A Few Things Ill Considered

The Bottleneck Years

by H.E. Taylor

Chapter 56 Table of Contents Chapter 58

Chapter 57

Moonchild, December 11, 2057

The moon consists primarily of iron, aluminum, silicon and manganese, with some calcium and oxygen. Some areas have concentrations of titanium. That was why the Hipparcus crater had been chosen.

Once the smelter was set up and they had full power, the mining began in earnest. It was all open pit. They used a large wheeled dragger to scoop up the material. They wanted aluminum and titanium. The lack of free oxygen on the moon made steel production problematic, but aluminum, titanium and manganese could be smelted by electrolysis. Even while this was getting underway, Singh the selenologist was prospecting for richer ore — but they started with what was nearby. Soon they were requesting a larger dragger from Earth.

The design of the sunshade was a matter of heated debate. To shade the entire Earth from L1 would require an 1800 kilometer (km.) diameter sunscreen, more than 10 million square kms. weighing millions of tons. The decision to opt for a smaller shadow area was born of frugal practicality. The thought was to shade the poles in the summer and provide partial shading during transit, while having a smaller, more manageable system.

But there was another major decision to make. Whether to use a cloud of small reflectors or whether to use a single large structure. There were designs with reflectors down to as small as a couple of centimeters. Tradeoffs and contingencies hung in the balance. The goal was to shade the Earth, but there were other considerations as well. The generation of electrical power was one. Being able to fine tune the amount of light allowed to reach the planet was another. Command and control of the shadow position was another. Besides these high level requirements, the always present pressure of cost and practicality provided a ready incentive to innovate.

The decision made was a bureaucratic compromise. They opted for a swarm of 1 km. diameter sunshades, the construction and management of which Carillon was confident of handling. When it was pointed out that the area of a 600 km. diameter circle was equivalent to 90,000 1 km. diameter circles, eyebrows were raised, but the decision stood because they could start with partial shielding.

On the moon, the rail gun was slowly taking shape. The superconducting magnets arrived from Earth and were fitted along the titanium rail. The assembly line for sunshade modules was set up. They were building girders, silicon windows and launch casings. Each module consisted of a casing and payload, which had to be precisely arranged for the spidery construction robots at L1.

The silicon assembly line used the DNA-lattice technique of molecular manufacturing that required precise temperature control and specific wavelengths of light. To grow an ultra thin silicon pane one meter square required about 26 hours and that defined the speed of the assembly line. Feeder robots set up the framework and supplied the raw silicon at the start, while at the other end, assembly robots packed the panes in the modules ready to launch. The mass of each module would be carefully measured to control the power applied to the rail gun magnets and the resulting speed. The humans spent their time setting up new lines, maintaining the robots and mining.

I expected the celebrity aura of the colonists to fade, but it didn’t. If anything more people were watching them all the time, watching their every coming and going. Often when I got home, Anna would regale me with stories of what had happened on the moon that day, how Mrs. Chromarty complained about the moondust or some such. Edie spent some time watching with her.

There were plenty of critics too. The colonists were too slow, too cautious, too methodical. They were supposed to snap their fingers and everything would be done magically.
Those who aren’t doing the work often think they could have done the job so much better, if only …

I got home from university one day and Anna came running to me full of tears. I knelt to hold her and looked up at Edie for explanation. She was not in a much better state.

“What’s wrong? What’s happened?” I asked.

Anna just buried her face in my shoulder and cried all the harder. Edie whispered, “The moon.”

“What?” I scooped up Anna still holding her close. Side by side, Edie, Anna and I sat on the front room couch to watch the accident replayed in slow motion with overlays and commentary. Spilt oil in a cooking area had started a small fire which triggered a sprinkler system which had, for some unknown reason, been connected to vacuum not water. The doors had sealed automatically. Two adults and Ryan, the moonchild, were dead.

Anna cried herself to sleep that night. First Edie and then I sat with her until finally exhaustion took her. Those were difficult days. Anna was full of questions about heaven and angels. How do you explain mortality to a child? Worse, to a grieving child, who really just wants everything to be better? I answered all her questions and let her know I loved her. I didn’t know what else to do.

I found myself remembering dad’s metaphor. How do you explain ecological reality to a planetful of people?

The funeral on the moon became one of those iconic events. Three titanium headstones marked the final resting places of Ryan Thiessen, Jack Thiessen and Arti Singh. Anna was again full of tears, but this time she did not want to be consoled and I noticed that by suppertime she was playing quietly by herself.

Brahmaputra had been relatively silent, even to UNGETF. After the funeral, they announced the mysterious error had been traced to a colour coding error in a factory in Germany. The other kitchen area was checked and found to have the same problem. Testing was being modified. Investigations were continuing.

Homilies were said about the dangers of working in space and the work continued. We couldn’t let anything stop us.

The company pushed on. Brahmaputra sent another three astronaut workers to the moon. Aman Singh chose to return to Earth. Emily Thiessen chose to remain on the moon. “My loss does not mean Earth is not still in danger,” she said.

Shortly afterwards, Carillon sent the first humans to L1 to finish setting up the command and control centre. Soon they would begin catching modules.


Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor

For further information, see
A Gentle Introduction.

If you want a copy, see
The Deal.

Last modified September 10, 2013

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