“Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.”
Over the past few weeks, Bancroft’s team and another group led by Markus Marcoski of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) have been trying to glimpse Alpha Centauri’s putative worlds with the help of two different giant telescopes in Chile and the use of new high-precision starlight-sifting instruments. Jedda Delareaux, graduate of the prestigious International Space University located in Toulouse, France was the youngest member of Bancroft’s and Marcoski’s team put together. Jedda was enthusiastic, brilliant and a genius in physics. She held two PhDs. One was in physics and the other in astronomy. Her comparative thesis on the first flight to Mars comparing hibernating astronauts with suspended in animation astronauts was impeccable and landed her the job at ESO.
However, Jedda was on sabbatical for the past 20 years. Jedda was on her way as a member of the first team of astronauts to begin colonization of Alpha Centauri Proxima b. Jedda had applied for the Alpha Centauri Proxima b program and had went through rigorous physical and cognitive testing and training in the two years after she applied. She was unbelievably excited when word arrived that she was chosen for the project but it meant that she would be induced into a hibernating state. It also meant she would not see her family or friends for over 40 years. Twenty years there and 20 years back.
Jedda found the lure of the Alpha Centauri system easy to understand and impossible for her to ignore: For a scientist yearning to find living worlds beyond our own, this system seems almost too good to be true. “Dad” Jedda said to her father excitedly. ”I’ve been selected to go on the Alpha Centauri Proxima b Project!” “The Alpha Centuri system contains not just one star resembling our sun but two of them, Alpha Centauri A and B. She furthered explained “Star A is the sun’s near twin in temperature, size, luminosity and composition; star B is just a tad smaller and cooler.”
“Both are about 10 percent older than our solar system, leaving plenty of time to for any alien evolution to do its thing. Alpha Centauri is also the very closest system in the galaxy, lying just 4.37 light-years away and providing a uniquely intimate perspective on any possible planets there Dad.” Jedda said as she laid out a constellation map on the dining room table. “As an added bonus, Alpha Centauri A and B have a third companion, a dim red dwarf named Proxima Centauri, which has an Earth-size world of its own, Proxima b.” Jedda traced her finger to the Alpha Centauri system and circled her finger around Proxima b on the constellation map and looked into her father’s eyes expectantly. Hoping he shared the same excitement as she. “Jedda, do you really need to go traipsing all over the universe.” Jedda’s father said half teasing her to hide his true feelings. He knew Jedda wanted this project more than anything and she had been prepared almost all of her life for it.
He felt like he was losing his child. He was losing her. The universe was swallowing her into a huge collapsing black hole of infinite darkness. It wasn’t something unexpected even as an infant she would reach for the moon on a clear night. Still his heart fell a thousand feet in his chest and lay there leaking life’s nectar from it. Jedda was his life. He realized even with normal life expectancy of 120 he may not be alive to see her return.
Jedda thought back to the very first day in the Alpha Centauri Project when the cadre told the chosen astronauts that Proxima b is one of the planets that orbits around Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun that exists within what astronomers call the habitable zone. Proxima b was the closest alien planet in our solar system and is even more Earth-like than scientists had first thought. New observations suggested by an international team of researchers found that the minimum possible mass for Proxima b is just 17% more massive than planet Earth. The planet lies just 4.2 light-years from Earth. Spaceships travelling near the speed of light would take 20 years to make the journey.
Jedda was brave to family and friends when they asked her if she was afraid and she laughed and said “Just think when I come back I will be forty years younger than you.” She tried to explain the best she could why this would be this way but gave up when discussing Albert Einstein’s laws of relativity when she saw the blank stares on their faces. She was a little apprehensive. Who wouldn’t be if they were going to be turned into a human popsicle.
What was explained to Jedda and the others that hibernation is a state of minimal activity and metabolic depression It was characterized by low body-temperature, slow breathing, slow heart-rate, and low metabolic rate. She would only require a breath every 24 hours and her heart would beat one time .Hibernation was different than being suspended in animation. Unfortunately through trial and error researchers learned that life expectancy was higher in hibernation than suspended animation. Suspended animation required lower temperatures and at times this caused tissue damage. Reanimation sometimes could not occur.
The chief scientist of the project said “For every drop of 1 degree Fahrenheit in body temperature, metabolic rate decreases by 5 to 7 percent. We are aiming for a 10-degree drop, or a 50 to 70 percent reduction in metabolic rate.” The scientist told the interns as they stood around Jedda’s hibernation capsule while specialized nurses inserted intravenous tubes attached to self supporting medical apparatus. Jedda was in a lucid sleep state as she had been given a light sedative while the coolant was added to her blood stream intravenously. The mild anesthesia was only to make her more comfortable during the initial hibernation process took place. She thought she heard a small hissing sound in her ears and did not realize tubes had been placed in her nasal passages to administer cool oxygen only the amount needed according to the slowness of her heart rate and breathing.
With this process in place Jedda’s metabolic rate, heart beat and breathing would slow down until she was in hibernation. The electrodes attached to her head would monitor her brain wave activity. Crew members lay in hibernation capsules beside her were also being inducted into hibernation. Each crew member was scheduled at some time during the flight to wake up with the aid of the most sophisticated robotic android hybrid affectionately referred to as Robert This hybrid android was featured with all the tools necessary to maintain the ship and hibernation capsules. Robert’s synaptic structured brain had been downloaded and interfaced with the brain of Earth’s most prominent astrophysicist. The crew member once awake would check the systems of the ship and the hibernation capsules.
