Simba Leones here, in auburn and lion color stripes, at my kitchen table. It's proof against vampires: it exudes the smell of garlic, from liters of spilled sauce over the years, and contrasts nicely with my own cinnamon scent. I'm working on a lesson set in American history, of course, from Charlie and Diana's second kitten Becket. He shows a real talent for writing lessons, but not only that, for knowing how the lesson sets interact and for interpreting kids' questions and complaints to know what areas need to be worked on; in that, he takes after his father: me. With only eight lions it was prudent for us to crossbreed. Becket also speaks (and writes) fluent Spanish. I wish I could get him full time for the Lion Disc, but a big software company up North got him first, to write help files and tutorials, and I can't blame him for only moonlighting for us while earning real money from the Titan of Industry to provide for his and Aurora's two kittens, soon to be eight. Aurora is Leo and Alice's number one.
Hmm, my newsflap icon is showing the ``extra'' picture, which means it's detected a story with a semantic profile that I've indicated interest in. I click; this story isn't good news. Something is wrong with the Hawking X-ray Telescope, its orbit has changed, and they can't control its orientation. A repair mission will take months, and just at the beginning of taking data on it. That's too bad; the few results so far have been fascinating. That's not the worst of it: the perigee is mysteriously down to 125 kilometers and the managers believe that atmospheric drag will knock down the telescope in about a week if they can't do something fast.
Is this a job for TransForce? I start NetBoard, inviting Tiger, and drum my claws on the table as I wait for her to respond to the icon that will have appeared on her screen.
Tiger: What's up?
Me: A news story. Here's the URL. Read it.
Tiger (after a pause): So we're supposed to do a year's worth of development in a week? Forget it! It's too bad about the telescope but there's nothing we can do.
Me: Well, what about the test chips?
Tiger: You're serious about this.
Me: If we have something that could help, I'd feel really bad if we didn't.
Tiger: Me too, but test chips? Suppose they went out of control and dumped the telescope in the ocean? We could say, what do you expect from pre-alpha hardware, but would the public perceive it that way?
Me: You're probably right. But is it actually impossible, or is it worth trying until we see the stone wall? I'm thinking to give it our best try, in secret. If it fails in the lab, nobody knows. If it looks like it has a chance we'll send it up there. If it's too little and too late, we get credit for trying. We only lose if we make things worse.
Tiger: What's with this ``we'', white man?
Me: To quote what someone I know says fairly frequently, I'm making decisions for other people. And if the pusher chips work out, the ``we'' part is going to get very literal very fast. I have a personal interest in space missions involving your chips.
Tiger: Agreed. I'd need to know how much force was needed. There won't be enough chips to just lift the telescope straight up. And how are we supposed to push the thing anyway? And how do we find this stuff out?
Me: Let's divide up the work. You and Alan work out a chassis, and how to mount the chips. I had an idea about gluing them to a metal strip; you mentioned that the legs aren't strong enough for a high force. I'll make contact with the flight controllers and find out the force and the connector, and then I'll start the programming. We'll use a W30, right?
Tiger: A W32; there's no reason not to. I want triple redundancy; plan on, let's see, nine chips equally spaced around a circle. And let's plan on chips blowing up at random times; make sure your program can handle that. As it happens, we have nine chips, and I'll order some more made up just in case they're needed and there's enough time. You'd probably better invoke my name when talking to the telescope managers. And I'd better talk to my own management too; you work your way through the bureaucracy and I'll talk to Frank really quick. Bye, and I love you.
Me: Tough as a lion! Bye.
A net search quickly reveals where the Hawking web site is. Clearly indicated is the deputy assistant for discouraging public relations. Well, what the hell, it can't hurt to talk to him or her. I send mail, flagged urgent.
Dear <hp324cnj>: Tiger Leones of the TransForce Corporation has a developmental product that may (or may not) be helpful in rescuing the telescope. We need to know how much force is needed to stop and reverse the orbital decay, and details of how the telescope could be pushed on. (And my signature file, with the reply address, phone number and so on.)
Surprisingly quickly, in under ten minutes, the phone rings.
Phone: Hi, this is Carol Jacobsen. May I speak to Simba Leones?
Me: That's me. Thanks for replying so quickly.
Carol: I'm sure you can understand that the engineers are kind of preoccupied at the moment. Could you fill me in, please, on Tiger Leones' qualifications?
Right, deputy assistant for discouraging public relations. At least she responded. I'm irritated by the qualifications crap, but I'm also a lion person and we got lots of training in being charming with difficult human neighbors. When there are so few of us, or even if there weren't so few, good relations with our neighbors are important.
Me: Do you remember the problem Whinx had with the W32 chip?
Carol: Yes, I saw it in the news, about six months ago.
Me: Tiger is the chief designer for Whinx. The problem with the W32, and her fix for it, turned out to have significant technological possibilities, and a separate corporation was set up to develop them. That's TransForce. For obvious reasons I can't go into details about the product, but if the required force is not too great we believe we can get something up there and push on your telescope. What we need now are a number in newtons, and assuming it's not beyond our limits, the URL of a plan for the pad or grapple that would have to be pushed on.
Carol: Oh, the lion person! You say you can ``get something up there''. Well, how much is your limit?
Me: Tiger's figuring that out now. It depends on how many test chips she can get.
Carol: OK, I'll ask an engineer. Can you hold?
It's on her phone bill, I notice. I would have used NetBoard, or just sent mail. Human phones are inconvenient for us since our ears stick up like a cat's, so I have an earphone set with a mike boom. With my hands free, I get back to work on Becket's chapter on the Land Act of 1803. Aha, she's on the line again.
Carol: The drag force is two and a half newtons. Now the URL: shall I read it to you?
Me: Are you sure? I was expecting hundreds or thousands of newtons.
Carol: The engineer said it has a long time to do the job.
Me: I get the picture. How about you just mail the URL to me, and stay on the line, and when I get the message I'll open the URL and make sure I can read it.
Carol: OK, I can do that.
