Per Ardua Ad Astra
Chapter 4: Epsilon Eridani
Copyright© 2013 by normist
Our next test was going to be a trip to Epsilon Eridani. We expected the trip to take about seven days. Allowing three weeks to examine the star system, we decide to provision the Enterprise with fresh food for two months. In the event of a problem arising, there were emergency rations for a further month. If we did not use them, they would keep for months if not years.
Two other supplies that needed recycling are air and water. My sailing friends who were submariners were not much use as they desalinate sea water. They also made cockamamie suggestions like photon torpedoes and a periscope. However, they also suggested that I should install specimen handling equipment. That was their one suggestion that I nearly did adopt.
I struck it lucky when I consulted a fellow amateur astronomer who worked for NASA. He described a process which was being developed and I managed to borrow a prototype recycler from the manufacturers for 'testing'. It used power and water to produce oxygen and hydrogen by hydrolysis. The hydrogen and exhaled carbon dioxide is converted, using the Sabatier reaction, into methane and water. Additional hydrogen is needed for this process, which is obtained by pyrolyzing the methane just leaving pyrolytic graphite as a waste product.
Recycling domestic water on the Space Station is a well-tried process. In addition, we had a two hundred gallon LOX and water tanks in the aft section. It required a lot of insulation, but insulation itself is light in weight ... bulky, but light.
We had heard from Adam Saunders that the patent application was making good progress. There could not have been too many patents on space drives, particularly those that are faster than light.
At last, the day of our departure arrived. Our crew had been augmented by two of our Marine mechanics and Lieutenant Groves.
We took off and hopped between planets on our way out of the solar system. This enabled us to check the performance of our navigational controls at low warp speeds. By lunch time, we were ready to set out for Epsilon Eridani. I had planned on making the trip in two hops to check our high warp speed performance. I set the drive at five hundred Cee (the speed of light) for eighty-four hours, to take us to the halfway mark.
Contrary to some beliefs the light did not vanish as we traveled faster than light. The Doppler shift ensured that we should always see something. The wavelengths of the light from our destination shortened into the ultraviolet. What we were seeing as visible light was the infrared and radio waves.
As we approached the halfway mark, we were strapped into our seats waiting to drop out of overdrive. Suddenly we experienced a jerk and a feeling of moving off at a tangent. A moment later we had dropped to a subluminal speed. I switched to our rear view telescopes attempting to see what had caused our hiccup. At first I couldn't see anything. Then on the radar screen I saw a feral asteroid or planetoid. James was over the moon that his drive had not allowed us to occupy the same space as another body and had performed exactly as he had expected.
I spent about half an hour fixing our position. Susan and Charles also made the same measurements and essentially we agreed in our observations and our calculations. Our position was where we expected to be within the limits that we had set ourselves.
The second half of our trip was almost boring by comparison. I had aimed to drop out of warp about two light weeks away from the star or at about twenty-five hundred Astronomical units. At that distance, the comet belt of the star should subtend an observable angle in the sky. We needed to be above this ecliptic by about fifty astronomical units to detect the star's planets.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that we could make out the comet belt as a faint elliptical glow.
"How do we know which side of that belt we are?" asked Susan.
"We don't," I replied. "What we do is to make a substantial movement to what we think is the same side that we're on. If the belt widens, we're right and if it appears narrower, we're wrong."
So saying, I made the move and the belt did indeed appear wider. We progressed until the belt appeared almost circular. By now we could make out the two asteroid belts of the system. We settled on a distance of seventy-five Astronomical units from the star.
Reorienting the Enterprise to point at the star, I set the computers to the planet finding mode and moved sideways across the system. It worked! The computer had picked out eleven bodies; four planets inside the inner asteroid belt, three planets between the two asteroid belts and four more between the outer asteroid belt and the comet belt.
Hopefully, one or more of the inner four planets would lie in the Goldilocks zone, where water could exist, at least some of the time, as a liquid. We decided to have a quick look at the system from the outside in.