Arlan Andrews, Sr.
Nervous tension thickened palpably in the NASA control center as flickering kinetoscope signals from the descending Martian lander came in, the cratered surface of that planet growing larger and larger in the dim, slow-scan images. “We should receive touchdown confirmation in ten seconds…” the Mission Controller said over the loudspeaker, as an emotionless mechanical voice in the background counted down the final seconds. “Three…two…one…zero!” The observation screen went blank, and no other signals came from the speakers, only an ominous static. Then silence.
“Damn!” Dr. Fergus Sindal yelled in disgust, pulling off his headset, “We’ve lost another one!” Around the room, the other members of the NASA mission team likewise shook their heads, some pounding their heads against their workstation desks. They knew that this latest failure might cause Congress to kill their Mars program once and for all.
Sindal stormed out of the Mission Control building, into the blistering heat and sweltering Austin humidity. “We keep doing something wrong,” he grumbled loudly to himself, “Somewhere, somehow, something is just wrong!” This latest failure – one of many, he acknowledged to himself – would probably end his career. At that moment his pocket pager beeped, telling him that he had to report to his superiors for a debriefing. Thank God Emily still has a job, he thought. At least the family won’t be totally broke!
Fergus was still glum that evening, as he prepared a light dinner for himself and his wife. Fergus’ spouse, Dr. Emily Lippershey-Sindal, was always busy – as an executive in the CIA, and as an adjunct lecturer at the University Of Texas School Of Meteorology. She frequently worked late, handling both jobs. In resignation, Fergus took some control of his life by adding green chilies and onions to the pulled beef in the crock pot, savoring the blend of the resulting aroma. Maybe I just should have been a chef instead of a space scientist, he thought. Then, remembering his wife’s joy at Congressional approval of her latest climate control project, he seethed. Damn, if we got five per cent of the military funding she receives, maybe I could get our probes to land safely!
As that thought ended, Emily came through the kitchen door, smiling and waving at him. He smiled back and went to the fridge to fetch cold beers for both of them.
“So what’s the weather gonna be, hon?” Fergus asked as Emily fell back into her lounge chair, shedding her business jacket and shaking her long copper-colored braids. She took the proffered Lone Star and took a long draught from it. He asked again, “Who needs rain and who gets sunshine?” then took up a position in his adjacent lean-back.
“Fergus, sweetie,” Emily replied in her soft Texas drawl, “You know I can’t share that information. National security and all.” At her husband’s faux shock, she laughed. “But I can tell you that some parts of Texas are gonna be very grateful.” Fergus took that to mean that Emily’s organization was going to direct enough precipitation to put out the several wildfires that had seen raging over in East Texas. “Hell, maybe even Massachusetts won’t be unhappy, too, you understand?” She winked.
Fergus did understand; Kepler, a CAT 6 hurricane, had been reported heading out of the North Atlantic, directly toward Boston. And though he couldn’t ask, and Emily couldn’t tell him, it was probably another terrorist attack that she and her people were thwarting. Fergus just nodded, smiling, taking yet another gulp of his beer. Emily was saying that the CIA was indeed preventing landfall. Good! I’m glad somebody knows their business!
“And your day, babe?” Emily asked with a knowing grimace. Fergus understood that the CIA would have received the news of his latest failure at the same time he had. Hell, maybe even before!
Fergus sighed, leaning up from his chair to go attend to the bubbling crock pot. As he ladled out dinner into two bowls, he wondered at a comparison: What’s the difference between a crock pot and a crackpot? Easy: the one simmered and always gave you what you expected; the other simmered, too, but most often failed to produce a damned thing!
Over dinner, Fergus laid out the situation to Emily: “We can’t be doing everything wrong,” he said between bites. “Our Lunar missions were successful, even though Apollonian Eleven would have crashed if Colonel Aldrin hadn’t landed it manually.” Emily had no comment; she remembered that almost-fatal day so many decades ago – the first and only human expedition to the Moon. She tried not to let Fergus see that she had always been happy not to waste any more money on such dried-out, weatherless bodies like the Moon. Not when we have so much weather work to do down here! she thought, Especially in climate-changing! Secretly she wished that the failure of this latest U.S. Mars mission, not counting the others lost by Russia and Germany, would spell an end once and for all to the obsession with Space. What a waste!
If Fergus had ever had any suspicions of her true feelings, he was either a very good actor, or – Probably just clueless! Emily mused, as her husband rattled on. “Nothing we have sent past the Moon ever goes as planned, so something is desperately wrong.” He eyed Emily closely looking for a reaction. “So I am wondering, hon, if maybe some of your resources in the military or the CIA could pitch in a bit, take a look at what we are doing. I mean, after all, if we can land a man on the Moon—“
Emily interrupted “Colonel Breiteis was the first one to step out, Fergus,” she said softly.
