Journey to Ariadne – Part 1: Standby
March 17, 2163
Ariadne Project Mission Control
Hellas City, Hellas Basin, Mars
A quiet alarm sounded in the mission control of the Ariadne Project and the main screen turned on.
TRANSMISSION INITIALIZED. THIS IS ENDURANCE. STANDBY. 24:00
Without looking at the screen, Ben Taylor, the system specialist working that night, turned off the alarm. He drew his thin lips downward in a frown and rolled his blue eyes. He quietly grumbled, “I hope this isn’t another false alarm.” He turned toward the main screen and stared at the message. Ben hesitated a moment before finally tapping the intercom icon on his touch screen panel. “Gianni, you better get in here,” he said briskly.
“What’s going on?” came the answer over the intercom.
“We have a message.”
“What kind of message?” There was a hint of impatience in Gianni’s voice.
“Endurance. It looks like it’s the real thing.”
“Shit. Are you kidding me? This better not be a joke.”
“No joke, Gianni. Get over here and see for yourself. It’s the standby message with the twenty-four hour countdown.”
“Got it. Be there in a moment.”
Ben looked at the screen again. TRANSMISSION INITIALIZED. THIS IS ENDURANCE. STANDBY. 24:00. It was a static message. Standby. It was giving them twenty-four hours to prepare for the deluge of surveillance information.
Gianni Marino, the night-time supervisor, strode into the room with heavy footsteps and fixed his brown eyes on the screen. His unkempt hair gave the impression that he had just woken up from a night’s sleep. He nodded at Ben and sat at the command terminal in the centre of the room, swiping the screen with his hand to unlock the security program.
”Status on the receiver?” he asked Ben.
Ben accessed the radio antenna network and called up the status report. “Fully operational. Directing all available receivers toward Beta CB.”
His eyes scanned the data as he scrolled down. “47 percent. Well within the expected range.”
“Incredible. Almost thirty light years away and we can hear it call home.” Gianni’s mouth slowly curved into a smile. “We did it, Ben! We’re going to another solar system!”
Gianni’s elation infected Ben immediately. Their ancestors’ dreams were being realised. Ben curbed his celebration before it started and went to work on the system checks.
“Data encryption key confirmed. It is Endurance. I’ll try get the signal strength above 75 percent by the time data starts coming in. I can’t guarantee it, though.”
Gianni nodded. “Next transmission will be in 48 minutes. I’ll wake up Paolo and Mari. They’ll want to see this immediately.”
* * *
Ben entered the office, a modest room with grey walls and a large white table in the centre. There were ten high-backed chairs around the table and a large view screen on the wall at one end. He saw eight other people, including Gianni, seated at the table. At the head was Paolo Fernandes, a middle-aged man with greying hair and a neatly trimmed moustache.
“Have a seat, Ben,” said Paolo.
Ben sat next to Gianni, across the table from a serious woman with her black hair tied back in a tight bun.
“I’d like to start this briefing off by thanking Ben and Gianni for their tremendous work and patience on the night shift. It paid off very well.” Paolo looked around the room at the project members that attended the meeting. “Let’s get down to business. As you all know, we have received a message from Endurance. That was three hours ago. I’m glad all of you could come on such short notice.”
Ben watched the scientists seated around the table. Some were familiar, others were not. He thought most of them must have been working on their own without coming in to the control centre.
“Please look at the screen,” said Paolo. He turned the view screen on and switched to the feed from the control room’s main screen.
TRANSMISSION INITIALIZED. THIS IS ENDURANCE. STANDBY. 21:00.
“As you can see, Endurance transmitted a standby message every hour. In twenty-one hours, we will begin receiving the main transmission from the probe, starting with an overview image of Ariadne. Then the real science begins. I’d like to turn this over to Mari Watanabe, our lead astronomer.” He smiled and sat in the chair at the head of the table.
Mari stood up and walked to the screen. Her long black hair flowed halfway down her back, barely moving as she walked. She was tall for a Japanese woman, and her fifty years didn’t show her age.
