From the side of the depot an animated advertisement beamed, “Welcome to the new age of antigravity, No more expensive rocket fuel.” Jack adjusted his hat and glanced around remembering how his friends had bragged about their Space Station vacations. Walking towards the ticket counter, he noticed the short man with a crew cut staring at him from behind the counter.
“What’s your name and travel number?”
“Jack Long, ticket number 45.”
The short man smiled and handed him a yellow boarding pass. “Here’s your ticket, welcome to the Alamogordo Space Depot. You leave at the top of the hour.”
Jack put the ticket in his pocket while avoiding a young lady handing out brochures with colorful pictures and special fonts. Out of the corner of his eye he saw one of her brochures. “Yes, YOU can enjoy your Great Space Station getaway with special activities and a panoramic view.”
Jack looked at his watch and at the large clock at the top of the depot; both read five till 1:00. He glanced through the swath of windows where outside of the station anti-gravity machines filled the sky. Everyone knew those pressurized shuttles could do a speed of 60 to 200 miles per hour in the lower atmosphere. Without atmospheric resistance they could do thousands of miles per hour.
Checking his ticket, Jack made his way to his designated shuttle. He entered the shuttle and sat down and began to read a magazine as other passengers entered. When the shuttle was full, the doors closed and an AI voice from the ceiling announced departure. The shuttle jerked and they were traveling 200 miles per hour straight up.
Feeling a slight acceleration and looking out the window he saw clouds blanketing the earth contrasting the blue sky. As the shuttle slowly went ever higher, Jack heard the sounds of his fellow passengers talking. Instead of taking part, he strained to look down through his passenger window as the earth was slowly retreating. First buildings got smaller and smaller, next the space depot disappeared into the huge panorama of desert and mountains. It took a while but slowly but surely the sky became part of a round earth, enveloped by dark space.
Tired of looking out the window, Jack gradually fell asleep and while he slept the shuttle continued towards the space station and at the point of leaving the lower atmosphere it slowly accelerated to thousands of miles per hour past the radiation belts and magnetosphere and finally into unprotected space.
As the shuttle finished the final leg, a loud clank woke Jack as the shuttle made contact. Jack shook himself out of his stupor as the AI pilot announced “Welcome to Space Station 5”. The air hissed and the shuttle matched the space station’s air pressure. The passengers formed a line and Jack got up from his seat gathered his stuff and followed the passengers through the airlocks where he found himself at the entrance of a grand space station.
At the entrance, Jack saw the full sector of the space station forming a sphere whose transparent side provided a view of the earth. Looking further up the sphere, Jack could see the space station’s large gravity generators. Unlike the shuttle’s small generators these generators were so large they formed part of the space station’s structure. These massive generators helped with navigation as well as gravity by fine-tuned gravity to 1-G while following a perfect orbit.
As Jack walked further into the station, he could see the shops and hotels fanning out from the gravity generators. In the distance, over his assigned hotel, he saw an ornate sign advertising “Space” hotel. He walked to the hotel and checked in. An automated bell hop took his luggage and led him to his room.
At the room the bell hop turned his head and said “Here is your room key and welcome to Space Station 5”.
Jack entered and the bell hop placed the luggage by the floor. Jack surveyed his room. One wall displayed a spectacular artificial window. On the opposite corner protruded some kind of control system.
Puzzled, Jack questioned the bell hop. “There is no TV in the room?”
The robot in his AI voice responded: “Don’t worry you qualified for a holographic system. The controls are on the corner.”
The Bell hop attempted a mechanical smile. “Let me know if there is anything you need.” The Bell hop then left.
Jack walked to the corner of the room and tried some of the hologram controls. Jack touched the green button, and up popped a full hologram of the weather channel. It showed a tremendous cumulous storm over the mid-west US. He changed the channel and the space weather channel appeared. The three dimensional view shifted to different parts of the solar system with graphics indicating solar winds and other space weather.
Jack flipped through a few more channels. There were Drama-flicks, sitcoms, musicals and Educational-flicks. He watched as the hologram took over parts of the room - like you were there. He finally tired of the holographic system and he lay down and closed his eyes leaving the hologram on.
As Jack slept, the hologram TV went into its static mode with a dull blue background. Jack went deeper into sleep, he dreamed of his technical job at the hospital where he worked. In his dream, He was troubleshooting some problem in a dimly lit room with the graphics consoles and automated equipment. It was some kind of technical outage but suddenly the dream switched to an unknown landscape, he was following a path to a hillside overlooking a city that went on and on with thousands of lights.
Suddenly, in the room while Jack slept, the hologram’s static began to static in and out until it flipped back to the space weather channel. The weather station flashed a warning. “Our space station is experiencing massive space winds.”
Weird patterns began appearing in the hologram. Blue and green undulating streams fluxed through the hologram until cracking sounds woke Jack.
