Mission To Venus

A sample from the title story 'Mission To Venus' - a tale about mankind's effort to settle other worlds:

“Welcome to the preparatory briefing on the Venus Terraforming project,” the instructor began. Due to the sensitive nature of the mission, the instructor was not a simulator but a human. She was transmitting directly from one of the bases of the Inter World Agency (IWA) on Earth, to the Moon base at the Shackleton crater near the Moon’s South Pole. The attendees were spread across the base, each with their eyes shut, reclining in their chairs. There were no screens or speakers as the transmitted feed went directly to chips simply called ‘Cees’, implanted in the skull, which projected sound and images directly to the brain.

There were five such people attending the session, three men and two women. Each was a specialist in several fields, from life sciences to organic chemistry and planetary engineering. Each of them was also a highly trained commando, able to operate in a range of gravities and atmospheres. All were in their prime, between 60 and 70 years of age.

“As you know, the terraforming of Venus was proposed by several scientists from the 20th to 23rd centuries. At the time, the technology to carry out this massive exercise was simply unavailable. Nor was there a pressing need, as the Earth and Moon settlements, together, were still able to comfortably sustain a combined population of 15 billion. By the 30th century, the human race had expanded to over 20 billion, and within a few centuries would run out of space, even with the Martian colonies packed to capacity. So the Venus Terraforming project gained speed, to make that planet available to settlers.”

An image of an orange, red hot Venus, with swirling winds, was shown, rotating slowly. It looked unfriendly and forbidding, with no chance of anything surviving on it.

“Back then, Venus had a temperature of 450 degrees C and an atmospheric pressure of 90 bar near the surface, making it unlivable, even in artificial conditions. A combination of methods was proposed to remedy this. A giant solar shade, four times the diameter of Venus, with slats at 30 degrees, was placed at the Sun- Venus L1 Lagrange point. The angle of the slats prevented the whole structure from becoming a giant solar sail and moving away. The solar shade not only reduced the temperature on Venus, but helped to protect it from harmful radiation. Genetically altered bacteria and algae were introduced into the Venetian atmosphere to fix the CO2 into organic forms and increase the oxygen and nitrogen content, to make the air breathable.”

The image changed to show the solar shade moving into place and Venus gradually changing from a very hot planet to one very like what Earth had once been, with oceans and green land, rainstorms and lightning. The Evening star looked more inviting than it ever had since it had formed eons ago.

The instructor continued, “Massive asteroids, 60 miles across, were slung near the planet to increase its rotational speed. This reduced the solar day from 116.75 Earth days to about 30 hours. The atmospheric pressure is now within acceptable limits on its surface. The planet is close to being another planet Earth. All this has taken us almost 1000 years to achieve, but now, Venus is ready to be colonised.”

Soran, leader of the team, asked, “So why are you sending us, a bunch of trained specialists, in a refitted battle cruiser, ready for war, instead of settlers?

The instructor answered, “Well, as a part of the Terraforming project, during the last 100 years, we sent drones to Venus, with payloads of specially designed, fast-growing, genetically engineered seeds, which were dispersed across the planet. This has resulted in a planet with vast forest cover and extensive pasture land. Similarly, several aquatic species were introduced into the rivers and oceans. The idea was to launch an organic, agriculturally self-sustaining society, unlike the treeless colonies of Earth, Moon and Mars, which are unable to grow anything at all and have to be continually supplied by the orbital factories. We also sent in cattle in the last year, implanted with Cees to help track them. Humans were set to follow.

Of course, all these were unmanned missions. It needs an enormous amount of specialised equipment to monitor all this activity. So we have a fleet of 12 satellites in Venostationary orbit, with cameras covering both the visual and non-visual frequencies. There are also sensors for weather patterns, Venothermal activity, atmospheric composition, bio rhythms, and so on. These satellites cover every inch of the planet and it is highly improbable they would miss anything. At first, the optical cameras captured the cattle on open terrain. When they strayed into the trees, the infrared cameras caught their heat signatures. Our sensors detected no abnormality whatsoever. As you know, Cees transmit a different signal if its host dies. That has not happened. But we have no heat traces or visuals on any of the cattle, and the Cees are all stationary. This is an unexpected development and we cannot risk sending in settlers till we discover what is wrong. That is why we are sending you in first.”

There followed a detailed run-through of what was expected of he team, definition of roles, operational protocol and disaster management rules. The instructor wound up the broadcast saying, “Remember, you have to try to find what is going on, but not at the cost of your own lives. Safety comes first. At the first sign of trouble, leave the planet and head back home. Good luck.”

As the transmission ended, all five went to finish off their respective tasks as they only had a week before they were to depart and several things still had to be done. Their equipment was already being readied, and their ship outfitted at the launch site, at the base of the Malapert crater. The launch vehicle was a Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) projectile, capable of a launch almost every hour. The track it ran on was a Linear Induction Motor (LIM), about 5 kms long. It began near the bottom androse along the crater where it became Mt. Malapert, with the launch point near the rim. The track went on for another 2 kms for the launch vehicle to decelerate, once the ship it carried was released.