Me: There, got the message and... got the plan. We can work from that. Who should we contact, if we have more questions or if we do or don't have a fix?
Carol: Let's see... You'd best talk to Mike Barrett, the operations manager. You want me to mail his address to you?
Me: Yes, thanks. You've been very helpful. We'll let Mr. Barrett know as soon as we have something to report.
So, that was simpler than expected. I contact Tiger again and pass on the information obtained.
Tiger: That was fast. But such a small force; it's the weight of two bagels! It's the eight days that will be the problem. Frank told me to go for it.
Me: Who's designing the computer? I'm thinking, how much mass can we have, and another thing, if it's in space how's the fan going to blow air over the processor? That's a joke.
Tiger: Not a very nice one. Look, I don't know how we could cool the computer. Let's plan on as little brains as possible on the spacecraft. Data transferred through the comm chip is coherent with the original, so we can just hook comm chips up to the phase rotator pins; complementary bit patterns go into the comm chip and the partner pushers on the ground. It looks like there are a lot of issues here. Alan and I have an idea for the physical layout, but it sounds like it's kind of overkill and we probably should make it a little smaller. I'd better get out of hustle mode and really think about some of the issues. Cooling is definitely going to be one. I don't want the chips to burn up, and when the sun shines on the assembly it could overheat something.
Me: Do you want to do some brainstorming?
Tiger: No, not yet. Here's what you do: make an independent design for this spacecraft, kind of at a rough detail level. If you want to brainstorm, get Surya and Holly involved; they're bright kids. Let's talk again in two hours and compare what we have. Sound good?
Me: Right. Is it still nine chips on the smaller version? And do you have enough comm chips?
Tiger: Yes to both. Signing off, OK?
I do work better with some brainstorming at the beginning. I ask Holly and Surya to come down, as Tiger suggested, and to bring their machines.
Surya: What's this about a project?
Me: The Hawking Telescope is in trouble: no maneuvering thrusters any more and the orbit is suspiciously low. Our idea is to put together a rescue mission, using Tiger's pusher chips. We're supposed to brainstorm a backup design for the spacecraft, to make sure Tiger doesn't miss any issues. We have eight days max to build it, test it and find the telescope.
Holly: Wow, just like real MIT students!
Me: Except you don't get a grade on this project. Get the point?
Holly: I guess I do. We'd better get started. You'll provide the NetBoard session?
Me: Right here. Here's the URL of the grapple; the male part is on the telescope and we'll provide the female.
Surya: Do we have a machine shop to make that stuff?
Me: TransForce, or Whinx, must have something: a band saw at least. This, I'm sure we'd have to have it made for us by an R&D fabricator.
Surya: I don't even know how you'd make some of those parts. But we don't have to pull, do we? Just push? If so, a piece of pipe will do the job.
Me: Very good point. There's at least a day cut from the schedule, bullying the vendor to do it when and how we want it. Next, Tiger wants the chips mounted in a circle; see how I'm drawing it? She mentioned that cooling was a big problem in space, and also heating by the sun. I had the idea to glue the chips to metal bars for physical support, but that could also carry away the heat.
Holly: Yes, but to where? Surya and I were doing physics lessons on heat about a month ago, before the section on optics. Should we start thinking about cooling right now? Or should we stick with your session?
Me: With me, for a while. Here's the basic shape I'm thinking of: a barrel of let's say copper bars holding the chips; end rings to mount them to; and a tripod arrangement on the top ring with the pipe sticking up on the axis. OK so far? I'd like to kind of go through the mission and write down what we'll be doing.
Surya: When this thing blasts off I hope the air flow going through it isn't a problem. It doesn't look very aerodynamic.
Me: OK, mission profile: It lifts off vertically with a force of... what? Somehow I think 2.5 newtons isn't the right answer. It should be able to lift its own weight and not too much more. If its mass is ten kilos that would be a hundred newtons.
Holly: If most of the thrust is needed to lift the thing, what's lifting the telescope?
Me: Once it's on the job the acceleration is negligible. 99.9% of the thrust applies to the telescope, which has however many tons of mass. We should find that out, shouldn't we? Back to the so-called blastoff: we'd better plan on ascending sedately, like under Mach 1. Suppose to rise at three hundred meters per second. The telescope is at 125 kilometers, so it takes... that can't be right, 417 seconds? Seven minutes? I was expecting hours.
Holly: It's right. But Mach 1 is kind of fast for something we just stick together like a model airplane. Let's take half an hour to go up, OK? Now how fast is the telescope going? I can calculate that: if the orbit is circular, hold on a sec, it's 7850 meters per second. If we accelerate in a straight line at one G, that's 785 seconds to do it: thirteen minutes! We'll probably have to tilt over gradually, but in any case it will take less than an hour to catch the telescope, from sitting on the pad.
Me: Somehow I think it won't be that easy. Also the orbit isn't circular, but the speed won't be a lot higher. And the pad, as you put it, will be the parking lot.
Surya: And how will we find the telescope? We need radar.
Me: That's an idea, but we have to keep this simple. The Hawking Institute people certainly know where the telescope is. We'll be able to get pretty close by following the numbers, but for final approach I think we'll have to do it visually, meaning a camera, and a comm chip to bring the signal down, and a pusher chip to bring up power, and cooling for all this stuff. This is getting complicated. Tiger wants triple redundancy on everything and I think we're going to need three copies of all of this; let's say one on each tripod leg. And that will give us a stereo view to help us get the grapple connected.
Holly: And then we push, right? We won't need maneuvering thrusters; the main propulsion will do for that just fine, don't you think?
Me: Right. Now, what have we forgotten?
Surya: Well... Hey, if they tell us where the telescope is, how do we know where our spacecraft is? Let's think, let's think...
Holly: We'll put comm receivers here and in two other locations. The time delay from here tells the distance, and the difference at the other places gives the angle to the spacecraft. That's how it's done for real space probes.
