I am a writer. I don't often write short stories but from time to time something catches my fancy.
It was an accident, the spokeswoman said.
Yes, the administrator was wearing a blue business suit. Dark blue, of course, but not with the traditional red power tie. Her tie was muted as if not one to call attention to what was being said. At the time, there were about 20, maybe 30, in the press room. We have been waiting by then for probably 18 hours. Finally, the NASA pressperson came to the podium, shuffling papers. She cleared her throat, and the room snapped to silence.
"I want to start," the spokeswoman said, "with a simple statement from the administrator of NASA and the president of the United States. What happened yesterday was an accident. It was not meant to happen, and contrary to the many press releases by other countries, it was not the intent of the United States for what happened to happen. By no means, however, do we blame others; we accept that the accident occurred at our hands." Hands shot into the air with questions, and eager faces turned toward the press spokesperson. But without another word, she backed away from the podium and walked out of the room. It was not what we were hoping would happen. We were actually hoping for an opportunity to talk to find out more to figure out what NASA knew and what NASA didn't know. Instead, we got a simple press release. I guess, and I have been doing this reporting gig for a long time, that is sometimes how the cookie crumbles.
The morning before the press conference, the television news was filled with headlines, looking to the night sky. Look to the night sky, I suspect if we think about what had happened the day before, looking to the night sky was the easiest way to ultimately introduce the rather horrifying topic that had to be discussed now. In fact, that's why we wished that suppressing women would offer more than simply a canned statement. It was an accident. It is a solar system-altering event. The accident is that it was not intended for it to happen. Scientists were discussing the impact of the accident on every major news channel. A large asteroid newly created by accident was now heading towards Earth. It would be intercepted by the NASA system and ultimately destroyed before hitting Earth.
Eleven days until the asteroid hit Earth. But there was a plan and a backup to stop it.
The asteroid would hit Earth in eleven days at its current path and speed. It would be intercepted the first time around seven days before hitting the Earth. A backup plan was to block the asteroid around nine days before it hit the ground. Perhaps sooner if they spent up the mission. The planetary defense fund and the planetary defense system long advocated by the Planetary Society were prepared for such an eventuality. An asteroid careening towards Earth. Unfortunately, this one had been accelerated. It was making a beeline for Earth. There were eleven fragments created, all told, but only one that really was going to have an impact. That was the one that they were going to break up into thousands of smaller asteroids so they would burn up upon hitting Earth's atmosphere. It was not a nuclear weapon.
Interestingly, people would think a nuclear weapon was a solution to a raging asteroid. It really is not. The system was designed to stop the steroid using large but conventional explosives. Ultimately an atomic weapon would create radioactive particles out of what had been an asteroid, and radioactivity makes it through Earth's atmosphere and then begins to pollute Earth itself.
We were later told by NASA exactly what happened. It was an accident that occurred on the probe that was sent to the surface of Titan. Titan is a moon in the outer solar system. That is interesting because it was one of the so-called ocean worlds. Literally covered with seas of methane and, based on the explosion, some oxygen. Methane, unfortunately, is highly combustible and extremely explosive. Methane, like gasoline, doesn't burn; once the combustion beings, it becomes explosive. The moon, not a large moon but still big enough, exploded in flames. The spark of the landing probe ignited the methane in the atmosphere, and Titan became a ball of fire.
As the oceans erupted, they burst and shattered Titan into four distinct pieces and 7 smaller pieces. One of the large pieces headed towards Earth, the smallest seven, and the other three pushed out further into the solar system. Likely to be intersected by the orbit of Saturn and then ultimately consumed by the gas giant. One wondered, of course, if a gas giant burbs when it eats a planet or, in this case, a moon. It was an accident for a spark to ignite Titan into a ball of fire in the night sky. What was left was still burning. Although again, heading towards Earth was a large piece, and running away from Earth were the three largest sections and the seven fragments large enough for us to identify. The Titan body wouldn't even get a chalk outline of where it had been killed. Not normally visible in the night sky with the naked eye, suddenly you could see Titan from anywhere on Earth. By tomorrow you will not be able to see much of the remaining burning moon. Rock doesn't necessarily burn. Methane burns, but the stone does not unless it is really hot. Still, as we sat in that room hoping that the press person for NASA would come back out and share more, we realized we weren't getting more. So, quietly we all issued our stories to the various television networks.
Simply put, it was an accident, commentators worldwide argue. Many nations said that the US had done it on purpose. To prevent the use of Titan as a way station soldiers. Although in using that argument, one had to consider that if the US was going to use a way station on the way to the outer solar system, they would also use type. So destroying Titan in effect destroyed that way station. And we would have to deal with that pesky asteroid now barreling towards our planet.
An accident she had read. She clearly had been told to read this sheet and answer no questions. No remorse, no guilt, no horror, no second thoughts. Simply saying it was an accident, it was not meant to happen. Later that day, NASA would release the telemetry of what happened on the Titan Lander right before the explosion. What caused the spark and the accidental reality of batteries that got too hot. I closed my notebook and put it in my pocket. There was not going to be anything here today. I suspect the calls for congressional hearings will begin soon. Growing, those calls, louder and loud. Those calls and this accident will, for the time it would, put a damper on exploring the space around the Earth. So many fly-bys with no accidents. In fact, it had been years since NASA had experienced open public failure. As in the past, they would pull back for a time. You see, accidentally exploding another moon probably wouldn't look good. So I ended the article as I submitted with the simple phrase look up to the burning sky and watch Titan die.
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