we traveled from Earth to the Argo that he felt "a little nauseous". But it went downhill from there. By our second day after leaving the space station, he had to admit that he had not eaten or drank much of anything since we'd left the surface. Two days later he was unconscious with irregular breathing and a racing pulse.
      We were now four days out from the station, and accelerating, it would take a day to turn the ship around, and then be at least four or five days to get back to the station, and it would take another day, at least, to ferry him back to Earth. So we spent some time in deep consultation with everybody that had an opinion at Mission Control and all of the ranking medical directors at every space agency on Earth. The consensus was that even if we turned the ship around and made the best possible speed back to the ISS. Dr. Kristoffersen likely would not survive the transfer to the station and then the ride back down to Earth.
      We were told to do everything possible, and a good deal of what was impossible for him, and he would either recover, or he wouldn't.

      Which was the reason that when the stowaway was found he was told to just stay out of the way and try to help. Nobody really had time to deal with a wayward kid who was supposed to be anywhere but here.
      But that is a matter for somebody else to discuss. Fully half the remainder of the crew, including the engineers, were busy trying to keep Doctor Kristoffersen alive. As for the three of us in Medical, we made sure he wasn't alone for more than a couple of minutes for days on end.
      It was very touch and go, and in one report to Mission Control I labeled his condition as 'extremely critical' and that the prognoses was not hopeful.
      However, whether it was our skill, or his own resilience, his condition stabilized, and within a few days he was not only awake, he was coherent enough to be somewhat embarrassed about the whole thing. However, he did not consume anything like a normal meal or what I thought was nearly enough water for some time afterward.

      The medical contingent on the ship was supposed to be the same as the first crew, one male physician and one female physician. Doctor Shinno was chosen as the first alternate.
      We were well into the training when suddenly the individual who was selected to be the CMO suddenly vanished from where we were undergoing a series of simulations at the facility in Hunstville in the USA. The next day I was summoned to the director's office and told that I was the new CMO for our mission. I asked what had happened to Doctor McPherson.
      The Mission Director and the other notables who were around the table exchanged a series of long looks, then the representative from Germany spoke with a very thick and somewhat militaristic accent, "Not all was in order with his medical credentials." He paused, "There were. Irregularities. That were serious."
      I didn't know what to say, so I said, "I see." Then I asked, "How long do I have to decide if I want to be the Chief Medic on board?"
      The German answered with the same cadence and drama, "We need to know today."
      "I would be the CMO and then the alternate will be under me as second medical officer?"
      "Are you going to bring in another alternate in case they are needed?"
      "No, there is not enough time, and we do not wish to further delay the mission as scheduled."
      I said yes.
      Two days later I began an intensive series of courses on the new duties I would now be performing in addition to what I had already agreed to do, and Doctor Shinno found herself going from just 'being there' for basic training to becoming the mission medical science specialist and second medical officer on the ship.
      It took Mission Control a week to realize that both MDs on board were women, and that neither was either North American or European. They decided to play it up as proof of how far women had come from the 'olden days' and for some time the photo of me and Doctor Shinno standing next to one of the new diagnostic display panels in the training facility was the public face of the mission.
      It was an identical panel that we had used on the ship to monitor Doctor Kristoffersen's condition, and it was the readings on the panel, which were being transmitted live to Earth, which they monitored and relayed suggestions for treatment. A treatment, I might add, that in the vast majority of cases, we had already implemented.

      Once Doctor Kristoffersen recovered enough to leave sickbay, he spent some time just getting used to the ship and everything all over again.
      We never did determine if his illness really was "just acute space sickness", some sort of toxin that only he had a reaction to, or a viral or other infection that for some reason was not contagious at all, because even in this closed and self contained environment, nobody else got that sick. Yes, I think everybody on board had a time when their stomach was unhappy with being out here, but, at least in my case, after a shower and a nap, I was fine.
      My official medical opinion was that something in his body chemistry, or the electrical makeup of his brain, and most likely a combination of all sorts of those types of factors did not adapt well to space travel, and it was more of a deep survival instinct that kicked in and got him back on his feet than anything we did.

Ken's story
      I had planned on being in the cargo pod for just a few hours before it was sealed to be mounted to the launch vehicle.
      This plan wouldn't have worked anywhere else because the pods from other countries were sealed at a facility that was sometimes halfway around the world from where they were launched. However, at Wallops, there were pods that had supplies loaded onto them that had to be in the pod for as short of a period of time as possible assembled right there. Some came off the supply truck and were put on the pod and launched within hours.
      The one I chose had the plants that were going into the Botany pod, and even containers with small lab animals, so it would have heat and air for its trip out to the ship and not be held in a queue waiting to dock. I sat with my supplies and waited, and hoped that the loading crew would take a break, and leave the hatch open on the pod on the back of its transfer flatbed where they had been loading it.
      They did.
      And the one lone guard was more interested in whatever video he was watching and laughing at.
      Both of the security cameras watching the loading area were panning back and forth.
      I had to time it just right. I waited, tensed and ready.
      I had a chance. Just a moment. And it was all I needed.
      I dashed into the pod, found an empty spot under and between a couple of the larger containers that had already been loaded, and pulled another one in tight against me. Then I held my breath and waited.

      I heard the workers come back and discuss the last group of plant boxes and how many more boxes of insects and salamanders they had to load and whether or not there were enough eyelets available inside to keep the containers from bouncing around inside the pod.
      It was a long hour or so while they secured everything. Then they sealed the hatch.
      Now I felt secure enough to put in my earbuds and turn on my scanner that could receive the trunked radio system used by the ground crew to communicate. The loading supervisor was clearing the pod to proceed to the launch facility.
      The ride out to the launch pad was nerve wracking because they had been known to recall pods back to the loading facility to check something or put something else on or whatever. And sometimes that meant unloading it and re-stowing cargo. Which meant I would have been found.
      It didn't happen. The pod moved and jerked and bounced around a bit, then I heard the lifting clamps against the side of the pod and then the odd sensation of it moving upward.
      The process of affixing the pod to the launch vehicle was supposed to be quick and seamless. Well, maybe it was, but from where I was, it was noisy and jerky. Finally the ground crew advised launch command that the time sensitive high priority pod was ready to go.
      I was glad to hear them say that the launch window would open in fifty minutes and there was no local traffic in the channel or down range to interfere this time.
      It was a long fifty minutes, but I shifted around and made the best of it.
      The container next to me was full of seedlings, but the ones above me had mice and some sort of lizards in them, so I whispered to them about what was going on and how much fun it was going to be once we got into micro gravity.
      The radio went dead once the rocket was released to flight control, so I had to switch channels to listen to NASA. I told the mice about the countdown and when to brace themselves.

      And with the most awesome noise I've ever heard. We were on our way.

3. "Now I know why Baxter moved into Engineering on the first mission."
      The engineering course that covered the original design and then the course on the refit did not do this ship justice.
      The way the courses were designed you got the impression that each system was totally independent and that the waste recycling processor had nothing at all to do with the cooling system for the sleeping area. But then once you're out here you start looking around and you notice that not only are they in the same service systems compartment, they're fed off the same nodes on the power grid, and both share the power for half a dozen systems in two of the lab pods. So when you had to go in to adjust one or the other, you changed the power flowing to the others, which may or may not knock them out of their prescribed settings, and your elbow trips the breaker going to pod 2's monitors, and then you see a cable that should be connected at both ends floating free, and what should have been a five minute job... get into the compartment, change the calibration, test it, and go... turns into three hours. But don't get me wrong, this is the best job a Navy system's engineer could ever hope to snag. There's never been a ship anywhere, in or on the ocean, in the air, or in space, like the Argo, and it's likely there never will be one again, this ship was unique the day they proposed it, and it has stayed just as unique and it has defied all attempts to make it anything other than what it is.
      But every scientist on board thinks their equipment is the most important on the ship, and that it needs special attention, and needs that attention constantly, and if it doesn't get it, their life's work will be ruined, and it will be my fault. So we hadn't been more than about three days out on our own when I realized why the chief engineer on the first mission stayed away from the majority of the crew. If they didn't see you, they forgot about you, unless something was really broken. At first I was going up to the rec center to play a game or get a snack or something, then I got tired of being constantly bothered to go see why, and I am not making this up, to see why a status indicator wasn't "As Green As It Was Yesterday", or to find out why something else was a tenth of a percent off, or whatever. The new indicators are self regulating LEDs, if it has power above a certain level, it lights up, period. The air flow and pressure monitors are a tenth of a percent off because the sensors that call for air are happy, when they're not happy, they'll call for more air, keep breathing, they'll kick the blower on soon enough. I spent a lot of time in medical when Doctor Chris was sick answering all sorts of questions about the air and the water and the bio-filtration inserts in the recycling equipment and all that. And just to be safe, me and Stan went through and took samples and tested everything he had been anywhere near since the minute he came on board for everything from bacteria to rat poison. And to be extra safe, they quarantined the station and burned the personnel pod he had come up in by firing it into the Earth's atmosphere at full speed. If any of the bugs that had made him sick could survive that, there's no stopping them from killing the rest of us. We didn't find anything, and neither did the doctor on the space station. Nor did they come up with anything back on Earth at the places he'd trained before coming on the mission. He was just sick and nobody could explain it.
      Now don't get me wrong, I like the others on the crew. And as a multi-loving individual I have probably crossed the line with more of them in one way or another than I should have to remain professional as an officer and a gentleman and all that. I'm glad I was under the ESA instead of NASA because they had a 'propriety clause' in their agreement about behaviors that were discouraged on the mission. They didn't make anybody sign something like that on the first mission, and some of the stories about some of the fraternization and casual nudity that happened made for some raised eyebrows in the halls of the US Congress. But when you think about some of the behaviors that go on day and night in and out of the halls of Congress, you have to wonder if they really had a problem with it, or were just jealous. The only thing the ESA really told us was to turn the cameras off if we were going to do anything untoward. Everybody with that patch on their shirt nodded and smiled and winked at each other. The NASA people had to sign a statement saying they'd all be as proper as a Catholic Schoolmarm. My assistant, Stan, said he signed it with his fingers crossed. Vinaya, who was my second assistant, or primary assistant if you needed a command decision, I'll explain that later, said the ISRO had strongly suggested that she remain proper, but she also said she was up to here, with her hand just below her left ear, with the restraints and expectations of others, and once we were clear of the planet, she was going to be herself. "As soon as I find out who that is", she added. I didn't have that problem. I knew who, and what, I was before I joined the Navy. But I tried to keep to myself until I was on the Chevalier Paul and working my way through the ranks as what some old timers still called a rig mechanic. When I was promoted from sublieutenant to full 'Lieutenant de vaisseau', I finally felt confident enough to, as it were, let my hair down a little. Not only did it not hurt my career, it put me on something of a fast track to become a first lieutenant, and when they asked for volunteers to test to be assigned to the engineering cadets for the French contingent to be considered for the second Argo Epic mission, I made it, and I'm sure I made it because I had made contacts all the way into the defense staff, and was the only junior officer to do so. And as far as I know, I'm the only one on the crew that doesn't have a university degree. I've had some classes, through the Navy, I had to quit one that I was taking to begin the training for the mission, but I don't have a degree. Which really rubbed some of the board members that approved the crew the wrong way, but, I'm a good engineer and I have no particular political leanings, and so I'm here.
      So far everything's been good on board as for what I do here. There was a bit of an emergency when the last supply capsule undocked to return to the station and the seal on the hatch they used wouldn't set. We lost some air while me and Stan used several kilos of sealant to stop it. The seal was just bad, it was like it had dried out while it was compressed while the supply ship was attached. We tried to get the outside robots to seal it, but when they applied the patching compound to the first leak it just migrated down a handful of centimeters and leaked again. So we ended up going all the way around the inside of the hatch with the sealant, and then covering it with repair tape. It stopped the leak, but we'll never be able to use that hatch again. Anything else that docks will have to either use the pod docking ring or the big airlock we use to go outside. The docking hatch for regular space capsules is out of service unless they can figure out a way to change it out without exposing the entire section to space.

      The one thing they've mentioned is that I should have known about the American kid. I had no idea he was on board, and even though I might have saw him not long after the rest of the crew was sent up, there were so many technicians and systems people coming and going, it might have been one of them. I really don't know. And even in the recordings from the video cameras that were working at the time, there's nothing definitive. He knew what he was doing and did it well.

Ken's story
      It seemed to me that the Atlas's engines fired for a lot longer than indicated in the reports I'd read. But they cut off and I heard the maneuvering jets fire once in awhile. But even on the 'fast track to the docking ring' I was still in the pod a long time, with no portals to see outside and no way to track where we were until the pod got within radio range of the Argo.
      As soon as the launch vehicle's engines cut off I found myself weightless. I had expected it, but I didn't expect to bounce around like I did until I got my bungee cord out of my pocket and wrapped it around myself and hooked it to an eye in the floor.

      Later I could hear the ship talking to Mission Control when they took over the maneuvering of the pod to dock it. The pod was supposed to go from standing on the launch pad to being docked with the ship in between five and six hours. By my watch, it was four hours and forty seven minutes when I heard the docking clamps engage the catches on the pod. Not bad.
      But now was the most dangerous part of the mission as far as my being discovered.
      Sneaking onto a huge base in the middle of the night and getting close to a building surrounded by trucks and containers and all that was one thing. Sneaking onto a space ship was something else all together.
      Fortunately, the situation I heard both on the radio and through the open docking hatch was what I needed it to be.
      The uniform I was wearing was as close to what the technicians servicing the ship were wearing as I could make it.
      I pulled my NASA cap down over my eyes, and grabbed my supply bag and a box of mice, and floated out right behind a couple of the techs that were unloading the pod and ferrying the contents up toward the science labs in the big ring.
      The only two people I saw out of the twenty or so that were supposed to be getting the ship ready for the arrival of the crew was the two guys moving the cargo.
      I knew exactly where I was going, and as soon as I got there I looked around, then I put the mice in a rack and opened the cover over a hatch to the old equipment bay.
      To my left was one of the space ration storage bins, I opened it and removed three of the multi-pack boxes and chucked them into the open storage bay. Then two six liter packs of water followed. And then, in just a minute or so, in I went, the string I brought with me worked to pull the hatch shut and I secured it with my smaller bungee cords.

      The compartment was made for me. On the original mission it had contained the data recorders and back up power supply for one of the long term experiments. There were no plans to use it on the current mission. In fact, the reason they put the cover over the hatch was so the current crew wouldn't use it. They were supposed to send some equipment out later to go in it for the Mars leg of the mission. But for right now, it was empty. It was empty, had air, and heat. That was all I needed so I made myself to home.
      As far as I could tell from listening to the radio, the technicians wondering why "that other guy" had left a box of mice in the corridor was as far as anybody's thinking about me went.

4. "This was not covered in the command briefings."
      We were five days out from the space station, over six hundred thousand kilometers, and moving at almost full speed in angled route to intercept the planet Venus in its orbit for us for the first part of our assigned mission.
      Dr. Kristoffersen was still in critical condition, but they were saying that his condition appeared to have stabilized.
      And then Second Officer Pelletier called for me to come back to the central part of the ship between the docking ring and the three independent labs.

      Pelletier and Engineer Stan were detaining, if that's the word to use on a spacecraft where running away is impossible, anyway, they were holding a young man who was not part of our crew in the center of the zero G center axis passage of the ship.
      "I saw him in the corridor. He threw a handful of bags into the waste processor and grabbed a box of rations, then he vanished again. It took us an hour to find him in the empty equipment bin," Pelletier said. "I didn't know you could even get in it, I thought it was sealed off during the refit."
      I looked at the stowaway, "How old are you?"
      "I'll be twenty three next month, Commander Filipe Nascimento."
      I must have looked surprised that he knew my name because he continued.
      "Lieutenant Charlotte Pelletier, Canadian Air Force, second in command, primary supervisor for sciences. Engineering Mission Specialist Stanley Smith, USAF," the stowaway said with confidence.
      "You're very well informed for a stowaway facing more charges than I can count in more countries than I can name," Pelletier said softly.
      "I've been studying this ship my whole life, I even upgraded a one thirtieth model with everything they did in the refit."
      I looked at the cubical he had been living in, "He knew that was there and how to get in it, AND how to get up here."
      "How did you get up here?" Engineer Stan asked him.
      He hesitated for a moment, "I might as well tell you."
      "You might as well."
      "I came up on the high priority lab animal and botanical pod before they manned the ship."
      We all looked at each other. "Ingenious," I commented.
      "I thought it was a good way to do it," the stowaway said, "heat and air, short time between launch and docking. Minimal security."

      I had to make a decision. The ship didn't have a brig, if we weren't going to turn around for the sick scientist we sure as heck weren't going to turn around to take this guy home.
      "OK, for now, put him back in there and put a camera and an alarm on the hatch, if he comes out, I want it to ring and flash in Command. For now, you'll stay in there unless you need supplies, or, to bathe."
      "Yes, Commander. But I can work, I know the ship and its systems as well as anybody else."
      Stan tested him, "What's in this pipe?" he tapped one just inside the cover that had been removed.
      The guy looked at it for a second. "That's the potable water line from the primary filtration system that feeds two of the bathing units forward, and, I believe, a branch heads out to section two on the lab ring. It might be section three, I'd have to see the number on it."
      "The kid's good."
      "What's the green cable?" I asked him even though I had no idea.
      He had to look up for a second and think about it.
      "It's got a blue and two yellows bundled with it. It's one of the originals for the internal communications feed. Green is fiber for audio and video, blue is high shield Cat 7 electronic data, and the yellow Cat 6s are the control systems. Some of those were replaced in the upgrade, but since this one only runs half of the docking ring and doesn't carry primary systems to engineering, it was tested and left in place. There's another set just like it for the rest of the docking ring over there," he pointed to another panel on the other side of the passage. "These bundles are the weak point in the two of the three internal com systems, only the wireless system doesn't feed through them."
      Engineer Stan had to look up and check the tag on the bundle of cables. "He's exactly right. On both."
      That made my decision a little easier, and a little harder in a way, I went with the easy one. "OK, he's here breathing our air, eating our food, and using our waste recycling. I guess we can make him earn his keep. You've got an assistant. But keep an eye on him."
      Engineer Stan didn't look overly thrilled, but nodded and said he did have some stuff that he could do.
      "First, take him out to medical and have them give him an end to end physical."
      Pelletier laughed, "That kind of torture will convince him he shouldn't have come up here."

      While he was in medical, we went through the stuff he'd brought with him.
      To be honest, he was well prepared. He had a veritable hardware store's worth of multi-purpose tools, reference material ranging from two different printed and bound editions of the classic pocket reference guide all the way up to the ship's specs on disks and flash drives. Not to mention his own first aid kit and the emergency rations and supplies he'd purloined once he'd arrived.
      Ken, it would seem, was better equipped for the mission than at least one of our official crewmates.

      It took NASA, the FBI, and even the Virginia State Police some time to piece his story together and confirm it. Even after his car was found, and towed. from a crabbing and fishing parking area on Radar Road not far from entrance into the Wallops launch facility. He had been very careful, and in some cases used the system against itself, and kept his operation very low tech and simple, and it had worked.

      It started an absolute firestorm on Earth. Half of the allied countries that were behind the mission threatened everything short of aborting the mission because the US had 'allowed' this guy to make it onto the ship.
      But in the end, once they all found out the lengths of planning and study ....Kenneth.... went to to do this, and the way he got around every type of security, human and automated, they all marveled at it, and were glad he hadn't been in their country to do it.
      They also all agreed that America should pony up the added cost to the mission for having another crew member on board.

      Then there was the problems that every partner country had with people, not just twenty year old guys but people of all sorts, including one woman who was over sixty, trying to sneak into bases and get in cargo containers that would be sent to us. Every container, every pod, everything, had to be checked three and four times for stowaways.
      They didn't seem to understand that how and when he got to the ship was the ONLY way a human being could get to the ship and live through it. Now, they'd be locked in the container, with no air circulation, and probably no heat after launch, for a month or more for some of the supply containers.
      We all began dreading opening up a cargo pod and finding somebody's frozen corpse in it. But fortunately, that hasn't happened.

      'Ken' as we took to calling him made an effort to fit in without being too annoying about it.
      It became his job to have the prescribed selection of meals for the day in the rec room, and to keep it cleaned up and organized.
      And then he began checking the supplies in the heads and the bathing cubical. Which meant nobody else could shirk their regular duty by claiming they had to do it.
      After just a few days, he found other things to do to help out, and it became somewhat normal to see him doing it. And I only had to threaten a certain chief engineer once about calling him our "cabin boy".

Ken's story:
      Being discovered was a relief. Really, it was.
      I knew I was in serious trouble, and I really did expect to be returned to Earth and probably end up in prison. When they explained that they hadn't been ordered to return for the man that was sick by Mission Control so they weren't going for me either. Which meant I was on board for at least the duration of the mission to Venus.

      The medical exam wasn't any worse than any of the physicals I'd gone through back home.

      I found dozens of jobs to do, and assisted wherever I could.
      For the first few days I worked with Stan for the botanist Adebayo . We moved equipment around, then we made more room in the botanical lab because some of the plants had really taken off and were growing faster than they should. It meant we had more fresh food than we expected, but it also meant the botanical lab was using more water than it was supposed to by the mission specs.
      The plants were supposed to get reclaimed water from the waste processing system first. But with all the growth, there just wasn't enough produced fast enough to keep some of the faster growing things happy. The good news on that was that all of the water in the cargo holds that had been sent up for the first mission was still there, along with the prescribed fresh water that had been sent up for the first leg of the new mission.
      Specialist Adebayo tested the old water and it was still good, but it tasted stale. So to drink it plain like the crew was supposed to do, we'd have to run it through the processor to freshen it up and remove some of the plastic taste and add air back into it. But the plants didn't care what it tasted like or how much dissolved gasses were in it, so I ended up rigging a pump and hose from the bulk cargo storage area by engineering all the way through the ship to the botanical pod for the plants. I told the Commander that I had the idea for the system after I had spent a whole day pushing water jugs through the central corridor and then out to the lab without them running into something that would punch a hole in them.
      After he inspected it for leaks, he agreed that it was a good idea and approved our idea to make it a more permanent installation. Then it was just a matter of flipping a switch and waiting for the supply container in the lab to fill up. Then, every so often I would change the feed line to another big container in the cargo bay.

      Another job I took on was checking over the various automated units both inside and outside. Some of the machines were ones from the original mission, and some were brand new. One thing I found out was that the old ones were less specialized, which meant they could be adapted to do all sorts of things inside and out with the interchangeable tools. But the old one's batteries took a lot longer to charge, and some of the batteries wouldn't hold a charge.
      As for the new ones, there were a couple that Automaton Specialist Vinaya and the Chief Engineer had all but written off and they gave me permission to see if I could do anything with them. They worked fine in the lab ring, but as soon as you tried to get them to do anything in any other part of the ship their motion sensors quit working. They had been designed to function wonderfully in low gravity, and they did, but for some reason the motion detectors, which were based on the same technology used in high end cell phones, simply hated the core of the ship which was virtually in free fall. And as far as I could see, there was no way around it.
      Which meant the tasks they were to perform, like ferrying meals to the rec area, had to be done by something or somebody else.
      It was a lot more interesting and even fun to clean up and work on the outside units, which everybody still called robots. The new units had an external skin made of a carbon fiber that generated static when they were outside working on the solar panels and reactor booms, then the static buildup attracted dust.
      The good thing was that we had a way to collect the dust for testing in the science labs.
      I know it was like what they called busy work in school, but I was still on the Argo, and working on equipment for the mission.
      Which had always been my dream.

5. "Doctor Shinno. Medical log entry."
      Doctor Kristoffersen's overall condition has improved dramatically since I recommended he consume a very high protein diet and reminded him that, at the end of the day, he was the one ultimately responsible for his own health. He agreed to both points.
      I based the recommendation on research a comrade on Earth did on the diets of various astronauts and cosmonauts reported as keeping them at their best while in space. Some did well on a regular menu, but there were those that reported that more than a trivial amount of carbohydrate aggravated their digestion during their flight. And once the digestive system was acutely irregular and no longer supplying the nutrients the rest of the body required, space sickness could overwhelm the patient in a very short period of time.
      He has gone from working a light rotation with a great deal of rest to almost assuming his full duties. Which, given his condition not long ago has been described as very nearly miraculous. It was not a miracle, it was good research and a specific treatment by top line professional medical staff here and on the planet.

