With Oxygen, the authors have truly woven a thought-provoking tale eliciting an appreciation of the God of science, and pure entertainment as well."
Oxygenby John B. Olson, Randy Ingermanson
Take a deep breath... it could be your last. Valkerie is tough, beautiful, and has an uncanny knack for survival. When NASA chooses her for the first mission to Mars, Valkerie is thrilled—until she learns she's displacing celebrity astronaut Josh Bennett. Bob Kaganovski, the ship's mechanic, is paid to be paranoid—and/b>
Take a deep breath... it could be your last. Valkerie is tough, beautiful, and has an uncanny knack for survival. When NASA chooses her for the first mission to Mars, Valkerie is thrilled—until she learns she's displacing celebrity astronaut Josh Bennett. Bob Kaganovski, the ship's mechanic, is paid to be paranoid—and he's good at it. After a teeth-rattling launch, Bob realizes that his paranoia hasn't prepared him for this trip. He can deal with a banged-up spaceship, but how's he going to survive the next five months with HER just a flimsy partition away? Halfway to the Red Planet, an explosion leaves the crew with only enough oxygen for one. All evidence points to sabotage—and Valkerie and Bob are the obvious suspects.Oxygen is a witty, multi-award-winning roller coaster ride, with a plot that moves at the speed of light. The authors had hoped to work in some coll controversy on science, faith, the meaning of life, the existence of God, and possibly even the Coke versus Pepsi debate, but they were having so much fun writing the story that they forgot to offend anyone.
With Oxygen, the authors have truly woven a thought-provoking tale eliciting an appreciation of the God of science, and pure entertainment as well."
Read an Excerpt
Part I: Human Factors
"Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor."
-Wernher von Braun
"For long-duration manned spaceflight, the most important consideration is not the technology of the spacecraft but the composition of the crew."
-Shannon Lucid, Ph.D., astronaut, holder of the American record for most hours in space, "Six Months on Mir," Scientific American, May 1998.
"To summarize in Star Trek terminology, what a piloted Mars mission needs are two ‘Scottys’ and two ‘Spocks.’ No ‘Kirks,’ ‘Sulus,’ or ‘McCoys’ are needed, and more importantly, neither are the berths and rations to accommodate them. We can do the mission with a crew of four."
-Robert Zubri,The Case for Mars, p. 87.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012, midnight
Valkerie woke up screaming. A viper bat clung to her face with fishhook claws, smothering her with its thin, leathery body. She tore at her face, but the creature had dug in too deep. She could already feel its venom burning into her lungs, constricting her chest in a long, convulsive cough. Struggling for control, she traced the contours of her face with tingling fingertips. Slowly, the clinging creature melted into her skin, fading back into the world of dreams.
The nightmare gradually faded, giving way to a new, more gripping terror. Valkerie was wide awake now. There was no such thing as a viper bat. But she still couldn’t breathe.
Valkerie flung herself from the camping cot and thudded to the floor. She lay on her back, gasping for breath. She was hyperventilating, but the burning inher lungs grew worse. An acrid stench filled the cabin—the smell of sulfur dioxide—SO2.
"Oh no." The volcano was venting. "Oh God, please ..." Valkerie rolled over and fought her way up onto her hands and knees. Dim red light filtered in through the cabin window, illuminating a large duffel bag in the middle of the room. She crawled slowly toward the bag, struggling through the coughs that wracked her body.
"Please, God." Squeezing her eyes shut against the pain in her cramping muscles, Valkerie inched forward until she felt the heavy canvas. She dug underneath a metallic thermal suit and pressed her breather to her face. Her lungs choked shut at the rush of acidic gas. Idiot! She flung the mask across the room. Gina-Marie had warned her about the filter, but Valkerie had insisted it would be good for one more trip.
Her mind raced. If Mount Trident was venting, the whole valley could be filled with sulfur dioxide. She had to get out of there. Fast.
