09 June 2012

It's A Long Way Up. Or Down.

It's a long way just getting there, and that's even before donning the mandated pressure suit. Any time there's only one thickness of stuff between you and the Great Airless Beyond, any time you're out in the nobody's-regularly-there utility and leftover spaces of the vast starship USAS Lupine, the Enviro & Physical Plant safety types require you wear an actual pressure suit, with full tanks and working radio, just like on Buck Rogers. (Which mine kind of is, being mostly a mechanical-counterpressure type, but you wear coveralls over, more to protect it from rips and abrasion and to keep it clean than for modesty -- but it is not much more than a thick leotard and every time I put it on, I resolve to spend more time working out in the ship's gym. Humbling!)

Why suit up, if you can breathe the (stale and dusty) air? 'Cos it would be way too much trouble to go rescue you, all bloated and vacuum-dried, if you managed to, oh, punch through a radar-transparent plastic bubble or trip a fire-extinguishing air dump; they'd rather you were able to yell for help and had some chance of surviving 'til help would arrive, followed by debriefing and a hectoring lecture about what you did wrong.

In the present instance, I'd done nothing wrong but one of E&PP's inspector/cleaners had: he'd managed to flip the breaker for one of the ship's primary radars, the "Ship's Horizontal Axis Search," a/k/a "Arbitrary-H Main" which sits in a handy radome at the very top of a high, tower-like structure, at the very forward end of Lupine, bit to starboard of the centerline. He'd turned it right back on but the damage was done: the High Power Amplifier had cycled back up in "local," the E&PP crewman had not noticed (it's not his job, it's Engineering's) and was much farther along in his appointed rounds by the time the Navs boffins realized they were only seeing returns on the Arbitrary-V Main, which sticks out from the port side at the forward end on the end of a long, tube-like thingie, much like the hollow tower of H Main.

The Chief was out (it happens. Rarely); Dr. Schmid, 2/O, high brass indeed and our nominal big boss was definitely In and delighted to assign me the long walk out to see what the matter might be. He paged me up to Navs -- a warren of cubicles with three bulkheads covered in very large-screen displays, up a spiral stair from Jump Control -- and commenced to enthuse.

"It's probably something simple. Radar Ralph's software can be pretty flaky, though, we might have to shut it all down and bring everything back up in sequence."

I nodded. "Radar Ralph" O'Casey is something of a legend in the starships he's never seen and can't be told about; he's never been cleared for it and from everything I hear, he never will be. But his radars are great; no one does 'em better. He himself, that's a different story; he tried to insist he was the only person who could or should install and maintain his radar designs and the USAF team fronting for the Starship Company had to wave money, a free vacation and a course of therapy before he would relent. Even at that, the documentation is sketchier than I'd like and we've had to reverse-engineer his subassemblies. Since the Search radar do two jobs -- conventional radar-type work in normal space and mapping the shape of our pocket universe in Jump -- we have to have the very best and that means Ralph or the Ukrainians who've built all the high-precision units for the old USSR and current Russian starships and publicly-known space vehicles. Trust me: odd as he is, Ralph's easier to deal with.

A mere hour later, I was suited up and opening the pressure door marked, NO ACCESS. PRESSURE SUIT AND LOGIN REQUIRED PAST THIS POINT. Aw, they do care! A nice, healthy hike though the area our switch-flipper had worked (I could see his tracks) and I was at the hatch for H Main Radar; pop it and I'm in the base of the radar mast itself, with another little compartment where the radar electronics lives dead ahead. To one side and above me is--

A whole lot of UP.You know what we have on the Hidden Frontier they don't have on the International Space Station or even the "starship Enterprise?" Spiders. (Also sometimes mice and rarely, rats or cockroaches). Ew.

Also, I don't know why it is, when I have the whole universe to fall into it doesn't bother me, yet a large enclosed volume gives me the willies -- but it does. So of course, as soon as I had Dr. Schmid on the radio, he asked if I could see the dish rotating. You should just be able to see the yoke glide across the opening where the stairs enter the radome, but I couldn't.

So of course, I had to climb up and make sure. In zero-g, you can just clip onto the steel cable going up the center of the mast and glide; but Lupine normally runs .75 g. It's to keep your bones and muscles from turning into mush and it makes life simpler (mostly) but not easier.

First things first! I checked the radar unit itself: it had defaulted to Local control and was plain off; I set it to warm up but not transmit (there's a "man aloft" safety key you remove and clip to your belt for just that). And then trudge, trudge, trudge, up and around. It's only two hundred feet vertically but you walk at least three times that far.

Up top, the dish was gliding serenely around, all right -- and tilted down as far as it can go, trying to image the steel platform it sits on instead of what's outside the radome (the parareality in between stars just now, a sparkling gray something outlining a more-or-less oblate spheroid). Dr. Schmid tried various things, I carefully read tilt angles off the scribed marks, walking along with the yoke (a good way to get hurt -- Handsome Dave once got knocked flat trying it with the rotational speed just a little too fast, and a darned good thing it took him in the shoulder and not the helmet). Eventually, we got it rereferenced -- it makes my skin crawl to hear the 2/O muse about "dialing in a fudge factor," but Navs boffins (which is how Dr. Schmid came up) are not like you and me: he's talking about a least-practical-increment slippage and, as usual, he was right.

Back down to the equipment compartment -- look at the bulkhead beside you, not across; even down is better than across or up ---- put the safety key back in, and pip! the radar's back up. Dr. Schmid checked his re-cal with the radar target on the fixed portion of the 'Drive mast, seven miles away at the far aft end of the ship, and lo, it was spot-on.

Another day, another $53.77 an hour, or whatever it will work out to. (We get paid for Earth-elapsed, which is like variable-rate overtime, hooray! But only because any other way complicates payroll; aboard ship, you're drawing against pay 'til next time Lupine gets back to the homeworld and they settle accounts).