Chapter 8: Hope from on High

by Ronald W. Hull


Central Valles Marineris, Mars:  July 4, 2017, 9:07 EDT
"One small step for a man, one great hope for humankind."  Scott Murphy paraphrased Neil Armstrong, as he was the first to step onto the rim of Valles Marineris.  The four others in the landing party followed him quickly down the ramp to the surface. Thirty others watched as they rotated above.  A collective cheer rose from the four billion watching on Earth. The cheer from above was heard immediately.  The cheer from Earth was not heard for twelve minutes.  Rust red dust began collecting on their snow-white boots as they set up a collage of 134 flags, signifying the countries that had made significant contributions to the effort. The planet had been conquered a year earlier than President Gore had commanded.  It was not accomplished without travail.
Alone? is a historical, science fiction novel of sweeping proportions.  What if the most intelligent people that ever lived were shaped by evolution in the Neolithic Age?  What if the pharoahs of ancient Egypt could be brought back to life as clones?  What if the only known extraterrestrials are humans leaving Earth?  Alone? explores these questions as the Repaul family is thrust into 21st Century events of world changing proportions.  Be prepared to rethink humankind's dominence of the Earth and our very existence in the larger scheme of the Universe.

The Lydon B. Johnson Manned Spacecraft Center had to be moved to Waxahachie in 2010.  Rising water levels had inundated part Galveston Island and threatened the complex at Clear Lake.  It was traumatic at the time, but the 10,000 acre complex at the abandoned Super Conducting Supercollider (SSC) site was ideal to accommodate the equipment and personnel from Clear Lake. Tired of fighting floods and hurricanes, the employees were also glad to move.  It took two years to build the necessary buildings, but only six months to complete the move.

The SSC was revived.  President Gore declared high-energy particle physics as, "...The ace in Mankind's deck of cards."  Congress immediately released natural gas overcharge funds to completing the remaining forty miles of tunnel system and the latest Hydron magnets and colliders for the site.  By combining SSC and the MSC, billions were expected to be saved.  Real estate values from Waco to Corsicana shot sky high, rivaling Silicon-Gallium Valley.

The International Space Laboratory proved what MIR had already demonstrated--zero gravity is highly detrimental to human bodies.  The craft constructed for the trip to Mars was cylindrical.  The outer wall was constructed as a floor.  When rotated at a calculated speed, centrifugal force simulated Earth's gravity.  This insured that the crew would arrive at the Red Planet from the ten- to twenty-month trip strong and healthy.  No one knew what long-term stays on the reduced gravity of the planet would do.  The Moonscape Center occupants had to spend hours in centrifuges each day to maintain calcium in their bones and muscle tone.  Workers at Moonscape were paid handsomely for their hazardous duty and rotated often.  With only ten years' experience, it was not known what long-term effects would accompany long stays there.

Beginning in 2003, an onslaught of orbiters and rovers had arrived at the Red Planet.  It was said that more was known of the surface of Mars than our own Earth.  A communications network, rivaling that orbiting Earth, had been put into service in 2009, to coordinate the myriad surface projects and relay the massive information flow to Earth.  After much study, design reviews, and simulations, Valles Marineris was chosen as the primary first settlement site.

Ingenious robot boring rovers had penetrated the crust to twenty thousand feet.  The results were very promising.  Aquifers with vast amounts of water and gas were found.  Minerals, as in variety and abundant as on Earth, were found.  And heat was found.  The planet's core was not only molten, as long theorized by astrophysicists; the heat was easily tapped through hot water sources underground.

The first arrivals would set up a domed enclosure like Moonscape, code-named Marscape, near the rim of the great rift valley, Valles Marineris.  The valley, or Grand Canyon of Mars, stretches 2500 miles and is four miles deep in places.  The winning design was ingenious, submitted by Ti Seng, a fifteen-year-old high school student from Canton.  Initially, mining at Marscape would provide raw material to build an elevator system down the canyon wall.  From there, openings, similar to the ancient cliff dwellings in the American Southwest, would be cut into the sides of the canyon and sealed with glass.  The openings would require little heating and cooling.  They would become entrances to mines and provide housing for small groups of people.  Huge hanging glass gardens would be built adjacent to the dwellings, providing food and oxygen for the dwellings.  During the long Martian winter, the gardens would either be augmented with heat and lighting, or shut down.  After bridges are built across the chasm, the gardens could be moved to the opposite canyon wall, prolonging the growing season.

The site, near the equator and midway along the rift, was also chosen for a branch, projecting perpendicular from the main rift for twenty miles.  While the branch blocked movement along the rim, it was relatively narrow--about two miles across--and easily bridged.  Surveys showed that a road could be built from the end of the branch leading down to the valley floor. Seng's second phase would be to entirely roof this valley, providing growing space for 100,000 inhabitants.  Code-named Red Valley, the site would only be developed if it could be built without serious damage to the Martian ecosystem.