To solve the problem of muscle degeneration and bone loss the capsules rotated constantly during the flight and there were were large rotating bands of the ships structure. Due to zero gravity this must be done to prevent not only muscle wasting but loss of bone density. Once the crew members completed their tasks Robert would reset the capsule for hibernation and insert the intravenous feeding tubes into its ports, intravenous coolant, cooled oxygen nasal tubes and in-dwelling catheter into the astronaut’s body and gradually lower the temperature until the astronaut was in a state of hibernation once again.
Robert had been preparing for Jedda’s return to a wakeful state for some weeks now by providing her with physical therapy on her limbs. The rotating capsules could only do so much and could not remedy stiffened joints. Electrodes were emplaced along her muscle groups to stimulate muscle contractions but now Robert was bending and flexing Jedda’s joints gently in preparation for movement. Jedda was on the landing team. She was one of three astronauts that were being woke up for the task. Robert had been bringing Jedda out of hibernation for the past 72 hours gradually raising the temperature of the oxygen and intravenous coolant in her system. He would not remove the feeding tube or catheter until wakefulness was restored.
Jedda was in a lucid sleep cycle. She was dreaming that she was floating in the warm waters of the ocean off the coast of Jamaica where her family vacationed. A slight whirring sound of medical apparatus eluded her. Once out of hibernation it is normal for the subject to fall into a deep sleep cycle as hibernation is neither sleep nor a coma. She was coming to the surface but her dreams continued. She heard her mother calling “Jedda, Jedda, wake up, wake up.” She thought in a confused dream state “Mom? You’re alive?” Jedda’s mother had died when Jedda was but a child. Jedda was lucid enough to rationalize that this could not be correct.
She felt something in her nose and tried to reach for it but couldn’t move her arm. She felt so feeble. Her arms and legs were loosely restrained to keep them from floating about in zero gravity. She began to panic and tried to talk but her voice came out as a scratchy squeaking sound and then coughing. “Jedda ,Jedda” Robert said calmly “Open your eyes. You are awake and aboard the spaceship “Revelation”, destination Alpha Centauri system.” Jedda smiled and said “Thank you Robert” “You’re very welcome” Robert said politely.
Robert let down the side of the hibernation capsule and helped Jedda to sit up. The strap around her waist kept her from floating out of the capsule altogether. “Robert, may I have something to drink?” Jedda asked. “Yes, but only a few small sips of water at a time as your stomach is not used to having anything in it.” Robert told her with some concern. Robert was assisting the other two astronauts in the landing team to reanimate. “Robert, I want to take a shower” “Are you strong enough Jedda” Robert looked up and Jedda had removed her top part of her hibernation suit baring the upper half of her torso. “Jedda!” Robert said dramatically. “Please, can’t you see I’m standing here?” Jedda started to apologize then she realized that Robert must have been programmed for some humor as he was making an odd laughter sound. Jedda thought they could have improved on Robert’s laughter and made it more realistic
Jedda’s first steps after 20 years were tenuous to say the least. She felt awkward but soon gained her momentum which was easier said than done as she was conquering zero gravity at near light speed which slows human movement down within the spaceship drastically. When she observed her own movements they appeared normal but when others observed her movements they would appear extremely slow. The shower was sufficient and actually more than Jedda assumed it would be. The warm water drained over her body and felt wonderful. Jedda wanted to stay longer in the shower but they needed to conserve water and she needed to be read on to her duties at the console.
Jedda thought about her father and wondered if by the time she arrived home after the mission in another 20 years whether or not he would be alive. That would make him around his mid 90s and when she left Earth life expectancy was 120 years for healthy adults. There was possibly a transmission coming through that had reached the Revelation from Earth that was just now getting there from 20 years ago. The agency had allowed all the astronauts loved ones to transmit a message knowing that it would not arrive for years in the future. All Jedda could do at this point was to send a signal back to Earth that the Proxima b group had arrived and this would be received in Earth’s future. Jedda and her team members sat at the console of the ship while Robert played a series of recordings and holographs of landing procedures and emergency protocols. Questions were answered by Robert. The astronauts had trained extensively on a model of the Revelation as well as practiced the controls and hands on flights.
Jedda scored very high in all the training and was selected to lead the team for the landing on Proxima b. She pushed away a momentary fear of failure and began the landing protocols. The Revelation is a lander type spaceship that descends towards, and comes to rest on the surface of an astronomical body. In contrast to an impact probe, that makes a hard landing and damages or destroys the probe upon reaching the surface. A lander makes a soft landing after which the probe remains functional. Prior to landing Revelation must decelerate greatly. Jedda must provide the orders in the proper sequence to make this happen and have a safe landing. During reentry and landing, the orbiter is not powered by engines. Instead, it flies like a high-tech glider, relying first on its steering jets and then its aerosurfaces to control the airflow around it. Roughly half an hour after the deorbit burn, the orbiter began to encounter the effects of the atmosphere.
Jedda fired a rocket as a thruster to keep the spaceship from falling too quickly and she also deployed a parachute as they entered the atmosphere of Proxima b for the soft landing. Jedda gave the orders in a timely manner and with expertise. Her team executed the proper orders at the correct time with precision.
As they flew over Proxima b They saw for the first time what no others has ever seen. Half of the planet was dark and the other half was light and a red dwarf star provided the light.
There were blue oceans and green vegetation in the habitable zone. They saw rocky areas and flying creatures stir up as they came down. This was the ride of Jedda’s life. They would need to test the air and see if it was compatible to Earth’s air. Their landing gears were down and there was a thud and then the spaceship settled. Robert would finish waking up the other astronauts. Jedda and her team donned their space suits and oxygen helmets and began to conduct tests outside. Jedda couldn’t help feeling elated. They were the first humans on this planet. She was a space pioneer.