“I know, hon, OK – a woman and a man on the Moon, then – why can’t we place an instrument package on Mars?”
“Mathematics?” Emily asked. “Orbital mechanics? Some unknown Mars Monster that kills your space probes?” She intended her comments to be humorous, but Fergus didn’t see it.
“No, damn it! Our maths are perfect. The epicyclic orbits can be computed out to umpteen decimal places, the simulations are always successful, the—” At Emily’s outstretched up-palm, he stopped.
“OK, Fergus, I will see if my CIA analysts can make any sense of the situation, if we can help you guys at NASA. After all, we all work for the same taxpayers.” With that, Fergus smiled and the evening’s conversation turned to much more pleasant subjects.
“Dr. Emily Lippershey-Sindal,” the man behind the podium said, motioning her to come forward from the auditorium. “As part of her recent review of the cancellation of NASA’s and the rest of the world’s space programs, the Deputy Director will be discussing causes and effects. Hopefully we can all learn from this landmark study. Dr. Lippershey-Sindal.” Emily strode to the stage, taking a position behind the podium, the large kinetoscope screen behind her showing a bulletized PowerPrint transparency of her impressive curriculum vitae.
Emily swallowed a glass of water and began. “History produces moments of great opportunity,” she said to the several hundred analysts in the auditorium and to the many thousands of other cleared personnel around the world watching on the InterWeb. “And also moments of not-so-great failures. I would like to give you a personal perspective that may show what I mean.
“A distant grandcestor of mine, Hans Lippershey, a maker of spectacles – eyeglasses – emigrated from the Spanish Netherlands in the early 1600s, to escape religious persecution.” Some murmurs from the audience indicated that she had already scored – many of them already knew the history of her famous and influential family. “Shortly after arriving in Nieuw Amsterdam, he discovered the optical phenomenon of image enlargement, which led to the first microscopes and the scientific revolution that followed.” Pleasant sighs from her colleagues told her she was on the right track. But she knew that she had to choose just the right context; some of the newly-acquired employees, former NASA space people now trying to adjust the CIA’s ways of doing things, might get too uncomfortable. She wanted to have everyone on board.
“My ancestor’s optical discoveries greatly influenced the scientific world of the 1600s. Galileo Galilei, that great Italian, used the patented Lippershey micro-magnifier to fine-tune readings on his new inventions, the barometer and the mercury thermometer, which of course then led to his many early discoveries of the basics of weather phenomena. For example, Galileo’s report of his experiments with falling barometric pressure is a founding document of meteorology. In North America, early weather scientists such as the Reverend Campanius and later Mr. Cadwaller Colden, made great advances in measurements and observations here.
“Eventually, a great English academic, Ike Newton, emigrated to Nieuw Amsterdam to study, living in a modest home in that famous New Jersey orchard.” Chuckles moved like waves through the listeners; everyone knew the story of the falling figs.
“Yes,” Emily said with a smile, “Ike Newton saw the wind blowing the fruit from the trees, inspiring him to write his immortal work, Principia Meteorlogica, from whence came our understanding of, and eventually prediction and control of, almost all weather phenomena and finally even global climate itself. That book was the basis of the wonderful scientific flourishing in that Annus Tempestas Mirabilium, the “Year of Miraculous Weather.” At my family’s famous laboratory complex, Ike studied optical refraction, leading to the understanding of rainbows, which in turn focused – so to speak – much of the world’s scientific attention to the wonders of the atmosphere. Of particular importance, Newton’s study of fog and mist led to considerations of the properties of steam. And those insights eventually led us to the Industro-climatical Revolution.”
From the smiling faces she could observe in her appreciative audience, Emily knew she was on track. The random sampling of flickering InterWeb kineto-cams revealed similar reactions from around the world. Many of the viewers from the United English Kingdoms were not all that happy, though. Even after two hundred and fifty years, they still considered Newton a traitor, for all that he was one of the world’s most famous weather scientists.
With her remarks having had the effects she wished, Emily quickly reviewed recent history. “Of course, other nations contributed greatly to our meteorological knowledge: Leibniz’ development of differential pressure equations, Pascal’s barometric hypotheses, and many others. But being an American, I wish to point out in particular President Franklin’s pioneering studies of atmospheric electro-phenomena and the discovery of the Caribbean Current’s effects on Europe’s climate; and President Jefferson’s establishment of government weather stations across the continent by the Lewis and Clark expeditions, his acquisition of the Louisiana Territory, and finally his founding of the Military Meteorological Academy. Then we had Edison’s and Tesla’s joint venture into controlling storms via electro discharges. And of course, in the UEK there were Maxwell’s equations of weather; in Germany, Heisenberg’s Climate Certainty Theorems,; and in Switzerland, Einstein’s fantastic development of the Theory of Relative Humidity.”
