Sunday, May 2, 2010

Entering Jupiter

Note: Please be kind. This was the first short story I ever wrote, way back in 1989 when I was a Sophomore in college. I wrote this one as a paper for an astronomy class. Think I got a B on it.

"All systems check out okay. Begin countdown ..."

10 ... 9 ... 8 ... 7 ... 6 ... 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

The two smaller thrusters came on and began to slowly pull the space shuttle out of its docking bay. The shuttle finally escaped the bay and began to rotate towards Jupiter. When it was in place, the two larger aft thrusters came to life and sped the shuttle towards the planet.

The one-man shuttle, known as the Galileo, would be the first manned space mission to enter the atmosphere of Jupiter. The sole astronaut on board was a 36-year-old American named Howard Simmons.

Simmons was extremely nervous, as an person in his place obviously would be ... should be. He was going to enter the atmosphere of one of the most deadly planets in the solar system.

There had been several probes sent into Jupiter's atmosphere but very few of them survived long enough to return with samples. The new model space shuttle which Simmons piloted had a built-in energy shield which was supposed to protect the shuttle for up to three hours. Of course the shield had been tested but it had never actually been tested on Jupiter yet. The scientists at NASA had told Simmons that he had nothing to worry about. They were sure the shield would hold up. But there was still a chance that something could go wrong and the shield would not work. Simmons reflected on all of this as he thruttled the shuttle into a quicker speed.

He reached over to his left and turned on a recorder which was used to record information on the atmosphere and on Simmons' personal thoughts about the mission. Simmons was glad the recorder was on; now he would have something to keep his mind preoccupied.

"This is Colonel Howard Simmons of the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The date is February 18, 2114," he said into the recorder.

"At this moment I am about 50,000 kilometers from the northern pole of Jupiter. The scientists at NASA figured that I would stand a better chance of entering Jupiter's atmosphere if I entered at one of the poles. This is because there is less movement in the zonal winds at the poles. Also, there is a better chance of me finding a low pressure system to enter in the northern pole." Simmons turned and looked out a window of the shuttle to see how far away the space station was. He felt that the station was too far away for his comfort even though he had only left it a few minutes ago. He took a few computer readings then continued to speak into the recorder, "The shuttle's sensors pick up a large low pressure system about 250 kilometers east of the north pole. If everything goes as planned I will try to enter at that spot. I will now turn the recorder off until I am ready to enter the atmosphere. He turned the recorder off. It would be a few hours before the shuttle would reach the atmosphere so he decided to take a short rest. In a few seconds he was asleep.

He was dreaming of his early days in the NASA academy and a young blonde he had known then. What was her name? Suddenly he was awakened by a klaxon above his head. Damn noise, he thought and reached up to turn the siren off. It was only a few minutes before it was time to enter Jupiter's atmosphere.

He took a quick sensor reading and turned the recorder back on. "This is Colonel Simmons again. It has been approximately three hours since my last message. I am now preparing to enter Jupiter's atmosphere at the low pressure point I mentioned earlier."

The shuttle slowly edged its way closer to the clouds of Jupiter.

"I am now beginning my count down to penetration of the atmosphere. 10 ... 9 ... 8 ... 7 ... 6 ... 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ..."

The large aft thrusters again came to life and rocketed the shuttle toward Jupiter's troposhere.

"I am now switching on the protective energy shield."

Simmons could feel his heart race. Now would be the ultimate test of the new energy shield. He waited ... seconds passed which felt like hours. My God, he thought, what if the shield does not work? Well, I'll know any second now whether it will work or not. I'll either be dead or alive.

A few more seconds passed. Then ... the shuttle was inside the first layer of Jupiter's atmosphere. Seconds later it was in the second layer, then the third and finally the fourth layer. Simmons cut off the engines and let the shuttle hover.

He leaned towards the recorder and began to speak again. "I am now at a depth of 69.7 kilometers into the atmosphere. This is the supposed fourth level of atmosphere. Sensors read high amounts of ammonium hydrosulfide, so this must the the fourth level. Also the sensors read an atmosphere made up of 89 perecent Hydrogen, 10.5 percent Heliums and .5 percent of various other elements. There seems to be evidence of ammonia, water and methane. The pressure reading is 3.7 atm. For some reason the pressure and the amount of Hydrogen are slightly higher than expected at this level. I have yet to see any evidence of lightning which was expected."

Simmons took a few more scanner readings and turned the thrusters back on. He turned toward the record again. "I am now going to proceed with plan and move to a depth of 100 kilometers. I dare not go much lower. I am not sure the energy shield could withstand the pressure."

The shuttle began to descend.

Simmons watched the orange and yellow ammonia clouds slip by the shuttle.

"I thinks it's almost funny that the scientists aboard the space station want me to check for organic molecules. They actually believe there may be life existing in this huge ball of gas. The temperature reading I'm getting is about 250 degrees Kelvin. I don't think any type of life could exist here at that temperature."

Simmons looked at the scanners again, somewhat surprised.

"I'm picking up some kind of exaggerated movement about 20 kilometers to my left. I expect it is just a small wind vortex of something but I'm going to check it out." He turned the shuttle left and headed in that direction. A few seconds later he slowed the shuttle down.

"I have now reached the point of movement but the sensors are not picking up anything. It must have been a mini-vortex. I'll go back and proceed with the original plan. I think that at a depth of 100 kilometers I should find traces of Hydrosulfide."

Out of the corner of his eye Simmons saw the enormous fishlike tail swinging towards the shuttle.

"Oh my GÐ" was all he got out before the impact.

As soon as the shuttle was hit the thrusters went dead and the energy shield was cut off. The shuttle immediately began plummeting deeper into Jupiter's atmosphere. The last thought Colonel Howard Simmons had in the two seconds before his shuttle imploded was "Hmm, maybe life does exist in Jupiter."

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