February 15, 2021– International Space Station 5 AM, UTC
The crew was at ease; the pinging sounds had stopped. The last time it had occurred was ten days ago. Victoria wrote it off as an anomaly, likely it was what they had suspected, recording it in her logs but then gave it no more attention.
Jennifer was glad the crew had let it go, not realizing that Victoria and Kendra had also heard the sounds. Now that she’d gotten the signal to proceed, she needed to get with Jeff. Jennifer was getting excited about her mission.
“Jeff, could I speak with you for a moment?” Jennifer asked as she was crossing the lab closer towards him.
“Sure, what’s up, Jennifer?”
“If this is too personal, please tell me. I know you are not married, but are you seeing anyone at the moment?”
Knowing where this conversation would head, Jeff smiled to himself. “I’m not actually, but you do know we are encouraged not to fraternize while on an expedition,” he said, looking at her intently. “But aren’t you married?”
“Well, yes, but I was hoping that we could talk about it. You see, I’m actually in a poly-amorous relationship. My husband is fine with my extracurricular activities; I was hoping that you might be too. Since we can’t actually “do” anything while we’re on the station, how about we consider it like “pre-dating? What do you think?” Jennifer was hopeful that he would say yes. He just had to, otherwise everything would be nothing.
“Hmmm. I did not know that! And I’d be okay with that because if I’m honest, I’ve never objected to this kind of arrangement, but I’ve never had the opportunity either,” Jeff said with a big smile, looking forward to the next few months.
Jennifer smiled back. The web had been woven.
April 18, 2021– International Space Station 3 PM, UTC
This closed-off environment of the station was perfect for Jennifer and Jeff’s relationship to blossom. The work kept them together most of the day, helping to create an almost symbiotic connection. It was the perfect situation for their relationship to grow. Things were going along smoothly, much better than Jennifer had anticipated. Jeff was definitely on the hook for her! Surprisingly, he decided to break protocol by having sex in Jennifer’s quarters, a considerable risk. The plan was going faster than she had anticipated. Thank goodness for cloaking technology!
June 23, 2021– International Space Station 11 AM, UTC
“Houston, we’re ready to disembark. Heading home now,” Victoria said, transmitting the last message before leaving the ISS. The rest of the crew stood by for the next instructions.
“Copy that, Eddleston. We’re looking forward to having you back safely.”
June 23, 2021 – Pensacola, FL Earth 3 PM, EST
“Expedition 64 – The Artemis Generation of astronauts have successfully splashed down off the coast of Pensacola,” read the banner breaking through the show Jennifer’s husband, Terence, was watching. He smiled, knowing they would soon add another alien baby to their family.
Thanks so much for your participation! 🙂 See you next month!
The pinging sound was almost rhythmic, seemingly waiting for an answer. But the crew were not sure how to respond. They needed a better understanding of what they were dealing with. Jeff and Sue were concerned, Jennifer, not so much.
“I don’t think this is something creepy,” said Jennifer in response to Jeff’s inquiry. “Why would you immediately go there?”
“Because it’s not something you would normally hear out in space!” he responded very quickly.
“We both know that strange things happen here because things are different from Earth, but they don’t always equate to being truly strange or unexplainable,” Jennifer responded. Jeff thought she perhaps sounded like the most level-headed of the bunch as he and Sue were just about to go ballistic with their assumptions.
“But maybe it’s unusual enough that we should make Victoria or Kendra aware of what is going on, or? At the very least, we should let Kendra know what we are dealing with something out of the norm if we don’t want to alert Victoria yet?” Sue said, looking to Kendra and Jeff for some guidance.
“I agree,” Jeff echoed Sue’s sentiments. “I think we need to let either one of them know immediately what we have experienced! This and any expedition is important, and any detail of it needs to be shared! If we don’t want to drag Victoria into this, at the very least, we should inform Kendra.”
“But it’s stopped,” said Jennifer. She looked at everyone earnestly, almost beckoning that they stop getting excited about it. “Do any of you still hear any pinging?”
Sue and Jeff strained to hear anything out of the ordinary, but nothing presented itself. They looked at Jennifer, and then, one after the other, each resigned to keep their mouths quiet for the time being. They reasoned to themselves it was probably errant pieces of space particles that had hit the ship—nothing out of the ordinary.
After they each decided to keep their opinions to themselves, they resumed their tasks for the day. After that, nothing out of the ordinary occurred again. Either that day or in the next week to give them any sense to be alarmed. Their experience was forgotten. At least for the moment.
February 5, 2021– International Space Station 9 PM, UTC
Victoria heard a strange pinging sound on the metal exterior of her cabin. WTH? Kendra heard it too, but the rest of the crew was asleep, seemingly not aware of it.