“Thank you, Paolo. I’ll briefly give you an overview of the system we are studying. Ariadne is an Earth-sized planet in the Beta Comae Berenices system, as you know.” She brought up a computer generated animation of the system on the view screen. “It’s the fourth planet in the system, which has a total of ten known planets. The planet is estimated to be slightly larger than the Earth, and it has an orbital period of 348 Earth days. The star is a G0 V type star, meaning it’s slightly cooler than the sun. It’s also slightly smaller and about three billion years old. It’s 29.78 light years from our sun, so the data we will see is nearly thirty years old. A moon is suspected for Ariadne, but hasn’t been confirmed. Based on infrared data and expected cooling rate, it’s estimated that it has a rotational period of roughly twenty-five hours.”
Paolo nodded at Mari and said, “Thank you, Mari. Next, I’d like our lead geologist, William de Boer, to speak.”
William, a short balding man with brown hair and a thin face, remained seated. “Thank you. I’ll be very brief, as we don’t have much data on the geology of the planet. However, with spectroscopic data, we have ascertained that Ariadne is geologically active. There is evidence of volcanic activity based on occasional changes in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Other than that, I can’t give you much information until we see the planet.”
“And now, let’s hear from our lead meteorologist, Jean Fourier.”
Ben noted that Jean had a permanent smirk on his face. He was a man in his thirties with a little added weight around his waist and dirty blond hair.
“We have a lot of information about the atmosphere of Ariadne. As you all know, we chose this planet because of the spectroscopic data that showed a very Earth-like nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere. The oxygen level is slightly higher than the Earth’s. The average temperature is also similar to Earth, at 15.5 degrees Celsius. There’s a significant amount of water vapour in the atmosphere indicating a water cycle. The carbon dioxide level is also similar to Earth with occasional changes suggesting active volcanoes, as William mentioned.”
“Thank you, Jean,” said Paolo. “Next, let’s hear from our lead botanist, Malika Said.”
Across from Ben, Malika smiled at Paolo. She had black hair tied in a bun and olive skin that hinted at her middle eastern heritage. “Since we don’t have much to go on at the moment, all I can say is that Ariadne most likely has green plants. And judging from the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, there are definitely plants. As for animals, I’ll leave that for someone else.”
“Thank you, Malika. We’ll soon get a chance to see if you’re right.” The tension in the room had eased a bit since the time Ben entered the room. He realised that everyone was relaxing a bit more. “And now, let’s hear from the lead biologist, Gary Fitzsimmons.”
Gary was a short man with round features. His nose was short and he had full lips and large earlobes on his spherical face. “Thanks, Paolo. My task today is simple, since it hasn’t even started. I can’t even begin to say if there are animals or not. I hope so. Ariadne is only three billion years old. Considering that it has an earthlike atmosphere, there has been ample time for plants to provide oxygen to the atmosphere. I have no idea how fast evolution happens on other planets. We’ll see soon.”
“I hope that will be within the next month, Gary. Finally, we have our lead oceanographer, Carol Parent.”
Carol nodded at Paolo. Ben saw the openness in her smile. She was a tall blonde woman with short hair and large teeth. Ben thought it was an odd combination.
“Thank you,” she began with her Australian accent. “While we don’t have good direct images of Ariadne yet, I believe that the evidence points to a wet world, as was mentioned before. It has a water cycle, based on the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere. How much is the question we need to answer. “
“Great, thank you, Carol,” said Paolo. He looked around at the members of the project as he spoke. “We will see an image of Ariadne in the first transmission from Endurance after standby. We’ll know immediately how much ocean there is, what kind of cloud cover it has, and we’ll be able to see the green of plant life. I hope you’re all as excited about this as I am.” He paused as the others nodded in agreement. “So, we will follow the directives of the project founders as best as we can. Once we see the first image and ascertain the planet’s habitability, I will officially become the first Governor of Ariadne. Any objections?”
Ben looked around the room and observed the approving smiles of the team members.
“You have our support, Paolo,” said Mari.
“Agreed,” said William as he nodded.
Paolo smiled at everyone and said, “Well, let’s get to work. We have many months of hard work to do and a new society to create.”
A new society and a new world. Ben felt privileged to be present at the very beginning.