March 30th, 2007
Author : Patricia Stewart
The ship had left Earth orbit 77 days ago. They just passed the halfway point on their supply mission to the Lowell Colony on Mars when the solar flare warning alarm began its variable whine. â€œComputer, deactivate the alarm,â€ instructed the captain. Then, with the poise of an officer who had weathered numerous solar storms during his career, â€œWhatâ€™s the magnitude of the flare, and how long before the coronal mass ejection reaches us?â€
A disembodied voice replied â€œS9 on the NOAA Space Weather Scale. Theâ€¦â€
â€œWhat! Thatâ€™s impossible!â€ interrupted the captain. â€œThe scale only goes to S5.â€
â€œTrue, captain. But, the scale was never intended to be all-inclusive. Itâ€™s logarithmic. It is a simple matter of extrapolation. Since the flux level of this flare is 12,000 times more intense that an S5, itâ€™s classified as an S9. To answer to your second question, the leading edge of the ionized particles will arrive in approximately 31 hours.â€
â€œTwelve thousand times! Will we be safe in the Panic Room?â€
â€œNegative, captain. The areal density in the shielded isolation room will not be able to attenuate the 400 Giga-rems associated with a proton storm of this magnitude.â€
â€œWhat if we orient the ship with the thrusters aimed at the sun? Will the exhaust cones, auxiliary fuel tanks, and cargo bay provide enough extra shielding?â€
â€œPerhaps, but youâ€™re missing the big picture, captain. Even if we can protect the crew, the electromagnetic shock wave from the mass ejection will fry every electronic circuit on this ship, including my own. Without power and life support, youâ€™ll all die of carbon dioxide poisoning, in the dark, at near freezing temperatures, in less than a week.â€
â€œSo itâ€™s all for one and one for all, heh computer? OK, do you have any ideas that can save us both?â€
â€œI can conceive of only one option, although I donâ€™t have enough information in my files to know if it is even possible. I need to access NASAâ€™s PHA database on NEA objects. Please stand by.â€
As the captain waited, he wrestled with how he would notify the crew. Then he heard the computerâ€™s voice on the shipâ€™s intercom. â€œAttention crew. Brace yourselves for an immediate course change.â€ The ship suddenly lurched starboard, knocking the captain to the floor. Before he could get up, the twin 17.8 million lbf thrust engines pinned him there with a force of approximately 3-gees.
â€œCaptain, I am sorry that I took unauthorized control of the helm, but time is critical. I was searching NASAâ€™s Asteroids database looking for a nearby Apollo object that we could hide behind. As luck would have it, Asteroid Eros 433 is very close to our current position. At maximum velocity we can reach it in just under 32 hours, limiting our exposure to less than one hour. When I stop this burn in 64.2 minutes, youâ€™ll need to jettison the cargo and all non-essential equipment. Every kilogram of mass we loose will reduce our ETA by 0.4 seconds.â€
The captain and crew watched the flickering monitors in the isolation room as the ship approached Eros. As the computer attempted to position the ship within Erosâ€™ shadow, the plasma storm seemed to intensify. The captain closed his eyes again to monitor the flashing streaks of light caused by speeding atomic nuclei as they ripped through the water-filled chambers of his eye sockets. Their frequency was increasing, and he was beginning to feel nauseous. Unwilling to watch the flashing conveyors of death any longer, he opened his eyes, and continued to pray as the night side of Eros very slowly began to enter the view screen.