Valkerie tried to stand, but the room spun out of control. She crashed onto the floor, hitting her head hard on the edge of the cot. A cloud of ringing light sparkled in her mind. Her muscles relaxed, and she gave herself to the tide of darkness that washed gently across her senses. Sleep. No more experiments. Sleep.
An image crept into her mind. A large plastic bag filled with new sample tubes. Was it still sealed? She couldn’t remember.
Groping her way forward, Valkerie swept her hands across the floor. A smooth surface crinkled at her touch. She lunged at the bag, poked a trembling finger through the heavy plastic, and pressed her lips to the hole. The air tingled in her lungs with burning sweetness.
She curled around the bag, hugging it to her body, breathing life through the ragged wound. Gradually, the needles that prickled at her consciousness started to recede, but she knew it wouldn’t last. The air in the bag was getting stale—fast.
Valkerie took one last breath and staggered to her feet. Her jeep! It was just outside. She lurched to the cabin door and pushed her way out into the night. The air hit her in the face like a blast of hot tear gas. Gagging on the foul gases, she stumbled blindly forward, clinging to consciousness.
Heaving herself into the seat of the jeep, she turned the key. The starter whirred and the engine coughed to life, but then died immediately. Idiot! Valkerie smashed her fist against the dash. The jeep couldn’t run without oxygen any more than she could.
A wave of nausea wracked Valkerie’s body. Her muscles were cramping again. She fell across the seat and reached into the glove box for her knife. Pliers. They would have to do.
Valkerie crawled out of the jeep and threw herself on the ground by the jeep’s front tire. Taking off the cap of the air valve, she crushed its metal tip with the pliers. After a few seconds of twisting and squeezing, she heard a faint hiss.
Valkerie chomped down on the rubber valve and sucked in a desperate breath. The air was black with the taste of rubber, but anything was better than SO;i2. When her lungs were full, she clamped down on the valve with the pliers. Breathe, clamp, breathe, clamp. She held each breath as long as she could before letting it out.
The tire went flat way too soon. Valkerie crawled to the next tire and repeated the process. Then the next tire and the next. After she had sucked the last ounce of air from the spare, she took off running across the clearing. The valley was rugged and wide. She knew she couldn’t make it out on foot, but if she could just get above the blanket of heavy gases she might have a chance.
Halfway across the clearing, Valkerie fell reeling to the ground. Red thunderbolts stabbed at her brain. A sparkling haze shrouded her vision as she fought her way to her feet. The heavy gases were thicker close to the ground. She had to stay upright. Walking on tiptoe, she made her way to the edge of the clearing, looking up at the night sky to keep her nostrils elevated.
Valkerie stumbled into a limbless old pine and crashed to the ground. Too dizzy to stand, she crawled on her hands and knees to a younger pine with limbs low enough to climb.
The rough branches cut her face and tore at her nightgown as she climbed. Valkerie lost her grip and fell, crashing into the branches below. She pulled herself up and kept climbing. Higher and higher through the darkness, until slowly, her head began to clear.
"Thank you. Thank you." Valkerie breathed in and out to the cadence of the simple litany that filled her mind. The sparkles in her eyes were fading. Below her feet, tendrils of mist danced in the moonlight, flowing along the envelope of the deadly gas cloud.
The valley reflected an angry red glow. Valkerie looked up at the peak that loomed above her. If the venting continued long enough, the gases might rise higher than she could climb. But that was the least of her worries.
She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around the tree, hoping Professor Henderson was wrong. His solemn voice echoed in her mind: "If it starts venting, get out. Fumarolic venting almost always presages a major eruption."
Wednesday, August 15, 2012, 9:30 a.m.
Bob Kaganovski had shampoo in his eyes when the decompression alarm went off.
He grabbed the suction hose and ran it frantically over his face and eyes. Footsteps pounded outside the shower.
"Decompression!" shouted Josh Bennett, mission commander of the Ares 10. "Get to the EVA* suits now! We’ve got about fifteen minutes."
