The Last Outpost
Author's Note: This is a Science Fiction Story, a new genre for me, but people at Frugal Squirrels seem to like it. Please let me know what you think (Good, Bad or Indiferent)
Lunar Colony Alpha Prime was tunneled into the crust of the moon using advanced technology, which resulted in walls that were capable of sustaining pressures of over 2 atmospheres. They received electricity from a constellation of massive satellites with huge solar panels that converted the energy to electricity, and transmitted it to the surface using tight-beam microwave transmitters. The lack of lunar atmosphere allowed them to achieve 95% efficiency transmitting energy to the surface from lunar synchronous satellites. They had an emergency backup atomic powerplant left over from the “bad old days” out of a scrapped US nuclear submarine in case something happened to the solar power plants, which had an estimated life of over 100 years.
500 men women and children currently lived at Alpha Prime. The children were born on the moon, and were accustomed to the low gravity. The downside of that meant that they could never return to Earth, since the Earth’s gravity would kill them. They grew their own food, manufactured oxygen and hydrogen fuel; and mined the moon for valuable minerals and raw materials to build more structures. Over the decades, the Lunar Colony inhabitants stopped thinking of themselves as Earthlings, since they couldn’t return to the Earth after living on the Moon so long, and their kids could never set foot on the Earth, or even enter its gravity well.
Life underground on the lunar colony was little different from life on the Earth, with the exception of the Sky. Anyone on the surface of the moon looking directly at the sun without the appropriate filters would quickly damage their eyes, and the space surrounding the sun was deep black inkiness. On the “dark side” of the moon, they had a huge radio telescope and the largest electro-optical telescope in the Solar system. Scientists on the Dark Side were making new discoveries in Astronomy and Physics at a pace that frustrated Earth-bound scientists. They had increased Man’s knowledge of the universe billions of times since they had established the research center on the Dark side. Like the other inhabitants of the Colony, they could never return home, yet there was a 20-year waiting list to get an appointment to the Lunar Observatory, so the best scientists in Astronomy and Astrophysics were the ones lucky enough to go. Several teenagers in the colony served as assistants and apprentices to the scientists. The Hubble Space Telescope had lifted the curtain, but the Lunar Observatory removed the curtain, and cleaned the window until it gleamed. Once the data from the Lunar Observatory started reaching Earth, all previous Cosmological Theories except Intelligent Design were quickly set aside. The Universe was several billion times bigger than previously thought and except for stellar noise and other radio signals from known sources, like X-ray stars, it was quiet as a tomb. If ET were trying to get hold of Planet Earth, we couldn’t hear them. Scientists quickly became at least Deists, and most became Christians.
WWIII in 2025 was the shortest war in history. China and North Korea tried to launch a pre-emptive strike at Russia and the US. Our Space Defense system worked just like it was supposed to, and vaporized the warheads in flight. Russia wasn’t so lucky. Russian and American sub-launched cruise missiles with neutron warheads that killed half the population of China, and wiped out North Korea. The new clean warheads had no fall-out, and were designed to kill people, and worked exactly as they were supposed to. The new Chinese Government decided that since half the Chinese were dead, the living could now have 2 children each. President Affleck shook his head. Even after a major disaster, the Chinese wouldn’t abandon Population Control. Vice President Gooding thought they’d never learn. The upside of WWIII, if there was one, was that the International Federation of Scientists realized that we WERE dumb enough to exterminate the Human Race, and decided to accelerate plans to make a permanent moon colony as a Last Outpost for Humanity. They never discussed their true reasons for the colony, and justified it based on research and manufacturing. They discovered that certain manufacturing processes conducted in low gravity resulted in near perfect components. With lunar gravity about 1/6 of Earth’s, it was the perfect base to manufacture several high-precision components, including perfectly round ball bearings, faster computer chips, and various heat-resistant polymers. What set the world on its ear was the proposal to build Big Ear, an array of 100 2-mile wide radio telescopes that could only be built on the moon, since they used existing craters to form the reflectors. With the mass of the moon shielding it from Earth’s radio pollution, it was infinitely more sensitive than any earth-based radio telescope, and detected radio signals from quasars billions of times farther away than previously thought. With the size of the known Universe expanded several billion times bigger than previously thought, the Big Bang theory was basically disproved. Pictures sent back from the opto-electronic telescope which had a mirror 1-mile in diameter made Hubble’s images look like someone with an Instamatic Camera taking a picture of Venus surrounded by the lights of New York City.
In Alpha Prime, the “garden” was not only their source of food, but it recycled all waste and water, and converted the Carbon Dioxide exhaled by the occupants into Oxygen and water vapor. The garden was laid out like a city park, and included huge expanses of green grass and trees. Sunlight was admitted into the garden Solarium through special UV filters, and provided an artificial “sky” 200 feet above them, which was high enough to safely play baseball and football on the grass field. Lunar soil proved to be an excellent hydroponic media, and an advanced waste recycling technology converted all their waste into nutrients that were absorbed and used by the plants. They were so good at recycling waste that several shipments from earth were nothing more than biological waste products that had been sterilized for safety. In case their water production plant failed, they had millions of gallons of water stored for emergencies. While the low gravity allowed for lakes of open water or pools to form inside the pressure domes, the Council had decided that large bodies of open water weren’t worth the risk.