Kendra moved towards the central capsule, trying to determine where the sound was originating. Victoria met her halfway there.
“I guess you heard the pinging sound too?” Victoria asked Kendra.
“Yeah, kinda odd since I’ve not ever heard it before,” Kendra replied. “You and I’ve had never encountered this on our previous two expeditions. Do you think it’s strange?”
“It might be, but you never know what it could be,” said Kendra, looking just a tiny bit concerned.
“My first thought, could it be larger particles of space debris slamming into the station?”
Victoria looked at Kendra to acknowledge her thoughts, but the feeling she transmitted was a lot stronger than a little bit of concern.
TO BE CONTINUED ON FRIDAY…
Hello Readers – Now it’s your turn! Please cast your vote for the type of ending you would like to see in the comments below. Please try to have your choice noted by 5PM CST. Here are your ending choices this week:
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The crew breathed a bit easier, unwound a bit, and took a much-needed rest after successfully docking and establishing communications with Houston. Taking in the sights out of the windows left the crew feeling exhilarated but also humbled. It was a feeling of being insignificant but on top of the world at the same time.
Victoria Eddleston was the Commander of Expedition 64 and the oldest female astronaut on the ISS with her 62 years, only slightly noticeable because of her graying hair. It was her third mission, but the first time in charge of the crew. “Let’s check-in everyone,” Victoria requested of her team.
“Lakeland here. Secondary systems check will commence in an hour,” Kendra Lakeland, Pilot of the expedition, answered first. They’d worked together as a team for many years. Both equally excited to be heading up this mission.
“Stanton. Mission specs in review, tasks scheduled,” answered Jeff, Lead Mission Specialist. Expedition 64 was his second for NASA. He knew what to expect at the station but was quite pleased to see some of the upgrades since his last one.
“Mission Specialist Botel here,” said quietly. A little too softly for Victoria’s taste, a small red flag went up internally.
“Mission Specialist Cummings glad to be at the ISS,” Sue said with a smile. “I appreciate having you all on board supporting the exciting research we’ll be doing!” Victoria and Kendra eyeballed each other and by thought-waves transmitted – We’ve got an excited one! Smiling, they understood each other so well.
“Last but not least, Payload Specialist Fitzgerald at your service, Commander,” said Carol. “I’ve got all the research items organized and look forward to working this mission with you all.”
“Excellent, everyone. Let’s get to work,” Victoria signed off the station coms to address the tasks on her list.
The ISS, orbiting at the distance of 400 kilometres above the Earth, relied on two satellites for communication with Houston – one in White Sands, NM, and the other in Guam. Victoria began her transmission to Earth as the mental note she’d made herself reared up in her mind. She wondered whether she should mention it to ground control. Victoria decided against it for now.
“Yes, Houston, required check-ins complete. Research and assigned testing have begun. All crew members comprehend the necessary tasks.”
“Very good, Eddleston. Houston out.”
January 28, 2021 – International Space Station 1 PM, UTC
The Mission Specialists – Jennifer Botel, Sue Cummings, and Jeff Stanton, situated in the Destiny laboratory, busily carrying out the necessary experiments, occasionally glance out of the nearest window.
“I’ll never get over how wild this ride is. I mean, no one who hasn’t been up here, would understand what it’s like to travel 18,000 MPH. Even for me knowing to expect, it blows my mind,” Sue said excitedly. “It’s just so fascinating that we orbit the Earth every 90 minutes.”
“Yeah, it is wild that we have 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets in a day,” Jennifer responded dryly while concentrating on her task. Jeff and Sue were shocked that she said something as she was usually so quiet.
A loud ping sound that repeated a few times distracted them. They all looked at each other; Jeff spoke up first, “Did you hear that?”
January 23, 2021 – International Space Station 6 PM, UTC
The liftoff for the expedition was uneventful, but it took a lot longer to reach the space station than they expected. Some missions in the past had worked out well, other times they didn’t. When the object you’re trying to reach is traveling 17,000 miles per hour in a circular orbit around Earth, well, it’s not as easy as people think to dock quickly and safely. It takes skill. And fortunately, there were five exceptional women on board to make that happen as smoothly as possible. Jeff Stanton was no slouch, but even he was impressed with women’s expertise on this expedition. He was eager to learn from them.
To successfully dock with the ISS, they must conduct what is known as a Hohmann Transfer. This orbital maneuver, invented by a German scientist – Walter Hohmann – in 1925, transfers a satellite or spacecraft from one circular orbit to another. Thankfully, he discovered this fuel-efficient way to get from one circular orbit to another circular orbit. But it’s a relatively slow process. It is why it took the crew of Expedition 64 a little over 24 hours to be lined up correctly with the ISS. Time spent maneuvering aside; it was still a fine example of excellent fieldwork for these astronauts. Houston was proud to announce they had attached and were ready to depart their craft onto the ISS the day after liftoff.