Me: Excellent! Except Tiger has never actually measured, or at least told me, that the time delay through her comm chip is speed of light. I think it's pretty safe to assume that it is. For redundancy we should have six locations: here and at Ogden, Castle Rock, Heber City, Provo, and Grantsville or someplace around there. Surya, later could you please check that those are approximately in a circle around Salt Lake, so if one chip dies the others still give good angles?
Surya: Will do. Do you want me to call up self-storage places?
Me: Good idea there, but let's save that until Tiger has something to store in them. And the Whinx headquarters in Provo will be our site there. Holly, can you think of any other issues?
Holly: Well, once we dock, how long do we need to push to get the telescope back where it belongs? An MIT student should be able to figure that out. Give me a sec... Well, it depends on the mass over the thrust; we need to know those first. Obviously we engage maximum warp until the telescope is back in its proper orbit.
Me: I'm not so sure that's obvious, but you're right that we have to know the thrust. I suspect cooling will be the key. Tiger told me last week that their current chips have 85 percent efficiency. The telescope is losing energy of so many watts due to drag, and we have to put that back plus more; let's say double the drag power. You said 7850 meters per second? Times the force that comes out to twenty kilowatts, forty doubled, and fifteen percent of that is six kilowatts, or 666 watts per chip. Somehow I don't think so. Either Tiger will have to package the chips on a power header, or we'll need a lot more chips, or both.
Surya: In eight days?
Me: It seems unlikely, but it doesn't do us any good to admit failure. How much radiation area will it take to get rid of six kilowatts, at let's say seventy degrees? Military chips can go up to 125 degrees but I don't want to push it that much. Holly, Surya, do you know the numbers?
Holly: Hang on, I remember the formula; I'm punching it into the calculator program. 7.6 square meters.
Me: And Tiger said she was going to make her thing smaller! I have this model in my head of a bunch of power chips stuck to a sheet of copper, probably curved in a barrel. No, we have to radiate from both sides. A single flat sheet. How thick does it have to be? Um, fewer bigger chips means a thicker sheet; bad news. Time to call Tiger.
I get Tiger promptly on NetBoard and explain the cooling problem to her.
Tiger: Shit! We were just thinking of a minimal design to get off the ground. As it happens, we found out about the power issue, for the chips not the spacecraft, real early. The number of 85 percent that I gave you, we've been putting them on thirty watt headers for that series of tests. I'd better talk to Frank if we're going to be putting two hundred chips into this project. But your power is double what it should be, because the partner dissipates half of it and that's on the ground. You go ahead with the physical design, and we'll need to concentrate on the chips and, as you figured out, the tracking sensors. And the partner chips on the ground, and this, and that. I wonder if I should put the comm chip on the same header or if we'll assemble them separately? You go on; I'll figure that part out myself.
Me: I'm on it. Bye. Tough as a lion!
We get a quick lunch as I fill Surya and Holly in on what Tiger said. We work out the thickness of the copper, two millimeters, and the total mass, about sixty kilograms. I get busy on plans for the chassis, and I put the kittens to work planning the Launch Umbilical Tower, in plywood. We'll need to support the ungainly flat sheet both while launching it and while assembling it. Plans ready, we run into an annoying snag: Tiger has the car. We take the bus to a car rental company and rent a van. I buy them their plywood and a box of wood screws and some paint and four furniture casters, then having dropped them at home I take off to a local R&D fabricator called Douglas Engineering.
This negotiation is brisk. Mr. Kevin Douglas wants essentially double the usual price for quick service to weld a simple square frame of stainless steel with a piece of pipe sticking up from the top, and to stretch a copper sheet over it. I tell him his price is outrageous.
Kevin: When your balls are in a vise you're willing to do something to get them out, right? I assume lion people have balls.
Me: You assume right. Here's a deal: I'll pay your ripoff price if you'll let me go back in the shop and help you with it and make sure you're not going to leave until it's done.
Kevin: Damn it, I don't need something with fur breathing down my neck.
Me: I can work a bandsaw, grinder and so on. Unfortunately for me I never learned to weld. I promise to keep my mouth shut if you keep your part of the bargain.
Kevin: OK, come on, let me earn my fee. I'll probably regret this.
He didn't. We had the chassis stuck together in 2.5 hours, and Kevin probably earned more this afternoon, not even being late for dinner, than he does in some whole weeks.
It turns out to be not a big deal to get two hundred chips from the Whinx production department, though Frank Encke makes some remarks about the cost and the disruption of schedules for making chips that can be sold. Tiger decided to integrate the comm chips and pusher in the power package, to save us work and ruined chips during assembly, and though the production people complain about the extra steps needed to put two chips on one header, preliminary tests show that the paired chips are easy to initialize, and we're able to just glue them onto the copper sheet, greatly speeding up assembly compared to if we had to wire them all up externally.
With five people including Alan, the work doesn't go slowly, but we're very aware of the passing days. We're working about fourteen hours a day. I insist that everyone get a full eight hours sleep every day, proper meals (though ordered out, except breakfast), and our usual exercise. When you're under stress is when you most need to keep up good health habits, so you'll not only do today's work but you'll be ready for tomorrow's demanding job. Tiger would prefer to work 24 hours a day, but she defers to me in this. She has a very straightforward style while I'm better at splitting up the job so everyone is kept busy; for example, I assign Surya and myself to put together three subassemblies each with a camera and two tracking chips, and I ask Tiger, Alan and Holly to stick chips first on the upper part of the copper sheet, so we can go ahead and mount the cameras when we've finished our part. And after that's done I draft Alan to help Surya put the partner chips on the big fan-cooled heat sinks and wire them up to the purchased power supplies and the per-unit comm chips. That's a neat touch Tiger didn't think of and I did, having experience as an electrician: we can't just plug the partner assemblies into our sockets because this room has nowhere near forty kilowatts of electrical service. We're going to have to put 25 big units all over the building, and to control them we'll use Tiger's comm chips, feeding back to a special board in the bench computer in Tiger's lab. While Surya and Alan are working on that I take the rented van and drive to our neighboring cities to place the tracking relay packages in rented storage where they won't be touched. That kills an entire day, but when I return I find almost all of the chips glued in their proper places. Good progress!
