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It's our third morning in space and Mission Control wakes us with more rock music. Everyone is feeling great. The one crewmember who had been vomiting is now completely well. One of the crew floats me a foil pouch of coffee and I sip it while watching the giant satellite I released yesterday. It's many miles away but the reflecting sunlight has turned it into a morning star brighter than Venus.
Yes, it's a great day.
"Atlantis...Houston. We were wondering if you saw anything break off the
top of the right booster during ascent?"
But what can we do? How can we see the belly of the shuttle to know if it's damaged? The NASA team has the answer.
"Atlantis, we want Mike to use the robot arm to look at the belly. We're transmitting some instructions on how to do that."
Once again the team is depending upon me. But now I'll be doing something
that I haven't practiced. They want me to bend the robot arm around the
side of the shuttle and look underneath. The TV camera on the end of the
arm will transmit pictures of what the belly looks like.
I shiver in fear as I imagine what would happen to Atlantis if there is major damage. On reentry, fire would melt a hole in the belly and then start burning through wires and equipment. Alarms would sound in the cockpit as hydraulic pumps, electrical generators, computers, and other equipment began to fail. The fire alarm would go off as the heat started a fire in the cockpit. The other Mission Specialists and I would leave our seats to fight the blaze. But the reentry g-forces would make me weigh 360 lbs. My legs would buckle and I would crash to the floor and have to crawl to the fire. Air would start leaking out and a shrieking hiss would be added to all the other alarms. To keep us alive, our pressure suits would automatically inflate making the arms and legs as hard as an inflated tire. We would be like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz movie. We would barely be able to move.
Meanwhile, the Commander and Pilot would be doing everything possible to
keep the shuttle flying straight. They would be madly flipping through
checklists and shouting emergency procedures to each other. But in the end,
atmospheric friction would win the battle. The shuttle would start groaning
and vibrating as pieces of the wing burned off. The last hydraulic pump
would explode and the shuttle would slowly spin out of control. From the
ground it would appear like a giant shooting star, scattering flaming pieces
of aluminum across the sky. I would be dead.
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