Every 28 days, Alpha prime would turn from the day side to the night side of the moon. The Dark Side was a misnomer, it got sunlight as often as the side that was facing the Earth, it was just that it’s orbit around the Earth equaled its rotation, resulting in a 28-day “Lunar day”, and the Earth could never see the “dark side of the moon” leading to all kinds of myths until the Apollo Astronauts orbited the moon in preparation for landing, and saw the dark side for the first time. Since the solar energy satellites were outside the shadow of the moon, they received and transmitted solar energy to the surface 24/7. The inhabitants of Alpha Prime were Vegetarians, not by choice, but because it was terribly inefficient to raise 100 acres of grain to feed to cattle just to have a steak. Since couples were producing offspring, and people were living longer, the colony was continually growing at a 5% rate, which meant that the construction crews were constantly busy expanding the pressure domes. Travel between domes was via lighted and pressurized tunnels and airlocks. Travel on the surface was strictly limited to save wear and tear on their spacesuits. Every pressure dome had several emergency shelters with food, water, and air, and enough emergency suits to evacuate the shelter when help arrived if atmospheric pressure hadn’t been restored outside the shelter. Originally there were no pets on Alpha Prime, but some lab rats got loose, and they decided the best way to control the pests was to import cats to chase the mice. The cats bred, and soon there were dozens of cats roaming the pressure domes. The dog lovers protested, and the Council decided they had enough food and water now to allow small dogs as pets. What they didn’t count on was the micro-gravity allowed the animals to live 20-30 years without apparently aging. Several old terriers were over 30 years old when they finally died.
Commander Rick Nelson was an Astronaut, and one of the first colonists of Alpha One. He vividly remembered the risky days spent living in an aluminized pressure shelter while they built the first underground pressure domes. Their Lunar Orbiter was one of the few of the brand-new Luna class orbiters to actually land on the moon. They were similar to the old Challenger Shuttle, but 10 times the size and they were launched using a Maglev rail system. The system consisted of 2 huge SRB main booster rockets attached to a Maglev sled running on 30 miles of track in the Nevada desert that ran into and turned up a 10,000 foot mountain, which changed the 600-knot ground speed into upward velocity. At the end of the track, the orbiter separated from the rocket-powered sled, and the 4 massive ramjets took over, boosting the package to the altitude limits of the ramjets, and accelerating it closer to escape velocity. Once the ramjet system reached its maximum altitude of around 100 thousand feet, and near-escape velocity, the orbiter detached from the ramjet booster package, which floated back to the earth for recovery and reuse. The orbiter’s main engines were briefly ignited, propelling the orbiter outside the atmosphere, and achieving escape velocity. Several days later, it established a stable orbit above the lunar surface. After Luna 5, they developed a cargo orbiting/landing system, and the cargo was jettisoned, and fell in a pre-programmed orbit, touching down on the surface near Lunar Colony Alpha Prime. Any packages or personnel wishing to return to the Earth were packaged aboard a small orbiter with a low-thrust rocket, and returned to the orbiter, which returned to the Earth.
Lieutenant Commander Nelson, Commander Nelson’s wife, or Sally to her friends, was the first woman on the moon. They realized it was probably a 1-way trip to the moon, so NASA selected the youngest, healthiest, most compatible astronaut couple to command the first mission of the new Luna class of Space Shuttles. The Luna 1 carried a team of 10, and a cargo package about 10 times the heaviest and bulkiest load ever lifted by a Challenger Shuttle. Due to the Maglev launching system, the new Luna shuttles were only limited by the physics of large hypersonic objects. The engineers had to design Luna 1 to a mathematical ratio of mass vs. length vs. girth. Basically the Luna 1 had the same ratio of length/girth/mass as the bullet fired from a BMG-50, but several hundred thousands of times bigger.
After a rocky start, they figured out how to build permanent caverns deep in the lunar bedrock that would hold up to 2 atmospheres of pressure. Every pressure dome was pressure tested before it was occupied, and contained several pressure monitors and alarms. Any significant loss of pressure would sound ear-splitting klaxons, and the occupants of the dome would rush to the nearest emergency shelter until the all-clear was sounded. Several minor moon-quakes resulted in cracks that were quickly sealed until they figured out how to dig and seal the tunnels using a boring machine and lasers which fused the silica rich soil several feet thick, and created a superior dome structure. Before then they made gunite-like substance and sprayed it on the walls, which resulted in a sealant surface maybe 1 inch thick at the most. Not only that, but making the gunite-like product used a lot of valuable water that they couldn’t recover.