In contrast with the chip situation, there's a very odd interchange with the Hawking people. While the chips are capable of pushing on one side and pulling somewhat less on the other, twisting the grapple as we push, it's much more efficient use of our limited cooling ability, and probably essential to success, that the spacecraft be lined up with the telescope's center of mass, so all the chips can push equally. I send mail to Mr. Barrett asking just where the center of mass is relative to the grapple axis, and how much it might have shifted if, as I consider likely, all the fuel for the maneuvering thrusters has accidentally been shot off.
Barrett (by mail): I appreciate what you people are trying to do, but we've been given instructions not to communicate with you, so I can't answer your question without violating orders.
However, the message ends with a signature section that includes the line ``Hawking Telescope web site and plans'' and a URL. Indeed, it isn't the web site toplevel index as one would normally put in a signature file, but a direct reference to the plans index, and the center of mass is clearly indicated on several of them, both with and without fuel. A very strange response.
Me: You want to look at this, Tiger?
Tiger: Orders, what kind of crap is that?
Me: I have no idea, and I'm damn well not going to take the time to find out. If we aim the thrust vector midway between the two positions, and if the center of mass is really at one end as I suspect, I calculate that we'll have sixty percent of the force we want. If we aim at the empty end and it's really full, we'll get twenty percent thrust, if that. I don't like the choices.
Tiger: We'll have to put in a little motor to tilt the grapple.
Me: Yuck! How do we control it? How do we power it? How do we cool it? Do we have time for that kind of complication?
Holly: It won't be that bad.
Me: All of tomorrow! A day, I swear, a whole day!
Surya: We could bring the spacecraft down, adjust the grapple, and send it up again in less time than that.
Tiger: Kitten, you've got it! We're getting close to the end! We may pull this off after all.
Me: Yes, good idea. But we're planning to turn the sheet edge-on to the sun to keep it from overheating. How can we do that if the grapple is angled?
Tiger: We'll fit a bent adapter in the existing grapple, with a clip or something so it can rotate but can't come off. You'll have to adapt the program to stabilize the roll angle around the telescope's grapple since the joint isn't rigid any more. Is the feedback from the pusher chips stable enough for that?
Me: Hope that it is. The same test rig with the fake grapple can be used to see if the program can maintain stability. And I want that clip to hold the movable section steady when we're trying to dock.
Tiger: OK, I want all the fabrication out of the way by tonight. We'll all get a good night's sleep, and test in the morning. I'm budgeting a full day to straighten out problems, and then we send the thing up there the next day. If we can find the telescope we can save it, just barely.
Me: There's a little detail: the ephemeris. I'm going to send another message to Barrett and hope for another fancy URL in his signature block.
Holly: Is that the position of the telescope?
Me: More like the coefficients in a formula for the position.
Holly: I have to wait for epoxy to harden on this row of chips; let me take a look around their web site. It won't hurt, and if the data is just sitting there we can avoid stirring up whatever politics they're doing over there.
Me: Good idea. Do it.
Holly, after a pause: It's right there. I searched for the keyword, ephemeris. Do you know what this stuff means; like, what's the ascending node?
Me: Tell you when this is over. But that's great! These are labeled as predictions, but the most recent measured orbit is only a few hours old. I don't know if Barrett put it here for us to find, or just so the press can keep a death watch, not that they'd know what the ascending node is either, but it's exactly what we'll need to find the telescope. I'd better download this version in case it disappears.
Tiger: What are those idiots doing? We're trying to help.
Surya: Right; I can't figure that order not to talk to us.
Me: The order had to come from their big boss; Barrett is the operations manager and there's probably only one person above him. Put yourself in that guy's position: his professional career is spiraling slowly downward to oblivion. I'll bet he's gone kind of crazy. He's got himself resigned to disaster, and now we come along and say, maybe we can fix it and maybe we can't. It tears the guy in half! He would have to get himself all psyched up for a rescue, and we said right out that it could be a complete dud. I'll bet he can't bear that, and so he pushes us away.
Holly: It sounds like a cheap novel.
Tiger: It sounds like real life. I'm ruthless enough, with myself or with other people, not to do that, but not everyone has our training, particularly the weapons training; hardly anyone even knows how to fire a gun properly. I think Simba has this guy analyzed right. Pain in the ass.
Tuesday morning -- we've worked through the weekend -- we begin by plugging in the partner chip assemblies in various labs and offices, on different electrical circuits so we don't blow the breakers. We wheel the spacecraft around to each one and initialize the chips by tediously hooking clip leads between the partners while Tiger's laptop sends out a sequence of bit patterns. I hope Tiger can figure out something better than this for the commercial products! Then it's time for the initial test. Nervous, all of us are; we lions' tails are twitching and Alan is pacing around behind Tiger. She eases the thrust slider forward. The launch rack creaks, then the spacecraft gently lifts a few centimeters. Tiger adjusts the trackball to the side and the craft moves correspondingly. Though my program seems to be holding the orientation stable, we all stand ready to grab the thing if it tilts out of control, and we shove the launch rack so the spacecraft could drop into it if necessary. Now the roll test: it swings around neatly as we turn the launch rack to match.
Tiger: This is going pretty well. Let's do a dry run of docking and sun shading. Simba and Alan, would you put up the fixture?
In the doorway to Tiger's small office off the main lab, we use C-clamps to affix a 2x4 with a piece of pipe bolted on it to simulate the male grapple. As we monitor the spacecraft and roll the launch rack to match its motion, Tiger flies into the doorway. She has to tilt the spacecraft slightly because of the bent grapple, and she needs several very careful tries to get it over the male part, but it finally goes on.
Tiger: Aah, at last! That's nerve-wracking. OK, take the rack away.
Alan: Are you sure?
Tiger: We have to shed our training wheels sometime.