      My duties on the ship include to continue tests of various aspects of the crew that were begun on the first mission. Except now with certain refinements and closer attention to specific metabolic changes. Including the levels of several neurotransmitters, which requires enough blood and other samples to make my other crew-mates dread seeing me in the passage.
      After watching several of them suddenly find they were urgently needed in the docking ring when I opened my sleeping compartment door I made a promise to everybody that I would contact them only when the mission schedule said it was time for them to be tested, which they were advised of well ahead of time.
      And now with the addition of our unapproved crewman, that rotation has one more person on it so they get an even longer reprieve between rounds of testing.

      We contacted his parents and his school for any medical records on him. However, there was very little information available. Which also meant that he had not been screened for any of the infectious agents the rest of the crew had been tested for. So he had to be subjected to several rounds of testing before he was allowed any further interaction with the crew.
      Ken, as he is called, had the most sporadic medical record I had ever seen. He had gone for over four years without any interaction with the medical industry at all, from the time he was sixteen until he was twenty one when he severely sprained his wrist playing baseball in college, about two years ago. When I asked him about it when he was brought to medical, he said he hadn't been sick. He said he did see the family dentist a couple of years ago, but everything was fine so he never went back.
      He did appear to be as healthy as he said he was. He had no pathogens in his blood, although by our testing he was slightly dehydrated and a bit anemic from his diet while hiding in the equipment bay.
      But, as they say in English, he was a good sport about it and allowed all the testing we needed to do to him, and a good deal of what we wanted to do to him as well, without complaint.

      My report to the Commander was that, Ken, was generally healthy, in good spirits, and explained the difference between the old diagnostic display panel and the new one including the way it interfaced with the database on the ship's science server to reference any data we might need during treatment.
      I also reported that he seemed to know a lot about both me and Doctor Aziz, including information about the selection process that I had believed was classified.
      This news didn't surprise the Commander and he informed me that from what they had discovered about our unexpected guest, it was a good thing that he was on our side.

      In any case, young Ken was now one of us, and for good or ill, for the next year at least, he was part of this crew and we were told to subject him to any of the same medical procedures the rest of the crew were subjected to.
      Except when the Commander said it, Stanley the Engineer added 'medical tortures'.

      I had a complete physical and neurological profile for everyone on the crew that had been completed during their time in the training program. It included psychological testing, several different brain scans, DNA profiles and full blood chemistry, and everything else. With Ken, I had an Xrays of his teeth and wrist, and a three year old college sports physical. We had to do a complete baseline workup on him, and do it on the ship.
      It was good in a way because while we had an MRI in the medical bay, it had not been used. We had discussed using it on Dr. Kristoffersen, but we did not do so because we honestly didn't know what part of him to scan. With our new volunteer, and time, we decided to compile a complete picture of him now, and then do so again just before he left the ship, whenever that was, and then let somebody on Earth do a comparison and see if there were any changes.
      As he had the choice to go sit in his hiding hole or to lay still in the testing unit, Ken decided to comply with our wishes and we scanned him. He was allowed a significant break every hour or so, but other than that, he stayed still, and even fell asleep during the procedure.
      And the result was, as with the rest of his tests, he was essentially healthy, with close to textbook readings for a young American male.

Ken's story:
      I really liked spending the time I did with both of the doctors on board the ship.
      Doctor Shinno is the first Japanese woman I've gotten to know. Other than when she was doing medical stuff to me, she was very shy and told me that I shouldn't say that when I told her I thought she was the prettiest woman on board, that it embarrassed her. I apologized several times, but I still enjoyed the time I spent with her and asked her about her home town in Japan and how she ended up in their space program.
      Doctor Aziz was a bit less delicate with her testing and spoke in a way that reminded me of the math teacher I had at the community college who was the only other Middle Eastern woman I've ever known. But I liked her anyway.
      But I was eager to get out of medical and get to work. So when they finally cleared me I thanked them and told them that if they needed any help with anything, even if it was just moving some equipment I knew all about how most of it had been installed and what you had to do to relocate it.
      Doctor Shinno did smile at me and said she had enjoyed doing something unusual and getting to fully use the lab.

6. "feel free to resume normalcy at your discretion"
      As the Mission Commander I get to see the majority of the communications that come in from the overall Mission Control Center at the ESA Operations Center in Darmstadt, or from the one in Houston, Texas. For the first, month, at least, with Doctor Kristoffersen sick and then with the stowaway, every message arrived with such a level of importance attached to it that it began to be a relief when something routine came in. I'd gotten so used to having to have my eye scanned to read a message I kept a bottle of eye rinse in the pocket of my station on the command deck.
      It was like a switch had been thrown somewhere.
      There was no "oh my God!" level priority message blinking at me in the mail server. There was no female voice with barely restrained urgency calling for me from the com panel to drop everything and rush to medical. There was no other crewmen waving for my attention from the corridor shrieking about an air leak. But I didn't want to mention it because I knew as soon as I said something the ship would explode.
      I finished my command shift and briefed the oncoming one with the phrase "it's been rather quiet."
      Her answer was, "oh, OK," with a noticeable amount of trepidation on her face.

      I went to the recreation and dining area and had a nice meal listening to Doctor Latour's niece playing with a jazz ensemble at some university on Earth.
      "They gave a concert and taped it for us," she said
      "Thank them for me, Lorraine. That was very nice dinner music."

      Then I got to sleep for about five hours out of my usual seven or so, but did so without any interruption. In short: By the time I went back up to command, I felt like I was on the wrong ship.
      Just to be sure everything was good and there wasn't a catastrophe just waiting for me to relax, I ran a ship-wide diagnostic and requested status reports from all sections.
      Other than a slow leak from the water valve in shower cubical number 2 and a slight vibration in the ventilator for one of the lab pods, and the fact that Solar Panel Three was stuck again.... everything was... well. Quiet.
      While I watched, one of our outside maintenance robots was climbing up the solar panel's central support. When it reached the end of the mast it locked on to a couple of brackets on the shaft and began doing a somewhat humorous disco dance, which made the mast vibrate, and then, it was unstuck. And that red light on the diagnostic panel went out.
      Which is what I reported to Germany with my next ship's status report.
      Their response about how I was to "resume normalcy" made me laugh out loud.
      We hadn't HAD anything resembling 'normal' since we left Earth orbit. But if this was how it was supposed to be, I was all for it.
      But, whatever else our time on the Argo was, it certainly wasn't dull. Which I was all for as well.

PART TWO: "It's a pretty planet"
      Joint mission statement continues:

      The competition between the two ranking officers to be the Mission Commander was one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of Human Space Exploration. Both were fully qualified through their respective services, and both had exemplary records, and similar enough time in command grade in their respective services that either would be an outstanding choice.
      The issue between the countries involved had become very heated, and in some ways, very unpleasant with Brazil, Mr. Nascimento's birthplace, and Portugal, where he went to university, lobbying fiercely for him, along with most of Latin and South American making him their choice, even if they were not directly involved with the mission, while Canada, and indeed the entire UK were throwing their weight behind Ms Pelletier, as well as France's backing her because she spoke the language. Finally, both groups agreed to let a blue ribbon committee of representatives from other countries who were involved in the program but did not have a citizen on the crew decide the matter. The committee decided to not decide and let the candidate's scores on written tests and in the simulator runs they'd already taken speak for them. The combined points possible on the command tests was one thousand four hundred ninety.
      Mr. Nascimento was named Mission Commander based on his overall total test score being thirty one points higher than Ms. Pelletier. He had scored 1385 compared to her 1354.
      And that, was that.

7. "I am going to take a full day off before we get to Venus."

      "Command log for the Eighty Fifth day of the mission."
      I had to stop and think about that for a minute. We really had been out here that long. Once things had calmed down we had all become quite accustomed to our duties and the routine of life on the Argo.
      Unlike the first mission, we maintained our three shift rotations by the clock, and kept the day and night cycle going of brightening and then twelve hours later dimming the lights in the corridors and most of the labs. For us, it just seemed to work better.
      Some of the scientific members of the crew said it was working better for us because unlike the original mission, we were heading toward the sun. What I knew for sure was that the rays of our star were so intense that I had engineering close half of the protective 'petals' over the front windows on the command deck. Otherwise it got so hot the life support system couldn't keep up and the sunlight was so intense you couldn't read the information on most of the displays.

      For its part, Venus was now a large bright orb that dominated our views from the ship. Some found another aspect of the view more disturbing as Earth was now noticeably smaller every few days.
      Whereas we could still see blue and some green on Earth with one of the telescopes, Venus has been sort of a light grayish-yellow, with mottled stripes like somebody had tried to repaint an old taxi cab with cheap spray paint.
      But now as we got closer, you noticed variances in the colors. Sometimes there's a red tint here and there, or even a blue-green that is incredibly enticing because we associate those colors with life! Then there are patterns in the clouds around the planet, and bits of other colors now and then closer to the poles or toward the night side of the planet from our angle.
      I'm sure our resident planetary expert will go into ecstatic details about the spectrum of the various gases in the planet's atmosphere, at least I told him he should as he went through it all with me again. But I've got my own special mission to accomplish once we're in orbit.
      My sole objective for science at Venus is to use our high intensity radar and lidar equipment to search for the remains of previous missions to the planet. I had the best landing coordinates we could get for the various automated landers sent before us. I was fairly confident that I could locate at least two of the Venera landers, numbers nine and ten, as they were both the size of small cars and were reported to only be about two thousand kilometers from each other near a large geologic feature called Beta Regio, a huge volcanic prominence just north of the equator. As for some of the smaller landers, like the American Pioneers which was a meter and a half across, I didn't see any hope for finding them.
      The Russians were really keen on my finding ALL TEN of their landers. Well, given that they even admitted that they had only a vague idea of where a couple of them touched down, and that it had been more than seventy years since any of them had been heard from, they finally said they'd be content if I could get images of a few of them, or at least what had survived half a century in a planetary oven with boiling sulfuric acid rain.
      But that is later.
      Right now, while Venus is still a couple of weeks away: I'm going to take a day off.
      I've lined up a couple of bags of a nice full bodied wine and a movie I wanted to see that I had transmitted up last week, and I've reserved a couple of my favorite meals and have made it clear that unless an alien space cruiser was shooting at us, I was not to be disturbed.
      Yes, we have wine. And a few stronger spirits that are only to be consumed off duty. Mission Control did not want a recurrence of the infamy from the first mission with a moonshine still running 24x7 in engineering. So they polled those of the crew that did indulge as for their favorite tipple, and arranged for a small store of it to be laid in and then replenished as occasion arose. Me, I like wine. And of the varieties I have available, the ones I'll have with my dinner and movie are my favorites.
      So, I will sign off, and not sign back on until the day after tomorrow.

Ken's Story:
      Everybody else has been busy doing system's checks and prepping all sorts of things for when we arrive at Venus.
      They are even planning on capturing at least one of the long term orbiters that have been there since the Eighties and Nineties, so there's lots of planning and testing to do.
      And I've been helping out as I can with whatever they need help with.
      At one point I was up in the docking ring watching two of the robotic arms waving a big net around that was supposed to automatically unfurl. We had to use the net to catch the orbiting units because most of them didn't have anything the claws on the arms could grab and hold on to. So we were going to net it, bring it in, then have the outside robots transfer the probe to the original airlock since we were still waiting to repair the new one.
      They wanted me up there because the view they had and the various cameras up here and on the arms couldn't tell if it was totally opening up or if it was still partially twisted in on itself. So there I was, peering out a port on the docking ring, while they operated the arms from the main command deck.

      "I can see it, the red and yellow rods are still too close together," I said into the com. "So is black and green on the opposite side."
      "I thought so, OK, I'm going to push it out then yank it back and see if that works." Assistant Engineer Vinaya said, she was the Robotics Specialist, and, getting the robotic arms and their tools to work fell to her.
      The arm moved a little back in toward the ship, then flexed out as fast as it would move, then it suddenly stopped and pulled back. The six movable rods, each a different color, jostled and flexed, then the joint between the red and yellow one expanded some. The net still wasn't all the way open, but it had gotten a little bigger.
      The com spoke before I could, "I know, I know. I think the joints are freezing up. We're going to have to use a different lubricant. I'll fold it up and we'll bring it back inside. Ken, once it's in, can you flush the joints with a solvent to get whatever they used out so we can put something else in? I'll call mission control and see if they've got any ideas."
      "No problem, I'll head back to engineering and see what we've got to use to clean it."

      I've gotten really good at cleaning all sorts of stuff on the ship. The first thing in the morning I go up to the recreation pod and clean the galley area, then later I clean the heads and check the bathing cubicles , and I'll go around and check the trash containers and rag bins in the labs, and all that.
      It's not something I'd do on Earth, and I've seen quotes from my mom about how I never cleaned my room at home, and from my roommate about our apartment. But, I'm not home now am I?
      And a week or so ago, they had a birthday party for me in the rec room. There were a few presents, and a couple of special messages, and even cup cakes. And my birthday party was on the Argo!

8. "I am the only crewmate without a country. And I'm proud of it."
      Yes. Mission Control doesn't like it, but that's the way I see it. The country I was born in no longer exists. When I was at University the region that was my homeland was involved in one of the bloodiest and most senseless burst of feuding to ever hit Europe, and I disagreed with the outcome and even further division of what I saw as my country. So I list myself as being Balkan, and leave it at that.
      Which is one advantage to my name, Svetlana Kambov, and no, I am NOT Bulgarian. Like I said, My Country doesn't exist any more. And the last time I went to my home village, it, for the most part, doesn't exist any more either. And when they ask me what language I considered my native tongue, I told them "French" as I became fluent in it while at school and spoke it without an accent most of the time.
      So I went back to the University, and got an internship with the ESA, and now, I am here. And this suits me just fine. If I don't have a country to go back to, I can just stay on the Argo.

      I am the Ship's Systems Specialist. Whereas the Engineers deal with the wires and gears, I am basically the software person that keeps all these separate machines talking to each other, and to us.
      I will not say that I saw every line of code that was uploaded into our master systems, or to all the subsidiary systems, that would be a ludicrous statement. But, I will say that I know and understand vast majority of the programs and applications that were installed on the major systems, and even most of the ones on the minor systems. And when something freezes up or goes into what the automotive engineers in my classes would call "limp home mode", I can find out why and decide what needs to be done to correct it.

      Because of part of my Masters work at University, I was allowed a science specialty that wasn't time or planet dependent. And I found the subject as fascinating as anything else that was part of the mission. I was given permission and the means to carry out the work under the aspects of materials science, researching the behaviors of fire in space. Both in low or no gravity, and with various combinations of fuel and oxidizers. Fire was known to behave oddly in space, and my first few experiments under very controlled conditions in fire and blast proof vessels proved it.
      As I watched a ball of flame inside a zero G low pressure environment writhe like a living lab animal while it ingested all the available oxygen around an esbit tablet, I knew I had been given the greatest opportunity ever.

      For the most part the ship's systems were, and the term applies quite nicely to some of my shipmates: Fool Proof.
      I'm sorry. I know some of them have multiple PhDs and similar credentials. But still, even with all their formal education, some of them are still lacking in some basic skills dealing with the equipment they need to do their job out here.
      While our chief engineer, and to some degree his assistant, are very protective of the hardware side of things, I have at times encouraged the rest of the crew to 'break' the software, if they can. I have multiple backups of every known program on the ship, I can do everything from a 'last saved as' restore to going all the way back to a full original installation.
      So far, I haven't had to do anything more dramatic than drop a system back a full day to get them up and running.
      One of the questions I was asked as we did our first on board interviews with Earth media was what department's systems did I feel were the most advanced. I could not answer that question then, and I cannot answer it now. And there is a very simple reason as to why. I shall explain it like this: In medical, the central server has a very advanced Artificial Intelligence Systems Controller built into it that is self learning and self correcting. It monitors all aspects of the medical division and, essentially, lets me know when it has fixed a problem before it occurred. That is in total opposition to the life support systems where they have worked to streamline and minimize the overlaying operating system in the interest of removing potential points of failure, which includes everything from the batteries in sensors to the brushes in fan motors. If the environmental system can work without it, it IS working without it.
      Somewhere in between those two extremes are systems like the engines and navigation, which are separate but co-dependent systems. They have AIs built into them that talk to each other constantly, but the link is solely for maintaining the ship's rotation and orientation during maneuvers. Face it, if you compare a full Australian Outback Road Train to the Argo Epic while in flight, at speed, and under full rotation, the road train would come out looking like one of those little zippy Italian supercars. So for any course correction, as we made today to begin our approach to come into orbit around Venus, we needed the AI. The course correction and speed reduction was so gentile, most of the crew didn't even know it happened.
      Which meant I was quite proud of My Systems.

Ken's story:
      I got a package from home today.
      I'd been given stuff from the last couple of supply pods. And NASA sent a set of uniforms for me to wear. But this was a package from my parents. Just like the other crew members get with almost every supply delivery.
      My mother sent a long letter about how she wishes I hadn't done this, but that she is very proud of what she's heard about how I am contributing to the mission.
      She also said that after the FBI had gone through their house and my apartment, that they packed all of my stuff up and took it home. They said that at first the landlord didn't believe them and didn't want to let me out of the lease, but then they showed them the newspaper and they finally agreed that I had left the country for an unknown period of time, and that would break the lease.
      She also said my supervisor at the store said that I didn't have to go to all this trouble to get some time off, but when I got back if I wanted to work there again she'd OK it.

      That just reminded me of how my actual life has changed.
      I was living in an old apartment in a run down building, going to school part time, and working three or four nights a week stocking shelves and cleaning the bathrooms in a "where's the toothpaste" superstore, and weekends at a 'do you want fries with that' place.
      And now I'm here. Yes. I stock the meals in the rec pod and clean the heads, but I'm doing it on our way to Venus!
      I'm doing it on the Argo Epic.
      My boss is Commander Nascimento and my supervisor is Engineer Stan. Not a woman who kept calling me 'Kyle' or 'Kevin' and coworkers who were here today and not here tomorrow and then somebody different the next day.

      In my message back to Earth, to my parents, I thanked them for the package, and said I'm glad they are proud of me because I feel like I am finally becoming a working member of the crew and contributing to the mission and not just "that stowaway". And that while I did miss them, and some of the other people I knew back on Earth, I wasn't homesick at all, and found each day to be just different enough that I really wasn't bored.
      I didn't have time to be bored most days.
      Some of the crew had taken to leaving me messages about things that needed done, or calling for me to see if I could come help them. Usually I got right to whatever they wanted, and they appreciated it.
      Which the Commander noticed, and approved of, and said that for now that work arrangement was fine, and he wouldn't assign me to one of the regular shifts.

9. Argo Epic Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier, Canadian Space Agency

      It was a week or so ago that it happened, and I went with it, but I want it on the official record so I'm putting it in my mission log.
      I objected to the assignment in the strongest possible terms without explicitly saying that I would not do it.
      I am the Second In Command of the Mission. I have command duties as well as my own dedicated scientific missions to perform. There are days when I do not get everything accomplished that I have set for myself.
      And then they do this.

      Yes. It was an undeniable and verifiable fact that I had had two semesters of education classes during my Sophomore year at Guelph. I took them as easy electives to help keep my GPA up under a full load of science work. And, yes, I had spent part of the summer after that year as a teacher's aid assisting with summer school for Seventh Graders.
      That does NOT qualify me to be our stowaway's tutor for college classes!

      However, an assistant mission director in St. Hubert with the CSA, and who-knows-who, whereever, with NASA, and even somebody at the ESA thought this was the best idea in the history of human beings in space.

      It was couched in wonderful language.
      They talked about how the media on Earth had fallen in love with our Stowaway. That he had given "new life" to the mission that the previous mission didn't have. That far from continuing to be upset that he had managed to commit crimes the US Justice Department didn't even have names for, they now wanted to know all about him and were painting him as the hero of the common man.
      Because of that, now the news media and, apparently their audience World-wide, couldn't get enough of our mission.
      At least for the time being.
      And they wanted to use him to increase interest in Science and Technology. And part of that was that he should continue his college classes on board the Argo.
      With me as his proctor.

      As the Second Officer I was to generate daily summaries and weekly reports that covered every individual on the crew, the primary experiments, and the secondary ships systems, as well as summarize anything that happened on my shift. That doesn't sound like a lot to do until you begin to look at the eleven other members of the crew, all the various experiments, including my own involving monitoring and testing various plastics through prolonged exposure to space, and the intricacies of the secondary systems which included everything from the water supply to the labs to the guidance lighting on the docking ring for incoming cargo pods.
      And now I was a teacher as well.

      I printed the order out, as well as the basic curriculum that had been sent from the Darnestown Technical and Community College in Maryland, USA, where our youngest crew member had been a second year student in good standing, although his current class load was part time, until he suddenly dropped out and left town. And he Really Left Town!
      But now, they were invoking a clause in the enrollment agreement to account for 'unexpected travel out of the area'. It did seem to apply. He had traveled out of the area. Right now, we were over thirty million kilometers away from the commuter college on Turkey Foot Road.
      We were to allow him, within reason, to use the resources of the Argo Epic to complete his Associate's Degree in Technology and Information Systems in their program that allowed him to transfer into a Bachelor's program at an impressive list of universities. Some of which, according to his academic adviser, were already offering to accept him as a full scholarship student now, even before he finished the two year program.

      Commander Nascimento, whom I'd just relieved for my shift, stopped by my station, "I see you've read it."
      "Yes sir, but I don't understand why they chose me."
      "They chose both of us. I get to be his on site academic counselor," he paused and looked around, "and Vinaya gets to set up a classroom with a dedicated terminal and video link."
      "She'll love it."
      "I hope so, she hasn't seen the message yet."
      "You can tell her when she wakes up. I'll go find Ken."
      "He's running today's laps for the charity thing."
      "I'll let him finish, then give him the good news."
      "Nice touch."

      I could hear him running as I went from the zero G central corridor out to the lab ring. Then I watched him jog by, and, as always, he acknowledged me and even tried to salute without breaking his stride.
      Then I followed him until I came to the rec room where Stan was keeping track of his distance and time.
      "You're grinning," Stan said to me.
      "You're right."
      "Stick around when he finishes and you'll find out."
      "He's got three more laps to complete the 5K. You're on."
      "How's his time?"
      "Not bad. He's right on for thirty five minutes."

      Ken was sweating and panting while Doctor Aziz checked his vitals. Something one or the other of them did every time somebody did a run.
      Then I went through the whole thing about Ken going back to school.
      "He doesn't get a choice?" Doctor Aziz asked.
      "No. He's here, he does it. Part of the package."
      Engineer Stan was the closest thing the stowaway had to a friend on board, he began nodding to the young man. "I think it's a good thing. I can cover some of your duties when you're in school if you need me to."
      Finally, he shrugged and nodded, "OK, if it's an order. I guess I'll do it. When do I start?"

Ken's Story
      It was something I never expected.
      I had liked going to college. Most of the time I did OK without studying or having to do too much homework or anything, but now, it wasn't even like I was really in school.
      I was facing a workstation with a keyboard and mouse just like in the computer lab at school, with another screen above it that would show the instructor back home, with a couple of cameras that they could control to see what I was doing, but out the portal to my left was a view of the rear of the ship, including the docking ring and primary engineering beyond it, and every once in awhile, I could see the small bluish dot that was Earth.
      For my first class Ms Vinaya showed me how to log on and said it took almost three minutes for my video signal to get to Earth right now, at Venus, it would take even longer.
      "So you will not be having a normal conversation, and the others listening to your lessons will spend a lot of time waiting for you or your teacher on Earth to answer each other."
      "What others?" I asked her.
      Ms Vinaya laughed, "They didn't tell you? Every time you are in class, it is being streamed all over the world, high schools, colleges, everywhere. It will even be shown on different space agency TV channels. In my country, it is being shown in English and you can pick Hindi or Bengali or other subtitles."
      "My schoolwork will be on TV in India." I said.
      "Yes. I like it," she smiled and then pointed to a tablet that I could use for homework. "You'll do fine, just be yourself. You'll make us all proud."
      And then she went out and left me facing the camera.
      In a minute the monitor with the feed from DTCC came on with the school's logo, then it showed a teacher I remembered from the networking class I had been in.
      Somebody told him that we were connected and that the signal had a seven minute round trip time.
      "I guess this will be a somewhat unusual seminar," he said.
      "Yes, sir, Mister Thompson."
      In seven minutes I heard him say, "You remembered me?"
      "Yes, sir. I remember your class very well, it's helped me do things on the ship, there are a lot of networks here in different configurations."