At this point, Emily’s voice took on a serious tone. “But not all scientific progress brings good to the world, as we all know too well.” Behind her on the large kinetoscope screen, jerkily-moving images showed scenes from Weather War Two – the Kaiser’s brutal Storming Troopers with their infamous Weather Weapons – the V1 and V2; the Japanese Emperor’s Kaminari attacks on our climate control fleet in Hawaii, and the fierce and heroic resistance of the Tsar’s Gromi brigades on two fronts against both those aggressors.
“Fortunately, our own scientists quickly developed the powerful Atmo bomb which destroyed both Edo and Berlin, thus ending that war.” A portion of the audience grew quiet; some people in attendance, or their parents, had immigrated to the US after WW2, but still sorely remembered how their homelands had weathered those attacks.
But Emily had to drive home a few more facts. “After the unexpected Haboob terrorist attacks on America, of course, we went to war again. As you know, our own recent failure to end the strife in Mesopotamia came about because we could not find the WMDs we thought were there. Those Weather Modification Devices, if they existed, were secreted out, we believe, by some of the Tsar’s agents, for use against us after this lull. But rest assured, we in the CIA maintain a weather eye for terrorists and their nefarious plots.” She paused, sighing. “And now we come to the most difficult part.”
Shaking her head, Emily turned to the screen, which now showed a still transparency of a watercolorized painting of Earth large in the foreground, a tiny moon in the distance, and scattered, multi-colored pinpoints of light as background, exactly as they appeared to all mankind’s unaided eyes on every clear dark night.
“Which history brings me to the matter at hand: why did the Mars space probes fail to reach their intended targets? We know that fifty years ago, we were able to land a woman –and a man – on the Moon.” The flickering kinetoscope screen showed steam-jets spewing out from the Lunar Lander in all directions, its final hard landing evident in the jumpy, fuzzy images. “And we found nothing of any importance up there. No much weather out in Space, you know?” Emily was pleased to hear loud laughter from her colleagues.
“No, there was nothing we could see, or touch or measure. No atmosphere, no clouds, no humidity, no air, just nothing! But lots of that!” After a pause for the expected laughter to die down, she went on: “Then, of course, some of our colleagues in a far-out field –” again, much laughter, but some groans “— somehow presumed that Mars, that little red blob in the sky, might have an atmosphere, so they finagled some funds from Congress to try to land something there.” On the screen, a red dot no larger than most stars appeared.
“After six tries by the USA and a dozen by other nations, everybody has failed. Oh, according to the data received from the NASA Ares mission, they did allegedly encounter some atmosphere before the craft crashed and died. But I ask you, what have we learned? Not much! Five billion dollars were bet, but no jackpot.” She hoped that Fergus wasn’t watching; she loved her husband, but he was too much of a space enthusiast to be practical, and her remarks could be considered cutting, even if absolutely true. No, she thought, the cutting came from Congress!
“In collegial support of NASA, however, we at CIA checked and re-checked all of the simulations, the software, the calculations, using our IBMs. The Iterative Babbage Mechanisms revealed that everything seemed to be consistent.” Emily paused. “Now, a few maths analysts did point out that the epicyclical orbital simulation outputs did vary somewhat from the eyeball observations that the NASA eyestronomers kept such detailed records of, something about anomalous retrograde motions or whatever, but they assure me that such differences are what they call ‘decimal dust’ and of no real importance.”
“So the conclusions reached by the review of the best analysts of the Climatological Intervention Agency – the CIA – were that further space operations should be defunded, and those resources instead re-directed toward further Earth-bound research. The folks who worked at NASA – the Navigation of the Astral Spheres Agency – should have known better. There are just no practical applications to be found in Space, because there is no weather out there!”
“And the complaints continued to mount. The public complained for years about the money wasted on unfruitful Space adventures, other scientists complained that their own earthly projects should take precedence, and of course we in the CIA and military complained because we needed that additional money to control and change the global climate as necessary for national security.” She took another sip of water and said softly, “NASA shouldn’t complain; they operated for over fifty years with only nothing to show for it. And that is my complaint!”
“So I ask you to consider these now-passé words from the famous comedian Clem Samuels,” she said, pointing at the words on the kinetoscope screen: Everybody complains about Space, but nobody does anything about it!
Food for Thought
hat if today’s climate science were as proven and precise as the orbital mechanics knowledge that puts probes on Mars and sends spacecraft whizzing by Pluto? What if their present states were interchanged?
About the Author
Dr. Arlan Andrews, Sr., has been selling non-fiction since 1972, and SF stories since 1979, amounting to over 500 pieces in 100 venues worldwide. In his varied engineering career, he worked with missile-tracking telescopes, anti-ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, 3D printing, biotechnology, virtual reality, environmental issues, and White House science policy. A consulting futurist, he is the founder of SIGMA, the science fiction think tank (www.SigmaForum.org) and was a Hugo novella nominee in 2015. Arlan’s story collections and novels are available on Amazon.com and other outlets.