Without the rack, she's able to rotate the spacecraft about 45 degrees each direction before hitting the doorframe. She backs it down, then floats it gently over to the launch rack. The V-shaped entry slots make alignment easier, and my program keeps the spacecraft stable when Tiger bumps one going in. A big success!
Tiger: As far as I can see, the tracking is giving the right numbers and the three cameras are working. Is there anything else we ought to test? If not, we ought to launch right away, in case we have to bring the spacecraft down to adjust the grapple.
Me: Let's get an early lunch first. We don't want to have to eat in the middle of the launch.
Tiger: You and your stomach; you treat the thing like your kitten! OK, order lunch. I want just provolone on the giant sourdough roll. And Frank should be here to see. Since I'm our first pilot I'm going to do some breathing exercises while we wait for the lunch to come.
As I had suggested, Frank Encke shows up at noon.
Frank: Have you made any changes since I saw it last?
Alan: Mostly just initialization and testing. We've learned a whole lot about how people, designers, would actually use our chips, and there are some areas we really have to improve, like the initialization step.
Frank: So it was worth it, to be pushed into a rush development cycle. But will it actually save the telescope?
Alan: I guess we'll have to try it and see.
Frank: Where are we going to launch it, in the parking lot?
Tiger: I had in mind to be inconspicuous: out the window. Holly, would you climb up on the workbench and take the screen off?
Tiger: OK, people. Five, four, three, two, one, blastoff!
Tiger again lifts the spacecraft out of the launch rack. Frank's jaw drops even though he knows intellectually what's been built here. This time Tiger tilts the spacecraft so the grapple is horizontal and the window is visible on the viewer section of her display. She rotates diagonally and slides the spacecraft out; it fits with a few centimeters to spare, corner to corner in the window. Then she straightens up and advances the thrust control, and the spacecraft vanishes from our view. The camera image shows the horizon and receding ground below.
Tiger: Look out the window, Holly. Did anyone see it?
Holly: Nobody's in the parking lot.
Me: Just keep the bargraphs out of the shaded areas. At low altitudes the bottom bar, stability, is the limiting factor.
Frank: What are we seeing?
Me: Total power, radiator temperature, dynamic pressure and stability against flipping over. This part of the ascent takes five minutes. Tiger, watch your speed; dynamic pressure is rising.
We can see the curvature of the horizon already. The image is monochrome but I imagine the blue sky turning midnight black, like Tiger's fur.
Me: We're at ninety kilometers; let's get some tangential velocity. Hit the B key; see the target cursor? Tilt around so it's centered, except keep your velocity vector above the green line, which shows the tangent plane. Ignore the horizon; you're so high that if you aim for it you'll descend. Also the temperature is going up, I think because we're catching the sun. You'll want to roll edgewise to avoid it. Crank up the thrust but watch the temperature and power: back it off when those creep up. You'll eventually have to back off a lot. When we get to 140 kilometers we can put it on autopilot
Tiger, a terror in flight simulator games, quickly gets the hang of flying our spacecraft. Her tail, sticking out the back of her chair, twitches like when she's hunting me through the simulated sky.
Frank: How long until you get to the telescope?
Me: About sixteen hours: until four AM. Power and cooling are a big limitation.
Holly: So that's it? A shuttle launch is so dramatic. In stories there are always these little last minute events to heighten the tension.
Surya: Oh, a cockroach has stowed away! We don't have enough fuel to break free of Earth's gravity!
Me: Oh, please, Ms. Captain, don't squish me; let me travel with you to the plains of Arisia to found a mighty line of roachdom!
Tiger: So I tear off my bra and hurl it in the airlock and flush it into space, and the ship just barely makes it... We plan stuff first and try to anticipate the screwups. I'd better keep my mind on piloting. Coming up on 140 kilometers. ``A'' for autopilot?
Me: Right. We're just barely into clear space where we avoid atmospheric drag, but the spacecraft is just creeping along now, and centrifugal force is negligible. The program is holding it up while speeding it up tangentially. It will end up in the same orbit as the telescope, about ten kilometers to the side. Reaching orbit takes a lot of energy. Let's work out a shift rotation so someone's always watching the computer, and the rest of us can take a well-deserved break.
Surya: How will we know how to fly it?
Me: Mostly, watch the computer, and if there's an error message wake me up. If the spacecraft gets into trouble it's going to take me or Tiger to get it out.
Frank: Do you want me in on this?
Me: Sure. Judging certain people's attention spans on a vigilance task I'm going to use one-hour shifts, and you can pick your time.
Frank: How about at five?
Me: Five's good. Thanks.
Frank: I'm proud of you people and I wouldn't miss this for the world!
Me: For non-missing, show up at 03:30 for the approach and docking. That's when we'll really know if this is a success. Now I have a suggestion. We're going to be living in this lab for the next maybe five days and we need to keep entertained. Could Alan drive Surya over to the house? Bring back all our laptops and some reasonable discs? Hell, bring them all, plus music discs and players. And an exercise mat for each of us to sleep on, and the extra one for Alan.
Surya: How about the musical instruments?
Me: Good idea. Alan, what do your wife and kids think of all this? Since you have a car we can arrange your times so you can have more time at home.
Alan: They're a little irritated, not knowing what's going on.
Tiger: My goal is to put the telescope back to its proper orbit, but eight hours of pushing should get it high enough to stay up for six months; that's what Holly calculated was needed. Six months should be enough for a repair mission. If we make it that far I'm going to count it a success. Let's make an announcement, however it turns out, at noon or 13:00 tomorrow. Frank, what do you think?
Frank: Yes, let's do that. Rumors are flying. Your chip order started them, and people are asking about those things you've got C-clamped to everyone's lab bench, and they saw you wheeling the spacecraft around to them this morning, but of course it wasn't clear what it was.
The long process of orbital insertion is marked mainly by tedium. Around 21:00 Surya is on duty while Tiger, Holly and I play music together. A chip stops producing force, and he interrupts us to report the computer's message. Well, too bad, but what can we do beyond hope that not too many of its brothers will imitate? We finish the Mozart trio.
