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Saturday, November 25, 2017

X-Plus Bun - Red Hop, Pt. 3

While Zoomer stayed glued to the window, I updated my notes. We had two major items left to do: find and capture the booster we just sent off and perform the deorbit burn. When it's all said and done, we try to live through each flight and go home for dinner. There's no such thing as a lousy dinner after a flight. It sounds trite, I know, but I don't know of any bun going to space to boil themselves frozen in the airlock. We just love to make the journey, because that's the best topping for any dinner salad no matter how humble or fancy. If Zoomer keeps it up for a couple more days, she will have no problems. She is passing with flying colors.
Zoomer by the window
I joined her by the window. She was still gazing outside like we all love to do. "It's true; the stars don't sparkle, do they?" asked Zoomer. "If you like this, just wait until you get to go outside," I added after a long pause and stayed by the window until we entered the next night cycle. It was getting late and the day had been a long one. I grabbed a couple of soft biscuits from the pantry locker and warmed up some chamomile tea, fortified with vitamins and minerals. I asked Zoomer if she wanted a sleeping agent, and she said yes. I mixed that with her tea. I decided to take nothing, and that would leave me sleeping, well, like a rabbit.
We spent the rest of the evening having a dinner snack by the window. Before we retired for the night, we turned down the temperature in the capsule, got out some thermal blankets, and lined with them the sleeping pockets. That is as close as a bun can get here to sleeping under a cozy duvet. I like being on the couch that is in a flight deck position. Should something happen, or if the center needs to get a hold of us, we are right by the controls. Zoomer yawned and stretched, and she was out in no time. She gritted her teeth a little, and her whiskers twitched. It took me a while to drift off into slumber. I already missed Abby and wondered how she was doing on her hydroponic trip.
Zoomer and the experiment
The next day, I got up early. I didn't get much sleep during the night, and the sleep I got felt lousy. Somebun at the Center had a stuck mike. I could hear the calls reminding him of it, and he would fix it, but then it would get stuck again. I kept waking up and overhearing gossip, or arguments about updates, or crews not knowing when engineering is doing maintenance on the systems without telling anybun. The nonsense just annoyed me. Luckily, we had a pretty light day ahead of us. I warmed up the capsule and woke up Zoomer. She opened her eyes and for a second, had a look of panic. Then, it all seemed to drift back into place for her. It would be so much faster if things could fall into place here, but in microgravity, you get what you can. I got the breakfast going, and Zoomer performed the usual morning checks, attitude, orbit, systems, and logs. As we nomed the soft biscuits and sipped the raspberry compote, we went over the science experiment Zoomer had to deploy. She would do that during the call with the class of bunletts that designed the experiment. I think it had something to do with synthetic microorganisms and the effects of cosmic radiation on their decision-making, or something like that. Or maybe I'm confusing the flights; I don't remember exactly. Zoomer set up the video call with the bunletts, and they would guide her through the entire exercise. The crowd on the ground looked formidable. At first, the little ones were very shy, but they relaxed once we turned to the deployment of the experiment. In the background, I saw some older buns that did not look happy. Maybe this was too boring, or they thought this whole affair was way beneath them. They just seemed like a bunch of disdainful inquisitors. The introductions and pleasantries were uncomfortable and awkward for everyone, but once the bunletts started on their checklist, they forgot about the whole world. They fought over the instructions, argued with bun another, and created a tourbillon of excitement that seemed bigger than all of them put together. Zoomer let them go on like that for a while until she had enough and called them to attention. I floated in the background, "upside down," of course, and tried to put on a serious face. One day, Zoomer would be doing the same thing I am, and somebun from that warren on the ground would be here, trying to command the attention of a swarming and thumping cloud of fuzzies.
Once they settled a bit, the class leader started from the beginning, explained the purpose of the experiment, and began reading off the checklist. Her friends watched everything she did, ready to pounce on any mistakes. Thus, Zoomer unpacked the experiment from one of the storage lockers and proceeded to follow along with the bunletts. Now, the little ones were starting to climb over bun another to get close to the screen, trying to will themselves into the capsule with their little mouths gaping and eyes popping out. Zoomer took the first part of the experiment and secured it to the capsule with a restraint strap while I got the exchange lock ready for the second part. Once we got the second part exposed to the outside environment, the bunletts activated the experiment with a radio signal. The tiny indicator lights on the containers lit up, and the telemetry from the experiment started arriving on the ground. They went wild again. Zoomer was smitten by the nervous energy and excitement of the little buns, and neither of us wanted to move on from this exercise. Zoomer promised everybun to check in with the class after the flight, but that did little to cheer up their now sad, fuzzy faces.
Zoomer and the experiment
The time came for Zoomer to do some proper flying and recapture the booster. It sat in a slightly higher orbit, so Zoomer had to catch up with it. She did all the preparation for the burn, and I did whatever she asked me to. She delegated well and kept me busy. I handled all the support details for example, talking to the Center, verifying parameters, and double-checking her calculations. The few hours it took us to change orbit dragged on forever. Zoomer thought they flew by like minutes. She did seem a little anxious, but it was her first rendezvous. Her calculations proved to be spot-on, and she was ecstatic when the booster came into view right where she expected it to appear.
She worked hard to close the final distance to the booster and used up a lot of maneuvering fuel, but the docking went by the book, and she didn't exceed any tolerances. Once she docked, we waited a bit for confirmation that we had a good lock and seal, but it never came. To me, everything looked fine; I thought maybe we had a bad sensor. Nevertheless, it meant Zoomer had to release the booster and re-dock, hopefully clearing the glitch.
Zoomer during the docking
She did that, this time relaxed and with more confidence. We waited again. I was sure we had a bad sensor. All of the supporting instruments were in green, shoring no leaks, and all latches were closed properly. I called the center and insisted that the docking should count as satisfactory. For Bun's sake, she did it twice! I heard the chief controller grumble in the background, but the final word came back affirming that the maneuver counted. That was all I wanted to hear.
Nonetheless, Zoomer frowned. She turned to the console again and gave the call to stand by for booster separation. She would let it go, and some bun at the center would take over the booster. It would be picked up by a recycler and returned for refurbishing on the ground.
Mr. Toes
But when Zoomer executed the command to separate, nothing happened. Then the master caution light came on. Before Zoomer could say anything, the center asked us to stand by as if they were expecting this.

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