Bob popped open the Velcroed shower door and grabbed a towel. Fear knotted his gut. Only fifteen minutes! He stepped out of the shower and swiped a towel across the soles of his feet, drying them just enough so he wouldn’t kill himself on the stairs.
He ran through a corridor to the steep circular stairway that led down to Level 1 of the Habitation Module. The decompression alarm beeped once every two seconds. The interval was keyed to cabin pressure. When it got down to vacuum, the beeps would merge into one steady drone. If he wasn’t in his suit by then, he wouldn’t hear it. For one thing, sound wouldn’t travel in a vacuum. For another, he’d be dead.
Bob slipped and slithered down the metal staircase. Josh lay on the floor, with both his legs already stuffed into the lower half of his EVA suit. Bob yanked open the door of his locker and pulled out the heavy upper half of his suit.
It fell on the floor in a heap.
"Easy!" Josh said. "Don’t panic. I’ll give you a hand—"
"I’ve got it." Bob grabbed it and heaved. Who designed this beast? Fifty years of research, and the thing still weighed over eighty pounds. Normally, somebody was supposed to help you into an Extra-Vehicular Activity suit. But in an emergency, you could do it yourself. In theory.
Bob latched the upper half of the suit to a stability rack and laid out the lower half on the floor. He grabbed a MAG—NASA-speak for a diaper—and taped it on.
The beeping of the alarm increased in tempo.
Now for the hard part, the LCG—Liquid-Cooled Garment—a Spandex pair of long johns with feet, encased in a clunky water-cooled nightmare of tubes and gizmos. Bob struggled furiously to pull it over his damp skin. Minutes passed.
Josh was almost all of the way into his suit by the time Bob got his LCG on. "How you doing with that thing?" Josh asked.
"I’m getting there." Bob wiped the sweat out of his eyes.
"We’re down to eight minutes." Josh fastened the inner connectors at his waist, then the outer ones. "Need some help before I put on my gloves?"
Bob stuck both feet into the legs of the EVA suit and pushed in. His feet slid home into the boots and he pulled the pant legs up to his waist. "Okay, give me a hand up."
"Better hurry." Josh put on his Snoopy cap and adjusted his comm mikes. "The air’s getting thinner." He pulled Bob to his feet. "Just climb up into your top. Nothing to it."
Right. Bob clumped over to his top, turned, and tried to squat. Which was almost impossible wearing the pants.
"Drop the pants," Josh said. "I need to pressurize, okay?" He pulled his helmet and gloves out of his locker.
I’m on my own now. Bob let go of the circular metal ring that ran around the belt of the pants. He squatted and tried to back in underneath the suit. Which was practically impossible for a guy almost six feet tall. Josh had it easy—he was five inches shorter and a lot more limber. Bob pushed up into the suit. The thing was the mother of all turtleneck sweaters, fifteen layers of everything from Teflon to Nomex to who-knows-what. Halfway up, his head got stuck.
His heart was hammering now, three beats for every beep of that blasted alarm. He backed down and tried again.
And got stuck again. Force it. He pushed harder. Harder.
The suit popped loose from the stability rack. He staggered forward, but the heavy pack pulled him back. He teetered, lost his balance, and fell on the suit’s backpack with his legs pinned beneath him.
Stuck! Bob tried to roll onto his side, but he couldn’t move. His head and arms were tangled inside the suit. His legs began cramping. He was trapped like a turtle on its back. Except a turtle would at least have its head out of the shell. The alarm beeped fainter, faster. Sweat poured down his face. So this is what the Apollo 13 boys felt like. Dogmeat.
Minutes passed. The beeps merged into a single tone. Quieter. Quieter.
Hysterical laughter echoed in the small room. Bob felt strong hands grab the upper half of his suit and begin tugging.
"Congratulations. You’re dead!" Josh slowly manhandled Bob out of his turtle-shell prison.
