Chapter 14 of Arlo (science fiction)

Additional chapters are available in the blog archives.  This is a first draft for your enjoyment.  Doc.  Meanwhile, be sure to get your copy of books 1-4 of the Demeter series available on Amazon.*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Chapter 14  Crewcut

“I don’t know who has the worse job,” Justin complained

Dr. Blake Hilst laughed, “Obviously you have the worst job,” he laughed.  I’m off to outer space, while you’re stuck here on Earth with Marshall interviewing technicians, cooks, botanists, hydrologists, and … miners.”

“And you’re going to be floating around avoiding space junk, cosmic rays, and trying to put the round peg into the square hole.  You’ll devolve into a jellyfish in about six months.”

“Hardly!  I’ll have the spin on the system at one quarter EN within two weeks if all goes well.”

“Stop talking acronyms!”

“Okay, one quarter Earth normal gravity on the spin within two weeks, three at the outside.”

“Why so low?” his friend queried.

“We’ll still be under construction for six months.  It’s easier to move equipment around and bring in additional supplies at a slower spin.  The last thing we need is to have a supply ship ram into the LSE.”

Justin scowled at his friend.

“Okay, Life Support Environment.  Happy?”

“Doctor Hilst, you need to get ready,” a technician advised.

Blake turned and moved toward the prep building where he would suit up for launch.

Justin stared after his friend with mixed emotions:  Fear?  Excitement?   Loss?  He and Blake had been close friends for so long, just watching Blake walk away left an empty aching sensation.

As Blake was about to disappear into the building on the tarmac, he turned and waved.

Hope this one goes better than the last launch, Justin waved back.

Forty eight launches had gone without a hitch.  Forty eight loads of segments of a space ship were drifting about like tinker toys.  4.8 million pounds of puzzle pieces were waiting to be assembled.  If the craft had been built of the same materials it equated to twenty nine space shuttles.  But with the plastics and other lightweight materials it would be enough to assemble the framework that was over three kilometers square.  The only fully enclosed area of the ship was the life support environment or hub of the system.  It also framed in a manner that the entire life support unit would eventually have a 360 degree spin that would be totally separate of their thrust systems and mining operation.

Salt Industries had spent over 2.5 billion dollars just launching the equipment, with more to come.  There were still thirty more equipment launches before they even began to put in the supplies for the trip.  The 49th launch, which was mostly piping for the outer rim had exploded on take-off.  The private launch firm they had contracted to lift the load, bore fifty percent of the cost of the shipment.  But it still had been a major setback, and another draw on their the budget reserves.  More significantly, it had brought Marshall and his friends back to reality in the real dangers involved in their enterprise.  Three astronauts had lost their lives in the miscue.

Marshall and his companions occupied a small office within a warehouse where materials were prepared for launch from New Mexico.  Of course they had launches contracted through Cape Canaveral in Florida, and three other locations, but over seventy percent of the payloads were being delivered from the New Mexico site and Cape Canaveral.

They hired a dozen people to work with Blake on assembling the space ship several months earlier.  It took six months to train the construction team.  It would take another six months to train the specialists who would be part of the crew for the duration of the mission.  They delayed hiring the crew as long as possible to avoid unnecessary expenditures for salaries, but the window was closing, with a planned launch date for the mission within the next eight to ten months.

Considering the supplies needed to support one person on the twenty-four month mission, they had created a list and culled through it numerous times trying to reduce the personnel and associated costs over and over again.

The original crew list included 130 personnel  broken into departments of the flight crew, services, engineering, mining operations, and the external scientific research team.  The flight crew included nine members:  pilots, astrogation, and communications.  Services included a number of functions ranging from medical and psychological support, to hair stylists and cooks with a complement of 22 crew members.  The engineering crew included nine specialists in the areas of drive system maintenance, environmental sciences, structural support, and EVA and IVA support systems maintenance.  The mining crew was the bulk of the staffing,  including twenty positions and 81 crew members.  Just supplies for that many crew members, by the time they were lifted into orbit would have topped $20 billion.

Marshall and Justin spent hours over their staffing plan trying to find ways to pare down the costs.  The flight crew was reduced from nine to eight members.  This included the original four pilots, two astrogation officers and two communications officers.  Marshall would serve as the third astrogation officer as an extra duty.

Services was the area where they were able to make severe reductions.  Marshall and Justin determined that all crew members would be responsible to cross train in at least one area.  Areas that were to be covered by one or more personnel included cooking, security, morale, beauticians, fitness instructors, hair stylists, massage therapists, and housekeeping.  Of that group, Naomi was assigned as chief of security and oversight of all services.  The remaining staff included a purser and a five person medical team including a psychologist and pharmacist.  In net, they were able to reduce the service crew from 21 to six members.

