…continued from Pressure
“Tether attached. I’m exiting the airlock door.”
Anna pulled herself outside the shuttle, the long safety tether trailing behind her. Hand over hand, she worked her way along the fuselage toward the rear of the craft. The nightside darkness made the station compartment nearly indiscernible against the blackness of the planet below, despite being but a few feet away from her. Anna found herself intensely curious about the alien artifact, yet nevertheless she was reluctant to contact its surface and focused instead on the shuttle hull. Beyond the planet’s disc, the myriad of stars burned their aeons-old message of silent existence across her field of view.
After re-pressurizing the shuttle’s crew cabin, Laxmi, Jaci, and Anna had caught up on some much-needed sleep for a few hours. While sleeping, Anna wore an oxygen pre-breathing mask, acclimating herself for the spacesuit’s reduced pressure before her EVA. Although still groggy, the nap and the oxygen refreshed and re-energized her for the task ahead.
Anna didn’t really care for EVA work. Normally the only reason to go outside the ship would be to repair malfunctioning equipment, and that duty typically fell to the engineer, Takashi. Tak was a natural in a spacesuit, he wore it like a second skin, but Anna always found it a restrained experience. She could fly a seven-hundred-ton starship as nimbly as riding a bicycle, inhabiting it as an extension of her own body, yet the EVA suit felt heavier to her. The thick gloves made her feel clumsy, the thick suit made her feel bulky, and the mobility and life support pack on her back made her feel unbalanced.
With a push, Anna floated down the length of the shuttle, gliding along the dark hull toward the rear, the illumination of her helmet lights preceding her, the sound of her breathing the only noise in her ears. A selection of tools clipped to her utility harness bumped against her hips but remained secure, while the tether spooled out behind her. She drifted over the shuttle wing, following the line of its joint with the hull, until she approached the OMS nozzles clustered at the rear and stopped her momentum with a single short burst of the suit’s nitrogen thruster. The suit may have felt clumsy, but Anna prided herself on the precision of her microgravity maneuvers. Three years enroute to Kepler 62 had given her plenty of practice.
“I’ve reached the OMS. Commencing inspection.”
Extending beyond the rear of the shuttle, the great cones of the twin orbital maneuvering system thrust nozzles dwarfed Anna in her suit. With an opening three meters in diameter, she easily pulled herself inside the starboard cone, staring down the throat of the mighty engine into the heart of the combustion chamber. She played her helmet lights over the surface, looking for any irregularity.
“Found it. There’s a puncture far forward in the nozzle, almost at the throat. It’s approximately three centimeters in diameter, perfectly round. The edge of the puncture is clean, not ragged at all. Whatever did this must have punched through at very high velocity.”
“Can you fix it?” Laxmi’s voice betrayed none of the tension they all were experiencing.
“Do I have a choice? Yeah, I think so. It’s cramped in there, but I can reach it with the goo gun.”
Reaching to her utility harness, Anna unclipped the goo gun, a long, thin, barrel-shaped applicator with a pistol grip, connected via hose to a cylinder attached beneath her suit’s mobility unit. The cylinder contained liquefied ceramic polymer infused with carbon fiber thread, what Tak had called “space goo.” Carrying it added even further to the bulk of the suit, but without it there was no point to the spacewalk.
“Ok, applying the goo now.”
Anna touched the applicator nozzle to the edge of the hole and squeezed the trigger. The viscous polymer, grey in color, oozed silently out of the nozzle and adhered to the ceramic structure of the engine cone. Anna moved the nozzle around in slow circles, gradually building up the material until it reached the thickness of the cone wall and filled the hole. That done, she re-clipped the applicator and unclipped a putty knife. This far forward in the cone the nozzle was quite narrow, tapering down to a quarter of a meter in the throat itself, and Anna could only just reach the filled hole with the long handle of the putty knife barely in her gloved fingertips. She squeezed herself as far forward as she could, impeded by the bulk of the pack on her back, and smoothed over the polymer putty until it matched the inner curve of the cone. Once satisfied with the shape, she again brought up the applicator, this time touching a different button to bathe the polymer in ultraviolet light, curing it in place.
“Right, goo applied and cured. Backing out of the starboard engine to continue my inspection.”
Over the next three hours, Anna looked into the port engine nozzle, looked over the outside of the cones, and removed panels from the hull covering the combustion chambers and injector lines. The only other damage she located was a similar three-centimeter hole where the shot that pierced the engine nozzle continued on into the main compartment of the shuttle, eventually to puncture the crew cabin. Although not a critical structure, she applied the same polymer fix to this hole.
Moving forward along the hull again, pulling herself up the tether, she located the exit hole from the crew area. Jaci had already repaired the inner pressure hull with sealant foam, but the external shielding remained compromised. This wouldn’t be a concern for the trip back to Aniara, but out of a surfeit of caution Anna applied the polymer goo to this hole as well.
“Ok, I’m all done out here. Returning to the airlock.”
Cradled in the airlock’s outer hatch, Anna took one last look outside. The approaching sunrise lit the curve of the planet in a serene blue glow, while the arc of the station swinging into the light well beyond the shuttle’s aft end gleamed against the star-filled backdrop. Turning the other way, past the nose of the shuttle, all remained in inky darkness. She knew Aniara awaited them out there, somewhere, but still there was no sign of the starship. Only the obstruction of stars revealed the far curve of the ring station circling the planet. Anna suppressed a shiver, turned away, closed the hatch, and started the airlock cycle.
… to be continued.
header image credit: pxhere.com
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