One of the first children born at Alpha Prime was Rick and Sally’s son Jr. The medical people were freaking out when they found out Sally was pregnant, but Rick told them to stuff it, since this was supposed to be a permanent colony, and that meant that they had to risk having kids or the colony would die out. Jr. was a perfectly healthy baby, but weak by Earth Standards. Rick, Sally, and the rest of their crew were some of the strongest people at Alpha Prime, but their muscles were starting to atrophy as well. The doctors were amazed at how well humans tolerated long-term low gravity. Seems the naysayers were wrong, and the human body adapted just fine, as long as there was gravity to orient the systems. Their pulses slowed, and the blood pressure dropped since they didn’t have to pump the blood back up to the heart in a gravity that was 6 times higher than the Moon. As the population grew older, they were amazed at the lack of arthritis, and other joint diseases.
Rick was sitting at their breakfast nook enjoying a rare cup of coffee. For some reason coffee beans wouldn’t grow on the Moon, so coffee was strictly rationed. He thought back to the launch of Luna 1. The engineers and the Medical people argued for years, and finally the President made an executive decision, and ordered the program to proceed, and for the medical people to do everything in their power to ensure the astronauts survived the acceleration of going from zero to 600mph within 30 miles and 2 minutes. The Program Director was right; it was a better ride than the best E-ticket ride at Disneyland. Rick wondered about the origin of that cliché, since all Entertainment parks were ordered closed almost 100 years ago when the land underneath them was deemed too valuable to waste on entertainment. With the advent of Virtual Reality, they weren’t really needed anyway. He remembered being strapped into a zero-gee couch, with an oxygen mask providing positive pressure oxygen every time he inhaled. The Medical team told him exhaling would be no problem, since the gees would try to collapse his lungs, but inhaling would be an effort as long as the SRBs were burning. Rick knew that would be the longest 2 minutes of his life. The entire procedure, from SRB ignition to landing on the moon was programmed into the ship’s massive computer system. It had to be massive since it was designed to be removed and connected to the network running Alpha Prime. The mass storage units contained the knowledge base of the Earth. The storage units were triple-redundant and fully mirrored and fault-isolated, meaning a fault couldn’t migrate from 1 drive to the other. Rick saw the vid of the first computers in the 1980s. He laughed when he realized he had more computing power in his wristwatch then the 2004 Pentium 4. With the advent of bubble memories, Artificial Intelligence quickly became a reality, and computing power gained at a geometric progression again. He was amazed that the drives that stored the total knowledge base of the Earth were no bigger than a shoe box.
Once Rick and Sally were strapped in, the rest of the team made the way to their suspension cocoons, where they’d spend the rest of the flight in medically induced comas to avoid stressing their bodies unnecessarily. The crew was 5 couples, all engineers who were trained to work on the lunar surface, and operate the equipment they needed to build permanent pressure domes under the lunar soil. Once they were sealed in, and injected with a tranquilizer, the medical support system took over, and regulated their vital systems. When all 10 engineers’ were in the green, the President himself transmitted the launch code, and Rick got a huge kick in the backside as 2 huge SRBs lit, and millions of pounds of thrust suddenly propelled the rocket sled forward at a speed that had to be seen to believed. Rick never imagined a machine that massive could accelerate that quickly, but 2 minutes later, they had jettisoned the rocket sled, which floated back to earth on parachutes, and were climbing borne on the thrust of 4 huge ramjet engines that gulped fuel at a prodigious rate. As they reached the upper atmosphere, pumps injected oxidizer into the mix to maintain their acceleration. Finally the ramjets ran out of fuel, and explosive bolts separated the shuttle/orbiter from the ramjet system, which also floated back to Earth. Once the ramjet was clear, the main engines ignited for a brief period until they had reached escape velocity, and their programmed lunar transit velocity, then they shut down. For the next couple of days, Rick and Sally got to enjoy zero-gee, and took advantage of the fact that they were the first married couple in zero gee to try their own experiments while they had total privacy.
Several days later, the computer beeped, and announced it was going to roll the craft and prepare for insertion burn. After the last couple of days, Sally thought the vaguely sexual term was hysterically funny. They got strapped back in their command chairs just in time, and the craft rotated so their main engines were pointed the way they were going, and fired right on time while the computer monitored the entire process. When the engines stopped, the computer announced that they were within 1/10 of 1% of the ideal vector profile for lunar insertion. Sally giggled again, thinking about some future Lunar Insertions. She got her mind back on business, and they verified everything was set up to land on the moon, and checked on their passengers, who were sleeping soundly. As they approached the moon, they were trapped by the lunar gravity, and started the slow spiral prior to landing. They were in no hurry, so they didn’t have to use the landing technique of the Apollo program and burn up a ton of fuel. When they finally got close to touchdown, the computer controlled the burn of all their attitude rockets, and several unused descent rockets, and they touched down on the lunar surface light as a feather. They could never do this maneuver on Earth, but with the much weaker gravity of the moon, it worked perfectly. Rick reached over and shut off the master control switch, which disabled any system associated with a rocket, but left power to the computer and all essential circuits. First thing they did was make sure their crew survived the trip, and then they adjourned to the privacy of their cabin, since it would take several hours to wake them up.