      Later I found out that they were recording everything from the ship at the school and they played my saying that over and over, and even used it in their commercial for next year.

      It was really awkward to use the live link for classwork, so we decided that I would have a time with each of my four teachers for the classes I had been in when I was in school, then I would do the assignments with one of the crew monitoring me in case I tried to cheat. Then I'd record something, and we'd send it back to Earth with my work.

      I don't know if I should say it like this or not, but, it made school work fun.

10. "I am Vinaya, I take care of the autonomous units and assist with the communications."
      I did not begin with the ISRO with the intent of going into space myself. I was a robotic technician, as part of that I specialized in the way self-mobile units communicated with the ship itself, and the humans controlling them, and when necessary, with each other. I was part of the development team assigned to improve the robotic units that worked to maintain the outside systems and instruments on the Argo Epic. As we worked, my area of expertise expanded and began to include not only the high level human interface languages, but some lower and even machine language programming that enabled the units to function and work with each other. That direction took me into researching and understanding various aspects of the hardware from the circuit board all the way up to the final apparatus used to adjust the semi-fixed control rods in the reactors that powered the ship that could not be adjusted remotely.

      Now perhaps a bit of background about me and my country.
      As you know, I am from the Republic of India. While my family were not what my grandfather called Harijan, we were only a caste or two above the Dalits. And my admission to the technical institute in my state was solely due to our being part of one of the Scheduled Classes and I was given, as my grandfather put it with much sourness in his voice, "an opportunity to fail to prove they were right about us". A fact that I accepted as at least a chance to do what I wanted to do in life instead of being a waitress or sales clerk or one of the other few opportunities offered by our traditions. But my grandfather also whispered to me that "our caste is not our life, it is not your destiny, take the chance, and Go!"
      But once I had that chance, I didn't just succeed, I excelled. Some of the more traditional professors and administrators even tried to accuse me of cheating because somebody from my background was not supposed to be technically competent. So to prove to them that I knew my science, I volunteered to sit alone in a room and do three things with them watching. I took a test, and got a close to perfect score on it. Then I completed a hands-on lab project assembling a working test unit. Then I sat for an interview with them and answered every question they could think to ask, and a few they didn't ask.
      Finally, at the end of it all, they admitted that I would be an excellent choice to be an intern on the ISRO robotic project combined working group under the administration of ISTRAC.

      And then high level Indian politics entered my life.

      Space Research had promised that they would have a couple of things in their future. One was more female cadets for consideration for manned missions, another was to have more cadets from an historically disadvantaged caste. Neither of which had happened for several years.
      Somebody, somewhere between the Organization's Headquarters in Bangalore and my working group based in Bengaluru decided they could satisfy both aspects if they sent me to the cadet classes in the States for the Argo Mission.

      At first I didn't want to be used to placate some politician's conscience that they were making progress with India's entrenched social system.
      But then Shri Pandayaran, a member of the Space Commission, called me to his office and explained to me that this was the same sort of thing as when I got the appointment to the Institute. It was an opportunity. They had opened the door, whether I succeeded in the program or not was up to me.

      And so I went.
      And I excelled.
      And now I am in charge of all of the automated units on the Argo.
      And now, I am being assisted by a young man who not only knows my family name and history, he can pronounce most of it correctly, and his only reason for being here is that he outwitted everybody else.
      I wish I had thought of that.

      Young Ken had a deep understanding of the original configuration of the ship, and how the original units operated, many of which were still on board, and many of those had not been significantly upgraded. So he could work with them as needed.
      However, he had limited knowledge of some of the new units, but I saw immediately that he was a quick learner, and soon he was not only capable of assisting me, he was asking questions that indicated that he had a better grasp of the issues with them than those that had quizzed me that day back at the Institute.

      Except on the ship, there were new units that were built, and programmed, everywhere from Japan to the USA to Germany and even from Israel. So for me, it was like being back at the Institute's test laboratory, except now, it wasn't school any more, this was for real.

Ken's Story:
      One of the problems I've never understood with the original robots on the Argo was that why they didn't make it so they could swap out the battery packs on them. Every robot had a built in battery that when its charge ran down they had to go back to their station to recharge. And some of them took a whole day to recharge. So if they were working on a specific task and that was the only available unit for that task, they stopped, recharged, then went and finished it. And when the battery pack failed, it sometimes took the engineers over a day to take the robot apart enough to get to the pack to replace it. And some of the robots couldn't use a battery that fit any other robot.
      It reminded me of the air filters on the Apollo 13 mission.
      With the new robots, they could not only change out their charge packs, they could do it on the fly while working. In fact, there were smaller multi armed robots that could do that for the ones working so they didn't have to stop. In some cases, the working robot had to stop what it was doing for a few minutes while the battery changer did its thing, but then it could go right back to work with minimal down time. And, the new robots only used two kinds of batteries. One large high voltage pack for the big outside robots, and a smaller pack for the others.

      Then I started taking care of the internal cleaner and supply robots. After all, somebody has to clean the robots that clean the ship.

11. "That's not good." Commander's log.
      We were approaching the position to begin our orbit of Venus, or rather, Venus had met up with us and now we were moving to enter orbit....
      .... and things got even more interesting, but not in a good way. And it delayed the start of our serious planetary science as well.

      One of the things we discussed in the preparations for the mission was that we would lose a good deal of the lead time Earth's space stations enjoyed to prepare for solar storms as we approached Venus. In fact, as the various observation platforms that were orbiting to warn Earth stayed with Earth as Venus, and us, caught up to, and then passed our home planet due to Venus's higher orbital velocity, it wouldn't be long before we would have to rely on our own predictions of Solar incidents that could impact the ship.
      And it just happened.

      The observatories had been watching a small group sunspots and prominences and other features that appeared to be coming together and might produce a large flare or even a coronal mass ejection.
      A sudden flare could reach us in about an hour or so. So we were hoping that with all of the constant monitoring of the Sun's activity, we'd have a bit of lead time before anything happened.
      The problem was that since we were more than a third of the way around the sun from where Earth was. The computer modeling of what might come our way wasn't as reliable as it should have been, and they were getting worse as we got ahead of the Earth as we were closing on where Venus was going, and before long, we'd be on the other side of the Sun from the Earth.
      We were relying on our own direct observation as much as readings from the actual antique SOHO sun watcher that was orbiting around the Earth Lagrange point that was now far behind us, and every other electronic eye that was focused on the Sun. There was one and only one reason to have NASA and the ESA simply relay the direct data feed from the old workhorse and its cousins directly to us, Time. It took a minute or so for the information from SOHO to get to Earth, then it took a few more minutes for the radio signal to get to us. By the time we got the information and realized something was up, a solar eruption could be here. But even at that, at least we'd know what was going on, and maybe, just maybe, have time to do something about it.

      And that is exactly what happened. The incoming data from the solar spies triggered an alert on the Command deck and in the solar lab. We then began checking readings and our own cameras to see if we could detect anything that was coming our way.
      There was.
      The recent point of interest on the sun was in the process of producing at least a flare, and there were signs that it might even make it to class M. A class C flare is barely noticeable on Earth, but we're fifty million kilometers closer to the source than Earth, and we didn't have the Earth's powerful magnetic field to protect us. An A or B flare would be a nuisance for us, but that was about it. It would make some good science work for the mission. We might be able to ride out a C without it being too bad for us or the ship. An M could easily disable the ship and sicken the crew. We won't talk about a class X flare or a CME, while spectacular, those are rare enough to not be of serious concern to us. If one did come our way, well, "it's been an honor to serve."
      This flare, when it was still building, was part of a patch of sunspots went around the far horizon of the sun as it rotated away from us ten days or so ago, in fact, when I was on my day off, was now showing serious activity that way and was predicted by everybody in the business that it would produce at least a good sized flare at any moment.
      And then it did, and as the sun rotated, it moved the growing eruption our way. And then...

      "Attention, this is not a practice drill, we have a solar flare warning. Secure the ship for it."

      We had a very special set of instructions on how to protect the ship's crew, equipment, and supplies from the radiation and that now included our passenger. He was to bring in and secure all of the outside robots, then help get the inside units into their protected niches and powered down. The rest of us had a lot of other duties, including trying to maneuver the ship into Venus's induced magnetic field.
      It meant we'd be a lot closer to the planet than we had planned on ever being, but it offered us the best protection we could find. And outrunning the storm was simply not possible.

      The procedure was to bring in the solar panels, as well as the reactor booms, with the goal being to make the ship as small of a target as possible. We closed all the shields over command and then broke out the heavy space suits that whoever was up here on duty would wear, for no more than four hours at a time and four shifts total.
      All the sensitive equipment had to be powered down, and what could be was put into shielded storage areas, including all of the lab animals and what plants could be easily and quickly moved.
      It was a lot of work, it had to be done quickly, and with no mistakes.
      The best shielded area of the entire ship was the central corridor, and even then, we would be exposed to a lot less radiation in our compartments with the doors shut. Two extra layers of radiation protection had been added to the inside and outside of this area for just this sort of eventuality. I had hoped we'd never have to find out how good the protection was, and here we were, we had just arrived at our first destination and, instead of dropping probes into the atmosphere and searching for Russian landers, we'd be hiding from a storm.

      Finally I called all hands to command to confirm with every member of the crew and every work station that they were ready for it.
      That WE were ready for it.

      A somewhat large Prominence had broken near the top of its 'loop' and had morphed into a Class C flare that was now spewing solar plasma into space instead of back into the Sun. It appeared to be of fairly short duration, and had been given an initial categorization of C-5, and, which was good for us, without a Coronal Mass Ejection... so far... but it had been confirmed and would be carried by the Sun's rotation and its own outward momentum right toward Venus in the next few hours.
      The Argo Epic was just completing its fifth full orbit of Venus at our prescribed altitude of from nine hundred to a just over a thousand kilometers above the surface.
      We were out of time.

      I gave the order and we maneuvered the ship toward the planet to assume a low 'backward' orbit as compared to Earth, to match Venus's eccentric rotation.
      Most of the orbital satellites that have been studying the planet have an orbit of seven to eight hundred kilometers.
      We were diving down to about five hundred, and if the storm got worse, we were prepared to get even closer. But four hundred kilometers or lower we'd begin encountering the outer atmosphere of the plant and have to use our engines and thrusters to maintain our orbit the way the space station does in Earth orbit.
      Except the station has a much shorter fuel supply line than we do.

      Seeing Venus through the portals being that close to us after being in deep space so long was unnerving. But, I had faith in my ship and crew. And our hand was dealt, whatever happened, we were all in for it and no mistake.

      Then, as we could actually see the beginnings of the flare heading our way, we all had to go down to our bunks and stay there. In that Ken was lucky, he had chosen a storage bin that was sufficiently shielded to protect him from the storm. He had to share his space with a couple of sensor modules that needed to be kept out of it, but so it goes.
      I took the first command watch. Putting the suit on just as the outer reaches of the flare began to impact the planet and the ship.

      I could hear electricity crackling, and see an aurora almost all the way around the planet below us just above its famous clouds. The occasional massive blast of lightning deep in the clouds reminded me that something unusual, and dangerous, was happening.
      My four hours in the suit, in command, totally cut off from Earth, with the ship mostly dark and quiet and only a brief conversation with the Chief Engineer on his way back to his bunk from checking on things back there, seemed like an eternity.

      But then I was relieved by Pelletier, and I had to go to my bunk, and tell Doctor Aziz that I felt fine, then listen to the crackling around me and watch the cameras that we had outside that still worked, watch the command monitor, and worry for two shifts.
      At first I was angry at the Chief Engineer for something he'd been doing, but then, as the storm deepened and all I could do lay weightless in my bunk and stare at the flickering monitors and worry, I was grateful to him.

      Eight hours later when I went back to command to relieve Engineer Smith, he informed me that the worst of it was over and mine might be the last emergency shift.
      It was close, it was still too 'hot' outside when Pelletier came back up, but by the end of her shift, we were out of enough of it that when Stanley came back on duty, it was mainly to pronounce the event over and give us the all clear.

      All told, it had lasted for just under two Earth days.
      I, for one, was grateful that I had to get out of my bunk and go to command and monitor the ship and the storm.
      The only other person allowed out was the engineer who would don a suit and go back to main engineering to check on the engines and thrusters that were keeping us in a close tight orbit of the planet. But he was only allowed short time, then he had to scurry back to his bunk. While engineering was shielded more than some of the other parts of the ship, it still had less than command, and nowhere near the shielding of the sleeping compartments.
      In my bunk, I slept, ate emergency rations, sipped the engineering elixir, watched a movie, read, tried to sleep more, and wonder how long until my next shift in command. But, it could have been a lot worse.

      We had expected significant minor damage and a bit of serious damage, and we were not disappointed. There were blown circuits, and a few of the built in consoles that could not be turned off or isolated were burned out, and so on. But the majority of the critical systems and equipment had survived, as had the crew.
      Everybody got complete physicals, including being screened for radiation sickness. Then we did the same thing to the ship and all of its systems.
      All told, the Argo Epic had fared its encounter with a random disagreeable element from the Sun better than it had from a similar encounter in the Asteroid Belt.

      It was over five days after the 'all clear' that I was able to report that the Argo Epic was, mostly, ready and capable of carrying out its assigned mission at the planet Venus.

Ken's Story:
      I was glad I was in my equipment bay instead of a regular crew sleeping compartment because even with the two sensor modules that I had to stow down by my feet, I had more room than they did in their compartments.
      A few of the crew bunks had had full entertainment system upgrades installed, but most had the new component units that had been fitted into the accessory panels in their compartments alongside the original screens and speakers.
      Besides the few items I had brought with me from home, I had known where there were spare speakers on board, and a portable A/V unit that was left from the original mission that was still one of the best overall entertainment platforms going, and I had stored some of the better ration packs in my room as I came across them in the supply pods, and things like that. So when the Commander ordered us all into our bunks for the duration of the storm, I was OK with that.
      I mean, I was already used to using relief bags for that sort of thing in my room, and I knew how to stow them so they didn't get in the way or leak, and I could still do some school work and play games and all just like they did. So other than being able to run or really stretch, I was fine in my room, which, except for the height of the ceiling, wasn't a whole lot smaller than the space I had in our bedroom in the apartment back home.
      And it was soundproof!

12. Stanley Smith, Assistant Engineer's, Log

      I know the Commander has reported that the Argo came through the solar storm with flying colors and, all things considered, it wasn't anything more than an inconvenience and a slight delay to our mission.
      Well, the chief engineer, Ms Vinaya, and even Ken agreed with me that, on the whole, we think we're lucky to be alive and have a still functioning ship around us.
      By actual count, seventy-two percent of the electrical circuits on the ship had some sort of fault when the all clear from the storm was given. That ranges from major component or conductor failure to something as simple as a tripped breaker or blown internal fuse. There was heat damage from the actual plasma of the flare to some of the exterior surfaces, and even some of the shield rated glass of the main windows of Command were discolored through the closed exterior armor.
      We lost control modules in almost every part of the ship.
      All communication with Earth was out for well over a day, and was unreliable for some time after that.
      One of the solar panels was down to eighteen percent of its capacity due to either cell sections being fried or their connections being burned, the other two were at twenty seven and thirty five percent. One of the reactors was unresponsive although we were getting some power from it. The other two were at operational power, but that's the end of the good news. They were functional as they were. And that was it. The control systems to adjust their outputs or even check their status weren't cooperating.
      While the environmental systems that kept us breathing and from either cooking in our bunks or freezing to death were operating, they were running in stand-by mode on a combination of emergency backup and minimal main power.
      The labs in the science ring were a mess.
      The Docking Ring wasn't in much better shape, and even if a cargo pod had arrived, I have no idea if we'd be able to do anything with it. Or for that matter, even capture it because most of the robotic arms and locking servos were dead.
      For Ms Vinaya's part. She was now trying to restore programming to systems that shouldn't have lost their programming. As she put it, we were fortunate that she'd taken a disc of every major program and system image into her bunk with her, or we'd all be spending the next month typing code into command stations and control modules.
      Ken had taken the extra trouble to pack the outside robots in as close to each other in the equipment bays as he could so they partially protected each other. And even then, the ones in the corners of the bay, closest to the exterior skin of the ship, were all damaged in some way. Mostly by a combination of static discharge, heat, and hard radiation that simply melted the electronic boards inside them. Many of the others had minor damage from the static discharges that had to have looked like lightning arcing from one surface to the other in the bay.

      The Argo Epic had been originally designed to operate AWAY from the Sun. Not in its back yard.
      In my opinion, the idea to send it to Mars by way of Venus was asking for trouble.

      But nobody asked my opinion before the mission was drawn up, and when I was offered the chance to go, Of Course I took it.
      Wouldn't you?

      But once we were allowed out of our bunks, we had to get back to work.
      We had some backup components. And Earth had promised to use one of the high speed pods to send us whatever we needed to fix whatever had to be fixed as soon as we told them what we needed.
      And so we stole from dead systems to fix partially operational systems, and hotwired links around toasted power distribution nodes, and did whatever else had to be done to get the ship back up and running.
      But when it came to the Science Ring, that was a different story.
      While the Chief Engineer and me were getting the essential stuff working, and Vinaya was telling some of the control systems that they were indeed on a space ship instead of inside a toaster oven, Ken was in the Ring with a flashlight looking around and seeing what needed to be done before the science and medical crew could even tell us what of their equipment was broken.
      It was only partially in jest when I reported back to Mission Control that the Science Lab Ring essentially needed a whole new Ring of Science Labs.

      It was, very nearly, That Bad.

      For starters, the lights were out and the air didn't work. But Ken had to come back to the central corridor tell me that because the com was out, and the backup wireless was still hash.
      The good news was that the Ring was still there, and didn't appear to have any major hull ruptures.
      So we'd fix the rest of it.

      Like I said, we had no reliable inbound or outbound communications with Earth for a couple of days. And when the main channels did come back up, they was limited at best and unreliable at worst for a couple of more days.
      We couldn't adjust our rotational speed for a while, but at least our orbit around Venus wasn't decaying, too rapidly.
      We ate cold meals for a week. There was only one head working for two days, then there were two for another couple of days. Showers were, delayed. We had to vent some waste water to space to relieve pressure in the recycling unit to reset the system to determine what was wrong with it.
      Yes, we dumped wastewater in orbit of Venus. If we contaminated the planet with our unprocessed pee and poo and old coffee and half eaten cold tortilla soup, so be it. But most of the data we recorded of our temporary ring around the planet was that the solar wind so strong, and the clouds further down were so hot and acidic that the vast majority of the water and organic compounds we dumped were reduced to their constituent molecules, and even into atoms, and blown into space before they had a chance to get into the lower atmosphere or to the planet itself.
      But then after the releases, the chief engineer finally got readings out of the system that made sense and was able to get into the controls and do the work it needed to get it operational. Fortunately, it could be fixed, and then reprogrammed. Two days, and a couple of more dumps of unprocessed waste later, it was working again.

      But, sooner than some of us expected, the red and yellow, and unlit lights, on the master panels began to turn green. And once we got a supply pod from Earth, more of them were green at least most of the time.
      One of the systems that never seemed to recover was the on demand water heater for bathing cubical 2. After the flare, it only got the water moderately warm. To repair it we would have to change out the heating elements and the control module. Mission Control is looking for replacements, but their confidence is low.

      We had some replacement cells for the solar panels, and we used all of them. Fortunately, this close to the Sun, we didn't need all of them working for us to operate at full power.
      The reactors fared a little better. We lost a few circuits on each one. But their internal safeguards dropped them to warm standby.
      Our outside robots had a ton of work to do, but some of them had sustained damage, as did their control units and the outside relay modules. So, we made due. We swapped parts and controllers and got the ones that could or would to work, and we got to work repairing the others.

      Young Ken proved that he was a true asset to the mission in the way he got some of the outside robots to work.
      He did the mechanical work on them, Vinaya rewrote and reprogramed the software on them, and then they sent out cleaning robots with adapted arms and borrowed control units to change out fried servomotors on the docking ring so we could accept the next cargo pod that was due in a few days.
      I found both of them sound asleep in the robot shop, in the middle of a group of inside and outside units all around them and hanging from the walls and ceiling. And for the record, they both snore.

      The rest of us worked on internal systems, and got the rec pod back online so we could have something decent for lunch.

13. Note from Mission Control:
The following personal log was submitted and the crew member requested to remain anonymous, we have granted their wish and translated the log into clear English and redacted certain information in it to protect their identity.

      There are thirteen people on board.

      I have never thought of myself as superstitious. But here I am, hearing words from my paternal grandmother talking in (her native language) about how some things are just wrong in the order of Nature, and having 13 of anything is one of them. She even refused a "baker's dozen" of rolls when they tried to give them to her when we were (on holiday) one time.
      That set of my grandparents were very religious, and very superstitious. My maternal grandmother was grounded in the old ways of our people, but she also went to (religious service) every week. However, my parents had gotten away from both for the most part.
      And I thought I had.
      Until now, on the Argo Epic, here at Venus, with Thirteen People on board.

Engineering and Life Support Supplement.

      It was something that had been anticipated, but the effect, and the affect, were worse than expected.

      The ship is closer to the Sun than it was ever intended to be. And, there is no argument that the Argo Epic is a lot bigger than anything else made on Earth that had ever been launched and that has ended up this close to the Sun.
      So there's a problem.
      As the ship rotates along its long axis to maintain artificial gravity in the ring and the pods, the side that is facing the sun absorbs more solar energy in the form of heat than it radiates back into space when it rotates away from the star. So the ambient temperature in the entire ship is climbing. And our life support system is already over taxed working to maintain a comfortable working temperature in the interior of the ship. And it is worse outside where the external automated units have to work to maintain the ship. Some of them have already begun to show heat stress in their systems.
      We tried several different techniques to transfer the heat from the ring to the core, which was better able to transfer it back into space. Finally, we arrived at a sequence of fans, some of them improvised and somewhat comical but effective enough to pull air down the connecting passageways with the life support system only pushing cool air out to the ring from the main system. It wasn't elegant or even a reliable system. And the fact that a couple of the internal cleaning robots had been adapted to be portable fans pumping warm air back into the center of the ship instead of doing their assigned jobs was just the punch line to the joke.
      But it worked. The heating of the exterior of the ship evened out and the labs didn't get so hot as to be overly uncomfortable or to damage equipment.
      With the three work pods near the docking ring, there was an even simpler system that was just as effective, even if it did block part of the view from those labs. We had several of the exterior maintenance robots attach reflective metallic blankets over the exterior of the pods to reflect sunlight and protect the hull from excessive heating. It was the same solution employed on Skylab. It was that almost ancient history that gave us the idea for our own repair.
      And it worked as well now as it did in 1973.

Ken's Story
      I had to go to medical to get cuts on two of my fingers glued shut because the tape I used didn't last.
      When I got up there Doctor Shinno scolded me for not coming up there sooner because one of my other fingers looked infected, and I had knicks all the way up both arms, and on my forehead.
      When I left medical, I had bandages or skin sealant on eight fingers, and my forehead, and some on my chin, which I didn't even know I'd cut.
      But before Ms Vinaya insisted that I take a break and go get my hands looked at, we'd gotten five of the robots that had been damaged by the storm out and working on the reactors and the docking ring. Then we worked on the ones that would repair the solar panels and everything else that needed done outside. Then, we had work to do in Command, and the Ring, and then it took all of us to get the robotic arms to work to grab an incoming cargo pod, and then there was more to do.

