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SEP-010, Chapter 2.

Posted 04-29-2012 at 04:50 AM by Scav
Updated 08-31-2012 at 12:55 AM by Scav (Updated for rework.)

Filed under the 'Crappe-Happens' clause, I proudly present:

SEP-010, Chapter 2.

Mission Commander Brian Adkinson, Pilot Jamie Cunningham, Mission Specialists Sienna Morrison and Anthony Downs approached the door to the office of the Director of Flight Operations with a marked sense of trepidation. Adkinson stopped in front of the door, halting his group, and quietly pointed out a yellow sign inside of an acrylic picture frame hung onto the wall next to the door. The sign had two characters imprinted in black: A colon, with a right-facing parenthesis.

"Aww crap," Jamie said as she read the sign.

"What does that mean?" Sienna shrugged as she studied the sign.

"Tilt your head to the left and look at the sign again," Jamie replied. Sienna did so, and she clicked her teeth in morbid understanding.

"Ahh."

"Well, we'd better get this over with," Adkinson said airily as he knocked on the door.

"Come in!" The man's voice barked from within, and Adkinson opened the door.

He nodded to Flight Director Matthew Payton, who looked acutely unhappy, and his eyes rested upon a brown-haired woman sitting at the far side of the desk. Edward Foulkes, Director of Flight Operations, sat slouched on his side of the desk with a pen half-propped in the corner of his mouth. Filing into the room, Adkinson took his seat along with the rest of his crew.

"Good morning, people," Foulkes said. "I'd like to start this meeting by bringing up that abort you experienced on the runway yesterday. Downs, would you shut the door, please?"

"Right," Downs said as he stood up, crossed over to the door, shut it, and returned to his seat.

"Now, I must impress upon all of you that nobody is losing any sleep over that abort," Foulkes continued. "We're in the space business, and just because we've had our first engine-out abort on the ground doesn't mean we're all doomed."

Jamie looked out of the corner of her eye. Adkinson nodded carefully.

"I have here," Foulkes held up a manilla envelope and set it on the desk in front of him while Adkinson eyeballed it curiously, "a preliminary report from technicians from the United Space Alliance and Rocketdyne who believe that a pogo event triggered the cascade shutdown and automatic safing of the thruster stack. They're already in the process of dismantling the number five engine and it's plumbing to determine to what extent the engine damaged itself."

"Thank you," Adkinson said softly.

"This, of course, means that we'll be out for another month at the earliest while replacement RL-10's are installed and tested. We'll go for a FRF before launch, of course, to test out the new thruster stack."
Adkinson nodded. He wasn't in attendance when Constitution underwent her historic first flight readiness firing of all of the main engines, but he was told it was a sight to see as it rolled down the length of the runway before stopping safely.

"That brings me to another point," Foulkes said, and every set of eyes turned to him as his tone degraded sharply. "It's come to my attention that cockpit etiquette needs to be addressed. . . again."

"What do you mean?" Adkinson said.

"I mean that certain procedures were carried out during yesterday's launch attempt without verbal communication, or over the radio, is what I mean. We all know what's going to happen because we drill this stuff every day, but that doesn't mean we can't leave stuff undocumented and unannounced. I'd like to see a little more professionalism out there next time."

Adkinson stopped himself from reflexively looking at Foulkes as if he were psychotic. Foulkes cocked his head, obviously picking up the head tilt, and he answered back with a head tilt of his own. "I'm only saying this because you're involved in a multi-national mission that's being picked up by the entire world, Brian. That, and every one of you were tied into the cockpit intercom loop, which was being broadcast live. I've already . . . had to answer a few questions on that subject."

"Copy," Adkinson mumbled as Foulkes' eyes drilled into him. He was obviously embarrassed, and quite probably a little more than infuriated. He was also apprehensive about Foulkes' tone. He knew that the director had a famous propensity towards supersonic, spirited speech . . . and yet the man in front of him was deliberately calm. Almost cold-sounding, in fact.

"So just to be perfectly clear, I'm not just going after you guys," Foulkes said. "We have a lot of changes we need to make to the program before wheel's up next time. That brings me to that woman sitting at your right whom I know I haven't bothered to introduce to anybody yet."

Adkinson craned his head carefully to observe the woman. She was a perfect study of medians: Medium height, medium build, medium chocolate-brown hair over blue eyes. Her skin carried a faint olive tone radiated from the sunlight through the window at her side. He nodded in morose curiosity to her. She returned his speculative gaze and didn't nod back.

"Crew of SEP Ten, I'd like you to meet your addition from Roscosmos," Foulkes said. "She is a cosmonaut coming to us with a great background in specialized training in medical sciences, with a particular field of study in microgravity research. Svetlana Andreyevna Zayetseva, this is the crew of Space Exploration Program, Mission Number Ten."

"Charmed," The woman said dryly.

"Did I get the pronouncation right?"

"No. It is Zaytseva."

"That's what I . . . nevermind," Foulkes growled as he rolled his eyes. "Ms. Zaytseva," He put an emphasis on the syllables, "flew all night from Russia just to tag along with us. Her, uh, people in charge were rather put out when we impressed upon them that we were going to fly this mission yesterday, and that it was too late to make any changes to the manifest when they requested her addition. That, and we discussed our plans with them more than five months in advance and gave them the opportunity to contribute in any way, and they failed to show any interest at the time. I guess at the last second, they really wanted a Russian in close proximity to the moon; I can't imagine why."

Everyone in the room held their faces rigidly still, in spite of the storm of reactionary questions brewing in their minds.

What the hell is Roscosmos -- hell, what the blazes is NASA thinking, pulling a stunt like this? Adkinson thought angrily. It was bad enough the last time Adkinson could remember a pre-flight crew change-up happening was back in 1970, and that was medically driven. This time, the same thing was happening, and it looked like it was politically driven.

"I guess with yesterday's events happening the way they did, this presents us with an opportunity both timely and unique to fulfill everybody's requirements," Foulkes concluded.

...and to get everyone to shut up for a few more weeks, Adkinson thought to himself.

"Does anybody have anything to add?" Foulkes asked. His eyes swept across the room, resting on each face that only stared blankly back at him.

"No? You're all dismissed, then. I've got some phone calls to make, and you've all got work to do."

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