Frank and Alan come in shortly after 0330, bundled against the cold and yawning. I'm on watch but I ask Alan to take over for a second. I go around to each of my sleeping family members and poke them on the sole of the foot.
Surya: Oh, is it time? Hi, Mr. Encke and Mr. Whitehawk.
Tiger: How close are we?
Me: I'll take it back now, Alan. We should be in the right orbit in about ten minutes. We'll be about ten kilometers from the telescope, kind of flying in a spiral around it, so docking should take minimal energy addition or subtraction. I have the spacecraft pointing where the telescope is supposed to be.
Holly: Is that it?
Me: No, that's a star. See it move?
Frank: That one isn't moving.
Me: You're right, and the telescope isn't quite where it's supposed to be. Tiger, you want to take over now? Press T and keep the tracking cursor over the target, and watch the track window. We'll let the autopilot do the final few minutes of orbital insertion, and the program will estimate the target's position and relative motion from its direction as indicated by the tracking cursor. See, already the red lines are clustering right here, about fifteen kilometers distant. You want to try to approach it?
Tiger: Damn right. Shift-A to turn off the autopilot, right?
Me: Right. I suggest you aim for this point here, about one kilometer away but perpendicular to the orbit. You have much better maneuverability in that plane.
Tiger: I hope! This thing is really sluggish.
Me: With only forty kilowatts of propulsion what do you expect? Watch the temperature; your thrust is too high.
We sashay inward in kind of a rectangular spiral until we're about fifty meters away. Not by design, but we see (and record) all sides of the telescope. No damage is visible, unless it's hidden by shadows on the night side, a distinct possibility. Suddenly the illumination turns red and winks out.
Tiger: What's going on?
Holly: Of course! That was sunset in space.
Tiger: So now what do we do?
Me: Wait, I guess. Probably about half an hour. Hit H; the spacecraft will stop relative to the reference orbit, which by now is the telescope. Anyone want a bagel?
After the predicted half hour dawn breaks, and the telescope is practically in our face.
Tiger: I'd better back off fast!
Me: No, leave it. That was a lucky piece of orbital mechanics. Gently get clear of the solar panel and go around aft, and dock.
Tiger does as instructed. She repeats the maneuver she practiced (once) when we tested the spacecraft. It's hard to judge the angle of the male and female grapple halves, harder than when she could see them by eyeball in our doorframe. She switches between the three cameras as she tries various tilt angles. Finally they're mated.
Me: Got it! Now press R and engage the autopilot. See the velocity vector cursor; the program has to turn the telescope until that's centered. With all that mass it will take time.
Tiger: And what does R stand for?
Me: Rescue, of course. We're on our way. Would you hit M, please?
Tiger: And that means?
Me: Mass, center of. And it's about ten centimeters from where I predicted. Close enough. We won't have to bring the spacecraft down and adjust the grapple. Thank goodness; it took long enough to get it up there.
Holly: So adjusting it would have taken more than a day.
Me: Right, 32 hours, a day and ten hours. That's still better than sweating over that damned motor. KISS: keep it simple, stupid. Tiger, shift-M and shift-T to lose those windows.
Frank: So now what? More waiting?
Me: Right. It's really exciting, right up there with watching paint dry or pots boil.
Frank: Do you need me here?
Tiger: Actually, your best contribution would be to go back home, get the rest of your sleep, and organize the press conference in the morning. We're pretty much going to have to summarize the product line, and you should think of legal and marketing issues there. You too, Alan; we're better able to handle night watches. I was thinking, for the conference, to have you at the controls, and about fifteen minutes through to send up Surya or Holly so you can come down and show your face; get credit for your work. OK?
Alan: Sure. But I'd be happy to watch the machine the whole time. I'd be nervous with reporters and all that.
Tiger: It'll be good training. We'll make the final decision in the morning.
The phone rings. Holly is nearest, and picks it up. Adam and Elsa have trained her well in handling a phone, even if it is a standard human instrument.
Holly: TransForce Corporation, Tiger Leones' lab, Holly Leones speaking.
She looks surprised and her tail posture suggests a challenge from the other end. Quick to react here as in simulation games, she punches the speaker button.
Phone: ...with my telescope? You're trespassing on government property! Get your grubby hands off it or I'll have you arrested!
Holly: Could I have your name and title please?
Phone: I'm Dr. William Ozer, I'm the Director of the Hawking Institute, and I want you off that telescope!
Holly looks at Tiger and at Frank. Tiger's rule, which I support although often not to the extremes she does, is that if a kitten gets into a situation she'll get herself out, unless the situation gets really out of hand. Holly is supposed to know how to deal with difficult humans who might be a threat to her. Tiger motions for Holly to answer.
Holly: As long as we keep our thrust forward and upward, I'd think you'd be pleased that we were messing with the telescope. Could you tell me why you want us to let it drop in the ocean?
Dr. Ozer: I'll have federal marshals there within the hour!
Holly: You just call the cops. But they'll laugh you out of their station when you tell them you don't want your telescope rescued. You should think how your boss will react, too; I'll bet he won't laugh. Give it a good hard thought. OK?
Dr. Ozer: I'll see you in jail, you little snit!
The line goes dead.
Holly: Touchy, touchy, aren't we this morning? I wonder what he's like on a bad day? I haven't mated with Surya for a week, busting my butt to save his stupid telescope. I think we deserve at least a little thanks.
Tiger: I agree. But you did well not to mention that to him. Telling him why he ought to be grateful to us generally gets the opposite reaction.
Me: Who has jurisdiction? I thought ``his'' telescope belonged to the Hawking Institute, in which case it's local jurisdiction, not federal.
Surya: Call the Space Patrol!
Frank: If there's court action we certainly could claim that. I wonder where he'd file? Holly, could I have the phone please; I'm going to get Stefan Hacik out of bed. I have in mind getting our Washington lawyer in court to head off Ozer. The judge isn't going to be happy being dragged away from his morning coffee for this. I also think a quick call to the local marshal's office would help keep this civilized if Ozer starts bending their ear.
