CELEBRITY STATUS

We’re so focused on our daily jobs at maintaining the ship’s functions that we don’t get a sense of how people back on Earth are reacting to us. We’re used to Bambi (and to a lesser extent Dave and Oscar-nominated Ming) being our resident celebrities, but the rest of us have always kept a low profile. (In the case of Samantha and her genetics research, time-traveling Maria and Remora the mermaid that was by design.)
Now things have changed, even for the children. Every action of ours is beamed back home for a waiting world that’s become obsessed with us. True to form, that’s including betting.
On a week when the Supreme Court allowed sports wagering, humanity has already been placing bets on the kids’ board games. Clay and Candide, competitive since birth, have always been evenly matched so their outcomes are perfect for that purpose.
Now we have to make sure the dodos don’t try to influence the results.

BEEP BEEP

Back in February when SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, we weren’t exactly disinterested observers. Much of the preparation for our Mars mission was spurred by the race to get to Mars before Elon Musk did. At the time of our launch we’d assumed we’d won handily.
That’s why we were stunned when that rocket’s payload overtook our ship. Of course the Tesla Roadster isn’t an actual spaceship; there’s no propulsion, navigation system or life support, and carries nothing but a mannequin. Our main concern was making sure we weren’t damaged by a collision.
Then the word came from the Fastrack CEO Rose Trellis to bring it into the ship. Dave and Thomas used their skills from our supply pick-ups to successfully capture it. Then we were told to steal its tires and put it “up on blocks.” (The “cinder blocks” were created by our 3D printer.)
The vehicle was jettisoned, and we set back lots of pictures. Ms. Trellis really hates being upstaged.

TOOTH FAIRY

With growing young children on board, it was inevitable they would lose some teeth during the course of the voyage. Even so, with all the planning that went into the mission that fact escaped notice until it actually occurred.
Of course it had to be the ultra-competitive Clay and Candide vying to be the first on that count. It took a week, but ultimately Clay won. Candide lost her tooth two days later.
The big issue was the coinage. We have no currency on the ship except for Jenny’s penny, and Samantha forbid counterfeiting with the 3D printer. (And no, cryptocurrency was a non-starter.) Jenny, mom that she is, allowed the penny to be shared by the children. You have to know her to know what a sacrifice she made.
After the earlier drama with Luis, we’re thankful that this was the major issue we faced this week.

CLOSE CALL

It’s been several days, but it’s taken that long for our breathing to return to normal and our pulse rates to level off. We almost lost Luis.
That’s only now begun to sink in. During a routine repair job, a zillion-to-one chance occurred when a bit of space debris cut the safety tether holding him to the ship. (Of course, if it had hit him or Ming, it would have been instantly fatal. Space is dangerous.)
It was bad enough as it was, as he had just pushed off from the ship’s exterior. The small thrusters on his suit were enough to halt his momentum and stop him from drifting off, but they were exhausted while he was still inches away from Ming’s desperate reach. Inside the ship all we could do was watch in horror.
It was little Candide who saved her father. Earlier he’d made an offhand remark comparing the task to changing a tire, and she took that literally. She used the 3D printer to create a tire iron and inserted it into his suit pocket before he entered the airlock.
We’re all shaken, and not just for Luis, Jenny and Candide. Simply put, as Chief Engineer, Luis is irreplaceable. Without him, none of us would survive this mission.
If there was something out there trying to do us harm, it picked the perfect way to do it.

THE PAIN, THE PAIN…

Out here we’re really isolated from pop culture (although the creators of “Black Panther” did transmit a digital file just for us). Other than that we’re limited by the entertainment we’ve brought with us.
That includes a vast selection of old TV shows and movies, curated by Ming. She’s hardly a film snob, and has excellent taste in escapist viewing. (That said, she also has Bergman, Fellini, Kubrick and other giants.) She went heavy on comedies, historical epics and tales of inspiration. She knows her audience, and her role in maintaining morale.
The kids discovered the 1960s series “Lost in Space,” which had obvious appeal. First, it’s pitched on their level, and second, it features a family on a space mission bedeviled by an annoying stowaway. We have more families on board, but double the stowaways. That show’s stowaway was whiney, self-centered, pompous, vain and contributed nothing of value to the mission. (At least one of our dodos gives eggs, so there’s that.)
We just found out that a new version of the show starts this week, but we won’t see it until we return to Earth.

