Author : Patricia Stewart
Space Colony Delta was the largest manned spacecraft in history. It was a three-mile in diameter donut that rotated in the most stable location in the Earth-Moon system, the Lagrange L4 position. The population of 12,176 souls lived and worked in the six Habitat Sections that were equally spaces around â€œThe Rim.â€ Today, however, was not a good day to be living in Section 3.
The warning klaxon finally subsided. â€œWhatâ€™s the situation, Chief?â€ asked the Stationâ€™s Commander.
â€œNot good, sir. According to the sensors, an iron-nickel meteoroid, approximately 15 feet in diameter, punched a hole through Section 3 about 15 minutes ago. The primary bulkhead doors sealed off the Section, but the damned thing went clean through, exposing almost every hallway to the vacuum of space. Anybody that wasnâ€™t blown out during the decompression had about 20 seconds to get into a pressure tight living area or office space. Theyâ€™re probably 1,800 people trapped, with anywhere between 12 and 24 hours of air, depending on the size of the room and the number of people in it. Iâ€™ve got both shuttlecraft evacuating whomever they can through the exterior escape hatches. But at best, they can only save about 50 people an hour. We have to seal the entrance and exit breaches, and re-pressurize the section, or over a thousand people will suffocate.â€
â€œCanâ€™t you seal the breaches with a meteoroid patch or sealing foam?â€
â€œNo, sir. The patches are sized to seal 99.9999% of possible impacts. Thatâ€™s a hole of two feet in diameter, or less. The foam can only seal a crack less than three inches across. The problemâ€™s the pressure. The fifteen foot hole equals about 25,000 square inches. At a minimum of 0.8 atmospheres, the outward load is approximately 300,000 pounds. A patch wonâ€™t hold unless I can tie it into the secondary structure. And there just isnâ€™t enough time. Iâ€™m out of ideas.â€
â€œPerhaps I have a solution,â€ said the disembodied voice of CACC, the Stationâ€™s Command and Control Computer. â€œIf the Chiefâ€™s crew could open up the two exterior breaches to a circular hole exactly 18 feet 4 inches in diameter, you could plug the holes using the nose section of the shuttlecraft, and seal the gap using foam.â€
The Chief was irritated by the stupid suggestion. â€œIt wonâ€™t work CACC. As soon as we pressurize the Section, the shuttlecraft will pop out like a campaign cork.â€
â€œI believe, Chief,â€ explained CACC, â€œthat each shuttlecraft can produce 500,000 pounds of thrust for up to two hours. Properly coordinated, the thrust can counteract the internal pressure long enough to rescue everybody thatâ€™s still alive.â€
It took 4 hours to laser cut two circular openings, and two more hours to seal the gaps. The shuttlecraft thruster loads were coordinated with the re-pressurization of the Sections, and at 0.8 atmospheres, the evacuation began. It was complete in less than an hour. Only 84 people died, all of them in the first few minutes after impact. Later that day, the Commander asked CACC a question that had been plaguing him the last eight hours. â€œCACC, youâ€™re not programmed to have that kind of reasoning ability. How did you come up with that idea?â€
â€œIt wasnâ€™t my idea, Commander,â€ answered CACC. â€œAs part of my duties, I â€˜readâ€™ approximately 600 bedtime stories every night to the Colonyâ€™s children. A favorite is Hans Brinkerâ€™s story about a Dutch boy plugging a leak in a dike with his finger. Itâ€™s not a big leap for me to think of a shuttlecraft as a finger.â€