The shine of the earth made a dramatic backdrop for the lone figure above the number two solar panel. The bright blue contrasting with the deeper gold of the panels as the white figure glided slowly into position over the damaged solar panel. “This one needs a replacement. I’ve got a through-and-through hole as big as my fist”, Thompson said. He tapped the jet button, killing his drift so he was stopped above the panel, his long safety line leading back to the base of the panel.
“If we divert the ammonia flow at the base, we’ll lose some of our reserve power, maybe eight, may ten percent of power reserve. What do you think, boss? Isolate, or repair?”
Vyhovsky ran a hand along his hair, weighing options.
“We have 100 percent capacity, with out the panel. How mush reserve?”
“We’ve got a power reserve of about 40 percent. Losing this individual panel would cut us back to a thirty five percent reserve. Plus we have battery battery backup”, Thompson replied.
“How much reserve material?” Thompson thought for a moment, mentally estimating. “About enough for four full panel repairs. That would be about four years normally. With all the new debris zipping around, it could just as well be four days.”
“Understood. Until we know, lock it down and list what’s needed for repair. We will live with the loss of reserve. We may need the pieces later”, Vyhosvsky rumbled into the microphone.
“Okay, Colonel. I’m on my way back”, Thompson replied, the fans in the suit distoring his voice slightly as they worked to keep him cool in the direct sun. Thompson got to the air lock, then Roels opened the door after pressure had equalized.
“We have an interesting day?”, he said with a smile.
“Not too bad, the panel’s kaput, so it’s been cut from ammonia flow. I’ll be going back out again after some rest. We need to turn that panel so it’s edge-on to the sun. You know, thinking about it we could scavenge the pieces and use it as spare parts for the others.”
Roels smiled. “Our Colonel is way ahead of you. He wants you to do that very thing, though he’s of a mind to cut the panel off and scavenge the pieces, rather than just turning it edge-on to the sun.”
Thompson sighed, then gave Roels a smile. “He’s right, cutting would be easier, but maneuvering that piece to the storage? That’s going to be a two-person job. Ingers would be ideal.”
Roels looked down, then back to Thompson with sad eyes. “He’s awake, but Kim and the Colonel feel his mind’s gone. He floats in his room, and doesn’t respond to anything.”
“Ah, crap. That means me and the colonel are going to be out there.” Thompson grimaced. Vyhovsky was a good mission leader, but he lacked a sense of space a good EVA specialist had. “Last time out he ripped the suit on a corner of the panel. This’ll be tricky enough without someone being unluckily clumsy.”
Roels chuckled ruefully. “Yes, he is unlucky, isn’t he?” Thompson nodded, and still smiling, launched himself towards the hatchway, slowing his movement by grabbing a hand bar, and letting his feet rotate to hook under the other bar. He moved his hands to the exterior side bars, and pulled himself into a slow glide down the squarish tube. “Have a boring time with the EVA”, Roels shouted as Thompson left the small room.
The job took longer than expected, as neither men had used the cutter in some time, and it took a few tries to learn how to put effort into the cutter without tiring themselves out quickly. Taking ten minute turns at using the cutter, Thomspn and Vyhovsky managed to cut the damaged panel out and seal the cut with a self-threading cap to hold the ammonia. Special tape went on the threads to help make the seal hermetic. The tricky part was maneuvering the panel to a holdfast so they could dismantle the pieces for storage. A near miss with Vyhovsky misjudging the distance had Thomspon straining to hold Vyhovsky and the panel from bumping into a truss. Once locked in the holdfast, it became a much more routine job with each man deftly unlocking the specialty bolts holding the panel and it’s sub-portions together.
Vyhovsky was sweating as he removed his helmet once they both were back inside the ISS. “I think we need more practice with EVA.”
Thompson smiled at his statement. “Maybe, Just don’t overcompensate and you’ll be fine”, he told the team leader.
“Yes, good advice”, returned the smile, then he frowned. “We have to be finding solutions. Going down right now is not possible. Docking clamps won’t release Xong-Xi capsules. We are working, but no idea why system is not operational.”
“Maybe some debris hit?”, Thompson speculated. “ Give me a day’s rest and I can go out, or get Roels to do a check.” He paused. “How do you rate our chances?”
Vyhovsky stared at Thompson. “We are alive, we will be alive. Down is not the problem. Alive here is the problem. As much as we can recycle, we still lose resources. If Kim’s report is accurate. Six of us will run out of food in ten months, we will run out of ammonia in eight months, if we do not have any more major catastrophes.”
Thompson nodded, the worry lines in his face becoming more pronounced. “Ingers, we need him back.”
Vyhovsky nodded. “We also need to talk with the tourist. She”, he emphasized the word, “will be a source of tension. It must be nullified before it becomes a bomb.”
“That’s not going to be easy”, Thompson replied slowly. “She’s gorgeous, and we’re all too aware of it.”
Vyhovsky sighed, then replied, “True. She is like very frightened being trapped here.”
Thompson nodded. “I’m going to rest, and get some food. We can talk later.”
Vyhovsky, slipped the helmet into a cargo net by the airlock to secure it, then used the foot magnets to stabilize the suit as he shifted to unseal himelf. He nodded as Thompson floated down the square corridor.
Thompson floated down to Ingers cubicle, then tapped on the edge of the hatchway. He waited for a few moments, and, when there was no answer, floated into the entry, and looked around the small cube. Ingers was in his net hammock, his eyes glazed and unfocused. An IV was placed in his right arm as water was pumped by a triad of rotating wheels to keep the flow toards Ingers body. Without gravity, a peristaltic pump was the most viable option to avoid pumping air into the IV bag and possibly contaminating the contents. He looked over at the ergo desk. Designed to be a seat with the legs angled under in a quasi-kneel, it was made to keep the astronaut stable in front of a computer. The desk had four small, transparent doors above the flat surface. In each, small trinkets and pictures floated. Thompson remembered Ingers dropped five pounds in the last week so he could have that weight for a few things from home on the Xong-Xi. It was a common practice for the astronauts to weigh a little ‘heavy’, then drop some weight to take a few mementos up with them to the station.
“Dammit Koll, we need you right now”, Thompson said, then rotated ninety degrees, and pushed away from the cube, floating down to his own small refuge. Once there, he hooked his feet into the holdfast bar, and stripped down for sleep. I hate this. Koll’s out of it. We’re all kind of drifting right now. With all that new debris, how long before we get riddled again by it? I wonder if Vyhovsky will want to move the station higher, try to get above the debris orbit. He closed his eyes and fell into a troubled sleep.