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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2271096-Happy-Birthday-on-Ganymede
Rated: E · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2271096
A NASA robot celebrates its first and perhaps last birthday on Jupiter's moon.

Happy Birthday on Ganymede

for Gryffon, Grace and their "little man"




The sample collection device whirred as it processed the deposited ice and dirt shards. The sound was more like a fingernail scratching on fine gauge sandpaper than air pressure from hydraulics.

scritch scratch scritch

There were no human ears to hear the sound.

A small robot named Quaerere rolled over to the device and slowly poured more icy scrapings into the funnel shaped top.

The device was flat and circular, with only four wheels jutting out on the bottom and a funnel sticking out from its top.

The robot looked like a dustpan with seven wheels on the bottom, three on either side and one on the back; four arms, two that had scoops on the ends and two with pincers; and a small square control box extending from a metal neck above the "handle" of the dustbin-shaped body. The square control box had lenses on all four sides and the top. The top lens was covered with a mesh cap.

The humans in Huntsville watched the scientific equipments' efforts, as well as the icy environment, through the lenses and, depending on how the neck and head were extended, could generally see most of the robot at all times. The collection device only came into view when the robot was rolling towards it or away from it.

Yes, this was on Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons.

Quaerere had been on the surface of Ganymede for three hundred and sixty five days. The collection device had arrived at the same time.

This was the fifth robot and device team the scientists had sent to one of Jupiter's moons. The other four sets had all malfunctioned, first the robot losing visual transmission and then, days later, all data transmission. More curiously, even though the new set was dropped in the same general location as two of the other sets, in the entire year, Quaerere, despite its high resolution lenses, had never shared an image of either of the robots or collection devices. It was like they were all shut off and removed from the moon after about year and half.

It was not the exact same day count, but it was within 45 days of the year-and-a-half mark in all four cases.

--

"Let me play it for you," said Gordana. She was a NASA scientist on the Jupiter Moons campaign. She pressed a button and the other three scientists in the room heard a series of scritching sounds that was immediately recognizable as the Happy Birthday song.

The other scientists looked at her curiously.

She said with pride, "I programmed this last night." Still looks of confusion. She continued, "It's G45's programming." G45 was the name of the sample collector. The other scientists understood, but she completed the thought, "When Quaerere returns for the next pour, I will execute the programming."

Another scientist burst into tears, which was infectious. The others either cried outright or had their eyes well up with water.

Quaerere was their baby and the robot toiled, alone, on Ganymede, working tirelessly to bring moon surface samples to the collection device and data to the Earth for three hundred and sixty five days without any reward. Yes, it was just a robot, but to the four scientists, and the many others who worked on the Jupiter Moons campaign, Quaerere was a part of their scientific community, their work family.

Gordana had another surprise for them all, but she didn't mention it yet.

She hoped it worked.

--

The robot returned to the collection device and as soon as its pouring arms were in range of the sample collection device, it stopped rolling. Quaerere's AI was processing the unexpected lack of movement when the collection device started making sounds, also with no movement.

scratchscritch scritchscritch scritch scratch
scratchscritch scritchscritch scritch scratch
scratchscritch scritchscritch scritch scritchscratchscritch
scratchscritch scritchscritch scritch scratch

--

The scientists could not hear the sounds, the Happy Birthday song, from the collection device, but Gordana replicated them on the console's speakers, as she had before, at the same time they were played on Ganymede.

The three other scientists sang along and, after the song concluded, they all cheered. Quaerere had lasted a year in space!

Then Gordana pressed another key on her control device and the scientists watched, through their teary and now surprised eyes, as Quaerere rolled forward and wrapped its two pincer arms around the funnel top of the collection device.

Quaerere stayed in that position for five seconds, released and then rolled back a few inches.

Then, the four scientists watched as Quaerere began pouring dirty icy shards into the same funnel it just hugged as it returned back to the lonely, unremitting work of collecting and pouring moon surface shavings.

The very brief birthday celebration, as it was, had ended.

The four scientists watched the now very repetitive scene from Quaerere's forward-facing lens with elation. They hugged each other, offered mutual congratulations, and got back to work themselves.

--

The reaction from social media was more positive than negative.

A few of the negative comments on social media were, correctly, about putting the mission in jeopardy. What if Quaerere had been unable to regain movement? What if Quaerere had broken off the collection device's funnel from the useless hug?

But most of the complaints were about wasting taxpayers' money. Programming a song on scientific equipment to no purpose. The robot is just a machine. It doesn't even have hearing or enough sentience to understand, let alone know the Happy Birthday song.

They were all right, but none of the negative commenters got the point. Nor did they - nor could they - understand something you will learn later in this story.

--

The next morning, Gordana was immediately called into the Director's office. "That was a huge risk," she declared sternly even before Gordana had a chance to sit down.

Gordana sat down, then replied somewhat meekly, "I'm sorry if I put the mission at risk." She didn't explain why she had done it. In fact, she said not another word during the meeting.

"You should have told me beforehand," the Director said slowly and softly. Then she flashed a small grin. "And you will do so before you repeat this next year."

As Gordana was leaving, the Director added, "One more thing. Have G45 sing Happy Birthday twice to Quaerere next time."

After Gordana left, the Director stared at the wall of photos of the five robots that were sent to Jupiter's moons, resting her eyes eventually on the only one, Quaerere, that remained operational. Or even possibly existent. She said aloud to no one, "Let's hope we get that chance."

--

The alien ship flew above Ganymede. It was invisible to human detection, an easy trick for advanced species.

The aliens focused their attention on the space robot and its technological companion device and intuited, in a moment, the last eighteen months of the expressly disallowed scientific activities of these two objects. The robot was slightly more advanced than the last four that were positioned on this planet's moons, which was equally positive and negative to the aliens. Even so, it had to be removed and destroyed.

First the aliens needed to capture a record of the robot's entire 551 days of activity

At the two-thirds mark of the near-instantaneous replay they felt something unusual and slowed down the dissemination.

Exactly at the one Earth-year mark, which they knew was a significant time period for Earthlings, they watched as the robot paused to hear what was unmistakably a musical tune. It was extremely primitive, even for Earth music, but the intention was clear. Then the robot reached over to the less advanced equipment and, for no scientific reason, connected to it.

The aliens understood both the music and the embrace and approved. This was something new and very encouraging.

They flew off, taking no further action. Unlike the last four times.

--

Gordana pressed the key and the collection device ran the Happy Birthday song programming.

The same other scientists, even though not all of them still worked on the Jupiter Moons campaign, were there to listen, watch and cheer. This was, as they all knew, the only time a robot had lasted two years on Ganymede.

The Director seemed most pleased of all, but she held her emotions in check, simply saying, "Play it again, Gordana. We agreed last year that we would sing the song twice this year."

The scientists sang along to the repeat playing as loudly as they possible could.

As the Director walked back to her office, she sang to herself, barely audibly, "How old are you now? How old are you now? How old are you dear Quaerere? How old are you now?"

The End.

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