This story is by C. W. Lewandowski and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Good morning class, for you not in my classes, I’m Ms. Georgino. Tomorrow’s field trip that we eleven will take is being brought to us by the National Space Foundation. We have a couple of days planned, and we are expecting to be near the Sun much of the time. We will be up-close to the Sun’s surface. We may even get to see a coronal mass ejection, solar flares, or sunspots.
Thanks to a revolutionary propulsion system powering our spacecraft, we will make the trip in minutes. This is the second craft of its type to be sent to the Sun.
Would anyone like to tell us why they are going with us on this trip? Yes, Kathy.”
“My sister went on the first trip and has not returned. I’m going to make sure my identical twin sister gets home.”
“They informed me we can’t take anything with us because of weight restrictions–Marisa, you have a question?”
“Does that mean we can’t take any clothes or makeup?”
“You won’t need them because we will wear specially made suits to protect us from the intense radiation from the Sun.”
“Those of you going will need to be back to board the bus taking us to the spaceport. We will spend the night after last-minute fittings and our flight briefing before the launch tomorrow. Questions?”
“Will our parents ride with us on the bus?”
“Good question, Zack. They are riding another bus. Other questions? See you at seven this evening.”
The agenda for the evening was the fittings, the briefing, and then sleep.
At 10 PM we gathered for the briefing, our coordinator entered and took a seat at the briefing table.
“Good evening, I’m Donald Hamilton, your mission coordinator. Please call me Don. I need a few minutes to cover some important items about your flight before taking questions. Your pilot and flight commander is Commander Clifford Mason, sitting to my right. If he tells you to do something, do it! You can ask questions later if time permits. He is a skilled pilot, having been to the Moon more than a dozen times and Mars a half dozen times. The other members of the team are your Teacher and classmates. We are taking fewer members on this trip because we have added a new component. It is a food replicator. It requires much of the space, and it weighs what two adults weigh. It removes the need to carry food and water. The only issue is the food is not as tasty, but it supplies the nutrition needed. We have increased the engine’s power by nearly twice the original engine to give the spacecraft enough power to escape the Sun’s gravity and bring you home. We added a high power setting to the radio to give it enough power to make contact when near the Sun. Questions.”
“Quincy, what is your question?”
“What happened to the last trip, and why hasn’t it returned? Could the same thing happen again?”
“My best explanation is your ship has enhancements to eliminate the previous ship’s issues. We believe the ship is intact, and the crew is alive. They are undoubtedly running low on supplies. We have not been able to communicate with them since they reached their targeted location. We think that they have attempted to communicate, but we can’t make out any words. We have increased the engine’s and the radio’s power to improve your chance of a timely return. If our remedies are not to your liking, you are free to remain here, but we feel we have taken steps to get you back safely. Kathy, what is your question?”
“If the first team is okay, how do you intend to get them back? My twin sister is already out there, and I would like to know we are going to get home.”
“I promise we will get you home. We believe that between the two ships, we should be able to bring both teams back. The ships can dock with each other and transfer crew and supplies between them. Your ship will relay information back to us at Mission Control, where we will work on the problems encountered. Other questions? Get some sleep.”
The launch was flawless. The new engine generates 210%, which is more than twice what the original engine could produce. The engineers expected the new engine to deliver 198% of the original engine’s power, but the price for more power came at a 250% increase in consumption rate.
It was time to contact the first ship.
“Field-trip1, this is Field-trip2, any copy?”
“Field-trip1, here, it sure is good to hear your voice.”
“Trip1, is everyone okay?”
“Everyone is alive, but we are short of supplies. We’ve been rationing.”
“Stand by Trip1, updating Control that you’re still with us. Mission Control, Field-trip2.”
“Control here, we copied your Field-trip1 contact. What is their status?”
“All alive, running low on supplies. We will help with supplies, Control.”
“Trip2, you are breaking up. Switch to high power.”
“Control, is this better? Mission Control, Trip2, do you read? Trip1, Trip2, please confirm our radio power increased?”
“Trip2, stop before you become trapped here as well.”
“Trip1, we’re reversing, but I think it is too late. By the time we’re stopped, we’ll be at your location. Did our radio output increase?”
“Trip2, no increase in output.”
“Trip1, we are going to see if the increased power our engine puts out is enough to get us away from the Sun, and then we will be back to help you.”
“God speed, Trip2, catch you on your return.”
“Kathy, come get strapped in. You’re my copilot.”
“We will be at full power soon. We will attempt our escape when at 100%, so be ready.”
“What do I do?”
“Watch what I do carefully in case you’re needed later. Power everything off except for life support to give it all to the engine. Here we go; the engine is at 100%, and we are gaining speed. Fingers crossed it works; otherwise, we’re trapped. Oh, it’s not looking good–power’s running low way too fast. The Sun is pulling us back. Well, Kathy, we failed.”
“Yeah, it looks like good-ol’ Don lied to us. What a surprise.”
“I don’t know, Kathy. I’m not sure there’s anything we can do except wait to be rescued. Of course, we’ll dock with Trip1 so that they can use our food replicator, but beyond that, I know nothing else we can do. Do you have any ideas?”
“Let’s hear em.”
“They said they were sure Trip1 got considerably further than we did in Trip2. What if we gave them part of our solar panels so they could generate more power?”
“Okay, we could do that, and it might help, but I doubt it would be enough. I also think that anyone involved in moving the panels would suffer a lethal dose of radiation. It could kill them before completion of the task.”
“If we push Trip1 with Trip2 as far away from the Sun as possible before they attempt to break free?”
“Excellent idea, Kathy, but it needs someone to pilot Trip2, and they would have to stay here.”
“So if we combine both of my ideas, we would have a pretty good chance for all except one of us to make it home.”
The Commanders discussed Kathy’s ideas and decided that even though someone would surely die while moving the solar panels to Trip1, it would be worth getting the others home. Moving the solar array would be up to Commander Mason after training someone to be the pilot if he became incapacitated.
“I need a volunteer to learn to pilot my ship as a back-up for me if I’m unable to do so after moving the solar array segment to Trip1. Before anyone volunteers, you need to know that if you’re needed to pilot my ship, it will mean you will have to remain behind. I will give you a crash course–Yes, Kathy.”
“I will be your back-up if it gets the others home. You’ve already shown me much of what I need to know to fly this ship, and it’s only fair since these are my ideas.”
When Commander Mason had trained Kathy sufficiently, he made his way out to move a set of solar panels to Trip1. His strength exhausted, he couldn’t get back to Trip2 before dying. Now Kathy piloted Trip2.
After shoehorning both teams into Trip1 and closing the hatches, Kathy piloted Trip2, pushing Trip1 as far as possible from the Sun. Releasing it to continue its climb to freedom from the Sun’s pull. A few minutes later, Field-trip1 with both teams minus Kathy was speeding back to Earth.
“Trip1, Kathy here, Vanessa; please tell Mom and Dad I love them, and I hope to get home someday. Goodbye, my sweet sister, Kathy, out.”