The Engineering Staff was a challenge.  Blake was in charge of engineering and was fighting to keep all thirteen planned staff members that included specialists for the drive system, environmental sciences, structural integrity, EVA & IVA systems, electricians and HVAC.  Marshall insisted that they try to find specialists who could work in more than one of the areas.  The target was to reduce the number of personnel from thirteen to eleven using this strategy.

The mining operations were Justin’s responsibility and he was struggling to find ways to cut the staffing in this area.  The mining operation equipment had 360 separate drills.  It was difficult to deny that the drilling, blasting, grinding, and sorting operations would improve in efficiency with more operators.  The only solution they had at the outset was to cross train ten engineering staff, including mechanical and electrical support from the ships engineering group.

“I just can’t cut anymore,” Justin complained.  Frankly, I think the value added for each additional person on the mining staff has a phenomenal return.  We really should up the staffing.  Double it if we could.”

“We’ve been over this a dozen times Justin,” Marshall’s voice rose in exasperation.  “You’ll break the bank before we launch.  You’ve got to find the way to increase the projection production with less staff.  You’ve got all the equipment to do the project you could ask for.”

Arthur Salt provided the solution in the form of Ada Martinez.  Ada graduated from the Colorado School of Mines and went to work for Salt Industries straight out of college.  Her engineering and computer skills helped her rise quickly in the corporation turning one mine after another around financially through improved efficiencies utilizing modern technology.

Ada was a compact dynamo on two legs.  She stood five feet six inches, with jet black hair falling in waves half way down her back.  She was wearing a short blue dress and black heels that cracked as she walked the warehouse concrete floors aiming straight for the small office in New Mexico.  She carried a tablet in place of a purse.

“This is amazing technology,” Ada gushed as she looked at the technical drawings.  “We could level a mountain in days with this configuration of equipment,” then turning to Justin she added in a more serious tone, “But of course we cannot use this type of strip mining operation in most countries in the world.”

“But we’re not using it on Earth,” Justin reminded her.  “And, you’ll note…” he added with a broad grin, “that we are still addressing environmental concerns in the event that Martian’s find our operation hazardous to their health.”

“Yes, this process reminds me of a nightcrawler digging through soil drawing out nutrients as it goes.   So you’re dumping the slag directly back onto the asteroid?”

“Seems the most propitious thing to do.  Otherwise, we’re creating a mass debris field that will be miniature missiles in the form of small asteroids.  The best solution is to reinvest the waste back onto the asteroid,” Justin said.

“Excellent process,” Ada nodded.

Justin beamed.

“Meanwhile, there are several things we can do to improve the efficiency through central operators.  By using an overlay technique, you’ll be able to increase throughput, and reduce staffing requirements.  You don’t require additional grinding operators, as the process is managed by the equipment operator him or herself.  You’ll need at least two more people in your blasting group though.  During the window where you’re operating on site you’ll go to twelve on twelve off operations.  That will work fine if your plan is sixty days of operations to complete the project.  Productivity will slip a little in the last fifteen days, but that is manageable with incentives for production throughput in those last two weeks.  You can manage with a crew of 44 personnel.  That is tight, but manageable.

Justin added, “You mean we can do this whole project with a crew of 44 personnel.”

“There is no we in this discussion.  I was asked to advise.  My feet are firmly planted here on terra firma.”

As Ada left the office, Justin turned to Marshall, “I think I’m in love.”

“Me too,” Marshall snapped in a matter-of-fact tone.  “She just cut our excess budget.  We’re back within the gap analysis range for success.”

Justin was surprised, but Marshall was not, a week later when Marshall announced that Ada Martinez was joining the crew as the mining foreman.

“She said no way when I asked her,” Justin looked incredulous.  “How did you change her mind?”

“You’re looking in the wrong direction if you think I had anything to do with it,” Marshall yawned as he leaned back in his office chair.  “You said you needed her, I mentioned it to Roberto Trujillo, who I suspect passed it along to Arthur.  Arthur is well known for getting what he wants.”

“Well she’ll make a great addition.  I’m a darn good metallurgist and geologist, but I have no idea how to run a mining crew.  Besides, I think I’m going to marry her.”

Naomi, who was sitting across from Arthur swiveled her chair, “You like girls?  I didn’t even know you were aware we existed.”

“Of course I like girls.  But who has time,” Justin turned bright red.

Marshall yawned, “Enough.  What do you think about Vlajimmy Solages?  He’s one of our finalists for suit maintenance.  He also has some skills in HVAC.”

“I don’t remember him,” Justin admitted.  “How many people did we interview today anyway?”

“Twenty-five,” Naomi stated flatly.  “And twenty-five more tomorrow.”

“Vlajimmy Solages,” Marshall repeated.  “Training at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, three years with the European Space Agency.  Wants to see the Solar System.”

“Don’t they all?” Naomi responded sounding tired.


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