      I've never worked so many hours straight in my life. Taking naps instead of getting a night's sleep, eating while working, and going down to go to the toilet only to get distracted and almost have an accident an hour later because I was working on something else.
      But we did it. We got most of the ship's systems back online when there were some reports we saw on Earth news shows that there was talk about aborting the mission and bringing us home.
      It might just be me, but I thought that hearing that was enough to make us work even harder to get the ship back in shape.

14. "I feel like I am finally able to do what I came to do. Which is to Study Venus.
Log Entry by Doctor Lauritz Kristoffersen

      The ship is still in a fairly low orbit, and I have been able to get some readings on the upper atmosphere which was almost so close I was tempted to see if there was a way we could lower a sampling device down to it on a cable. But I knew that was impossible because while it looked like we were skimming the cloudtops, it was still hundreds of kilometers below us.
      But before they engaged the engines and began to move us away from the planet I was able to drop three UAV probes into the clouds to fly along and then make a very slow decent and get readings that nobody else ever has. They were able to survive for several hours. But then one failed dramatically and sent back some rather terrifying video of its plunge through the clouds until the video equipment overheated. The other two flew until their flight batteries were exhausted, then both went into glide mode and transmitted for another hour or so, then one of them succumbed to Venus's inhospitable climate and plunged to the surface, the other was still flying when it stopped transmitting rather suddenly. However, all three had returned enough data to warrant their use.
      My instruments also detected a very small magnetic field that varied as we orbited the planet. It was different from the induced field created by the solar wind and seemed to correlate somewhat to the various surface features we were mapping as we went.
      It supported my theory that much earlier in its history the planet was far more favorable to life as we are familiar with it than it is today. We verified through the various readings that in the past Venus had its fair share of volcanoes as evidenced by the extinct mounds on its surface. It had also had tectonic activity, which indicated it had a hot liquid core, at least for a good period of time, which would have also created a planet wide magnetic field.
      Unfortunately, that was all in its ancient past, and now the world below us was a caustic mess to where we were taking bets on whether some of our probes would cook, melt, or dissolve first on their way to the surface.
      Out bets did lead to a side discovery. On Venus, not all toxic clouds are created equal and there were a couple of our microprobes that made it to the surface and continued to relay information, including some remarkable photos and even video for some time.

      One of the objectives of our close survey was to identify hot springs or vents of hot gasses of any description. Which are undeniable indicators of subsurface activity, indicating that magma was still present inside the planet, even if in only certain locations and in small amounts.
      No matter how we scanned the surface, the temperature was all too consistent. If you scanned something like the islands of New Zealand with our equipment, you'd see pockets of natural heat being released. The good thing about using hot springs and thermal vents for our benchmark is that they don't move, and most are fairly long term.
      Several previous probes had relayed what was thought to be recent activity on a couple of volcanic peaks and other features. But we're talking about 'recent' in a geologic time scale. We wanted to see something happening Now!
      It wasn't.
      As we orbited the planet along several different planes the thermal scan ran constantly. It recorded some local variations which turned out to be differential solar heating due to the topography and soil type in the area, and a few other aberrations that may or may not have been geothermal. A fleeting variation that disappeared as quickly as it appeared, and never recurred. Not what we needed as conclusive proof that Venus still had active geology in its interior, including a superheated core driving it.
      If there is magma under the surface of Venus, it was staying there and hiding from us.

      We launched several probes that were specifically designed to land on the surface and sit there for ages and report to us, and to various orbiting probes after we left, until their batteries died.
      That's all they were supposed to do, and that's what they did.
      Sit there and relay information. No photos, no video, no samplings of the atmosphere, nothing like that. Sealed units impervious to various acids, immune to temperature hotter than the oven in a pizza shop on Earth, able to withstand pressures like being at the bottom of the North Sea.
      They were seismic detectors. They sat on the surface and listened to the planet.
      Talk about a boring job!
      The most excitement we got from them was when one recorded the impact of another of our probes that was launched later and the parachute failed and it landed with a thud a couple of kilometers away. However, that did prove that the seismographs were working. And they were working (including the one that had a hard landing!), it was Venus that wasn't.
      We recorded some ground activity as the planet slowly rotated and the area with the probe came into the sun and warmed, and then another set from another probe as it was carried into darkness. That was it. No 'Venusquakes'.

      From what I understand, Adebayo's airborne life surveys had about the same result. He'd found lots of chemicals that can support life, or be the results of it. But he found a lot more that was absolutely toxic to anything we'd regard as alive.

      Venus, while pretty and interesting, was a dead world in every way.

Second Officer Pelletier
      Somehow the actual responsibility for the capturing of a non-functioning Venus orbital probe never got assigned to anybody. So I volunteered.
      I assembled my team, we tracked several likely targets, and then picked three of them to try to grab in turn.
      The net worked as advertised. The robotic arm pulled them in, then an outside robot towed them into the airlock.
      We captured two of the orbiters.

      And after all that, all we had was two dead orbiters.
      We learned that long term exposure to space is bad for some types of equipment, and direct exposure to solar storms is worse.
      We were able to retrieve some of the data that had been recorded on one of the modules but had not been transmitted because the orbiter's power supply died before it sent its readings back home.

      And that was about it. All in all, the work we did to be able to capture the satellites was a lot more interesting, and more fun, than the result itself.

Ken's Story
      One of the emails I got asked me about the others on the crew.
      They wanted to know who I liked the most, who was most interesting, and things like that. They even wanted to know who I didn't like and would rather they weren't on the ship, but there isn't anybody I don't like that much, and if there was, I don't think I'd tell anybody about it.

      Without a doubt my favorite person on board is Commander Nascimento. I know some people will think I'm just kissing up, but I'm not. He's a great guy, he's a great Mission Commander, and I even think of him as a friend at times.
      It took him awhile to begin to think of me as a member of the crew and not just a stowaway and a kid that needed a babysitter, but once I had proved myself, he even added me to the duty rotation with assigned tasks. He didn't have to do that.

      Of the others, there are some I like more than others, of course, and some I like work for but I don't think of them like a friend, like the Chief Engineer.
      I'll freely admit that I've got a serious crush on Doctor Shinno. And, to some degree, on Specialist Vinaya. And they seem to like me as well. But not like that.

      Of the other men on the crew I'd have to say Stan is my best friend. We work together on projects, and when we're off duty together, we play games and hang out together a lot.

      So, you know, I like almost everybody, I work well with all of them, and I try to make everybody's life better on the ship in any way that I can.

The Next Stage Of The Mission begins, by Commander Nascimento

      We've been orbiting Venus for over six months. Half of an Earth Year, and less than half of a single day on Venus!
      Yes. It has been that long.
      Of course, the first month or so doesn't really count because we got here with couple of days to spare before the storm hit. And then it took some time before the ship was fully operational. So we got our mission here extended by more than another month. But today is our one hundred sixty fifth day in orbit of Venus since the storm ended, and we're going to have to get going.
      And, of course, those whose entire life has been spent getting ready for this chance to study Venus objected, but even they had to admit that with the instruments on board what was left to do was limited at best. There just wasn't a whole lot more we could do to learn more about the planet than we had already done.
      Every square meter of the planet had been mapped with high intensity radar, lidar, infrared, and even visually when we could peek through the clouds and see the tops of the tallest mountains.
      We'd gotten samples of the cometary tail of the planet which was made up of some of the gasses in its atmosphere, and we learned something very important about the planet that way as well. It stinks! When we brought the sample container back into the airlock with the robotic arm on an outside robot, it had some of the particles of the stream of molecules on it as well as in it, and we could smell it. In short, Venus Stinks!
      We'd failed to discover any active vulcanism or plate tectonics on the planet. We'd added tons of evidence to the knowledge that at one time ages ago Venus had had both, and it would seem that it had a lot of it, but today, even if one of the volcanoes did erupt, it wouldn't amount to much.
      We did find some evidence of liquid water, which was important. But the water we found wasn't anything you'd want to drink. And even now, there's some debate about whether the small amounts of ice and possible liquid around the ice at the very top of the pole furthest away from the sun and only for a brief time, and even then, it may have been in the clouds instead of on the surface, but there it was, and it Was Actually H20 Water and Water-Based Ice. At the very least, the substance had some water in it, and a lot of everything else. But, there was water there.
      And there was no sign of any sort of life. Every test came back negative or at best inconclusive for the detection of life.

      As for my added mission of locating the various landers and probes, I was more successful than I thought I would be. Of about thirty known targets that I was to attempt to locate and identify, I confirmed over half of them, and got good resolution radar or lidar images of what was left of most of those. Of the others, with some, we found odd looking spots and blemishes where the object was supposed to be, or in some cases, nothing at all.
      Venus, as it were, doesn't like to 'give up her dead'.
      The only thing that worked out well was our attempts to capture a couple of the long term orbiters for study.
      We 'caught one', and we caught parts of another one that broke when we tried to capture it.
      In reality, all it taught us was that many years in deep space will make some objects fragile.

      I gave everybody about two weeks more while we waited on an inbound cargo pod, then we were breaking orbit and heading out.
      I was very surprised when Doctor Kristoffersen said that he was fine with that. He still had a couple of probes on the surface that were reporting in, but he expected them to go silent any time now.

      It was a quick two weeks. Especially since the cargo pod was three days early as its engines had been running harder than programmed.
      We lucky to catch the thing, but we did. Then we started getting ready to go.
      Finally, I gave the order to break orbit and head out to Mars.

      Which brought up a problem.
      The original plan was for a specially built personnel shuttle to bring some replacements, and then some of the current crew to disembark and head home on the same vessel. Both journeys were to take less than a month as we would leave Venus at the best possible time to cut transit time between the planets.
      That wasn't going to happen now.
      In short, for the transfer to have happened, we should have already been about halfway home.
      Our optimum window for leaving Venus for Earth has come and gone. And even while we are traveling faster than Earth in respect to the Sun while we are orbiting Venus, maintaining that speed is out of the question. And sitting in space or continuing on in retrograde orbit until we meet the Earth would take far too much fuel and several more months.
      So, here we are, and here we'll stay, and the only thing coming in was a couple of supply pods with stuff for the mission at Mars.

      It was something we all expected when we launched. In fact, I don't think anybody ever thought it would work out as drawn up. There were too many variables in play, including our delay with the solar flare as well as potential problems with the Earth end of things.
      I think mission control knew it wasn't going to work out because there has never been an indication that there was a relief crew in training, and nobody had ever mentioned that the long range personnel transfer pod that didn't have to use the capsule airlock had been built and was in testing. So while it was in the travel brochure, it was just a line from the sales bunny that everybody smiled and winked at.

      We did send a bunch of data and samples and broken equipment, a dead Venus orbiter, videos and other stuff back to Earth on a cargo pod. By the calculations of the students in several classes, they predicted it would meet Earth in about five months.
      Which would be a very long time in something the size of a cargo pod if anybody had decided to stick to the plan and go back to Earth.

      But in any case, we are on our way to where Mars will be when we get that far from the Sun.

15. Carmelo Bianchi, Mission Specialist: Optics
      I want this released to the media.
      I have heard it reported in the British press, and in the American, but also at home in Pontedera, that I AM the Italian Space Program.
      This is simply not true. We have had others from our country in space, perhaps not as many as some others in the ESA and with other programs, but I am not the first born and bred Italian in space. Although by the time I return to Earth I will have exceeded the time in space of all the others, combined. Which I am quite proud of.

      My mission has a sole purpose, but it is very broad and occupies the majority of my days on the ship.
      I am here to use, to test, to evaluate, and in the end, to recommend for future missions, various optical components of everything from telescopes and cameras to window glass in the various labs and even command. I have a range of equipment that includes my own eyes up to some of the most expensive and exacting optical test apparatus ever launched from Earth.
      It pains me to say it, but say it I will, the vast majority of my equipment was manufactured in Switzerland or Japan, and other parts were made in Germany or America. Several Italian firms had bid on parts of it, but they lost when the committee overseeing my mission evaluated the quality of the various components. As Doctor Neilsen pointed out during the hearings, national pride will not serve very well on the Argo when the device being tested failed during a simulation in England.

      My home country is otherwise well represented on board.
      A significant part of our menu has it roots in my homeland.
      A great deal of the supplies in medical have our flag on their containers.
      Many of the internal structural members of the ship were originally cast in Italy.
      And, as I understand it, about two thirds of the chemical slurry that collects our own waste and is then processed and reused very nearly endlessly was produced in Italy. And most of that was made within walking distance of the Cathedral in Milan.

      But, while that last is an important part of the mission, it isn't the kind of thing most people in Italy want to be proud of.

      So they can be proud of My Mission.

      Let me explain it like this: We, as a Species, have gotten pretty good at producing things that can 'see in the dark', that can take very good images of very dim sources of light either directly or that light reflected off of something else, and so on.
      It was my field at University both in Italy and when I was a visiting scholar at MIT in the US.
      We worked on the optics that could, and did, photograph in spectacular clarity a light source dimmer than a single candle, from fourteen kilometers above, while moving at speed. Not only could we resolve the LED source from our photo, we were able to identify the people around it, and able to tell them what brand of American beer they had on the table next to the source. From ONLY the light of the LED and whatever starlight was adding to the ambiance of their campsite on the Salt Flats.
      So we're good at that.

      On the other hand, we're not so good at photographing objects in intensely bright light.
      Not only are we the closest to the Sun any humans have ever been, we're the closest any humans ever will be.
      And I am exposing every sort of lens and light gathering device possible to that intense source of light. I have a test arena outside where the 'camera of the day' is mounted facing away from the Sun and photographs a selection of test targets of various levels of detail and contrast. In some cases I photograph the Sun directly, usually with unfortunate results as far as the equipment is concerned.
      And then I found another test target to photograph with the various lenses and sensors.

      There is something comforting about knowing where Home was and being able to get clear enough extremely high resolutions shots of it that several of the crew have exclaimed that they could see their hometown and could even make out their school or something.
      Let me point out to you that the Argo is moving, as is the Earth which is both rotating and running in its orbit. And when I took the picture that Svetlana claimed she could see her primary school in, Earth was approaching 100 million Kilometers away as Venus pulled even further away from it.
      We compared the image at maximum magnification with a map of her town, and, there it was. A large rectangular dot in the right location on the edge of town, that was labeled on the map as her school.
      That camera arrangement, lenses, light gathering sensor, and all the rest, passed that test.

      I also photograph the other planets, and various Near Earth Asteroids, and have even caught the occasional human spacecraft, such as the elusive Apollo 10 module, with my equipment. But those are not the focus of my work, getting an absolutely spectacular shot of Mercury as it came around the Sun to where we could make out the features that survive on the star-side of the planet was just a bonus.

      And of course there have been some practical jokes with my equipment.
      For several days not long after we left Earth for Venus, every time I went into my lab, somebody, or rather, several somebodies, had photographed various other objects, including body parts, and left them displayed on my monitors.
      Finally, I rigged a hidden remote camera to catch them in the act, and then I surreptitiously displayed the evidence on THEIR work station. After a few more days of that, it died down, however, I left the remote camera in place and activated whenever I wasn't in the lab.

      Another joke that was far more creative was when an origami bunny rabbit made of pink paper appeared as part of my outside test targets. It was interesting to see which camera could resolve the object down to where we could make out the weave of the paper in the intense glare of undifused sunlight, but after that, I had to ask that one of the outside robots remove it and 'set it free' into space.

      As the only bona fide Italian on the crew, the others were disappointed when during training it became painfully obvious that my cooking skills consist of being excellent at operating most makes of microwave ovens, and I'm also not too bad at ordering take out food of several different international cuisines.
      Which, if you remember, was also an issue with the original crew.
      We have engineers, we have a botanist, physicians, command crew, and so on. We do not have a chef on board. And while our rations are quite good, it would be nice to be able to order something off a menu, perhaps with a nice red wine skillet sauce. But, alas, all we have are these small cello packs of various liquids that are supposed to be sauces, the best of which is lemon juice.
      All the rest of them do is to make boring food messy.

      And then I go back and test another combination of sensor and lens.
      Which is my mission.
      And I am very good at it.

Ken's Story
      Charlotte made certain that I didn't let my crew assignments interfere with my school work.
      I mean, Officer Pelletier.
      I usually had an hour of school before my duty shift, and then two hours after.
      She didn't want me to include making a video answering questions from others, or promoting something for Darnestown Tech, but I made the case that the videos were For the School, if not actual schoolwork, so her and the Commander made it part of my curriculum, and then they started critiquing and grading my videos. And the team of professors at the college agreed to it. So now I had to do it!
      The science part of my studies was the best part. And I think it was because every science teacher on the planet wanted something from the mission to incorporate into their own classes. So I got to work for a week in the biology lab with Specialist Adebayo tracking the nutrient uptake of the plants in the hydroponic racks with different sorts of grow lights on them. Then next I'd be in the optics lab trying to take a photo of something with different filters on the cameras while Mr. Bianchi explained it all to me.

      They even worked mathematics into my work on the ship. The math teacher had the students work out a problem to do with the angular momentum of the ship as we changed our path from a equatorial orbit of Venus to one that traveled over the poles so we could better map them. They had a mathematical expression of the energy needed to change the direction of something the mass of the Argo in a certain amount of time. And they worked out a way for me to check their work using the Argo itself.
      I was in Command at one of the spare stations and was monitoring the maneuvering thrusters and the engines and the strain meters that kept the Argo from snapping parts of itself off during maneuvers like this. The class had predicted a certain amount of thrust per minute per degree while maintaining orbital velocity.
      One thing they didn't take into account was that it was almost impossible to keep up a constant rate of acceleration as the ship rotated. Yes, the Argo is designed as something of a gyroscopic wheel, but it is an enormous gyroscope. And it isn't perfectly balanced. The Argo wobbles. It isn't noticeable in normal flight, but when it is changing direction, it is, and you can feel it.
      Overall, and Officer Pelletier checked my work, the class's predictions were correct within a certain margin of error, but their theory fell just short when it ran up against real world application. But on the whole, the Commander and the Chief Engineer said they did pretty good. And their prediction of the fuel used during the maneuver was very close, with the difference being that they were working off the specifications for the equipment as designed and not accounting for the changes made since. Then I sent the video of them saying that to my math teacher, and it made it into class rooms all over the world!

      The only class that had trouble working with where I was and what I was doing was the modern language and literature classes. They had me talk to some of the crew about their own school work, and I sent them some of the stories they mentioned in their native languages, but that was about it. So I sat in front of the computer terminal and tried to speak Spanish.

      And of course for my Physical Education Class, I took advantage of my situation every chance I got. But I also got to point out that 'weightless' does not mean 'mass less' and a two kilo dumbbell still has two kilos of mass even though it is floating in the central corridor, and it takes just as much power to move it there as it would on Earth. And, of course, the 5 K or other runs or power walks were a lot more fun here than on a track on Earth.

      But the idea of having a live chat with the professor or answering a question from a class when, right now with Earth almost on the other side of the Sun, we're ten light minutes from Earth, so it would be almost twenty minutes from the time they asked "can you hear me" to when they got my answer of "yes" back.
      So they send questions or assignments, and I make a video and send it back.
      After Officer Pelletier watched and listened and graded it, of course.

16. Chief Engineer's Log

      We're on our way to Mars, a year and a half into the mission. And NOW they change my duty as First Contact Officer.

      On the original mission, the duty fell to the Second Officer. With our crew, Pelletier is the Second in Command, and she told Mission Control that she wouldn't do it, that she had enough to do on the mission. And they let her get away with it. So, naturally, they gave to me.
      They justified it by saying that if an alien starship wanted to dock with the Argo, it would be an Engineering problem.
      Oh, well.

      Originally, the First Contact protocol they gave me was simply a copy of what was on the original mission. Now, they've changed it.
      IF we detect or are contacted by another spacecraft that is "definitely of non-Earth Human origin" I have a whole list of stuff I'm supposed to do. There's messages I'm to broadcast, there's a programmed sequence to blink our outside lights which is supposed to indicate we're not a threat, I'm supposed to open the available cargo pod docks and the outside airlock, and so on. Including NOT dumping any waste while they're around in case they don't like us polluting space.
      My first question was this: "Is there anything else out here of Earth Human origin that we should know about?"
      They never answered my question.
      I floated it by some of the others on the crew and they only thing anybody could come up with is that perhaps China had launched something that is out here. But if they had, it should look more like a Soyuz than not so there shouldn't be any mistaking it for something from Out There.
      Then one of the others wondered if perhaps Mission Control or somebody had either seen more of those infamous "uncorrelated targets" or maybe has been contacted by aliens and they knew that somebody was in our neighborhood.
      I thought about it and answered with: "If there is, and they are out here, we can do exactly nothing about it except hope they're not either trigger happy or hungry."

      But it was my assignment, and because I am a professional, I tried the proposed protocol out.
      The first problem was that while the light program looked pretty in the computer simulation, it didn't work on the ship. Nobody told the exterior lights built onto the Argo that they were supposed to be able to blink. They were either on, or they were off, and there was no way to sequence them without rewiring the ship. So, if we ran across Mission Control's mysterious friends, I'd have somebody switch the master circuit for them on and off while I broadcast the friendship messages, set to calming instrumental music no less.
      If listening to some university language professor rap to boring classical music with a pathetic light display like that didn't convince the aliens that we weren't worth making contact with, or destroying, nothing would.

      Other than that, I'm content with my assignment, and with the operations of the ship as a whole, and there's nothing else to report.

Ken's story
      It was a relief when the Commander said that we could send anything we wanted to send back to Earth in the cargo pod as long as there was room for it, and that whatever it was didn't mind being pretty close to freezing, in a barely pressurized environment, and totally weightless, for several months.
      Fortunately we have a very nearly inexhaustible supply of terabyte solid state memory units so I copied every video I'd made for class, and for my parents, and all the photos I'd taken, and whatever else I had onto several of them, and then did it all again in case one of the units failed after its trip.
      Me and Engineer Stan packed the cargo pod as tightly as possible. Everybody was sending stuff, even the Chief Engineer had a tote box with some things in it. He had one small tote box, everybody else had several boxes, totes, bags, containers, and one garment bag with several uniforms in it.

      The uniforms belonged to Specialist Adebayo, he was sending three duty worn uniforms home to be auctioned to raise money for an orphanage.
      Of course, once we all heard the story, we each contributed stuff to go to the charity as well.

      Now, the cargo pod was almost as full as it could be. We sealed it up and then it was off.

      It was kind of the final note that we were into the second part of the mission.
      Venus was still big in the rear facing portals, Earth was way out there on the other side of the Sun, and we had to really focus to see Mars. But now there was another blip on the radar that was our outbound cargo pod.
      There was still science to do. I was still doing my schoolwork. And everybody had to take their turn being examined, or tortured as some put it, in medical. And we were still trying to get some of the robots that had been damaged by the solar storm to work properly and not stop moving and begin trembling and clicking or turning in circles when they were supposed to be adjusting the cooling vents on one of the reactors.
      So there was plenty to do.
      But being done with Venus and now having a "year long commute to our next job" as Engineer Stan put it, made it seem rather sad and dull.

      But I was still on the Argo!

17. "Space is just crawling by."
      Several combined log entries from Commander Filipe Nascimento

      It seems the Ship and Crew have settled into a good routine since we started our outbound journey.
      I've been keeping 'office hours' for the last two weeks. And, so far, my off time hasn't been interrupted by anything serious.
      We've all got a lot of work to do analyzing and compiling the data we gathered at Venus. Yes, we sent everything to Earth, but the highest resolution photos and lidar studies and other data were sent on the pod. So it won't get to Earth for some time yet. So while we've got an exclusive, and plenty of time, we're doing the work.
      I've been warned that during our transit to Mars that we'll be asked to do more interactions with Earth. That is supposed to include questions from school kids, interviews with media science writers and editors, and whatever else Mission Control wants to subject us to.
      My reply was that we'd still be here whenever they send it.