The hologram flashed and continued to fluctuate. Jack couldn’t tell if he was still asleep and dreaming of work. The equipment room at work sometimes displayed that light. He sat up in bed. Now awake, Jack was amazed at the beautiful colors and flashing lights from the hologram. He guessed that this had something to do with space weather.
Suddenly the color show stopped and the TV hologram returned to normal. The space weather channel came into focus and again issued a warning. “The Space Station is experiencing an ionic wind from an extra-solar system origin. The station is safely shielded but our station magnetics have been affected and are being adjusted to handle the gravity and navigation changes.” Jack got up and switched TV hologram off. He worried for a minute and then returned to his bed to sleep, knowing he couldn’t do anything about it.
Jack slept deeply while outside his room in the workings of the station machinery hummed while outside the station magnetics flickered in space. Deep in the the station, engineers worked frantically to calibrate the magnetic fields to counteract the winds which were unique in direction, form and intensity.
Hours later as he woke, the sun came up in the artificial window. It was 7:00 o’clock Alamogordo time so he planned to go down and get breakfast. The hotel, like legacy hotels from the 20th century had stairs and its own hallway to the station cafeteria. The station cafeteria was located on the side of the station with a genuine space view as opposed to the artificial window views in the hotel rooms. He followed the stairs to the dining room where he sat down and ordered coffee with his eggs and bacon. When his breakfast arrived he looked at the stars as he ate and sipped his coffee.
People at the different tables were abuzz with talk, talk about the glitch the night before – something about a galactic wind. The station had handled it, like an ocean ship handling rogue waves. An elderly gentleman sat at the next table. Jack glanced at him. Jack noticed he was reading the Hotel’s legacy newspaper, a paper copy of the digital news prevalent on the network, so Jack asked the old guy if he could look at part of the newspaper.
The old man nodded. “No problem, take the sports too.”
Jack smiled and thanked him and sat reading the latest events and the business section.
While leisurely reading the business section and the editorials; suddenly and surprisingly a large bang reverberated through the space station. Like riding a roller coaster, Jack felt weightless for a moment. His stomach churned and he knew he was in a perilous place – space, the normalcy of the station being only an illusion. Yet just as suddenly everything settled down and he regained his seating.
Jack looked around. The people at the other tables looked startled.
A loud speaker blared. “We are working out changes in the gravity and navigation because of the extra solar winds. No need to panic.”
He looked in the direction of the old guy who had given him the newspapers. The old man walked over to Jack’s table and sat down.
The old man looked a little worried. “This is something? Name’s Bill. Sounds like that space wind did a little damage.”
Jack sized him up. “Yea, I saw funny things happening to the hologram in my room last night. Name is Jack.”
The old man smiled looking at Jack, “I am a retired Space Engineer and between you and me I think they have their hands full.” He paused. “What do you do?”
Jack looked around. “I work in a hospital as a hardware technician.”
“Oh, I guess you should know that this is not routine.” Bill slowly looked up. “They will need to calibrate exactly. They probably have computers on Earth working on it as well.”
Jack grimaced. “I had an inkling. But how bad do you think it is?”
“Until they recalibrate successfully, it will be difficult for shuttles to leave. But we should remain in fairly benign orbit.” Bill scratched his head as he looked down at the table.
Jack replied. “Do you think they could use some help.”
Bill took a sip of his coffee. “I wouldn’t worry; I think this predicament is something they will fix. I must admit I am a bit of a realist. From an Engineering point of view, complexity always creates risk. But without some risk you don’t have anything. “
“So we are in danger.”
“Not really. But…”
Bill looked out the window. “I used to work on stations but not as complex as this one.” “Stations are not yet set up to handle strong bursts of non-solar wind. The effects you saw in your holograph were indirectly caused by winds from the center of the galaxy or from a distant galaxy. They don’t act the same as the ionic winds coming from the sun.”
Jack looked at Bill. He looked a bit like an old philosopher.
Bill smiled. “This type of engineering is an art not just computers, numbers and electronics. We engineers have been able to handle several scenarios but this particular one is new. They have smart people working on this. People always find a way.”
Bill continued. “Yes we are in an artificial environment but… nothing new.” “Man became absolutely dependent on technology in the early 20th century with the large scale use of electricity, chemistry and machines. You and I wouldn’t be alive without it.”
Again, just suddenly as before, there was a large bang and Jack felt weightless. Again he raised just an inch above his chair and then settled back into his chair with normal gravity. Bill and Jack looked at each other.
Bill sighed. “Maybe they fixed it.”
A voice came on the intercom. “This is the Space station operations – the warning is over and the calibrations are successful. Orbit and magnetics are normal. All activities will remain on time, please enjoy your stay. Again, gravity and navigation systems were reset and all is normal.”
The old engineer smiled as he walked back to his table. “I’ll quit talking and let you get back to your newspaper.”
Jack nodded and looked through the large curved windows. Slowly, from the top of the large space station windows the earth appeared. The dark side of the earth glowed with streams of lights produced by massive electric grids where a myriad of machines and technologies watched over the sleeping population.