Bob opened his eyes and saw Josh with his helmet and gloves off, grinning like a maniac.
The airlock door opened and two med techs walked in. "The exercise is over," said the first one, a cute redhead with dangly earrings. "That’s six times in a row you’ve killed yourself, Bob. You’ve got the record." She and Josh helped him to his feet.
The other tech grinned. "Don’t sweat it, bro. You’re supposed to break records, right? That’s what they pay you for—to go where no man has gone before." He and Josh helped Bob step out of the lower half of his suit.
The redhead shook her head, making her earrings dance like wild men. "Okay, now let’s check you over. Any parts broken?"
"I’m fine," Bob said.
It took the techs ten minutes to peel off his Spandex underwear and MAG diaper and check him over for damage. Bob stood there, buck naked, barely noticing them. He’d been in this program too long to bat an eye at the indignity of the medigeeks’ inspections. But if he couldn’t pass the EVA drill ...
"You’re fine, Dr. Kaganovski," said the redhead. "Next time take it slower and dry off a little better." She turned to Josh. "How’s the splint on your wrist holding up?"
He shrugged. "Hey, it’s just a hairline. No sweat."
"Yeah, well, take my advice and don’t buy another motorcycle." She walked out of the room with the other tech.
"Yes, Motherrrr." Josh flexed his wrists and revved an imaginary bike. "Hey, Kaggo, you want to run another exercise before lunch?"
Bob looked at his watch. "We don’t have time. The psych test is coming up."
"Psych test?" Josh raised an eyebrow.
"At eleven," Bob said. "Didn’t you read your e-mail?"
Josh just looked at him.
"Don’t tell me you weaseled out of it." They walked out of the Hab and into the locker room. Bob went to the sink and began rinsing the last of the shampoo from his hair. "Lex and Kennedy are gonna spit bile if you’re the only one who doesn’t have to take it."
"Nobody told me anything about a psych test." Josh stepped into his street pants. "Lex is doing T–38 proficiency training this morning. And Kennedy’s running docking sims over in SES."
Bob’s heart double-thumped. He went to his street-clothes locker and began dressing. "Let me see if I’ve got this straight. The klutz of the crew has to go have a happy chat with the shrinks, while the rest of you get to play?"
"You’re not a klutz," Josh said. "You just need a little more time—"
"What do you call a guy who can’t even get dressed without hurting himself?" Bob yanked on his pants and plopped down on the bench. "Seventeen months till lift-off, and they’re getting nervous, that’s what I think. They’ve still got time to unload me, bring in someone else who knows his head from a hole in the ozone."
"Just can it, will you?" Josh sounded angry. "Listen up. You know who’s the most important guy on the crew? Read the mission architecture document. The flight engineer, that’s who. The ace mechanic. Scotty. That would be you, in case you’ve forgotten."
"Mechanics are a dime a dozen."
"Yeah, right, and monkeys can do brain surgery." Josh finished tying his shoes. "You’re the best mechanic in the Ares program. Anything goes wrong out there, it’s you who’s going to fix it, and everybody knows it. So what are you worried about?"
"Flight surgeons, that’s what. They want a change. I can smell it."
"Then blow your nose. I don’t care who wants a change. My main priority is getting to Mars and back with my crew alive. As long as I’m commander on this mission, you’re my number-one mechanic. Got it?"
"So what’s the deal with the psych test, then?" Bob jammed his feet into his shoes. "What do I tell these guys?"
"Shrinks are all alike," Josh said. "They’re afraid of a repeat of the Mir fiasco. Just figure out what they want to hear and tell it to ’em."
"Oh, right," Bob said. And what do they want to hear?
"You’ll do fine." Josh whacked Bob on the shoulder. "Believe me, you haven’t got a thing to worry about."
*A glossary of NASA terms is on page 367.
Copyright © 2001, Randall Ingermanson & John B. Olson
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.