      We've been accelerating since we left Venus, sixty eight days ago.
      The engines haven't been below eighty five percent of maximum ever since. It has even been shown that our solar panels are acting as solar sails and increasing our speed by some mind numbing fraction per hour. Sometime in the next couple of days we will be traveling faster than any human ever has, including the original crew of the Argo when Captain Merrick got the ship free of the Asteroid Belt and 'kicked the pig' to get home as soon as possible.
      And even so, it seems like we're barely moving.
      At Best, Mars is still over ten months away. We've knocked a couple of weeks off our transit by burning all the fuel we'd saved during our extended orbits of Venus and by adjusting our course to meet Mars a bit sooner in its orbit. But even so, it's going to be a long haul.

      Of the other science projects that were in progress included a continuation of the time monitoring that ran for the duration of the first mission. Except when they showed a definite time effect during the ship's travels, our results were somewhat confused.
      While we were on our way to Venus, the clock ran a bit faster, and while it slowed down slightly while we were in orbit of the planet, it was still running faster than its counterpart on Earth.
      Now that we're moving away from the Sun, the clock is changing again, and it will soon be close to Earth time again.

      This is day ninety.... Ninety Three. I think. Since we pulled out of orbit of Venus. I'll have to check.
      I had to make the speech about maintaining decorum and to not engage in overt casual fraternization in common areas.
      It is something that first came up with others, and then I, myself, was caught in a potentially compromising situation with another member of the crew by a maintenance crew who came up to command to repair a work station that had gone dark.
      Fortunately, it was only potentially compromising. However, there have been others that have been observed and even spied on with a media robot who haven't been just 'potentially compromised'.
      I spoke to the worst offenders privately, and everybody agreed to be more careful.
      Including myself.

      Which brings up something I've been asked in interviews by all sorts of media outlets and even various ones at almost every government space agency that's involved.
      Many of the original crew of the Argo spent as much time out of uniform as they did In Uniform for almost the entire duration of the mission. Some of those in Mission Control at both NASA and the ESA and other groups that served during that mission have remarked that the difference is striking. That we have maintained a formal mission deportment, where most of the crew keep to a duty schedule, wear their proper service uniform or an acceptable variation thereof, and we address each other as often as not with title and last name.
      It is no accident. We started that in training. Both myself and Officer Pelletier agreed that it would be easier to start that way and maintain it than to try to get it back if we allowed the crew to become less professional in their relationships and their actions on board the ship.
      And once the baseline was established, and we found out that it worked well, we just kept it up.
      And now, it is second nature. And the crew has accepted that this is the way it is, and if you want to do something else, you did it by yourself.
      Which means we've only had three, two female and one male, 'naked space 5Ks'. Neither of which set the record for such an athletic event on the ship.

      We had a computer hacker, or rather, a small group of them, attempt to get into the ship's systems.
      It was actually fun for us to play with them.
      Specialist Kambov discovered an unexpected and unauthorized transmission on the sideband frequency and routed it to her work station, then, she said, it was just a hunch that made her isolate her secondary system and play the message.
      It looked like some sort of routine system update, but she said there was none of the coding in it that indicated where it originated or what system it was updating, so she kept it isolated and replied asking for confirmation because we have received other messages and updates that had been missing codes and prompts before, and those had turned out to be real.
      It took awhile for the message to get back to Earth, and then it took even longer for them to answer. Meanwhile, we received a notification that there had been an intrusion and minor data breach on a system gateway that served several monitoring stations.
      Kambov said she'd see if she could get any clues as to the originator of the message and went back to work at her station.
      For the next day or so we took turns doing everything from trading messages with whoever was on the other end, to sending them totally fictitious ship's status reports and location information, and then asking them for clarification and other information about what they wanted us to do, anything to keep the link open so officials on the ground could track it back to the source.
      Then the link went silent. And in about two hours we got a message from Interpol through the ESA that they had tracked the link back to an apartment complex in Espoo, just outside of the Finnish capital. The group had linked several computers and servers together and had established a back door in the ESA gateway in Denmark and had gotten as far as to actually communicate with the Argo.
      As far as anybody could tell, that had been their goal. They weren't trying to hijack the ship or shut down life support or anything. They just wanted to 'communicate' with us. And they did. But they still had a lot of explaining to do to various security agencies.

      While we were orbiting Venus we had talked about having a ship-wide party on our One Year Anniversary since leaving Earth.
      But we missed the date for a variety of reasons, and I simply made an announcement over the com and we all applauded.
      We had started planning our party with the assistance of Mission Control who agreed that it was an excellent idea and gotten some special supplies together and sent them on a fast cargo pod.
      There's special food that just arrived because the original pod it was on malfunctioned and instead of firing its thrusters and heading our way it sat in high orbit of Earth and beeped an error message to Mission Control every two minutes. They finally sent a tug out and had it towed to the space station where everything was transferred to a pod that we'd sent back, that was then refueled and reprogrammed, and the uncooperative pod was dismantled and recycled.
      Our party is now to be in celebration of our success at Venus, being well on our way to Mars, and having been in space for over five hundred and fifty days in space.
      The recreational area has been completely redecorated, there is a new three dimensional effect viewing screen on one wall, and the sound system, which I thought was already exceptional, has been upgraded. And there is everything from special party clothes the crew to wear, personal packages for everybody, and all sorts of stuff like that.
      It had taken the reused cargo pod and another one launched later to get everything out here.
      And now it was all here. And almost everybody on the crew had had a part in the planning so nobody, including me and Pelletier, who was in charge of the food and drink while I supervised the decorating crew and the music. Only Mission Control knew the entire scheme for what was going to happen.

18. Ken Covers the Five Fifty Party

      One of the assignments I helped Engineer Stan carry out was to connect one of the recreation pod's computer stations to the main system's monitor in Command so the autopilot and other instruments could be watched while everybody was at the party.
      There's only been one other time when the entire crew were all in the same room on the ship at once, and that was when the Commander told us what we had to do to survive the storm. Other than that I'm not sure there's been more than about five of us in the same place at the same time.

      To get everybody in the room at the same time we had to move two of the mounted islands out. One was part of the exercise equipment with several different variable resistance workouts on each side. The other was part of the cooking area, 'the galley' as Engineer Stan kept calling it, with the mechanism that injected water into the vacuum bags and a small preparation area on one side and a couple of places to eat on the other.
      We took the exercise rack out in pieces while telling each other we'd never get it put back together right and that we were getting plenty of exercise moving the thing into one of the storage rooms.
      Then we had to arrange places for everybody to sit and eat.
      It wasn't easy, but we managed to tape and bungee cord a banquet table of storage container lids together, then we made some temporary seating by stacking smaller containers on top of each other and taping them together.
      Once the table was covered in white plastic it didn't look too bad. Or at least me and Engineer Stan didn't think so.

      Just as we were finishing up Vinaya came in with a whole bunch of gear and asked us to stay for a moment and help her string cables and put up cameras and microphones in various places around the room so everything that happened could be seen and heard.
      With three of us working it didn't take any time at all, and soon she was testing them with us sitting at the table making sure everybody could be seen by at least one of the cameras.

      Right on schedule Specialist Adebayo and Doctor Latour came in to take care of the food, and the Chief Engineer showed up to test the new movie screen. I volunteered to help, but all three of them ran us off.
      Engineer Stan was going to go take a shower and then go to his bunk and change into the outfit they'd sent for him to wear to the party. He held up a pair of snakeskin cowboy boots and said he may never take them back off.
      Somebody had sent me a wardrobe bag with something to wear, but I hadn't even looked in it. So I thought that maybe I'd do the same thing.

      This was one of the things I really enjoyed on the Argo. The shower sprayed you from one side, and a vacuum sucked the water back into the recycling system from the other. You turned around weightless in the room a couple of times and you were clean. If you did it right, it even washed and partially dried your hair in just a few minutes.
      Back in my room off the corridor I opened the wardrobe bag and laughed so loud that Vinaya tapped on my door and asked me if I was all right.
      "They sent my baseball uniform!" I told her and showed her the jersey with the blue Darnestown letters and wild horse logo on the front with my name on the back.
      "The pictures I saw of you on the team, the shirts didn't have names on them," she said.
      I thought about it, "You're right. I guess they did it to send it up here."
      "What's that?" She asked me and pointed to something that was slowly drifting out of the bag.
      "Oh, I guess I've got a ball and glove too," I looked in the bag, "but no bat."
      "That's probably good."
      I nodded and asked her what she'd been sent.
      "A festival dress. I'm not sure I can even put it on in my bunk."
      "Take it up to medical and change into it in the exam room."
      She smiled at me, "That's a good idea."

      Right on time they called us all out to the recreation pod.
      You could hear the music all over the ship as we took turns climbing through the connecting tubes out to the lab ring.

      Officer Pelletier was welcoming everybody and pointing to our assigned seats.
      "Don't open your box. You can read the letters, but don't open the box," she said to us as we came in.
      In a few minutes she looked around the table, "OK, who's missing?" She asked and pointed to a vacant spot.
      Specialist Bianchi looked at the name on the envelopes, "You. This is your spot."
      "Oh. OK."

      First there was a video on the new display, several of the old displays were showing the readings from the autopilot and had an alert if anything showed up on the tracking radars.
      In the video there were greetings and short speeches from Mission Control, then there was more of the same from various political figures, and finally from some of the original crew of the Argo.

      While they were talking I looked through the envelope of letters and cards that was next to the box with my dinner in it.
      My letters were from my family, one of my teachers at the college, and my roommate.

      Pelletier passed out appetizers like what had gone on some of Apollo missions, including candy coated sugar cookie cubes and said she wanted us all to read something from one of our letters to everybody, so when my turn came I read what Ben wrote about our apartment.
      "Ever since you went up there there's been newspeople here about once a week or so. The building has gotten so popular the owners raised the rent, so I was going to move out. But they want to keep your name on the lease and get all the free publicity, so they said our contract would be extended as long as you're on the mission. So I'm staying, and my girlfriend moved in to pay your half since Tony moved out awhile back."
      Everybody laughed at that.

      Some of the others got letters from old friends or former co-workers and others like that.
      Specialist Svetlana got a letter from a friend that said that her former boss at a place she worked several years ago finally accepted the fact that the girl she'd fired saying she'd never amount to anything "did all right enough".
      Commander Nascimento got an official notification that he missed his regular physical at Santa Cruz and he had to make arrangements with an Air Force medical facility immediately or his commission could be suspended.
      "Well, that's it, we've got to head back to Earth," the Chief Engineer said.
      "I think we can arrange a physical for you," Doctor Aziz said with a big smile.
      "Are you approved by the Brazilian Air Force?" Somebody asked her.
      "I will be. By tomorrow."

      Then we had to explain why Mission Control had sent the outfits they did for us to wear.
      Mine was obvious, except I told them that while I enjoyed baseball, I wasn't really very good, and spent a lot of time on the bench or in right field before I got hurt.
      "You're still in right field," Engineer Stan said.
      "Take the cleats off before you come up to command," the Commander told me with a laugh.

      Some were wearing a traditional national costume, others were in an outfit from their youth, like the Chief Engineer's Scout outfit, and things like that. Of all of them, Vinaya's festival dress was the fanciest, and her explanation took the longest because she had to explain that it wasn't that long ago that her caste wouldn't have been allowed to wear this particular style, even on a space mission.

      Our dinners were in the boxes.
      Again, each one got something 'from home', and something special, and something that was, as Specialist Adebayo put it, "peculiar".
      My part from home was a Reuben sandwich complete with really tangy sauerkraut and drippy dressing that made as much of a mess in the container as it was supposed to. I was glad I didn't have to eat it in my room because in there, with no gravity, it'd have ended up everywhere. The special item was a boxed chicken strip dinner that looked familiar but I had to read the card on it to find out that it was one of the meals that had been served at a VBS I'd gone to when I was a kid.
      The Peculiar part of the meal was the same for all of us. And it was at least partially served up by Specialist Adebayo and the hydroponics lab. It was a chef's salad with everything green in it grown on the ship.
      The verdict on the that while it was fresh and crunchy and a treat, that the flavors of the spinach and other ingredients just wasn't as intense as it was on Earth.
      "I'll work on taste for the thousand day party."

      As the meal ended we were treated to the video on the new display.
      It was some family stuff with new babies, somebody's niece graduated from school, and things like that. There was a video showing a brother with a new car, which when he got in it to show it off, he sat there for a minute because he'd forgotten how to start it, and we all laughed together.
      Then there was a bit more from Mission Control: "Ms Pelletier, if you will, distribute the treat, and we'll begin. For the rest of you. Nobody on the crew is to have seen the following beyond this message which was allowed to be played as a test."
      "They're right, we stopped it right there." Engineer Stan exclaimed and pointed at me.
      I answered with, "She made me stop it right there."
      "And he did," Officer Pelletier said.

      I still don't know how they did it, but Officer Pelletier pushed a button on a remote control and three of the flying drone robots came in carrying paper bags of fresh and HOT popcorn. I tried to figure it out, and the only thing I could come up with was that she had conspired with the Chief Engineer and somehow rig one of the medical units to keep the popcorn hot and then have the drones pick it up when she called for it.

      The video that came on was a special broadcast on several outlets about the Argo and its current crew.
      There were crew interviews done before the mission and since launch. Including one I did awhile back that I thought was just part of my college stuff.
      They also talked to people in Mission Control, and some of the engineers and designers who talked about whatever they had worked on that was part of our mission.
      There was a long piece about how we had rebuilt the robots damaged by the storm, and how the ship was never designed to radiate as much heat as it had been getting from the sun when we were at Venus, but how we made it work.
      They talked about our food, and our uniforms and everything else.
      I ran out of popcorn while they were still talking about the robots.

      Finally we had dessert and everybody got to say something about how happy they were to be here. Or something like that.
      When it was my turn I had to say that I didn't expected my trip to end up like this, that I really had expected to be sent back and locked up. But I was glad it turned out the way it did. Which drew all sorts of comments from everybody, and then a lot of laughter.

      Then there was the bad news.
      There were questions from fourth grade students from all over the world that weren't answered in the video.
      We all got to pick three envelopes, and a handful of us got a fourth.
      I was given a special fourth one that had been picked out just for me.
      It was from the class at the school where I went to fourth grade. They had voted on the best question to send me.
      And this was it: "If you hadn't gone on the mission, what do you think you'd be doing now?"
      Of the four, I thought that was the easiest to answer, then the more I thought about it, the more I realized the one about whether our skin sticks to the outside hull of the ship if we touch it was a lot easier to answer.

      The party broke up slowly, but it did break up.
      Some of us had to get back on duty. Others were ready for bed. I was supposed to help take some of the table and seats apart so we could begin to put the room back together.

      A couple of hours later, it was hard to tell anything unusual had happened because we'd even begun to put the exercise machine back together and testing it to make sure we'd done it right.
      Then I went to bed.

19. Various Topics

An update from Second Officer Pelletier
      The dinner was a lot of work to plan, but I am glad I agreed to do it.
      After the initial planning all I really had to do was to pass out the assignments and tell everybody when to do their part, then host the thing. So it wasn't all that bad.
      Even I was surprised by how well it went over because some of us never see others during a regular work day.
      I know some of the crew hadn't seen the Chief Engineer or Ms. Svetlana since Venus, and some of us said they had forgotten that there was a Botanist on board.

      There were some groans when I passed out the questions. But they all understood that it was part of the mission, and if some kid decided to attend college or go into the sciences or even become an astronaut because of it, then it was worth it.
      Then I pointed out that I had five questions to answer, with the first of them being sent in by the Prime Minister of Canada's granddaughter, and asked if anybody wanted another one.
      They all declined, the Chief Engineer did so with the most colorful language of all.

      Young Miss Emma from de L'Etincelle school near Montreal said that having good friends was really important and she wanted to know if I had any good friends that I wished were on the trip with me, and did I think of any of the people on the ship with me as good friends.
      I told her that I had some very good friends, and that my best friend from when I was a girl not only did not go into the space program, she was even afraid to fly and got very angry with me one time when I talked her into riding on a cable car at an amusement park when we were on holiday one time. But we stay in touch and I even got a letter from her with the emails that came in with the questions from the school children, she told me that she had taken my cat in for his physical last week and that he still hadn't forgiven her for tricking him like that.
      Then I said that I had gotten close to several of the crew, but that I was second in command and really couldn't be too friendly with anybody because that might look bad if something happened. But I found that I could still be professional, and keep a good working relationship with most of them, while being friendly and even growing to like some of them and that I believed that after we all returned to Earth that many of us will be good friends for a long time.

Engineer Stan Smith
      I got four questions from the students. But I really only got two...

      Dear Fourth Grade Class at Painted Rock Academy in Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
      I enjoyed getting your question, I just hope I can answer it well enough because I'm not a doctor, I'm an engineer. But we all have to go up to medical for testing and having our bone density monitored and all of that, so I think I can answer your question.
      Our medical facility, and our doctors on board have two roles. The first is to keep the crew healthy. The second is to conduct in depth long term medical studies on what space travel does to us, and to the animals we have on board for evaluation and testing. And before you get worried, we suffer more from the testing than the animals do. They mostly get to sit in their cages and eat their rations and are watched by cameras, then they're weighed once in awhile.
      The research is to see if our exercise routines and diet alter the changes that were noticed in the first Argo crew. In spite of everything they did, they did lose some bone density and muscle tone. So we have an almost totally different diet and strength training regimen that we try to adhere to as best we can.
      Every other day we have to put in so many reps on the exercise machine at such and such a resistance to simulate weight training, and do so many laps around the ring, and so on. Sometimes our exercises are about the range of motion and speed, and sometimes makes us push against increasing resistance. Its all monitored by the computer and the doctors, so if we try to cheat, they know about it.

      Dear Villa Maria Primary School Fourth Grade Classes, Argentina.
      I think it was a great idea to have all the fourth grade classes submit questions and then all decide together which one to send to us. And it is a very good question about our system to reuse water at that.....

      Dear Fourth Graders at Haeundae Elementary School, Busan, South Korea.
      I'm glad you asked such an interesting question about our waste handling system....

      Dear Fourth Grade classes in Erdi, and at other schools in Hungary.
      There are a lot of people who are very interested in the water cycle on board our ship and how it all works, and I can tell you a little about that....

      As you may have heard, we still use some of the same waste processing system from the original mission, water reclamation and all. But with several slight upgrades to the system. Now the reclaimed water is aerated after it is purified so it is more like the water we're used to using on Earth instead of being like distilled water. Before, while the water was absolutely pure, it was flat. Now, the reclaimed water is mixed with fresh water from the tanks and had air bubbled through it before it is sent back into the rest of the ship to be used to everything from bathing to watering our plants and even food processing, and yes, even making coffee or drinking from a bottle.
      What's left after everything that can be reclaimed, including some organic matter that we use for fertilizer in the botanical lab, is compressed and then ejected into space. Except we're even more careful about where our waste goes than the first crew. Ours is launched on a trajectory that will eventually carry it into the sun instead of risking further contamination of Venus when we were there, or Mars, when we get there.
      And thank you for your letter.

CMO Doctor Ranya Aziz
      I have two entries.

      One of the questions I got was from the girls at old my school in Dammam. But the way it was written, I suspect they had nothing to do with it.
      The original question was asked by one of the members on the selection board when I had applied for training for the mission: "How will you face Mecca to pray?"
      I answered him then as I answered the supposed question from the girls in the school...
      There is no way to face Mecca. The best anybody can do on the Argo, or indeed, on any spacecraft, is to face Earth, which, after all, is where Mecca is. And I do not believe that the Almighty Creator who is most worthy of all praise is solely found in the Holy City. I believe that He is with me out here, and as long as I am praying, then He will hear.
      The other questions were from other children in various schools and were the usual sorts of things asked by children.
      The, best one, or possibly the worst one, was from a school in the UK that asked what do we do when we want a pizza or some take out food?
      My answer was that we have some supplies in the galley that we can make some things from scratch ourselves. It isn't quite the same as a place I remember that delivered when we were in training in America, or the food from a small deli just down the road from the center in Germany, but it isn't bad, and will satisfy a craving better than something from the pre-prepared rations.

      The second entry is this.
      I did not intentionally let the mice escape from their holding container when I brought it over for testing.

      All of the sudden I saw a white mouse scurry by, and the next thing I knew, there were a dozen mice all over medical.
      The three tier cage had twenty eight white mice in it. All of those in the top tier and some in the second tier had escaped when one side of the 'mouse house' had come loose. There were still seven in the bottom row of pens.
      I called for reinforcements and several of the crew came to help us capture them. I did not want them killed if we could help it because they were in the middle of a round of testing. Breeding more mice is something they were good at, and the reason we had them segregated by sex in the first place, but starting the testing over when the young mice were old enough would be extra work.
      But even with their assistance, five mice eluded capture for several days. Finally, we had them all accounted for, although one had died when it was caught between fixtures and couldn't get back out.

      It wasn't as bad as when several flies got out of another container during testing. However, rounding them up was a bit easier as we just called in a cleaning robot with a vacuum attachment and a light, then turned off the lights in the lab for awhile. I wasn't worried about restarting the experiments on the flies.

Combined Planetary Science Report.

      We believe we have solved the mystery of the readings of water and ice on Venus.
      The only shame is that we are too far from the planet now to confirm our findings, but everything we have, and every test we did seem to indicate that this is what we found.
      The Water, and The Ice, were not ON Venus. Or at least, they were not on the surface.

      Even at the poles during the long period of total darkness when the tilt of the planet has that area away from the sun, the surface still remains far too hot for water, and especially any sort of water ice to exist. But the clouds are another story.
      The water and the ice crystals we detected at Venus were in the thickest of the clouds over the pole during the period of darkness. And it was NOT from the unfortunate incident with our waste dumps immediately after the solar storm which occurred over the planet's equator and were all well burned off and outgassed into space long before we did our first polar orbit.
      It raised as many questions as it answered.
      When the polar area was in the sun, there was no water to be found anywhere. Where did come from, and then where did it go? Did it disassociate into ions or gases to then reform given the right conditions? Did the water we find ever condense enough to fall to the surface where it would instantly vaporize, if it survived the fall at all? How cold did the high clouds get? And so on.

      The important thing was, the Crew of the Argo Epic 2 made the discovery!

20. Specialist Adebayo "Now I have a lot to add to the mission report."

      As you may know, I have three areas of specialty on board the Argo. One is in Botany, the second is in general Animal Biology, the third comes as a surprise to some, in that I am a Clinical Registered Nurse. I share the two former interests with others on the crew. That way there is usually one of us on duty to tend to, as some call it, 'The Farm" at all times. But I am the only RN of any sort on board.
      However, I have several dedicated experiments and areas of study that are mine alone.
      Some of these are continuations of some of the experiments from the original mission. Others are brand new. And two have failed spectacularly, but any result is a result, even a negative result yields good data if the experiment is done properly.
      The first negative result was the behaviors of various rodents in zero G. In micro-gravity they did OK, but when there was no up or down they got very confused and some died. From the analysis of the videos of their behavior, their instinct is linked to a concept of up and down, and some of them could not overcome their instinct. The few that survived had managed to get back into their nest boxes in the container and stayed there for the duration of the experiment.

      Unfortunately, the majority of the birds sent for study have not survived the trip. Most died within a couple of weeks after launch, and we still do not know why. There has been speculation ranging from straight up radiation poisoning to a combination of the atmosphere and the change in diet, and even some that blamed the spin of the ship.
      Most of the finches hung on until we were at Venus, but a few didn't make it through the storm, their container was evidently too close to the bulkhead and were exposed to a static discharge. We still have a few pair, and they have bred again, so, we'll have to see if any of the babies survive this time.
      Half of our canaries and parakeets are still with us, and they seem fine. Why those that did die during the trip is as mysterious as why the others have lived. They all ate the same food, had the same routine, and were hauled down the connecting tubes to the secure storage for the storm and then bounced back up it. Some just died, that's all there is to it.
      Those three species proved the hardiest for space travel of the eight types of smaller birds selected for the trip. The doves and the cockatiels just didn't make it. Some of the doves didn't even survive the launch to the ship in Ken's pod. The cockatiels lasted longer, but one after another just died off.
      Several kinds of small parrots left earth. And a couple of them lasted until just recently. The last to go was a hardy Pionus parrot that outlived his four kindred by several months. But finally, one day, he was on the bottom of his cage. And as with most of the others, at least the ones that didn't fly into a window or get lost in the corridor and were found three days later, the necropsy couldn't find a certain cause of death. But I suspect it was something in their sense of motion detection which didn't take kindly to the spinning of the Ring where their cages where.