They were a day into their mission, exhausted but running on adrenaline. These astronauts trained hard to be here, so they weren’t about to let a little fatigue slow them down. They pressed on until all were safe aboard the station. After all the necessary mechanical checks and safety protocols had been completed, each astronaut began to acclimate to their quarters. Each personal space, as they expected, was cramped. The two laptops installed in each space helped the crew stay informed with each other, but also monitored the onboard controls, which were taking constant readings. It kept them on task with their specifically assigned mission jobs. Also, one was a personal computer to check email and to make phone calls to Earth. It allowed them to stay connected to their lives.
Each astronaut is considered a valuable asset to the ISS. The research they do goes well beyond just space travel and learning how to function in space. Some of the research has included studies on cancer and Parkinson’s Disease, 3D printing, recycling in space, the effects of zero-gravity on the body, and as far-fetched as bringing a virtual zoo of organisms to see how they fared in the environment of the space station. The knowledge gained on all these expeditions has been incredibly valuable for the world.
NASA, along with its allies and partners from other countries, have executed the testing and research with excellence. And it has benefited the human species 100-fold. Even with the costs exceeding 100 Billion since 1994, it’s proven valuable with the number of medical discoveries, the ability to develop new engineering capabilities, and the overall insight gained about our world. It’s had an incredible impact on our knowledge base.
And not just the human species has gained from the presence of this long tube with solar panel wings and restrictive quarters.
Those applying for positions in the current space program would explore and conduct experiments where humans have never been: the lunar South Pole. They are called the Artemis Generation astronauts. With NASA’s plans for the future of exploration, new astronauts would fly farther into space than ever before on lunar missions and possibly be the first humans to fly on to Mars.
The International Space Station, built by multiple nations, is the largest single structure humans ever put into space. It was completed in 2011, and the station continually evolves to include new missions and experiments and has been occupied by three to six astronauts on each expedition since 2000.
It was exciting to realize the International Space Station would likely fill with more females than males at some point in history, something in the making for many years. Men got edged out as more and more female candidates flooded the STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. Even more importantly, the women also started outperforming their fellow male candidates on entrance tests, showing better adaptability to harsh environments by passing the NASA long-duration flight astronaut physical in higher degrees. The female candidates also seemed to possess better emotional stamina than the male candidates and had equal, if not better, skills in leadership, teamwork, and communications.
All the candidates, male and female, reported for training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and spent two years learning necessary astronaut skills like spacewalking, operating the space station, flying T-38 jet planes, and controlling a robotic arm. Once they had successfully passed this training, it was on to the Space Station. Those accepted were a small fraction of the class but were the top of their class. And for the first time in history, the ratio of women was higher than the men. Out of the six qualified astronauts to board the ISS, five of them were women. It was groundbreaking to witness.
The new astronauts – Victoria Eddleston, Jennifer Botel, Kendra Lakeland, Sue Cummings, Carol Fitzgerald, and Jeff Stanton – the team considered Expedition 64, was scheduled to depart on their first mission on January 22, 2021. It was the first time there would only be American astronauts at the ISS probably because the other nations wanted the USA to iron out a predominantly female crew’s logistics, problem-solving them before the other countries sent in their top females. America was happy to do that. After all, it was history in the making. This country always did like being at Number One.
The crew of Expedition 64 were excited for their take-off date as they got their affairs in order at home. All those with families spent as much quality as possible, knowing they wouldn’t see them for at least six months. There were two – Victoria and Jeff – not married and also didn’t have any children. But even for them, they got in as much time with their friends knowing it would be a long six months of hard work and no play.
Life knows how to adapt when its environment preys on it. Survival is the by-product of encoded genetic material forcing nature to continue but also to thrive and even rise above within their given circumstances.
For what reason does life have a built-in switch to influence continuation of a species though? Where does this desire to continue on and evolve come from?
The reason is a mystery; one that has long been pondered since the beginning of existence. We can consciously think of these things now more than ever. Not that we have any answers yet as to why we exist and for what purpose.
So many smart people can write book after book and provide research to explain all the things we have learned. It’s a never-ending mountain of information that details so much of what was unknown before. It’s beyond comprehension for some, inspiring to others to know even more.
And yet, no answer for what the purpose of existence even is.
But in the end, does it even matter? Animals and insects will be guided somewhat by instinct, vegetation continually seeking to fulfill what has driven them for millennia – to not wither and die. Humans will continue to exist the best way they know how. Influences in life will force them to decide what that life will look like; it’s their choice.
Nature consciously decided to be here, and we’ll probably never know the answer why.