Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Good Day space travelers. This is James O’Brien bringing you the latest system weather update. Solar activity is very low in the ecliptic plane facing Earth. No solar flares occurred during the past 24 hours. The solar disk continues to be spotless in this hemisphere. Earth’s geomagnetic field is expected to be generally quiet for the next three days.

“Well, things don’t look so good on the other side of Sol. The space weather prediction center reports that solar activity in the ecliptic plane facing Venus is expected to be very intense over the next three days. Currently, the solar wind is blowing at 8,000 kilometers per second, with gust to 15,000. Numerous C-Class events are expected, with a slight chance for an isolated M-Class event possible. High speed coronal mass ejections will reach dangerous levels for anybody in non-shielded areas. A Solar Flare Advisory Warning is in effect until the end of the week.

“Moving on to the northern polar region. Electron flux levels of…”

“Computer, radio off,” ordered Steve Aligninc, “and bring up the schematics for the propulsion system.” The monitor came to life showing a semi-transparent 3D outline of the ship. Seconds later, the fuel tanks appeared, followed by the fuel lines, exhaust manifold, combustion chamber, and the primary thrust high velocity nozzle. Finally, between the gas generator and the turbine, a bright red silhouette of the turbopump injector began flashing. “Well, Candunn, there’s the problem. If we can’t repair the injector before the storm hits, we’re dead men.”

“Com’on Steve, aren’t you overreacting? Solar storms happen all the time. If it was that dangerous, space would be littered with skeleton filled ships.”

“This is a pleasure craft, you idiot, not a science vessel. Remember, we told the rental company that we were going to the asteroid belt, not to Venus. Besides, we have to go outside to repair the injector. I’m not sure the spacesuits they gave us were designed for solar flare activity. Computer, is it safe for an EVA?”

“Negative,” was the disembodied reply. “The flux density outside the ship is already lethal to humans.”

“Fine,” Candunn snapped. “We’ll just hunker down for the duration.”

“That may not be safe either,” Aligninc pointed out. “Not if there’s an M-Class flare. Computer, it sounded like the flares are confined to the sun’s equator. If we fire the control jets, can we climb above the ecliptic, and avoid the storm?”

“Negative. The control jets don’t have enough thrust. It would take 15 days to reach a safe latitude.”

“Okay, what if we wear our EVA suits inside the ship. Would the combined shielding protect us?”

“Negative. You will be protected from soft radiation, but the coronal mass ejections would easily penetrate the hull and your suits.”

“Okay, what if we use the ship’s batteries to polarize the hull? Wouldn’t that deflect the coronal ejections?”

The computer actually laughed. “You humans crack me up,” it said. “Your understanding of basic physics is dreadful. Where did you go to school, Tisch? ‘Polarize the hull using the ship’s batteries.’ That’s too funny.”

“Okay, wiseass. Do you have a better idea?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” replied the computer. “All rental ships have a panic room, with X-Class shielding. You’ll be safe in there.”

“Panic room? I don’t remember seeing a panic room?”

“It’s the bathroom, of course. It will be cramped, but you shouldn’t need to stay in there more than a day or two.”

“Uh oh,” whispered Candunn. “I guess I shouldn’t have eaten those three bean burritos for lunch. Sorry, Steve.”


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