      The same was true for the rest of our zoo.
      We had some of the same sorts of 'critters' that had been on the first mission. The protozoa and various flatworms that ranged from the microscopic to those that you could see crawling around in a 'fishtank' at a centimeter or so in length.
      There was also a few amphibians, and a handful of reptiles. Both of whom seemed to survive about like the birds did. The chameleons didn't seem to mind the change in their residence, but the tegus did. And so it went with the amphibians. The frogs died in days, the toads lasted a bit longer, but not by much, some of the salamanders are doing so well their colony had to be split up or they'd have taken over the lab. Fortunately, by then, we had several vacant homes for them to move into.
      And again, it could have been anything from an excess of cosmic ray exposure or some odd radiation or even they didn't like their cage colors or even that that some species were evidently just either more adaptable to or more forgiving of space flight.

      The sole exception were the Tardigrades that had been part of the original group of experimental creatures on the first mission.
      Not long after we left Earth, I was going to put a test container outside on a rack that my lab shared with another lab on the Ring when I noticed that there were a couple of containers already in the rack. I checked with the others on the crew and found out that nobody had put anything outside. So I had the robot retrieve them and bring them inside.
      I was totally astonished to see that they were dated and labeled as being put out there during the first mission. One contained several colonies of amoebas and some flatworms, the other had three groups of 'water bears', both were held in a water slurry behind a nylon mesh. There was nothing between the microscopic animals and outer space except what amounted to the material from somebody's discarded pantyhose.
      The container with the worms was effectively sterile from its time in space.
      Once the tardigrades were thawed and rehydrated, most of them seemed to be just fine, although hungry. The mortality rate for them was less than twenty five percent based on the figures of how many live creatures were put in the slurry and sent out to be frozen to about minus one hundred eighty C, and then heated above freezing when in the sun, then back down, with all the radiation and whatever else was out there, for a dozen years.
      So, I did what any good scientist would do. I documented it all, then sent them back out.
      They even survived the solar storm, although some more of them expired from it.
      Of everything tested inside and outside the station that was more than a bacterium, the 'water bears' had proved to be very nearly indestructible.

      After I submitted my initial report I got back a note that both the ESA and NASA had suspended test flights with live animals in the freefall simulating aircraft because, in short, most of the animals died during the flight or soon thereafter. So they decided to simply send their surviving relatives, the ones that never left the lab on the ground, and see what happened in space. And, we basically got the same result. Odd, no?

      In my professional scientific opinion, I do not think the mortality of the animals, or of any of the plants that have died is directly due to either mishandling by the crew, or due to excessive radiation of any sort from hard particles or cosmic rays or anything else from outside. I believe it to be simply a matter of each species' reaction to space flight itself. Which includes their somewhat cramped quarters, the limited diet, the constant motion of the ship, and all of the other factors we've discussed, combined. Some animals just could not adapt to it, and they died.
      In my professional medical opinion, it was the delay in adapting to all of those various factors that caused Doctor Kristoffersen to be so sick for so long. While he is within the general range of ages for the crew, he has always seemed older, and even in training, he was always one of the last to accomplish a task. But, he did recover and has done remarkably well ever since.

Interim: Commander Filipe Nascimento with Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier
      We are filing a formal command staff protest with the European Space Administration.
      The reason is: Somebody has been holding out on us, and we had to learn some fantastic news about one of our crew mates through Official Channels.
      Somebody has found the time to finish some advanced coursework and do a thesis while on board the Argo.

      It took a day to set it up, but then we received the recorded statement by the president of a handful of dignitaries with an introduction by the King of the Netherlands. Which made it all the more special.
      We gathered everybody on the command deck and and played the video. Then as the President of the Transnational University said, "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Argo Epic. Today we are honored to announce that Svetlana Kambov is now Doctor Of Applied Mathematics Svetlana Kambov. Except as she is out of town for the foreseeable future, her family is here to accept her official diploma and I am told the Educational staff of the Argo will present her with a suitable facsimile."
      We did.

Commander's log: "We can see Mars!"

      Well, we've been able to see Mars almost constantly since we left Earth. As a slowly moving small red dot somewhere in the heavens.
      Now we can see it as a planet, and make out some features, and if we look really close, we can see one of its moons.
      Pardon me while I correct that statement. Some claim they can indeed see both moons. The one that I can see when I look is Phobos. The larger of the two. Others say they can see a speck of light in the general vicinity of the planet, and that is Deimos. I'll take their word for it because I know that I'll be able to see it myself soon enough because one of our goals at Mars is a full study of both moons.
      The joke during training was that we had to study Phobos first because in a few million years or so its nine thousand kilometer orbit will decay and it will end up either a spectacular crater on its parent world or a ring of dust and rubble around the planet. Much as Phobos itself was nearly destroyed by a smaller rock that left a huge crater on it.
      The other joke was that the moon was racing around Mars at the rate of one orbit every seven and a half hours. Which also meant that until we were in Martian orbit, we'd be watching the thing go by so fast that we'll be able to see it actually moving against the backdrop of the planet taking just a few ticks over four hours to go from one side of the red disk of the planet to the other.
      One of the things we are supposed to put to rest is its composition and origin. I remember some of the so called experts on various panels and even TV shows talking about how Phobos was somehow an artificially constructed body. Everything from an abandoned alien spacecraft to a orbiting base for them. Others said it may have started out natural, but it had been remodeled to suit the needs of the aliens. I got so tired of hearing it that I ordered a couple of rolls of cooking foil to be stowed on the Argo so when I made my report after we did our close up study of the space rock, I would have the appropriate headgear to wear.
      As for the other moon, Deimos, to even call it 'a moon' was a bit of an exaggeration. The tiny body was about a third the size of its cousin. And while Phobos was far too close to its planet and ran its orbit in hours, Deimos was a respectable twenty three thousand kilometers out and took over a day to circle the planet. But instead of the fans of aliens saying it was a misplaced space station, everybody seems to agree that it was a homeless asteroid that was adopted by the red planet.

      We also had a whole laundry list of things to study at Mars. Much more than we did at Venus because instead of just staring at clouds and the occasional shadow of a mountaintop at Venus, we could see the surface of Mars.
      Which is why we just got the second of three incoming cargo pods full of new equipment and supplies.

      And then life on the Argo got a lot stranger. And it is the ESA's fault because of some of the cargo on one of the pods that arrived a couple of weeks ago.

Ken's story.
      It wasn't my idea.
      But I mentioned that we had the things in the apartment, and that I'd gotten pretty good at swatting them. So the Commander and the Chief Engineer asked the biologists if it was OK, and when they said 'yes' he put me in charge of getting rid of them in the rest of the ship.
      So I have been working on traps and things to catch them before they can breed, and I'm getting pretty good at it.
      But they're getting really good at finding new places to live and breed as well.
      So it's a contest between me and the little black flies.

21. Drain flies from France.

Doctor L. Latour reports:
      We have determined that it was two of my crates of experimental platforms for Mars that caused the problem.
      According to the CNES Mission Supply Division, two of the containers of supplies had been stored for a time in a warehouse which wasn't as environmentally secure as it should have been. The external structures were made with a wood and cardboard exterior frame with the hermetically sealed containers inside. While the crates were waiting to be launched, the exterior got damp, and, well, nature, in the form of some black drain flies, took its course.
      We verified that the species was from central Europe, and that they were not known to transmit any diseases. However, that was some small comfort to those at CNES who were now suffering an acute level of embarrassment.

Chief Engineer's Report:
      Of course I thought they were exaggerating at first. That maybe some more of the test animals from the biology lab had gotten loose. But then I saw some of them, and they were a lot smaller, and a lot faster, than the flies that had escaped awhile back in the lab. Then somebody caught a couple of them and they verified that this species of Diptera insects were most likely the variety native to much of Europe. However, as with most things that way, there was some dispute as to exactly which variety they were because one of those captured had slightly different markings than the other.
      We put Mister Ken in charge of eliminating whatever source was available for them to breed in, meanwhile, the scientists began to study them to see what adaptation they were making to move from some floor drain in Toulouse, France to the Argo Epic on its way to Mars. It made me glad that no cockraoches had found their way into that warehouse.

Stanley Smith, Assistant Engineer's, Log
      It amazed all of us how fast the moth flies adapted to both the low G and no G central corridor and labs.
      They were even seen flitting around in Command.
      But after the initial broad infestation that lasted a week or so, their numbers were reduced to the point where it was unusual to see more than one every day or so.
      They seemed to be concentrated around the bathing cubicles, but we couldn't identify their home, and in the plant lab, but no sooner did we clean out all the trays and compost bins than they were back again a couple of days later. So we chased them back and forth. And Ken caught the ones that made it to other parts of the ship and tried to set up housekeeping.
      There was no doubt that they were all the same species. And it was discovered that the smaller and faster ones were usually the males, and that the larger and slower ones were always female.
      We spent a month trying to get rid of them. Then finally we simply bowed to the absurdity of having an endless supply of really small and fast moving stowaways being hunted by our first much larger stowaway.

Specialist Adebayo
      There was an unintentional benefit from having the unconfined insects on board. We were able to further document that there was a definite problem with the flying species navigating in the absence of gravity. That while the insects were still drawn to artificial light sources, which was one of the traps that were laid out for them, they were observed, and even recorded on high speed video, having difficulty maneuvering other than flying toward the lights. They could home in on the light source, but once there, it seems they needed the 'up' and 'down' cues for everything from landing to moving on from there. If the light source was suspended in the room with no surface nearby for them to land on, they would circle it to the point of exhaustion then float around until either the cleaning robot vacuumed them up or they recovered enough to fly to another light.
      Once we confirmed the species of insect that had hitch-hiked on the crates I requested all known information on them be sent to us. Now we knew their breeding preferences and life cycle, but we were still unable to contain them to a single, well contained, home, right next to our ants and other small 'critters' in our zoo.
      That their eggs were able to survive the transit at temperatures just above freezing for several months was amazing enough, especially when we looked through the other things sent and found dead spiders and a few other 'bugs' that didn't make it out here. But it was equally amazing that the flies developed into a breeding population as quickly as they did. Some have argued that the flies would have been a better choice for an experimental population than some of the ones that were chosen. But then again, that they weren't sent intentionally and were able to adapt to the point they had said plenty as well.
      From the ones we have trapped and contained in an escape proof 'bug dome' with suitable damp, wet, and dark organic based habitat we've been able to subject certain individuals to many of the same testing regimes used with our other subjects and to do so at every stage of their lives from eggs to breeding adults.
      But the ones that were always flying around the monitor screens and the lights were an annoyance, even if they have been demonstrated to be harmless. And there was a chance of them contaminating other experiments, so we, as scientists, tried to devise a method to eradicate them.
      And as soon as we do, I'll enter it into the log, and Patent it on Earth.

Ken's story.
      My traps work well enough that we don't see very many flies in the central section of the ship around the sleeping quarters, command or even engineering now. But out in the Ring it is a different story.
      No sooner than we get them under control than a few days later there's another bunch from someplace else.
      I've sealed up gaps behind equipment, covered the water troughs in the botanical lab. The animal cages are as clean as they can be and their waste goes into the disposal system as soon as it is measured and photographed or even run it through a spectrometer to test for stuff. Yes, they photograph the poo from the animals. They explained it by saying that somebody on Earth wants to see it. I don't know, but it's OK, I just collect it and dispose of it.
      The flies don't seem to like Command because there is no water and very little garbage in there. Whenever anybody eats a meal in Command, they wrap it back up and take the container with them and drop it in the bin just outside, which I empty almost every day. And the only drinks allowed are in self sealing bottles. So when the flies get in there, they have to fly down from the center where there is no gravity out to the work stations where they gather around one of the monitors and are either swatted or starve to death.
      I was the one that told the biologists that the flies loved the monitors more than the other light sources. And the image that was on the monitors where I killed the most flies was the engine status. They seemed to just like that combination of colors. So, naturally the scientists had to test the theory and they came to the same conclusion I had, French Drain Flies have a strange attraction to fuel consumption and engine temperature and efficiency graphs.
      Another scientific discovery from the Argo Epic!

22. Mars Questions:
Optics with Signore Carmelo Bianchi

      Good day wherever you may be.
      There has been a great deal of interest in whether or not I have even now while we are still a good distance from Mars as to whether or not I have gotten, or do I intend to get any high resolution images of the Face in what is called the Cydonia region of the northern hemisphere of Mars.
      The answer is that I fully intend to do multiple studies of the entire surface of the planet and its moons, including that area.
      Unfortunately, at our present distance, even my best lens and light sensor can not match the very high resolution images from the Global Surveyor from several years ago when it was at Mars.
      Once we're in orbit, I'll be able to take photos down to just under a meter of resolution, which means if it is a face, and it has a pimple, we'll know it.
      In the mean time, I have gotten very good at photographing what appears to be transient frost and perhaps even traces of some sort of liquid in various places on the planet. And as we get ever closer, I intend to pursue those details as well.

Doctor Kristoffersen, planetary science
      Do I believe there was, or even IS, an ancient civilization on Mars?
      I will answer like this, and be done with it: The Universe is vast, ancient, and wondrous. And we as a species are only now beginning to peel back the covers to see what secrets it hides.
      It is possible.
      It is possible that somebody once called Mars home. That would have been a very long time ago even by the standards of life itself in our solar system. Unless they are very advanced I doubt if they are still there unless they are not fond of breathing oxygenated air or drinking liquid water. And if they are still there, I just hope they are friendly.
      Could we discover some evidence of their presence? I suppose. If they left anything out in the open that hasn't been destroyed by meteorites and sand storms over the last few million years.
      And now your last question. Will we cover it up if we find evidence of aliens on Mars? Well, no more than the governments of Earth are covering it up now. So I guess you'll just have to ask them. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to test the landing probes that are going to inspect Spirit and Opprotunity and see if maybe it was the Martians that sabotaged them years ago.

Environmental Specialist Adebayo, South Africa
      I can't believe you would waste my time asking me such foolishness.
      Mars is dead, it has been dead for millions of years. If there is anything alive at all it is microbes beneath the surface. That is your Martian Civilization. Microscopic creatures that can scavenge nutrients from rocks and sand and whatever moisture they can find when it is above freezing. But I really don't think anything even of that sort survives on the planet.
      Those are exactly the forms of life I will be sending my probes down to find. If they do discover anything more than the equivalent of bacterium and alga, even if it is long dormant, I will the most surprised of anybody, and I will announce it to the entire world at once.

Doctor Latour
      I heard Adde's answer, and I agree. Except I will play it from the other side. I expect to find at least the remnants of his subsurface dust eating bugs. I believe they are at least partially to blame for the rust on the surface in that they release oxygen from the underlying strata through their metabolism, much as plants do on Earth today. And, there is a chance that there may be pockets where they are still doing it now, and are at least partially responsible for the otherwise unexplained increases in free oxygen measured every so often in the atmosphere. Maybe. It isn't totally impossible even if I do consider it somewhat unlikely that we will find them given the size of the planet and our limited sampling areas.
      However, I do not believe that Mars was ever able to sustain large and complex flora or fauna. So, sorry, no alien welcoming party.

Second Officer Pelletier
      I believe it would be possible to build a base on the surface of Mars. But I don't think it will ever be self sufficient. For one, nobody has ever found enough oxygen or water to do anything with, and even at its warmest it only gets anything I'd call 'warm' at the equator in summer, the rest of the planet stays cold, or very cold, most of the time.
      Also, from what I've seen from the pictures we've taken Mars looks even more hostile than the Moon because Earth's Moon doesn't have sandstorms that cover half the planet for days on end.
      Something else that nobody talks about on Mars. It has about the same gravity as we feel on the jogging track in the lab ring. About a third or so of that on Earth. If the medical people are worried about what being in low gravity most of the time will do to us on the Argo, what about anybody that goes to live for the rest of their lives on Mars?
      And then, even if the Argo is left in orbit to support the base on the surface, we'd need a new airlock to send and receive the landers that were being talked about. The chief engineer says a way has been worked out to put a new airlock assembly over the existing one and bond it to the ship to prevent leaks, but he didn't say it was being sent out to us on a cargo pod, so I doubt if they've built it yet.
      And if we do build a base on the planet, there's a million little things to think about and plan for and then have a backup if it fails. Like what do you do for a toilet or with your garbage? Do you take a chance on contaminating the planet? Do you waste oxygen with an incinerator? It would take a lot more fuel to send it back to Earth, so what do you do with it?
      I think it is far more reasonable to go with the robotic landers for now, some of which are supposed to be able to return samples for study which is all humans would do anyway really. If sometime in the future if they send a surface excursion vehicle from Earth for us to go down and take a look around, good. And I'll volunteer to be the command pilot, I mean, really, why not?

Svetlana Kambov
      A technical magazine website based in Eastern Europe sent me a question that upset me.
      I talked it over with some of the others, and they convinced me to answer it anyway.
      I agreed to answer it, but I'm sending my answer out to everybody all over the planet instead of just to the ones that sent it, and my shipmates thought that was a good idea as well.

      "Do you believe it right that the ship was developed with much of its technology stolen and adapted from the countries of the Communist world?"
      First of all, I wasn't even really sure of what they were asking. But then again, I think I do know, and I'm not answering that.
      There was something to what they said, and what it was, was nonsense. Of Course most of the technology was 'stolen and adapted', but That is the Way it Works. And that is the way its been since James Watt improved on somebody else's steam engine. Sometimes the originator of a given invention or idea was credited, and sometimes they weren't.
      And there have been many times in the history of all of this that a failure led to an even greater development down the road. And as with people like Ford and Daimler, they had an idea, and took ideas from others, and then worked through all sorts of problems to make their concept a reality. And then others built on their ideas.
      With information systems, the same thing has happened. Just as when Daimler and his partners taking seven years to get a working engine into an early automobile, then the time scale began to change, and eventually things developed to where new automobiles could be revised on the fly in the middle of a model year.
      Technical systems were developed the same way. What was a mistake with something like flat file databases, may have been a spectacular leap when applied to another product. A circuit board developed for this may work better in that, or not at all, but those working on the idea learned from the error and came up with a modification that worked great.
      And when it was all applied to the Argo, everything from the masts for the solar panels to the waste processor were redesigned based on everything from existing space probes to what had been developed to cut down the black water load on cruise ships.
      The Argo is a melding, an amalgam, an compound or alloy, of systems and technologies developed in every corner of the planet over the last century. There are systems that were put together for Soviet spacecraft and American ones, and there are systems that were never considered space worthy but were developed for an office complex or, like I mentioned, a cruise ship. And, believe it or not, in the case of some of our automated units, they were sold by a small firm based in South Korea to clean cell phone factories, and, yes, nursing homes. And now they're on the Argo.

      When it was originally assembled in orbit, the Argo was both the most advanced spacecraft ever assembled, and, it was a tribute to technological innovation going all the way back to Watts steam engine, as it is a variation of his pressure cylinder control valve that had been adapted for our directional thrusters that steer the ship and those that maintain its rotation.

      So there you have it. Your answer.

Ken's story:
      I am glad that I save all of the answers to the questions I get from kids in school or college and all that. Because they keep asking me the same things. So when I got the questions from the other media that were pretty much what the kids had asked, I pulled out my answers, and basically just reread it to them with an update if it needed one.
      Like most of the questions about Mars. Do I think there's aliens on it, or its moons. Or is there really a Russian base there. And all sorts of other stuff. They didn't ask any of this about Venus, but Mars has set them off, and they're all asking the same sorts of questions. And they all expect their answer to be personalized. So I do it, at least a little.

      One of those was questions that were almost the same from an online thing at the University of South Alabama and a science writer at the University in Birmingham, England. They both wanted to know if we were ready to flee if Mars proved to be protected by a superior race.
      I began by thanking each for their question individually, then stating flat out that Commander Nascimento was authorized to accept their surrender. Then I paused, and simply said that there was a first contact protocol, and that the Chief Engineer was our official representative, and that we'd just have to deal with whatever happened when it did because the Argo was essentially defenseless, and that we are out here on a peaceful mission, and we hope that the aliens understand that.

      And, of course, I had twenty questions about drinking our own recycled pee. For some reason, a lot of people find that fascinating. I did when I was first reading about the Argo, but now, I'm tired of it. So for most of them I pulled the water testing reports for whatever the capital city was in the country the question came from and sent that back to them with the most recent analysis of our own 'recycled pee'. Then I talked about how our drinking water was so pure we had to add some things to it to make it taste like something we wanted to drink.

      Then I got one from the student newspaper at Darnestown. They simply asked me if I was ever going to come home.
      That gave me a pause. I had always assumed I'd be going back with the personnel transfer pod at the mission transition. But, that didn't happen, and I hadn't thought about it much since.
      I had to answer honestly. "I don't know. Maybe."

      Then I took a break from answering questions and went to work on a robot that had quit doing anything except driving around the lab ring and beeping.

23. Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier reporting.
      Not only has the Commander had to remind some of the crew about personal decorum, I've had to whisper to certain ones that there is no water shortage on the Argo and that they can both bathe and clean their uniforms as scheduled or even as needed.
      The three individuals were all understandably embarrassed and apologized. One of them said that had happened to them before, they didn't intend to go without, they just got so wrapped up in their work that they simply forgot.

      There was also an occasional issue with some of the crew that let their work areas or personal quarters get messy. Ken was one that seemed to enjoy seeing how close to that line he could get with his room. But while it was almost always cluttered and disorganized, it was never dirty or stank to where I had to write him up.
      On the other end of that spectrum was the Chief Engineer. I know for a fact that he hadn't been in his quarters for more than an hour or so since the storm, all he used it for was to store things he didn't need immediately but had to keep track of. He had a sleeping bag attached in one corner of the main engineering room, but I don't think I've ever seen him in it, so I don't know when, or even if he sleeps. And I've never seen him in anything other than a duty uniform, including at the party when he wore a French Navy T shirt, which scarcely qualified as a Festival outfit.
      Of course the rest of us, and that includes me, are somewhere in between those extremes.
      My quarters aren't a mess, but they're not totally neat and organized. I like to think that I've found a nice balance. And the same goes for most of the others, including the Commander.

      We've had a few spats where the individual personalities of the crew have come into conflict. But we are all aware of our situation and the fact that even as big as the ship is, we're still in really close quarters and have been for a long time and it may be an equally long time before we can go home.
      So me and the Commander take turns babysitting the egos and feelings of some of the crew who may be at the very top of their field, which is why they are on the Argo, but they may be lacking certain social skills. But on the whole, we haven't had to do as much of that as I thought we would. I've even spoken to the medical staff about it and they said the same thing, that there's been some gruffness between various ones, but it passes.

      And, as the Commander mentioned, there's been a couple of interpersonal relationships that we had speak to. One of those was mine, and one of those was his, and there's been a couple of others, one of which appeared to be a triangle.
      The danger of that, besides a lack of decorum, was that there were cameras almost everywhere on the ship, and some of them were controlled from Earth, so we never knew who might be watching. The general opinion was that life on the Argo was interesting enough as it was, we didn't need to add a peep show to the lineup.

      I had thought that interest in Ken's studies and his transmissions back to Earth would begin to wane as the mission went on. And they did, for awhile. But then as a new school year began in the various countries, and a new group of students at the various universities found out that they had an open channel to the Argo Epic, interest peaked again, and requests for him to do topics poured in.
      He's interviewed everybody on the Argo several times on different subjects. He did a very interesting feature on the differences between our solar panels and the ones on the original mission, including how the original booms were adapted, including the tendency one of them to stick once in awhile and how we get it loose. And he produced an in depth segment on our food and included something special from every country represented on board.