For those just arrived, the euphoria couldn't mask the reality setting in.  As they took turns relaying their first impressions, three things became immediately evident.  First, the reduced gravity added a lightness to their steps.  It also made a palpable impression on their inner ears, organs, and balance.  It took some getting used to.  The thought of eight hours of gravity enhancement during sleep periods every day was working on their psyches.

Second, was the Sun.  On Hope, the mother ship constructed in space that had brought them here, they gradually saw the Sun retreating during their months in transit.  Now, they saw it in diminutive form, distant and weak, casting an eternal twilight on the bleak, red landscape.  It brought home how far from home they were.

Finally, they tried to communicate.  Everyone on Earth was tuned to instant communication, worldwide.  The landing party was so used to being bombarded with information from multiple sources at once, responding verbally or visually to each, that waiting twelve minutes for a reply from Earth was a sobering experience.  It was as if the world had been transported back to a time when communication was done by letter or telegraph.  In a crisis, they would be on their own.

Young people, glued to their holos at first, drifted off into games or other pursuits after a few minutes of not having instant response to their inquiries.  Earthly responses, set up by Mars Mission Control for just such an eventuality, were easily detected by the astute, and tuned out.  Only older citizens--some like Albert who had seen Armstrong step on the Moon--were willing to stay on and communicate through the delays.  After a few days even stalwarts couldn't stand the waiting anymore, preferring instead to listen to or read daily composite dispatches prepared by Mission Control.  Unlike earlier space forays, the crew of Hope was alone.

The others arrived in two shuttles in two-hour intervals.  Soon, thirty were on the planet.  They had brought their housing with them.  They set it up before an errant meteor or some other catastrophe beset them.  Outside, they had to wear their suits to ward off the lethal, too thin atmosphere, stray x and gamma rays from the sun or deep space, and the bitter cold.  It wouldn't be until Phase Two that anyone would be able to walk on the Martian surface without life support.  That's why, after six months, they were rotating out.  It would be years before anyone came to stay.  Faith and Charity were already on their way, accompanied by unmanned cargo ships of colossal size.

Cosmopolitan, November 21, 2017.  A Letter from Mars:  Sex on Long Space Voyages by Dr. Shaunda B. Davis, medical officer. Copyright © 2017, Cosmopolitan.Com.

"I have received many inquiries about how the United Space Command views sex on long space voyages.  You are all aware of the pleasure palaces that have sprung up in the tourist orbit trade; the USC in no way condemns or condones such private enterprises.  We have, however been deeply concerned about the well being of our astronauts since we opened Moonscape and embarked on Destination Mars.

Fifteen years ago, a panel of distinguished anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, clergy, and medical professionals was commissioned to establish a policy for deep space exploration that would make sense and enhance mission capability. I was a member of that panel.

To place thirty-five young, virile astronauts together on a space ship for months at a time and expect them to remain celibate is unrealistic and impractical.  Every effort is made to occupy the crews in structured and meaningful work during long periods of travel.  However, alertness and spontaneity must be maintained, or the crew would be unable to react appropriately to emergencies that could be expected.

To maintain optimal health, a healthy sex life is required.  Under the stress of long periods of limited stimulation, the very characteristics prized in our astronauts could become jeopardized.  Hormone adjustments or other drug approaches aren't the answer; nor are rigid social rules set by the Command.

Studies have shown that humans are not monogamous.  While some animals mate for life, humans and primates don't.  Monogamy is a moral concept for providing continuity for children and families valued by society.  The current deep space effort is no place for children.  Crews are made up of individuals with highly specialized contributions to a team objective, not members of a genome tree, or family.  In order to maintain health and order on long voyages, the Command recommends that sex with multiple partners be the rule.  Astronaut training illustrates the danger in maintaining rigid sexual hierarchies along with command hierarchies.  Most simulations involving forms of abstinence and monogamy quickly lead to a dysfunctional crew.  The well being of all must supersede the well being of the few in long missions.  Sexual manipulation or harassment in any form cannot be tolerated.  Sex must be viewed as a positive force to strengthen bonding and mutual trust between crewmembers.

Astronauts are given several methods of contraception, most reversible, to use at their own discretion.  All crewmembers are screened for sexually transmitted diseases and cured, if necessary.  The Hope crew has two members with cured diseases.  All pregnancies are terminated after the first detection in the first trimester.

In time, children will have their place in extended families involving entire crews.  For now, sex is encouraged, but children are not.

Yes, we have had sex in all the ways you imagine.  No, most of us do not engage in sex that abuses our bodies.  Yes, sex in zero gravity can be very stimulating.  No, sometimes we want to have the feel and help of full Earth gravity.

