As the pilots prepared for the landing, Columbia's flight deck took on the air of a little cave, Benacerraf thought, a cave glowing with the light of the crew's fluorescent glareshields, and of -Earth. Despite promises of upgrades, this wasn't like a modern airliner, with its "glass" cockpit of computer displays. The battleship-gray walls were encrusted'-with switches and instruments that shone, white and yellow with internal light, though the surfaces in which they were embedded were battered and scuffed with age. There was even an eight-ball attitude indicator, right in front of Tom Lamb; like something out of World War Two; and he had controls the Wright brothers would have recognized: pedals at his feet, a joystick between his legs.
There was a constant, high-pitched whir, of, environment control pumps and fans.
Lamb, sitting in Columbia's left-hand commander's seat, punched the deorbit coast mode program into the keyboard to his right. Benacerraf, sitting behind the pilots in the Flight Engineer's jump seat, followed his keystrokes. OPS 301 PRO Right. Now he began to check the burn target parameters.
Bill Angel, Columbia's pilot, was sitting on the right-hand side of the flight deck. "I hate snapping switches," he said. "Here we are in a new millennium and we still have to snap switches." He grinned, a little tightly. It was his first flight, and now he was coming up to his first landing. And, she thought, it showed.
Lamb smiled, without turning his head. "Give me a break," he said evenly "I'm still tying to get used to fly by wire."
"Still missing that old prop wash, huh, Tom?"
"You got it."
Amid the bull, the two of them began to preparethe OMSorbital maneuvering engines for their deorbit thrusting. Lamb and Angel worked through their checklist competently and calmly: Lamb with his dark, almost Italian looks, flecked now with gray, and Angel the classic WASP military type, with a round, blond head, shaven at the neck, eyes as blue as windows.
Benacerraf was kitted out for the landing, in her altitude protection suit with its oxygen equipment, parachutes, life-raft and survival equipment. She was strapped to her seat, a frame of metal and canvas. Her helmet visor was closed.
She had felt safe on orbit, cocooned by the Shuttle's humming systems and whirring fans. Even the energies of launch had become a remote memory. But now it was time to come home. Now, rocket engines had to burn to knock Columbia out of orbit, and then the orbiter would become a simple glider, shedding its huge orbital energy in a fall through the atmosphere thousands of miles long, relying on its power units to work its aerosurfaces.
They would get one try only. Columbia had no fuel for a second attempt.
Benacerraf folded her hands in her lap, and watched the pilots, following her own copy of the checklist, boredom competing with apprehension. It was, she thought, like going over the lip of the world's biggest roller-coaster.
On the morning of I Columbia's landing at Edwards, Jake Hadamard flew into LAX.
An Agency limousine was waiting for him, and he was driven out through the rectangular-grid suburbs of LA, across the San Gabriel Mountains, and into the Mojave. His driver--a college, kid from UCLA. earning her way through an aeronautics degree seemed excited to have NASA's Administrator in the back of her car, and she wanted to talk,find out how he felt about the landing today, the latest Station delays, the future of humans in space.
Hadamard was able to shut her down within a few minutes, and get on with the paperwork in his briefcase.
He was fifty-two. And he, knew that with his brushed-backsilver-blond hair, his high forehead and his cold blue eyes-augmented by the steel-rimmed spectacles he favoured--hecould look chilling, a whiplash-thin power from the inner circles of government. Which was how he thought of himself.
The paperwork--contained in a softscreen which heunfolded over his knees-was all about next year's budget. submission for the Agency. What else? Hadamard had beenAdministrator for three years now, and every one of thoseyears, almost all his energy had been devoted to preparing thebudget submission: trying to coax some kind of reasonable dataand projections out of the temperamental assholes who ranNASA's centers, then forcing it through the White House, andthrough its submission to Congress, and all the complex negotiations that followed, before the final cuts were agreed.
And that was always the nature of it, of course: cuts.
Hadarnard understood that.
Jake Hadamard, NASA Administrator, wasn't any kind of engineer, or aerospace nut. He'd risen to the board. of a multinational, supplier of commodity staples-basic foodstuffs, bathroom paper, soap and shampoo. High-volume, low differentiation; you made your profit by driving down costs, and keeping your prices the lowest in the marketplace. Hadamard had achieved just, that by a process of ruthless vertical integration and horizontal acquisition. He hadn't made himself popular with the unions and the, welfare groups. But he sure waspopular with the shareholders.
After that he'd taken on Microsoft, after that company had fallen on. hard times, and Bill Gates was finally deposed and sent. off to dream. his Disneyland dreams. By cost-cutting, rationalization and excising a lot of Gates's dumber, more expensive fantasies--and by, ruthlessly using Microsoft's widespread presence to exclude the competition, so smartly and subtly that the antitrust suits never had a chance to keep up Hadarnard had taken Microsoft back to massive profit within a couple of years.
It is the 21st century, and the United States government sees no reason to continue NASA. However, one scientist has found one very good reason to keep the space program alive: signs of life on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. Going against directives, he champions a makeshift mission to Titan -- a journey he believes could save earth. Drawing on extensive research at NASA, Baxter fills his latest novel with the authentic technology and emotions that fuel humanity's drive to explore space at any and all cost.