      And I need to mention our packages from home.
      As you know, there were some packages that ended up cargo pods that went out to the Argo on the original mission that nobody ever admitted sending.
      And that has happened to us as well. Not every pod had something like that in them, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say every other one did. And there was no consistency to where they had been packed or launched from. Europe via South America, Asia (both Japan and India), and North America, they'd all sent something odd at one time or another.
      I'll hit the high points, beginning with a big case of Korean canned squid, various flavors, including some canned with carrots, and others that were so spicy everybody on the ship knew when a can of it was opened. A bundle of German language fashion magazines, all from the spring of last year, men's and women's, and a couple that we weren't sure who they were supposed to be for. Then there was a shopping bag of novelty hats from an Austrian ski resort that appeared on on cargo pod, and an antique spice rack complete with spice tins and price tags on another.
      Other things appeared to have been misdirected from a delivery service. Like a package that was supposed to go to one Tina McMurdo in Columbus, Ohio. It contained a selection of wildlife and nature videos. We sent a message to her that we'd gotten it, and we're not in Ohio! The message we got back a few days later was that she had wondered where they went, that eventually the company had sent her another set for her day care after she told them it had never arrived, but the delivery company never explained where the first package had ended up. Until now. How it ended up on a NASA cargo pod loaded and launched from California was another matter all together.

      Lastly was the one that may be the most popular, a plastic tote of family type games, including a BINGO set complete with a spinning can that dispensed the numbered discs.
      We already had the game on the rec pod's computer. But nobody played it. Now, with the thing spitting out I-37 and B-14, it was the most popular game on the ship for awhile.

      And with almost every cargo pod, the exception being when one was packed with equipment or fuel for the mission, we all got packages of some sort.
      Sometimes it would be something small, like when I got a set of antique cow figurines that I had always liked at my aunt's house. She had been in a retirement home when we launched, and I couldn't go to her funeral. But somebody in my family remembered that I had liked the cows, and sent them to me. There was even a bit of salt and pepper in the ones that were the 'shakers' of the cow family that included a creamer and even a bud vase.
      I put them over my work station on the Command Deck and sent a picture back to my cousin. The photo of the cows ended up on the news, then on an antique glassware website.

      And sometimes those special packages for a single crew member ends up benefiting everybody on the ship.
      The best example I can think of is one that happened about a month ago.
      Awhile back Vinaya got a larger than usual package on a cargo pod, with a note from her grandfather attached. She told us he wanted her to celebrate an upcoming festival with him and the family even though she was vary far away. We all said that was nice of him and we never thought any more about it.
      Then a month ago or so, she invited everybody to celebrate a special day with her and her family in the rec room, and I think everybody managed to make it when they weren't on duty. She had an array of sweets, and music, and a photo and video slide show on the big monitor, and she was sending photos and videos home from time to time as other crew members came and went.
      When I came in she smiled and hugged me and welcomed me to whatever she called it, and said it was when her family and most of her home town made peace with each other and shared blessings. And ate sweets and listened to music.
      I told her that sounded like a wonderful festival, and I ate sweets and listened to music with her and Doctor Latour.
      Even the Chief Engineer came up for awhile for some of the VERY sweet kulfi that she said was her family's special flavor made with honey that had turned to sugar, and very thick and heavy cream.
      The communications delay made anything remotely like a normal conversation impossible, but we were able to see her family cheer and thank the various crew members that joined them for their party. It was a nice change of pace and very welcome by all.

      We've had unexplained music arrive on storage modules. The funny thing is that the modules that the Argo uses aren't common 'off the shelf' solid state digital media. To be blunt about it, they're about two generations obsolete, but they are very dependable, and very easy to use, so we still use them. So whoever sent the set of concert appearances at venues in upstate New York and in Wales, and one in Hong Kong, knew enough to get storage media that would work out here, then put appearances by over twenty groups over the course of about six months on them, two copies of each on the various devices, and then box them up and send them to us on a cargo pod with official looking documents and launch information.
      According to Mission Control, the devices we have with an appearance by a fairly decent blues band at the 'house' in New York State, are still in storage in Belgium. Well, no, they're here, and the band that is on them did a fairly good job of it just over a year ago by the date on the recording, and the launch documents
      And the same was true for the other compact hard drives that had the music on them. They were still on Earth.
      These were all clones. And, Yes, we scanned them for infective software or other electronic bugs, the only nasty software on them were a couple of commercials for music downloads from the artists or the production company that had sponsored the appearance at the club. And in one case, the commercial was better than the set by the warm up act for a southern rock band. Which raised an issue back home. Not the commercials, but the fact that somebody had replicated the digital hard drives based on approved designs and sent them up with very convincing forged documents, and now the space administrations are trying to track them down.

Mission Specialist Carmelo Bianchi
      I have to send a heartfelt thank you to several different companies in Europe and America and Japan, and even one based in Hong Kong, China.
      They have saved our taste buds.
      We now have cello packs of real seasoning sauces and spices for food. Everything from dark Thai fish sauce that is so strong I can use a few drops on a meal and the entire package of food is worth eating, to a hot sauce from someplace called Rehoboth, Delaware that was so blazingly hot that it made my eyes water and nose run for three hours after lunch. And I deeply appreciate both.

      They also sent a variety of fruit jams, sweet and sour sauces, and everything else that can be put in one of those little sealed pouches that usually come from takeaway food stands with mustard in them. We have dried but very fragment oregano and sage, several types of pepper and some excellent salts, and even some things that we have had to get translated because nobody on board recognized the language on the package.
      And we even have some that have yellow mustard in them!
      So, once again, from the entire crew of the Argo to the Convenience Food Trade Group: thank you.

Ken's story
      There are times when I still can't believe that I am on the Argo, and that I am doing what I am doing.
      The other night in my cabin I woke up and thought I was back in my old room at my parent's house, or in my room in the apartment, or someplace, anyplace, besides here. It was almost pitch black, and quiet. But I was very nearly floating in my sleeping bag, so I knew I wasn't at home. But then I thought that I might be dreaming or something.
      I reached out to touch one of the monitors that I've got to wake it up and give me some light, but it wasn't there. So I really thought I was back home and half asleep or something. Then my hand bumped the screen and it came on and I could see where I was.

      Other times I have to stop and look out a portal and stare at the stars. Or go up to command on some errand and just hang there and watch whoever is on duty doing their job. There are times when I can't help but feel like I'm the most fortunate guy ever and, as my grandmother would say; I'm really blessed to be here. And I'd have to agree with her.

24. Various entries:
Commander Nascimento

      I decided to take another day off before we get to Mars, then it turned into two days because of all the things I wanted to do.
      There was two movies I wanted to see all the way through, on a big screen with good sound, not on something held in my hand with headphones. So I decided to watch both of them, in the rec room. And I had a whole big tub of trail mix and enough wine to get me through both as well. Then I wanted to see if I could break my own 5K record. And I really needed to clean out the storage locker under my bunk, it had just gotten way more cluttered than it should be.
      To make sure I wasn't disturbed, I gave Pelletier an entire day off, and to do so I almost had to relieve her of duty and suspend her commission. She finally quit saying "but, if..." and nodded and agreed that as soon as she finished what she was doing, she'd be so hard to find that I'd think she'd jumped ship.
      And she was good to her word. I even checked her personal account, she checked her messages a couple of times, but other than that, she didn't do anything official that I knew of for an entire day.
      From what I gathered, she spent a couple of hours building a store in our network video game and stocking it with all sorts of stuff. Then she took what may be the longest recorded shower in the history of the ship. But she did take a day off.
      Then she came back on duty, got her briefing, and I commenced my mini-vacation.

      I made it through a day and a half, I'd seen one movie, run my 5K in just over thirty-three minutes, and was just getting some things together for a nice meal before I was interrupted by something serious.

      It was a communication from Mission Control. It was news. And I had to relay it to the entire crew. So I keyed up the shipwide com and waited for the belly-aching and complaints to subside.

      "Attention, this is Commander Nascimento, I have important news from Mission Control. The message is as follows: We have completed the construction and begun testing of a long range piloted and powered spacecraft to return the crew of the Argo Epic from Martian Orbit to Earth with a reasonable transit time. If all goes well, the vessel will be launched early next year during the optimal positioning of the two planets with the replacement crew to continue the long term study of Mars. It should arrive in the Martian system for rendezvous with the Argo approximately one hundred eighty to two hundred days later. It will be followed by a series of cargo pods with fuel and other necessities for the return trip, which should take about two hundred thirty days, leaving Mars several months after its arrival during the next optimal alignment.
      "The vessel, as designed, has provision, accommodations, and facilities for a total crew compliment of between nine and twelve individuals to allow for its own pilots and engineering crew, as well the crew of the Argo."
      I took a deep breath, "That was signed by the administrator of mission control, I guess they mean it."

Ken's story:
      And now I was faced with the question that until now had been totally academic.
      Would I go back to Earth?
      I had been promised by everybody from the President down that I would not face any charges for having joined the crew. That, as he saw it, I had added an interest and a following to the mission that it would not have otherwise had.
      But I still don't know if I want to go back. I mean, yes, I've been offered appearances on shows, they want to make a movie about what I did, and there are jobs waiting on me, but, they're on Earth, not on the Argo. And I like being on the Argo.
      Commander Nascimento told me later that even if he were ordered to have me sedated and transferred to the return ship, he wouldn't do it. But that if I wanted to go, I could go, or if I decided to stay, he'd shake my hand and wish me well.
      Which still leaves the question, when the relief ship gets here, some time next year, do I pack and go?
      I honestly don't have any idea what I'm going to do.

Specialist Svetlana Kambov, PhD
      The news that we will probably have a way home gave me chills.
      I do not want to return to Earth. It is that simple.
      There, I was another scientist at the Institute, another displaced refugee from a country that vanished. I was just another single woman sitting at a table in a cafe ignoring the majority of the men that made eye contact with me. Here, I was part of a very small, very exclusive team, doing something that matters. And I liked it that way. I liked being the System's Specialist, instead somebody asked to teach a class on short notice.
      I was Specialist Svetlana, instead of 'Lana' that was always the last one called with something interesting, or the first one called, well, when they needed a fill in teacher.
      Here, I'm still 'The New Doctor', there, I'd be just another staff member with a degree.
      If they sent a full replacement crew, I'd find another place to bunk and stay, it worked for Ken. I can make it work for me.

Doctor Kristoffersen
      I can't wait to get back to Earth. I've made enough discoveries at Venus, and have already made several key observations on both Mars and its moons, as well as the Near Earth Asteroids we've been tracking during our trip out to spend the rest of my career studying them.
      The notes I've sent back to Earth have been published, and I've done interviews on the best science broadcasts, and have begun collaborations with professors on five other continents covering every aspect of Terran Planetary Science.
      When we get home I've already got appearances and speaking engagements lined up for the next three years. I've confirmed some theories, challenged others to be modified to comply with the evidence from the planets themselves, and totally disproved others, all together, a lot of science textbooks about the inner planets have to be rewritten, just like the first mission rewrote the sections on the outer planets. Which was why I was on the ship. That was what I came to do.
      And now, I have a spectral study on the atmosphere above Mars' north pole to attend to.

Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier
      There was a second communique that came in. This one was for me.
      It was from the CSA's headquarters at Longueuil. And it was essentially one sentence.
      "Upon completion of a successful mission, and after a suitable time of personal leave, you will report to the Chapman Space Center for reassignment as Deputy Director of the Agency."
      I don't know how many times I read it.
      Then I just sat in command and stared at the stars, and that large round red ball right in front of us.
      I still don't know what to think or say, but I wanted it in my log anyway.

25. Various entries:
Doctor Ranya Aziz

      We have been in space for a very long time now. And unlike the first mission, we spent a great deal of time in orbit of Venus, and will soon be orbiting Mars. It is a different sort of space travel than the first mission which never orbited any planet and spent a great deal of time running the engines.
      With us, for the time we were at Venus, we experienced space as those on the ISS in Earth Orbit do, with the exception of the minimal artificial gravity in the Ring. And now, we've been accelerating for months, and we are soon to begin to slow to enter orbit of Mars.
      While there hasn't been any noticeable effect on the crew, I do believe that in the long term there will be some differences. And I am hoping to document those in my final report.
      We have been very careful with our monitoring of both muscle tone and bone density. And while there has been some loss of each, we are still well within the acceptable ranges and what they can recover once we're back on Earth in a short period of time.
      I know for a fact that the exercise equipment is being used, and is being used almost as prescribed because the resistance coils that adjust how much weight is being moved had to be replaced. We have one more set of spares in storage, so I've let Mission Control know that they need to put our new coils on the next cargo pod.
      We have also kept to the schedule of mental acuity testing with various exercises and tests like various pattern recognition drills and different problem solving evaluations. Rotating the formats so nobody gets the same evaluation more than once every six months.
      As to the overall condition of the crew. We're all doing better than expected in all of the standard measures: Emotionally, Mentally, Physically, and so on.
      There was a noticeable decline in certain areas among several of the original crew. So on this mission we paid particular attention to those aspects. And while there has been some decrease in, say, stamina, it has been much less.
      I'm sure somebody will comment on the lack of certain aspects of socializing and fraternization amongst this crew especially as compared to the first occupants of the ship. You may rest assured that while the romantic intrigue level is indeed somewhat lower, and our behavior is more sedate in almost every way, we are not all celibates or ascetics. It is just that we have maintained a certain level of decorum that was allowed to almost totally vanish on the original mission.

Chief Engineer's Personal Log
      I've been making Engineer Baxter's Space Booze since the first week of the mission. I've just kept it to myself for the most part.
      He'd concealed the still in a panel, and before I came on board he contacted me and asked me if I drank, to which I replied in the affirmative. He asked if I'd heard about their 'moonshine' on the first mission, and I told him that it was an absolute legend. Then he told me where the still was and how to operate it.
      We were busy the first couple of days out from the space station, so I didn't even get to look for it until later. But then I remembered it after a long day of trying to help with Dr. Kris's illness, and sighing to myself that I needed a drink.
      I went to the designated panel and opened it, and there, behind a random tangle of spare wire and some other unused and unneeded parts was the infamous Argo Epic Engineering RotGut Machine, as it said on a hand written sign affixed to the condenser with duct tape. There was even a fair amount of the hooch it made in the flask that had been secured to its spout.
      I tasted it.
      They were right about one thing. Aging that stuff didn't help it at all.

      Soon I had procured the proper supplies, and rewired its heating element into the new power grid, and it was cooking away.
      They ran it at full capacity for almost the entire mission. I ran it far less. I also made some adjustments to the recipe so that the liquid it produced didn't make your ears ring when you drank it.

      And I only shared my product with certain members of the crew who I trusted to keep the secret, and then only in quantities unlikely to draw attention from Pelletier, who I know would not approve.
      The Commander, however, being a true Brazilian did approve to a point, only he had just enough Portuguese in him to prefer wine, although he did keep a spare liter bag full of AEERG ready at hand for emergencies. And there had evidently been several emergencies since the solar storm at Venus when I gave him that first full drinking bag when we were the only ones out and about on the ship, because he'd come back and had me refill it a few times. He said he found something that it makes a good mixer with, but he wouldn't tell me what it was, so I think it is some of that really sweet port he has and he was fortifying it even more with my perfectly good booze. But if it keeps the Mission Commander in a good mood, I'm OK with it. He also asked that I not pass out containers to everybody on the ship
      I'm bringing it up because he suggested that perhaps a group toast would be in order as we approach Mars.
      "After all," he said, "we didn't really do anything when we got to Venus except sneak in and hide from the storm right above her cloud tops. I think we should approach Mars with a different attitude."
      "Yes, sir." Was all I could say to answer.
      "Do you need to make more before we get there?"
      I shook my head. "I've got plenty."
      Since we'd been in transit between the planets, I'd had plenty of time and nothing to do, so I set about filling up one of the empty ten liter water canisters with booze.
      And I had just recently started filling the second one.

Optical Specialist Carmelo Bianchi
      Collaborating with Doctor Kristoffersen on the various aspects of Mars and its moons has been both a great blessing and an absolute curse.
      It is a blessing in that he is indeed an expert on the various aspects of the planet and all things associated with it, including what drives its cycle of dust storms that can almost engulf the entire planet.
      It is a curse in that he likes to have music playing while he works, and he is currently fascinated by an American singer of whatever genera he said it was who begins almost every song he does with the word "well" whether it was in the lyrics or not.
      Fortunately, I know Doctor Kristoffersen, and his audio selections change often enough that Ms Vinaya will ask him to clear some of his personal storage space on the network every so often because it is full of music that he hasn't played in a couple of weeks.

      As far as my own work. I just spent four full days photographing the most remarkable asteroid that anybody had ever seen. It was so fascinating mainly because nobody had ever seen it before that we know of. With a tentative albedo of between .02 and .03, it is one of the darkest objects ever observed in our solar system in visible light. Also, since it appears fairly cool in the infrared, and reflects only marginally when swept with radar, and didn't really light up when we did a long distance LIDAR scan of it. But it did give up enough of its secrets that, as we were told, it was another banner headline for the crew of the Argo for making another scientific discovery.
      The rock is in a very slow and highly eccentric orbit between Earth and Mars, and never really comes that close to either of them for more than a couple of days every few years. It's an odd shaped bit of astronomical debris with a long axis of about 350 meters, and a maximum width of about 200, with a brighter odd knob shaped mound appearing to be the remnants of a collision ages ago on one end. For which we named it. It also has one of the slowest rotations of an object its size that has ever been documented. A 'day' on the body was just over fifty two hours long. Not as long as Venus most assuredly, but long enough.
      'Knobby' was the focus of most of the scientific work on the ship while it was in range. Then, as we said goodbye to it we compiled our papers and images and sent them home to document the encounter.
      Then we could turn our attention back to Mars.

Ken's Story:
      We will have been in space for over two years.
      It doesn't seem that long, it really doesn't. But then again, it seems like I've never really been anywhere else.
      For awhile, I was so sick of spending the night in my room that I found a corner in one of the labs that wasn't really used a lot and slept there. They try to change up our menu every so often, but it's still the same sort of food all the time. And I'm really tired of doing school work almost every day without a break. I mean, at Darnestown we got a summer break, and Christmas break, up here, there's a college in session somewhere in the world that wants me doing stuff with them almost all the time, so I haven't had a break since it started.
      I know I shouldn't complain because being here was what I wanted to do and I did it without any help from anybody else, but there's times when I wish I hadn't come on the trip, mainly because for the last couple of months, except for the class work and the time I spend with a couple of others of the crew, it's been really boring out here.

26. MARS
Commander Filipe Nascimento
      "A toast! ... Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, the Planet Mars."

Second Officer Charlotte Pelletier
      It is official.
      We have detected the gravitational influence of the Planet Mars. We are IN the Martian System, and will approach the planet and enter into orbit shortly.
      Even before the Commander called everybody to Command to drink a toast, we had already deployed a lander to rendezvous with Deimos. The two that are going to Phobos will launch later. But the group salute to the final objective of our extended mission was a nice touch.
      I'm not so sure about whoever decided it was a good idea to start playing the old "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast over the PA, but, OK. I'd never actually listened to it before.

      We have more landers, surface skimmers, aerial vehicles, micro-satellites, and a few other devices to use here. Many more vehicles and types of vehicles than we used at Venus. As it was supposed to be Earth's sister planet, you'd think that Venus would be a good place to land a robot for a look around, it wasn't.
      I am assured that not only will the aircraft be able to fly in the thin Martian air, they'll be able to land once their flight batteries go dead and still be able to transmit data from the surface as long as the solar panels in the wings get enough sunlight to enable them to talk to us. Then I asked the obvious question and was told there simply wasn't enough light to recharge the flight batteries without a solar panel larger than the aircraft itself.
      The aspect of the mission I am most interested in is in the attempt to find and revive and even retrieve a couple of the various rovers that have gotten stuck on rocks or in thin sand on the surface. To do so, we have a veritable fleet of vehicles that are part hovercraft and part tracked rovers that we call skimmers. They're supposed to be able to operate over all but the rockiest terrain and to be able to self navigate around or over most obstacles. We'll drop them off near the targeted rovers in their parachute-beach balls, and then they'll be on their own. If they can find, say, 'Opportunity' then we'll see if there's anything the skimmer can do for it. Supposedly their robotic arm can do everything from shake dust off the rovers to actually grab the thing and the skimmer will tow it free from its sand trap.
      We'll see.
      We're also supposed to try to find and document everything from the crashed Russian probe Mars 2, the first human-made object to touch the planet, on to various American and European probes.

      And then something odd happened.
      We got several new pictures of ourselves.
      There's been a few photos sent to us from various telescopes and satellites and what not since we left Earth. And it is cool to see the ship from the outside. But these images were sent from Mars. One of the still functioning landers snapped a photo of the Argo as we approached the planet and sent it to Earth, and they sent it to us. So this was a photo taken by a 'Martian' of our arrival in the neighborhood. Others were from orbiting satellites including a nice video from an Indian orbiter.

      Our approach and orbit entry was almost a non event. The blazingly fast orbit of Phobos was just above us, basically running around the planet three times a day. Whereas we were taking a much more leisurely pace of orbiting about twice a day. At two thousand kilometers from the surface, we could maintain our orbit without overuse of our fuel to either keep from crashing into the planet or dodging the other satellites in a higher orbit, and still be able to conduct the science we were to do.
      After some time in this close orbit, we'll move to a polar orbit, then finally and possibly permanently into a higher parking orbit, outside of the orbit of Phobos.

      The surface of Mars is absolutely fascinating. Especially when compared to Venus.
      There we could sometimes see something that might be a surface feature through the occasional thin spot in the clouds. On Mars, it was exactly the opposite. There were clouds between us and the surface, but they were thin, and sometimes vanished while we were commenting on how unusual they looked, especially on the edge of the night side of the planet when they glowed faintly. Otherwise, we could see the surface clearly.

      The only drama was the launching of the first round of probe and rover visitation units. The timing had to be perfect or the skimmer might miss its target by hundreds of kilometers. But we assembled a team, and even took full advantage of Ken's enthusiasm to make sure we got it right. There were three of us monitoring the process, taking into account everything from the wind and turbulence below, our orbital speed and position, and the planet's own rotation, and once all three gave him a green light, Ken launched the descent module right on time.
      We only missed one target, when the lander that was supposed to land near Viking One came in a bit too low and glanced off the nearby highlands and ended up in a crater too far away from the Viking, but we reprogrammed it and it spent the next several months exploring a group of craters and did a fairly good job of it. Fortunately we had several extra skimmers to deploy. For the next launch to Viking we waited a grand total of an extra three seconds to launch. Then the 'beachball' part of the skimmer's lander came to rest within sight of the robotic probe from 1976, our second launch to that one was the closest any of our landers came to their target, and, in fact, it was so close that during its descent we were afraid it would hit the Viking and maybe destroy both. Fortunately, our aim wasn't that good and the cushions deflated, adding some more CO2 to Mars' atmosphere, and when the dust settled, literally, the skimmer's camera began to pan around and there was the dish antenna and weather boom of the Viking lander.
      We expected to find some sand scouring on the older landers like the Vikings and the Russian Mars probes. And we were not surprised. The side of the various vehicles that was face on to the prevailing breezes had been effectively sand-blasted, especially in the case of the ones from the seventies, but then again, some of the much newer models showed that some of them hadn't been built as well as their older cousins.
      There was a lot of variation on how much sand and dust had built up on the leeward sides of the vehicles. In one case, the British lander Beagle 2 had become the central part of its own sand dune. From the images we had, the undeployed solar panel petals might be forced open, and the device might still function as designed, if we moved a lot of sand, or perhaps the lander itself, so we contacted the Brits to see what they wanted to do.

      Perhaps most interesting to the engineers was the remnants of the Soviet Mars 2 wreck. When the landing stage of the vehicle failed during the descent the spacecraft became a meteorite and left a significant crater where it hit. However, much of the scientific part of the machine survived in recognizable, but slightly rearranged, form.
      The skimmer took detailed images of the destroyed spacecraft, and almost immediately there was requests from Earth for it to also film the crater the lander had made so they could judge everything from the energy released by the impact, to what that meant to Mars itself.

