Izzie, a pretty cheerleader, tells the class nerd Jonas that she only dates astronauts.
|"I only date astronauts," said Izzie with a smile.
"Is that a promise? You would date me if I went extraterrestrial...and back," said Jonas with the biggest grin of his life.
Izzie looked up at him, "Dude, you're speaking nerd but yes I promise. But I cannot wait for you forever, you have a hundred days or the deal is off."
Izzie's friends all laughed with her as she replied,
Then with one last glorious smile, the radiant, blue-eyed, blonde cheerleader departed with her friends all of them giggling as if having heard the best joke ever.
Jonas ignored the laughter and sniggering all around him. Izzie had promised and Izzie was perfect so she would not break her promise. Therefore all he had to do to make her his girlfriend was to get into space. There was only one question on his mind now. How?
My dad knows all about space so he will know what to do, thought Jonas.
His dad was in the living room of the family home just settling down with an iPad and a cup of tea. Normally this was his quiet time when he recovered from a day in the lab and browsed news and science sites so he looked a little irritated at Jonas's intrusion.
"Dad, I have to get into space and become an astronaut in the next hundred days, what is the best way to do that?"
His dad smiled, laying his iPad to one side and Jonas knew he had his full attention. This was the kind of mental conundrum that his dad lived and breathed for,
"Well, there are two definitions of an astronaut out there at the moment. The NASA definition sets the ceiling at 50 miles and the International one is set at 100 km. If you go with the International definition that would rule out Virgin Galactic but Space X and Blue Origin would still work for you."
"Oh set it as low as possible I just have to be able to say I was an astronaut."
"OK the working options basically involve billionaires or government agencies. Both charge very high sums and at the moment they have long waiting lists. I doubt if you will get on either list, to be honest, in the next hundred days, unless you gave one of these millions of dollars. Also, you would need to arrange the flights in the next few weeks to guarantee a space and to make sure you were properly prepared."
Jonas's interest peaked and his eyes started to shine.
"Before you ask, no, I do not have that kind of cash to spare," said Dad.
But if I could get a lot of money then I could book a place with an agency or a company?
"Actually no, there are not that many slots and many of the paying customers are billionaires for whom the money is not the main issue. It is all about reputation and getting one up on their colleagues. Another option is to develop your own solution but I think 100 days is a bit tight. Basically, the challenge is to accelerate an airtight capsule to sufficient velocity to reach an altitude of 50 miles. You could invent an antigravity drive but that would require at least a few more decades really. "
"Oh," said Jonas suddenly deeply despondent and worried that he was not indeed going to be able to do this. But as he watched he noticed his father was smiling again as if he had just had a brainwave. He waited patiently for his father to speak again.
"If I was going to do this I would stow away in the cargo hold of a ship bound to the ISS."
"You mean I should hide in the luggage?" said Jonas.
"Yes, exactly. Far less cost involved, you have to get past the security systems, you need to be able to breathe in space and make sure you do not die of the cold, but it is doable with a bit of luck."
"Which spaceship company?"
"Well you want a private company, government agencies are tougher on security. I would try and get onto a Starship from Space X because it has the largest cargo hold. It just so happens that a launch is scheduled for 62 days from now from Cape Canaveral. I was reading about it on space.com." Dad found the article describing the launch, "Yes, it is the first time that the new Starship will be used to carry cargo to the ISS. It will also carry four passengers and two crew."
"So theoretically speaking, if you were going to do this, what are the hurdles I need to overcome...?"
Jonas felt the container shake with the vibrations of the engines beneath him as the launch began. His whole body was also shaken to his core as the rocket started to accelerate at about 5gs. He had been waiting in the storage container for two days before the lorry fetched him to transport it to the spaceship. Then he had waited a further day sealed up in the cargo hold. At the moment the oxygen levels were plentiful but he put on the breathing apparatus that he had prepared as he was not sure if the cargo hold would retain air pressure in space. He had also insulated the container against cold and heat. He had food and water His full-body suit also served his toiletry requirements.