Frank starts making his phone calls. Mr. Hacik clearly isn't happy with the whole situation, including the time of day.
Me: Well, it's nice to be appreciated, but I suggest we keep to our schedule, meaning to get some sleep until daylight. Tiger has half an hour to go, and then it's Holly's turn. If marshals do show up, hit shift-G to silence the beeps, go to the door to let them in, then wake us all up, and ignore the computer until we've had a chance to hear what they have to say. All clear? And Frank, could you leave Mr. Hacik's home number with us, just in case? If everyone's ready I think I'm going to pop button four.
Before sleep it's a good idea to quiet one's mind. I thank my designers for my button panels. Just like a human, if I tried to think myself to sleep I'd be too excited by the mission's success (so far) and the bizarre behavior from Ozer. But under my shoulder (duplicated on both sides) are four little knots of tissue. Button four puts me to sleep. Button three could put me into shock in a medical emergency. Button one makes me sweat, so I can be cool when needed yet control water loss or avoid dampening sensitive work. And button two resets the others, even to the extent of inducing insomnia during one of Tiger's all-nighters. There are more buttons in the crotch area. I get in a comfortable position on my mat and hold down button four and am out like a light.
I wake with Surya's finger poking the sole of my foot. It's light outside, but just barely. My shift must be starting.
Surya: Ozer's on the phone. And another chip blew.
Me: Ozer! You watch the machine, OK, while I get rid of him. You seem to be a jinx for the chips.
I catch sight of the clock: 0610, not my turn, but the beginning of Surya's shift. I get on the phone.
Me: Hello, Dr. Ozer, Simba Leones here.
Dr. Ozer: I'd like to apologize for my behavior earlier this morning. The person I was talking to earlier...
Me: She just went off her shift flying the spacecraft and I'd prefer to let her sleep. Could we work things out between ourselves? How much have you figured out about what we're doing?
Dr. Ozer: Only that the telescope got turned sideways to the orbit and the perigee is up four kilometers. Thank you for that.
Me: You're welcome. We have a spacecraft using the coherent quantum momentum transfer effect. Very new, very developmental and very much inside information. If it manages not to break for a few more hours, your telescope will be high enough to stay up for six months. Our goal is to put it back to the proper orbit; that will take about four days.
Dr. Ozer: I should have been more open-minded. We have a couple of psychics who bother us; one claims to be channeling for Steven Hawking and she has all these bizarre instructions from him. I thought you were going to lift the telescope by telekinesis or something, and when my people reported the orientation change, well, I've been taking this business pretty hard and I got a little mixed up, being woken up like that. I'm sorry, what I said.
Me: Apology accepted; we just ignored it and flew our spacecraft. Now there's something we do need to coordinate. First, the plan to put it back to the original orbit. If you want any orbital changes it would be easiest to set that up now.
Dr. Ozer: No, the original orbit is, well, fine.
Me: Good. Second, at 13:00 local, that's 20:00 Zulu, we're going to declare success in a press conference, assuming the chips don't all blow up, and I thought you should know about that so you aren't surprised at your end. We'll describe what we did and give a brief summary of the products being developed and the likely production schedule.
Dr. Ozer: Would you like me to be there?
Me: Certainly! If we have smiling faces all around at the end, we count it a bigger success.
Dr. Ozer: I'll be there. Could you please give my apology to the person I was short with; Holly, I believe it was?
Me: Yes, I'll explain to her. And when you get here, let's make the apologies low key; let's concentrate on what we're doing together, not on conflicts. It looks a whole lot better that way. I'll pass the word to all our people.
Dr. Ozer: Thank you; you're most kind. Goodbye.
Well, well. That was an unexpected outcome.
Surya: He apologized? You don't expect people to be reasonable, particularly humans. I guess we won't be seeing marshals on horseback after all.
Me: Right. I think I'm going to send mail to Hacik and Frank; no point in waking them up again. And then I'm going to finish my sleep period. Did any more chips blow up?
Surya: No. Let's hope it stays that way.
We hold the press conference on Whinx's lawn, with us facing south for good appearance on camera. High clouds protect us from the direct glare of the sun while still letting the late March weather be pleasantly warm for the humans. We're lined up, seated, behind a pair of lunch tables, and the reporters are on folding chairs facing us.
We have an unexpected extra guest, Melvin Silverman, the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, whose substantial investment in the telescope is no longer down the drain. Tiger introduces the parties, summarizes what was done, and politely spreads the credit around. Dr. Ozer thanks her and congratulates her on discovering CQMT, and announces that he's started negotiations (with Frank) for a replacement for the now useless maneuvering thrusters based on CQMT, to be installed in space by TransForce. This is not entirely tactful since otherwise the job would have used a Space Shuttle mission, but the Shuttle schedule is, as always, packed for years. Mr. Silverman opens his remarks by saying he's somewhat relieved not to have to have to kick off some customer to make room for a repair mission, and continues by reminding the listeners that the third Shuttle upgrade and replacement campaign is coming very soon, and that he will be watching TransForce's space operations with a great deal of interest. I imagine fund managers scurrying like roaches trying to predict whose stock will rise and fall as a result of that tidbit of information. Tiger finishes up by going briefly over the TransForce product line, and telecom, automotive and aircraft stocks fall with a thud that's audible even in Salt Lake. Tiger finishes up her bear act by taking the wraps off TransForce's first consumer product.
Tiger: We've been beta testing a product for about a month, and it's performed well throughout the work on the spacecraft and in fact throughout this press conference. We hope to have it in stores by June. Three weeks ago I gave an invited paper in Baltimore about the W32, participated in two panel discussions, and generally bummed around the conference, and it was so cool, nobody even noticed the test going on. I like the French name for it, alembic d'alimentation trans-spatiale, AATS, or trans-spatial power cord. You'll notice what appears to be a battery in my laptop machine, and a short wire going around to the Ethernet card. There's a pusher chip, the same type as we used on the spacecraft, programmed to transmit power from the partner chip in my laboratory, which is plugged into the wall, and there's a pair of communications chips which pipe the Ethernet to their partners by a point-to-point link, and thence onto the company net. Mr. Encke, Mr. Whitehawk and my family all have AATS's and we've been very pleased with them, and I hope our customers will be too. I've been watching the stock market in real time over the AATS while we've been talking.