      As for the 'Rover Rescue' side of the mission, we met with mixed success. Our skimmers were able to wake up a couple of them, and shook thick layers of dust off of them doing so, but the majority of them had been quiet and still for far too long to resume their missions. Both Spirit and Opportunity 'woke up' but neither could reliably move under their own power once we'd freed them from where they'd buried their wheels deep in the surface dust. It appeared that the wind had blown red sand into places where perhaps it wasn't meant to be.
      The JPL mission engineers for the two famous rovers said they'd work on the problem and see if they could get them to cooperate.
      As for the largest rover on Mars, once our skimmer woke it up and it got to moving again, the Americans used it to chase our skimmer around and play a game of 'hide and go seek' for a time. But Curiosity had been silent for a long time and while it was still operational, its age was showing.

      There was a special plan for the tiny Sojourner rover. Our skimmer located it and verified that it was pretty much intact, then we began to work on the plan to bring it, and two other small landers, up to the Argo for study with the solid rocket transports in the next couple of months.
      Other rockets had surface probes that would collect samples of soil and rock, and, hopefully, some damp mud, and return them to the Argo for study.

      In addition to all that, we're mapping the entire surface in multiple ways and even studying the minute magnetic field that comes and goes here and there, now stronger, then weaker, fluctuating at random on and over the planet. Several of the crew are working on a theory that there is still enough core activity inside the planet, in conjunction with whatever water is available below the surface, coupled with Mars' more than adequate supply of iron compounds, all got together to create what we began to call "the Wandering Martian Magnet".
      So while we're getting to know Mars, and conducting tons of research, we've only really just begun.

Ken's Story
      They really didn't give me a choice.
      The Chief Engineer told me he had a perfect job for me while the Commander stood behind him nodding and looking through my Pocket reference book, then he said that I'd need that for the job and tossed it to me. "I marked the page with the table of torque ratings for bolts."
      "Thank you, sir," was all I could say.

      I knew the return rockets had arrived on the last cargo pod. But what I didn't know was that each one was in a bunch of pieces. And some of the pieces were another cargo pod that was supposed to be here in a day or so.
      My job was to go through the specs for each one, gather and test all the parts, and then help assemble them when the time came for each mission.
      I looked at the tablet they'd given me with the information about each one and its mission to bring back everything from a bucket of dirt to one of the rovers that had been on Mars for years. Each one was similar, but different in some way, including the one getting the dirt having a long arm with a conveyor built into it to scoop up its samples and put them in the return container.
      Then I looked at the one that was supposed to bring us the Sojourner. There were two components. The first was the landing module that would pick up the Sojourner and secure it in a transport pod, then take the captured rover to the second unit, then it would lift it to the top of the return unit and they would both secure it, then, when the ship and the planet were aligned correctly, the solid rockets would fire and we'd capture it with the net we used at Venus.
      I thought I'd start with one of the three that were supposed to return probes from the surface. So I began looking for the individual parts and went to the cargo pod that had just arrived.
      The pod was full, I had to pull a couple of boxes out of it just so I could see what was in it.
      It took me awhile to find the ones I was looking for,

      Then I found the one with the number for the Sojourner recovery mission. I opened it, and ended up keying the com panel and saying: "Commander. Sir. We've got a problem."

Commander Nascimento
      I didn't believe Ken so I left Command and went to the docking ring and together we went through the newest cargo pod, then we went through the other three that were on the ring.
      Then I called the Chief Engineer and Stan and everybody else and asked them if they'd moved the parts for the return rockets.

      We had enough solid rocket engines to push the Argo out of orbit. But from there, what we had was a mess. No, strike that, we had an Incomplete Mess.
      The crates that were supposed to have the brackets and assembly kits for the missions had everything else in them.
      And that is exactly what was in the crates.

      The one Ken had opened that was supposed to have the locking rig to attach the Sojourner's transfer container to the rocket body had a selection of hospital scrubs in it.
      I'm not kidding.
      We had an array of tops and bottoms in various colors and prints, including some with circus animals on them, in several sizes.
      We opened another crate that was labeled with a 'license plate' packing list that claimed it was to contain the landing struts for the descent stages of the units that were to land the return vehicle and position it to complete its mission.
      "Waterproof and hookless. No liner needed. Stain and mildew resistant," Ken read off a package.
      It was full of shower curtains.
      The third shipping container said it had stabilizing fins and the nozzles for the rocket motors in it. And it did.
      The fourth was supposed to have descent parachutes for the various landers. And they were there as well.
      However, the next two had tablecloths with matching napkins instead of the sampling rig for the soil return mission, and where there was supposed to be a grappling device that was to collect some of the baseball sized rocks at another landing site, we found decorative holiday bunting for every occasion in several different languages.
      "Really?" Pelletier asked with a look on her face that had to be seen to be believed.
      I handed her the packing slip from inside the container.
      "Wall and table hangings for religious and secular holiday gatherings," she read out loud, then stopped and looked in the container. "Well, St Patrick's day is coming up."
      "Let's keep looking," I said to Ken.
      Pelletier laughed and said she'd help us.

      There were over forty boxes, crates, and totes in the cargo container. About half of them had something else in them besides what they were supposed to contain. A couple were empty, and one we couldn't get open until Stan brought a saw up and we cut the bottom off. That one had blank reams of copier paper in it.

      Mission control didn't believe it until we sent them images of us holding up 'Frohe Ostern' and 'La Quatorze Juillet' signs while wearing new Hawaiian print scrubs.
      "We're using the shower curtains as well," I told them.
      "Well good, we wouldn't want that stuff to go to waste. Your parts were launched on another transport, they should be there in a few days. They turned up after the one you're talking about launched, but we didn't know what was on it. Or why your mission supplies were still on a truck in Belgium."
      "So you don't know who is missing their copier paper or any of this other stuff. Like a paisley print duvet cover?"
      There was a pause of silence from Mission Control. Then we could hear several people in the background chuckling, finally, they came clean.

      The containers were SUPPOSED to be labeled to go with an EU trade mission tour to several other countries. But because of a 'slight label mix-up' in the central warehouse, the trade mission left without any containers of products to show, and we got a nice selection of men's and ladies' cloth hats and a big container of fashion accessories.

      Fortunately, the somewhat entertaining cargo did not go to waste and we had a bit of fun in the bargain. Like when we went around and gave everybody all sorts of jewelry.
      As for the rest of the stuff, contrary to public opinion, we didn't ignore any holiday in particular, like Diwali, or Christmas, or Kanda Matsuri. In fact, we have had a celebration for festivals that nobody on board observed. But doing so did us something to look forward to because there some something almost every week that involved some sort of special treat to eat and different music to listen to. Which most of us appreciated.
      The parts for the Mars lander and rover recovery missions did arrive. Ken finished his assignment, and we got ready for what everybody agreed was going to be the most memorable part of the entire mission.

Ken's story.
      Now I had an assignment from European Mission Control, and I know it is precisely because nobody else on board wanted to do it. And perhaps equally, because they felt that Stuff that shouldn't be on the Argo should be inventoried by Some-Body that shouldn't be on the Argo.
      I was OK with that.

      I went through all of the containers, I took all sorts of pictures, and wrote down how many of what was in each container, which EU country it was from, and kept any paperwork that was with it. Then I sat at my college work station and made a nice spreadsheet and wrote a report about it, including some of the uses we'd come up with for a lot of it, and sent it to both Mission Controls.

      The shower curtains were very popular as room dividers in the biology lab and elsewhere. The table cloths actually got used as table cloths wherever there was a table. The bedspreads were also quite popular as several of the crew took them to their sleeping cubicle.
      The hats and holiday banners were more of a novelty, but some of the hats made good packing material to keep things in place here and there.
      Of course we all had at least a couple of pairs of the hospital uniforms, although I didn't like the pants, I didn't mind the shirts because they had big pockets on them that I used.
      The bin of children's clothes like one-sies, diaper covers, small blankets and all of that stuff was less likely to be used, although some of the baby blankets were now in Medical and some crew members the bunks. Although when I was working on the landing vehicles going down to Mars I found that some of the boxes the stuff had been shipped in were the perfect size for sorting the parts for the rockets, and the diaper covers were perfect for groups of parts that needed to be kept together all in one place. Then I wrote on the box what it contained and stowed it with larger parts like the solid rocket motors.

      All together, once we actually got to Mars, I was no longer bored and had all sorts of interesting projects to keep busy with.

27. My opinion on Phobos, Doctor Kristoffersen

      I have managed to observe Phobos twice a day for some time now. I have had Carmelo photograph every square meter of the surface with multiple filters. Commander Nascimento took obvious pleasure in using all the available scanners on it as well. We have studied it as it crossed the Sun's disc, and have even landed a couple of probes on it.
      The only way we could know more about the thing would be to land on it ourselves. Which, at this time, is not possible due to a couple of obvious factors which I see no need to go into at this time.

      I have immense confidence in the following conclusion.
      Phobos is a natural body, in my official scientific opinion, it and its smaller brother are both asteroids that got too close to the Red Planet for their own good. And to Phobos' eventual demise.

      We verified the theory that a probe on the surface of the moon can use the solar wind as an additional source of electrical power. While it is not much most of the time, it is significant, and very nearly constant. With the right sort of antenna, and perhaps a bit of luck, a small probe could recharge its batteries without having to lug a solar panel or nuclear reactor along.

      We also got a look inside both of them with one of our experiments that involved great precision and coordination with several on the ship.
      To put it simply, we attacked the two small moons.
      One of the devices sent out on the cargo pod was a large magnetic assisted CO2 cannon that could fire a 10 cm diameter sphere of 430 stainless with a mass of almost exactly 4 kilos at around two hundred meters per second depending on the specific requirements of a particular launch.
      We targeted the spot on the moon we wanted to impact with a laser as we approached the body, then the tracking computer calculated the range and optimum moment to fire, and with a power that made the entire ship shudder the projectile was on its way.
      Then pretty much everybody on duty tracked the sphere on its trip to the surface of Phobos where the impact was absolutely spectacular.
      There was a moment where we weren't sure anything had happened, which was followed an instant later by a large eruption of dust and debris. The cloud was large enough and lasted long enough that we were able to scan it with everything we had, photograph it in multiple spectra, and even get good radar and lidar returns off it to judge its composition.
      Then we also tracked the minute changes in the moon itself to help define its mass.
      The results were what most of us expected. Phobos was a medium sized rather plain space rock.
      Some time later, literally after 'the dust settled', we took numerous images of the impact area, as well as the entire surface of the moon. The steel ball was nowhere to be seen.
      We did an in depth radar study of the entire surface to see if it had been buried in dust, or perhaps embedded in the subsurface strata of the moon.
      We solved the mystery by replaying the high speed video of the impact. The sphere can be seen hitting the moon, then a shower of dust erupts, and just milliseconds later, the sphere can just be seen coming back out of the crater with several large chunks of rock, and vanishing out of frame.
      So now we went back and began checking radar images from the time to see if there was a track of the sphere in its further flight.
      We found a couple of very brief contacts that might well be the steel ball, then we began an active search for it with the high resolution radar. The problem was that most of the sphere was still highly polished smooth steel, and it was only ten centimeters across, at least it was before it hit the moon. It may have deformed slightly on impact.
      The radar track did show intermittent contact for some time with what appeared to be the sphere. But by the time we confirmed that it was indeed our projectile, it was well on its way to making a second contact, except this time it was heading for Mars itself.

      Two days later we plotted where it should have fallen and did get a series of good clear and highly detailed images of a new crater on the Arcadia Planitia lowlands just northwest of Alba Mons. Which was good because that was a largely unexplored region of the planet.
      Because the projectile fell at a rather steep angle we had a clear, sharp, and rather deep brand new impact crater that exposed over two meters of substrate in a previously untested region.
      The new crater was also uneroded, so we made sure we photographed it as often as possible to record that phenomena as it occurred.

      In general, everything we learned about the natural satellites of Mars simply confirmed that they were natural satellites, and fairly unremarkable ones at that.

Doctor Shinno, Personal Log, released in the interest of public health.
      Ever since we had the salute to Mars I have felt alone.
      It was like I no longer have a reason to be here and no way to get home.
      I felt lonely, even depressed.
      I did my duty, I monitored the crew and the experiments, but, in reality, there was very little reason to do so.

      Some of the crew noticed that I was acting 'down' as they put it, and several endeavored to engage me in everything from searching for some lab animals that were rumored to still be free to engaging in sexual flirtation.
      I appreciated their efforts, but I also knew that I needed to work myself through this, and I vowed to do so without medication.

      Part of my situation was that I was alone. I was the only Japanese on board, and the majority of the communication with Earth was European. I seldom heard anything directly from Chofu even though they were one of our official communications ground stations.

      And now, sitting here at my work station in medical and thinking about it, I realize exactly when this round of low emotions started.
      I was reading a copy of a Japanese newsletter that had come in with our usual assortment of news from Earth, except it wasn't from Tokyo, or even the home islands, it was from Honolulu.
      One of the articles in it caught my eye because it used my family name.
      It was a brief obituary for my own great grandmother. She was mentioned because I was on the Argo, and it was newsworthy to the Japanese community in Hawaii. The article said that she was almost one hundred and two years old and that said that having me on the ship was the greatest thing that had ever happened to her family.
      I hadn't even gotten the notification from my family yet. It did not arrive until two days later because it had to go through official channels at JAXA.
      I was alone, and completely out of touch with everything and everybody from my life on Earth.
      I knew my feelings would dishonor my family, and my nation, so I tried to be very Japanese and do my duty.
      Then I sat here, at my workstation, with the stars and planets going by both of my windows, and cried.

      Then I remembered that I had done exactly the same thing one evening when I was on a break from University and worked for a couple of months with a classmate of mine as a hostess at a gaijin lounge in Osaka.
      We were being paid by the lounge, and we got to keep most of the tips we were given, with the stated goal in mind of making certain foreign visitors 'feel Japanese', and to get them to buy the most expensive food and drink in the place.
      And I was good at it. I spoke very good English and a little French and a bit of German, and Mio spoke English and was learning Spanish, so we could work with almost anybody that came in.
      It was stated in our contract that we were not to engage in actual sex with customers, and we didn't, but we were very good at 'hinting' that things may get more involved as the night went on, and Mio had a gift for wearing her hostess uniform in a very provocative way that I, even then, just could not master, although I tried.
      But on the nights when I would be there without her, I felt as I feel now, and one night I sat in the corner at our hostess station where we kept things the customers might need, and cried until they said I had a customer who asked for us.
      I remember that night. I was alone with two gentlemen from New York. They were with a publishing company and had spent a lot of time, and a great deal of money here over the last week, and they were supposed to be going back to New York early next week. They were fun, they brought us gifts, which we were allowed to keep, and tipped very well, and Mio had perhaps gone a bit too far with them over the course of their visits, but she never went that far. We always left them wanting, and hoping for, more.
      They had sensed that I wasn't happy that night, and both of them spent their time consoling me, and finally they said that maybe being a lounge hostess wasn't my ideal line of work. I told them I was only here for another three weeks then I'd be going back to school.
      And now, here I was, at my station, crying, again. Except now I could not go back in three weeks.

      I spent a long time talking to Doctor Aziz.
      As the only Arab on board, she understood what I felt. That she had felt some of that isolation and doubt about her being here. She also said I had helped her through it a few months ago when she felt like the mission would never end.
      I had forgotten about that. I had told her that when we were together, we were not alone, and that we could get through whatever the mission had in store for us.
      Then I ran into Vinaya. Who had been dealing with the sense of isolation and alone-ness even before we left Earth.
      All the the sudden I was no longer alone. And I had an idea for a study about how, in intentionally working to increase the diversity on the crew, they also increased the likelihood that the crew would experience these sensations during the mission.
      So I called both of them to my work area and described the paper I had in mind. They signed on and said they'd had similar ideas about the whole thing.

      After the three of us went to lunch together in the recreation pod, I went back to my work station and wrote a letter to Mio. She was now a teacher in an industrial school in Higashiosaka, and doing very well.
      Just beginning the letter made me feel so much better that I wondered why I hadn't stayed in more regular contact with her. I'd sent a video awhile back, and she had sent me some questions from her students once in awhile. So I made another vow. I would not let a few million kilometers isolate me from my friends and family any more.

Supplement to the Final results of Quantum Entanglement study, Doctor Lorraine Latour
      I have just transmitted my results to EPFL.
      I have always regarded my University to be the primary sponsor of my work here on the Argo Epic even though there are several other universities involved.
      I have also regarded this effort in making a long term study, over the distance from the ship to the Earth, and using the facilities on the ship as my primary assignment, irregardless of all of the other work I have done, and have assisted the others with, on board.
      I also regard myself as the only Swiss on board, even though I possess dual citizenship, I always list Suisse first, and when asked where I am from, that is how I answer.

      I have found my time on the Argo to be productive, and rewarding, if somewhat personally limiting. What I missed the most is the cafe culture we had at Ecole Polytechnic in the shops and restaurants of Lausanne. And to some degree, the lake. It is impossible to recreate the refreshing effect just a few minutes of walking along Lake Geneva is when one has been working for several hours.
      There is no outlet like that on the ship. If one goes to the Observation Pod, or to Command, you are instantly and totally overwhelmed by the immensity of the Cosmos around you. To the point that I covered the portals in my work area with papers, and then later with two layers of the 'shower curtains' that arrived by mistake, because I found that having the Universe looking over my shoulder while calculating the quantum states of linked particles beamed from Earth to the Collection Array on the Argo most distracting.
      But there was no way around being so exposed for some of the work I had to do. Such as when I had to reinitialize the fiber belt that ran the length of the outside of the ship in several long loops of optical cable that totaled twenty kilometers of multi-strand glass, that when linked could act as two one hundred kilometer test circuits. We were afraid that the solar storm had destroyed it, but it had not. I ran the tests and reinitialized the monitoring equipment to find that while some of the electronics had been damaged, and would have to be repaired before we could begin that series of experiments again, the fiber itself was unharmed.

      While some have complained about the food, or the lack of a certain recreational opportunity, such as a swimming pool, I have found the ship and its facilities otherwise adequate.
      I am here to work. My projects consume my entire day, and sometimes more than my day. There have been several times when I have found it more efficient to sleep in my lab instead of making the trip to my bunk, and then to have to go back out to the ring in a few hours to check on a running experiment. To the point where one of the command officers reminded me that the bathing and laundry facilities are not restricted.
      I have also found their false sense of modesty somewhat humorous. I have always been somewhat more casual than most others in the academic world as to what is appropriate attire when monitoring experiments. Other than when required to wear protective clothing and lead aprons, I have found I do some of my best work when wearing little or nothing. Perhaps it was too many summers along the Riviera that corrupted me, however, I had adapted, to a point. I have also learned to keep the outer door to my lab closed.

      But in the mean time I had to finish my report summarizing my testing of the observer effect on my initial work on quantum entanglement of groups of matched particles, some of which were measured here, and some of which were beamed back to Earth with a time and group tag, and then the measurements were compared.
      It made no sense at all, but the entanglement theory, and the observer effect, were both holding their ground as true.

Ken's Story
      I'm not even sure when it happened.
      It seems I've always spent time on the Command Deck, watching systems, monitoring processes, checking readings. Even making adjustments to some of the systems and fixing things like an indicator panel that quit working. Especially after the storm at Venus, it seems there was always something up there that wasn't working because of damage to another system someplace else. And while Engineer Stan or somebody was working elsewhere in the ship, they'd ask me to go to Command to check a reading up there while the Chief Engineer was checking his readings back there.
      And, once in awhile when I was up there, the Commander or Officer Pelletier would ask me, or to be fair, whoever was up there, to keep an eye on things while they went back to the head or whatever. Really, there was nothing to it. The ship was on autopilot and nothing ever happened quickly. But everybody felt better if somebody was "minding the store" as Engineer Stan put it.
      One time just listening for an alarm and watching the proximity radar led to another time, and those led to a bit longer time. Then finally when we were passing the knobby asteroid and everybody was running scans and adjusting the LIDAR scope, I spent a full shift in Command monitoring how close we were to the asteroid, and didn't even notice when Officer Pelletier left to go do something and it was a couple of hours before the Commander came up for his shift.
      He said he wasn't worried because he knew his ship was in good hands.
      But they never officially asked me to work a command shift, and I know they weren't supposed to since, Officially, I wasn't a crew member.

      But then they did.
      The Commander had just come off a double shift because Engineer Stan was helping launch sample probes that were due to go from the airlock, and Officer Pelletier was in one of the Science Labs working with one of the Rover Return Units to get it loaded up on the surface, and couldn't relieve him. So Commander Nascimento asked Officer Pelletier if it was OK with her if I "kept an eye on things" until she could come to Command.
      I heard her answer on the com, "Yeah, sure, he'll be fine, we're having trouble getting the mount aligned."
      He looked at me and said, "If ANYTHING happens, anything at all, call me, I'll be in the rec room for, lunch, supper, whatever it is, then in my bunk."
      "Yes. Sir." I answered.

      I didn't need to go try out the Commander's work station, because I'd sat at it for two or three days straight after the storm when we were trying to get everything up and running again. I didn't stand in the 'sweet spot' in the middle of the very bow of the ship where there was just enough force to keep your feet on the plate where the glass panes joined, but not so much you fell toward one side or the other.
      I've done all that, several times. Today, I checked on the ship's systems, adjusted the control rods on reactor two when its output started to fluctuate the way it did every so often, made sure I answered an incoming communication from Earth with the correct time code and acknowledgment that indicated that we had received the complete message, and did all the things a command officer was supposed to do.
      I also got to play a bit of one of the games I'm playing against the Chief Engineer on the big command monitor instead of the smaller one in my room.
      And so I stayed in Command, and did what needed to be done until Engineer Stan came up and said that Officer Pelletier wasn't feeling well and was on her way to her quarters so he was coming up early for her.
      And so my first, but hopefully not my last, fill in shift in command came to an end.

28. Third Officer, Assistant Engineer, Stanley Smith
      "Hello, everybody. As you can see, I'm with the crew of the Argo Epic, and that big red thing behind us is Mars. So, I really can't be there in person. I wish I could.
      "Today is a day I never thought would come. My little sister, Mel, as I used to call her, is getting married, well, now, she just got married. And I am so glad I got to meet the guy that, back before we left, was just one of her friends from school. Josh, you did good.
      "But now I've got to tell a story about my little sister before we drink our toast.
      "Back when she was little, she had a thing about French Fries. She would take one fry, and hold it like this, and draw a line on top of it with the ketchup. If any ran down the side or dripped off, she couldn't eat it. It had to be a perfectly unbroken single line of ketchup, or she couldn't eat it.
      "Of course, I could.
      "But that was a long time ago. Mel. Melanie. I'm really proud of you. And Josh, you too.
      "And now, a toast. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, My little sister, and her husband, Josh. Me and the entire crew of the Argo wish you a long and happy life together. To the newlyweds!"

      It took me three times to get that recorded so I didn't sound like an idiot. And then, Vinaya and Pelletier cut it together and made one speech out of the three and sent that version to Earth for them to play at the reception.
      Later, we got back several photos and a video of the whole thing. And I watched it several times. In fact, for awhile, the long video of the reception, with their entrance and my toast and even some of the music from a live band and dancing ran in a loop in the rec pod for a couple of days and nobody stopped it.
      Which I thought was a good sign that everybody liked my sister's reception.

The following item was requested to be released anonymously.

      I don't know about the others, and some of them, like the Chief Engineer and Ken make a joke out of it, but with me, it makes me really uneasy and really lonely all the same.
      And, It just happened again.
      We couldn't see home, that is, the planet Earth. We could not see Earth for almost six days while it passed behind the sun compared to where we are.
      It happened twice at Venus, and then at least once on the trip to Mars. And it has happened once since we got here. But this time was the longest of all.
      We are never out of communication with Earth because of the various relay satellites that are here and there that can relay radio signals and all the rest of it. But we still like to be able to look out and see that blue dot that is everybody and everything else that matters to us.

      At least I do.

End Argo 2

Book Three is:
THE ARGO EPIC - and the rescue of the Terra Maru

The Desk Fiction Collection

[Note: All rights reserved, including the right to further publication. Distributed copies to proofreaders and editors remain property of the author. No infringement of copyright is intended. All persons are fictitious, all other planets and similar bodies are actually there or may be presumed from available data.
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