For now, all sex in monitored rooms is filtered out.  For those voyeurs out there, the policy has worked so well that we are recommending that those feeds be unfiltered and available to the public.  We feel we are on the verge of a shameless, blameless society.  I for one feel no shame in telling you that having you see me in ecstasy is most welcomed.

If you have any questions you can contact Dr. Davis at Shaunda.B.Davis@Hope.ISC.Gov

The letter, picked up and re-released through The New York Times, created a sensation.  The Pope allied with the powers at Mecca and the Christian Right to condemn it as blasphemy.  World leaders, beset with problems with population, declined to comment.  Religious zealots once again declared that Armageddon was at hand.

Anne put the article on her calendar to remind herself to discuss it with Ping and Alice when they arrived.  She and Albert had had many discussions about this very subject--sometimes during intimate moments.

December 24, 2017, 2:17 EST

"Commander Murphy, we have undocked.  We have Carton 24 and Rotation 11.  We expect touchdown in ten minutes."  Pilot Tim Huong announced a routine departure from Hope to Marscape with a full load and crew.

"Okay Tim, try to hit the landing pad.  We don't want to kick up too much dust.  The wind's picked up to about 20 knots.  Looks like we are in for another dust storm.  I want to get you in and out before it totally reds out.  I tell you, these storms are really wearing on me.  If we weren't in the dome or underground most of the time, this place would be hell.  Everything okay?"

"She checks out 100%.  We were having a problem with #3 thruster freezing up, but Gordon says that he fixed it on his eva the other day.  Gordon is still awed every time he evas.  The Red Planet ain't Earth, it's a whole different experience, floating out here in space, so far from the sun, over an alien world."

"Don't I know it.  It must be the gravity, but I just can't get accustomed to being here.  I trained for this, and it's exciting.  We have plants growing and goat and pigs running around, but I can't get used to it."

"It's just the strain, Scott.  When we get home, you'll long for being here again.  There's no place like where the action is."

"Speaking of action, I see you, and you are coming in fast."

"Two thousand, thrusters on full, closing 50 ps.  Computers compensating for the wind.  Crew--lock in place for touchdown.  Fifteen hundred, pad in sight, 30 ps.  One thousand, thrusters 80%, on target, 20 ps.  Five hundred, thrusters 50%, closing at ten.  Alarm!  Thruster 3 frozen. We are starting to turn over.  Have gone to manual, ... I can't compensate, ... I can't ...."

Scott Murphy and the ground crew watched in horror as Shuttle 2 slowly turned over, its three remaining thrusters pushing it off course and speeding it, upside down into the surface a hundred yards from the pad.  All on board were lost in the crumpled mass.  A fire flared, but was immediately extinguished by the Martian atmosphere.  The only compensation was that it didn't hit Marscape and Mars Shuttle 1 remained berthed on Hope above.

Seven minutes later, Mars Mission Control received the conversation in its entirety, along with Scott's anguished remarks to the landing crew, standing by in disbelief.  Memorial services were held and the Earth mourned for days.  The bodies were recovered and transported to Hope when the dust storm subsided a month later.  A five-month old fetus was found when Dr. Davis' body was scanned.

On July 4, 2019, Scott Murphy and twenty-six members of his crew stepped off Clydesdale Republic at Dulles International Airport at noon to a review by the leaders of over 100 countries.  The fireworks lasted all night.  Murphy, appearing ten years older than when he left, praised the heroics of his crew and their great accomplishments on the Martian surface.
There was a moment of silence for eight fallen comrades.  A meteorite the size of a marble ran through Barry Eagleclaw, an ironworker, working on an elevator to Cliff Dwelling #3.  Dr. Ulna Singh and her technician, Marcel Fontangue suffocated when their oxygen supply failed in their materials laboratory.  Captain Timothy Y. Huong; Dr. Shaunda B. Davis, medical officer (with child); Nicholas Kosinski, miner; Dr. Miller Anyanwu, agronomist; and Hans Olsen, metallurgist, all died in the Shuttle 2 crash.

In the hour of speeches for the eight fallen heroes, over 10,000 people died from starvation, disease, and natural disasters.  The loss of the shuttle and lives caused the first mission to meet only half of its intended objectives before rotating out.

When asked if he was going back, Murphy replied, "Maybe, ..., in a hundred years!"  The crew echoed his sentiments.  Millions in the suffering world eagerly signed up for the lottery that would take them, provided they were physically fit and could survive the rigorous physical and mental training involved, on one of the continuing line of crews shipping out monthly for the Red Planet. The "Red Gold Rush", as it came to be called, was on.

Note to the reader.  If you liked this chapter you can buy it at and other online stores. Sample Chapter 1:  Nila's Story.  Or, if you want to publish a review or have a way for me to get the word out about the story send an email to me with your suggestions. I might be persuaded to send you a free copy. To view Alone?  Contents


Copyright (c) 2001 Ronald W. Hull