She waves and mugs for the cameras, showing a little fang, which isn't totally polite.
Hi, fund managers, I know you're watching me in real time and I see you running up the trades; volume is nearly double what it was an hour ago. I think it's prudent financially and for utility companies' planning to be honest about an area I intend to pursue very aggressively, connected with the AATS: high power transmission lines, specifically from space power systems down to Earth. The main impediment to space power has been how do you get it to the consumers, and I intend to solve that problem. Presently the efficiency of these pusher chips is 85 percent, which is totally unacceptable for high power; that's the main reason it's going to take four days to put the Hawking Telescope up to its original orbit. I can report that before the rescue mission Alan and I had just finished characterizing an improved chip with an efficiency of 92 percent, and we don't intend to let matters rest there. Like the prospectus says, success isn't guaranteed, but success, lucrative success, is my intention. And that's just about all the developments we have in progress at this time, but I'm sure the reporters are going to want clarification of various points, so let's open it up for questions now. And remember, this is supposed to be about the Hawking Telescope.
The reporters bombard Tiger with questions as electric utility, coal and oil stocks join their brethren on the trash heap. None of the fund managers seem to have thought about asteroid mining yet; that will come. Does it make me feel good for our family to be responsible for a mini-depression? Shortly after CQMT was discovered, Frank, Tiger, Mr. Hacik and I all paid an official visit to Charlie and, the next day, to the SEC policy committee. It was decided that given the instability of our financial markets there was no way to break the news gently. It was better to have it all out at once than for Tiger to drop the first bombshell, then the second, and to have the whole world treading water in the sinking markets waiting for the next one, and the one after that. The Hawking Telescope incident just advanced our schedule a little; we had expected to have this conference in May around the time the AATS went into full production and secrecy couldn't be maintained any more.
And we bent over backward to be fair. While we were constructing the spacecraft, Whinx legal people were making up a list of e-mail addresses of every investor with holdings over fifty million dollars known to the SEC, including mutual fund managers and brokerage houses, plus all the financial news agencies and many of their writers individually. As soon as we scheduled the press conference a notice went out telling people to watch. It was funny when this morning we got an urgent NetBoard invitation from Greg Katz of Shamir, Katz and Markle, our private financial manager, and he asked what they should make of it.
Finally we chase off the reporters with pleas that we have to relieve Alan, who decided to stick with the spacecraft the whole time. We all go up to Tiger's lab, and Holly takes over the controls while Alan goes for a kidney break and a cup of coffee. Surya stacks the exercise mats in a neater pile.
Dr. Ozer: So this is the place.
Tiger: Yes, the computer has a special board in it to control the pushers. This is one of the partner chip assemblies, with four chips on it. We held the spacecraft in this rack for assembly and launching.
Mr. Silverman: What a press conference! I've been to some doozies, but the amount of information you passed out was amazing. The market must be in a total uproar.
Tiger: It certainly is. Three different times during the conference, while I was talking, Simba had to order our financial manager to sell nothing and buy nothing. We consulted with the SEC ahead of time, and we all agreed that the right way was to tell everything at once.
Dr. Ozer: How about I take all you people out to dinner this evening?
Me: Invitation partially accepted, but until the spacecraft is back on the ground someone has to be at the controls, and Tiger or I should be close by in case something major happens. Would you people be interested in some real lion food? Tiger needs a break, so how about you two and Tiger go over to our house and make us, let's see, two pies and enough burritos? We can put some meat in to meet your nutritional needs and Alan's. And be sure to negotiate the spice level so it's enjoyable for you; some people have compared our spice collection to rocket fuel. Then bring the food back here to eat it.
Dr. Ozer: Well, that sounds like a nice idea.
Mr. Silverman: A unique end to a unique day. Really, thank you for getting that telescope back.
Me: You're welcome, but we lions don't easily give up something we want, and I really want to know if Hawking radiation is real. Surya, you go with them; an extra pair of hands will be helpful, and I'll take the next shift.
There's also a detail that needs attending to privately and fairly promptly. I start up a NetBoard session and invite Greg Katz.
Greg: There you are! You're crazy; you've got to be in the market!
Me: We've been in the market for months, dumping this, buying that, and accumulating cash. We've thought about the implications of all that stuff we revealed today. Don't spend your own cash too early. There aren't any more revelations, just hard work ahead, but fund managers and analysts are still putting together the consequences and most of them are coming up snake eyes because they don't have the vision we do. Now we're going to do something else crazy. The two satellite launch companies we talked about, Wallops Launch Services and Navajo Space, how far down is their stock now?
Greg: Fifty cents and seventy five, to sell. I don't see a buy quote.
Me: Low! Just a sec... We could buy both. Both of them have good management. Get us 55 percent ownership of Wallops, then go after Navajo. I'm sure you know better than I do how to minimize the price.
Greg: It's your money. But why? Those companies have no return on investment. Why not pick up something valuable, telecom stocks at equally low prices?
Me: Because telecom companies have a lot of expensive equipment and cable and rights-of-way which are going in the trash barrel. You'll make a fortune investing in new telecom companies with good management which use Tiger's chips from the beginning, and don't have to reverse an elephantine mindset and write off obsolete equipment. Look, we're not buying launch companies to earn their dividends. We're buying them because we have stuff we want to launch, and we want it done our way, when we want it and where we want it. And that's where the profit will come from. Remember Tiger's comment about space power?
Greg: OK, I'll get on it. Good luck, it's your money.
None of what I told Greg was a lie, or even significantly incomplete. But among the nonprofit items to be launched will be one starship, and I didn't feel it necessary to let that information out to the public just yet. My black-tipped tail twitches in anticipation.