He thought back on how he had gotten to this point. He had not even had to hack into the Space X company database. It was public knowledge who their contracts were with. The Starship was so much bigger than the old Dragon resupply modules. It could carry 100 tons of cargo and the replacement astronauts for the ISS and two crew members also. So they had a lot of stuff for the station but also various satellites that they would launch after docking and making deliveries to the ISS. There were a lot of containers from a lot of suppliers and he had figured out that one of them could work for a stowaway. He had gone through the list until he had found the weak link. He had then hacked the database of the supplier in whose container he currently sat. It was a weather experiment for a European university and their security for this project had been a joke. All he needed to know was where the project was stored and what the container looked like. He then arranged to substitute it for one with him inside it. He built it with his dad in their garden shed even including shielding that sensors could not penetrate. He thought back on the switch that had been achieved by getting the secure storage contract diverted to a rented building, so his dad and he had swapped the container in the place it was held for pickup. Then the transport had collected as normal and carried the marked container to the Space X space depot at Cape Canaveral. From there the security had been airtight but the inside of the container was never checked, due to the 'sensitive instruments of the experiment.'
Wow this acceleration really is something. I wish I had put better cushions in the container.
The feelings of discomfort in the dark of the container did not ease up until suddenly they did. Jonas's felt himself floating,
Now I just have to wait to dock with the space station, when they unload the cargo I will make myself known, That way the media can confirm that I stowed away. Wait what was that noise?
He opened the peephole in the container but could see nothing but darkness. But he could hear movement from one of the other containers. That was unexpected. As he continued to watch he saw two suited figures with torches emerge from one of the other containers. So he was not the only stowaway on board and the hold must be pressurized as they were not wearing masks. As the torchlight hit the walls it lit up the room revealing their outlines in the dim blue light. He saw they were carrying guns.
They are terrorists headed for the ISS. My goodness. I need to do something but what?
He had a large spanner in the container with him which was there to turn the big screw on the side of the container which would then allow him to open it. But the terrorists had guns, timing would be everything.
He waited in silence occasionally checking the terrorists through the peephole. They seemed to be waiting for something. The two men whispered conspiratorially in a foreign language, maybe Arabic. Then finally bursts from the thrusters started correcting trajectory and Jonas realized they had waited for the approach to the ISS. The crew would be engaged with the docking and the passengers would be seatbelted now. This was the best time to run a takeover. The noise of the hatch being opened gave Jonas the opportunity to loosen the bolt holding his container together. As the first man burst through the hatch Jonas broke the container open and without thinking he swung the spanner at the head of the man still left in the cargo hold knocking him out. The first man was shouting in Arabic in the passenger compartment above and did not hear the sound below. Jonas tied the second man in the hold with masking tape from his container. He took the man's handgun and familiarized himself with it. He knew that he had to be careful how he fired it and really needed to hit only the person to avoid puncturing the hull. He flew up through the hatch in the zero-g seeing the man on the deck above waving the gun at the passengers but clearly having some problems keeping the gun pointed in the right direction. He stopped his ascent by grabbing a railing on the deck with the terrorist on it, With his other hand, he pointed the gun at the terrorist from behind and shot him through the heart. The recall was stronger than he thought it would be and in the weightless environment pushed him back against the wall. Then he switched the safety back on and rammed the gun into a plastic pouch on a fixed shelf and velcroed it shut. He noticed the horror on the faces of the passengers as he did so.
"I am not here to harm anyone. There were two terrorists who intended to hijack the ISS. I just saved your lives."
"Two terrorists?" said the first mate who had heard the shot and come back to investigate, "Where is the other one?"
"Tied up in the cargo hold."
The man smiled and then looking at Jonas asked,
"You are a little young to be a space marshall and I was not aware we had one on board. I guess we were lucky you were here."
"Actually I am a stowaway. Sorry but Izzie said she would only date astronauts."
SpaceX did not press charges for all the laws Jonas had broken in lieu of the help Jonas provided relating to the terrorists. Some weeks later, the internationally acclaimed savior of the first Starship flight to the ISS returned to high school. Izzie was waiting for him at the school gate.
"You know when I set you your challenge I was only joking with you Jonas. I did not know how far you would go to get a date with me. Anyway, I am impressed and sorry for playing games before, I am willing to make a go of this if you are though, OK?" She reached up and kissed Jonas on the cheek.
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