EGG HUNT

We came prepared to stage an Easter egg hunt for the kids. We launched prepackaged plastic eggs locked in one of the ship’s frozen storage containers, with chocolates inside. After the children went to bed and the lights dimmed, we hid them around the ship; most in the simulated gravity section, but also a few floating in the central hub as well.
Clay and Candide were competitive, as usual. While Leo and Marlon took a laid-back approach to the proceedings, owing to their being older and presumably in on the truth, the other two took it as a life-and-death issue. And once again, they tied. They were so focused on the outcome that they never questioned the ability of the Easter Bunny to traverse time and space.
I can’t fault the kids for interpersonal issues, since I’m guilty of that myself. I bristled at Jenny when she insinuated that my monitoring of cosmic radiation might not be accurate due to me being in my suit. Longtime readers may remember that Jenny and I dated in our teens, and her self-centeredness was a problem. She’s matured since then, but still. Old wounds…

DEFENSE CONTRACTOR

It’s easy to forget that the amiable son of the ship’s doctor Maria is actually the time-traveling Leonardo da Vinci, age 9. He doesn’t make a show of his future genius; he just likes to draw a lot, and build models.
Sometimes we’re reminded of his future, though, such as in the days after the opening on the Martian surface was discovered. The other kids in particular, steeped in the popular culture of hostile aliens, were concerned that we have no weapons on board in case we have to defend ourselves. So, they asked Leo.
He came up with a clever device made from a backup solar panel, but in truth he was probably the wrong one to ask. In short, none of the weapons he’ll design as an adult will work. His tank, his 33-barrel machine gun, his 25-meter long crossbow…none were ever built, and even if they were, they all had built-in flaws that rendered them useless. Leo insists that will be intentional. Their true purpose was to impress dim-witted leaders with their size and promise of power, without actually killing anybody.
If true, history shows they worked.

ACE IN THE HOLE

Mars continues to throw unexpected surprises our way, and we’re not even halfway there. Our unmanned probes orbiting the planet are viewing the area where the something has collected the wreckage of previous missions that failed, and in doing so they found a small circular opening.
Curiouser and curiouser.
The “Lost” fans onboard call it a hatch, but that’s wrong. There’s nothing covering it. It’s just…a hole. It’s small, but it’s definitely artificial. Something created it for a purpose. Once we land we’ll first make sure it’s safe by lowering one of Ming’s cameras (and lighting equipment) into its depths as far as it will go. If nothing looks threatening, the dodos will go next. It’s time they earned their keep.
Samantha agreed to their contractual demands, which was a no-brainer. If they come back they’ll deserve their reward. If they don’t…Well, they shouldn’t have stowed away in the first place.

FIRST CONTACT

Of course we’d all hoped for an uneventful nine-month voyage to Mars, but that went away when we discovered the dodo stowaways and then Samantha’s pregnancy. Even with those surprises, we’d finally achieved a routine after two months of flight.
Just as we were celebrating the success of Bambi’s song, we got the news that something was going on the surface of Mars. Special props go to the space program of India who in 2013 launched the Mars orbiter Mangalyaan that detected the surface anomaly. Samantha is cautioning against the assumption that life is waiting for us, but it’s now on everyone’s mind. We won’t be landing on a dead, barren rock.
And no, it doesn’t mean we’ll find life. But something has definitely piled all of Earth’s failed landing attempts into a single pile, transporting them across vast terrain. Even more puzzling, they’ve left our successful missions alone to do their work.
So what now? Aside from a change of destination, nothing. We’re still on the way, only now we can anticipate a welcome party…of some sort.

SOUNDS IN SPACE

Ever since we launched, Bambi has been songwriting. Sure, she could have gone into space with a whole backlog of material to record, but she preferred input from an experience that no other professional musician had previously observed.
Let me state that she has other duties onboard. While she has no specific technical skills, she’s good at minor tasks that free up Samantha, Luis and me for the major stuff. For an International Superstar she has very little ego. Of course, part of that is that we’ve known her since high school and have supported her throughout her career, including the rough patches.
For her first singing effort Bambi chose to focus on Samantha’s pregnancy, which made Samantha both honored and slightly embarrassed. Bambi made a demo with the tracks created on her laptop, and played it for the crew. Everyone gathered to play it on their individual instruments, and after a few practice sessions (built in the mission schedule) we were all satisfied. From then on we recorded our tracks separately and sent the digital files to Earth. The master was put together for release.