2001-A Space Odyssey

    17 - Cruise Mode




    The day-by-day running of the ship had been planned with great care, and - theoretically at least - Bowman and Poole knew what they would be doing at every moment of the twenty-four hours. They operated on a twelve-hours-on, twelve-hours-off basis, taking charge alternately, and never being both asleep at the same time. The officer on duty remained on the Control Deck, while his deputy saw to the general housekeeping, inspected the ship, coped with the odd jobs that constantly arose, or relaxed in his cubicle.


    Although Bowman was nominal Captain on this phase of the mission, no outside observer could have deduced the fact. He and Poole switched roles, rank, and responsibilities completely every twelve hours. This kept them both at peak training, minimized the chances of friction, and helped toward the goal of 100 percent redundancy.


    Bowman's day began at 0600, ship's time - the Universal Ephemeris Time of the astronomers. If he was late, Hal had a variety of beeps and chimes to remind him of his duty, but they had never been used. As a test, Poole had once switched off the alarm; Bowman had still risen automatically at the right time.


    His first official act of the day would be to advance the Master Hibernation Timer twelve hours. If this operation was missed twice in a row, Hal would assume that both he and Poole had been incapacitated, and would take the necessary emergency action.


    Bowman would attend to his toilet, and do his isometric exercises, before settling down to breakfast and the morning's radio-fax edition of the World Times. On Earth, he never read the paper as carefully as he did now; even the smallest items of society gossip, the most fleeting political rumors, seemed of absorbing interest as it flashed across the screen.


    At 0700 he would officially relieve Poole on the Control Deck, bringing him a squeeze-tube of coffee from the kitchen. If - as was usually the case - there was nothing to report and no action to be taken, he would settle down to check all the instrument readings, and would run through a series of tests designed to spot possible malfunctions. By 1000 this would be finished, and he would start on a study period.


    Bowman had been a student for more than half his life; he would continue to be one until he retired. Thanks to the twentieth-century revolution in training and information-handling techniques, he already possessed the equivalent of two or three college educations - and, what was more, he could remember 90 percent of what he had learned.


    Fifty years ago, he would have been considered a specialist in applied astronomy, cybernetics, and space propulsion systems - yet he was prone to deny, with genuine indignation, that he was a specialist at all. Bowman had never found it possible to focus his interest exclusively on any subject; despite the dark warnings of his instructors, he had insisted on taking his Master's degree in General Astronautics - a course with a vague and woolly syllabus, designed for those whose IQs were in the low 130s and who would never reach the top ranks of their profession.


    His decision had been right; that very refusal to specialize had made him uniquely qualified for his present task. In much the same way Frank Poole - who sometimes disparagingly called himself “General Practitioner in space biology” - had been an ideal choice as his deputy. The two of them, with, if necessary, help from Hal's vast stores of information, could cope with any problems likely to arise during the voyage - as long as they kept their minds alert and receptive, and continually reengraved old patterns of memory.


    So for two hours, from 1000 to 1200, Bowman would engage in a dialogue with an electronic tutor, checking his general knowledge or absorbing material specific to this mission. He would prowl endlessly over ship's plans, circuit diagrams, and voyage profiles, or would try to assimilate all that was known about Jupiter, Saturn, and their far-ranging families of moons.


    At midday, he would retire to the galley and leave the ship to Hal while he prepared his lunch. Even here, he was still fully in touch with events, for the tiny lounge-cum-dining room contained a duplicate of the Situation Display Panel, and Hal could call him at a moment's notice. Poole would join him for this meal, before retiring for his six-hour sleep period, and usually they would watch one of the regular TV programs beamed to them from Earth.


    Their menus had been planned with as much care as any part of the mission, The food, most of it freeze-dried, was uniformly excellent, and had been chosen for the minimum of trouble; Packets had merely to be opened and popped into the tiny auto-galley, which beeped for attention when the job was done. They could enjoy what tasted like - and, equally important, looked like - orange juice, eggs (any style), steaks, chops, roasts, fresh vegetables, assorted fruits, ice cream, and even freshly baked bread.


    After lunch, from 1300 to 1600 Bowman would make a slow and careful tour of the ship - or such part of it as was accessible. Discovery measured almost four hundred feet from end to end, but the little universe occupied by her crew lay entirely inside the forty-foot sphere of the pressure hull.


    Here were all the life-support systems, and the Control Deck which was the operational heart of the ship. Below this was a small “space-garage” fitted with three airlocks, through which powered capsules, just large enough to hold a man, could sail out into the void if the need arose for extravehicular activity.


    The equatorial region of the pressure sphere - the slice, as it were, from Capricorn to Cancer - enclosed a slowly rotating drum, thirty-five feet in diameter. As it made one revolution every ten seconds, this carrousel or centrifuge produced an artificial gravity equal to that of the Moon. This was enough to prevent the physical atrophy which would result from the complete absence of weight, and it also allowed the routine functions of living to be carried out under normal - or nearly normal - conditions.


    The carrousel therefore contained the kitchen, dining, washing, and toilet facilities. Only here was it safe to prepare and handle hot drinks - quite dangerous in weightless conditions, where one can be badly scalded by floating globules of boiling water. The problem of shaving was also solved; there would be no weightless bristles drifting around to endanger electrical equipment and produce a health hazard.


    Around the rim of the carrousel were five tiny cubicles, fitted out by each astronaut according to taste and containing his personal belongings. Only Bowman's and Poole's were now in use, while the future occupants of the other three cabins reposed in their electronic sarcophagi next door.


    The spin of the carrousel could be stopped if necessary; when this happened, its angular momentum had to be stored in a flywheel, and switched back again when rotation was restarted. But normally it was left running at constant speed, for it was easy enough to enter the big, slowly turning drum by going hand-over-hand along a pole through the zero-gee region at its center. Transferring to the moving section was as easy and automatic, after a little experience, as stepping onto a moving escalator.


    The spherical pressure hull formed the head of a flimsy, arrow-shaped structure more than a hundred yards long. Discovery, like all vehicles intended for deep space penetration, was too fragile and unstreamlined ever to enter an atmosphere, or to defy the full gravitational field of any planet. She had been assembled in orbit around the Earth, tested on a translunar maiden flight, and finally checked out in orbit above the Moon.


     She was a creature of pure space - and she looked it. Immediately behind the pressure hull was grouped a cluster of four large liquid hydrogen tanks - and beyond them, forming a long, slender V, were the radiating fins that dissipated the waste heat of the nuclear reactor. Veined with a delicate tracery of pipes for the cooling fluid, they looked like the wings of some vast dragonfly, and from certain angles gave Discovery a fleeting resemblance to an old-time sailing ship,


    At the very end of the V, three hundred feet from the crew-compartment, was the shielded inferno of the reactor, and the complex of focusing electrodes through which emerged the incandescent star-stuff of the plasma drive. This had done its work weeks ago, forcing Discovery out of her parking orbit round the Moon. Now the reactor was merely ticking over as it generated electrical power for the ship's services, and the great radiating fins, that would glow cherry red when Discovery was accelerating under maximum thrust, were dark and cool.


    Although it would require an excursion out into space to examine this region of the ship, there were instruments and remote TV cameras which gave a full report on conditions here. Bowman now felt that he knew intimately every square foot of radiator, panels, and every piece of plumbing associated with them.


    By 1600, he would have finished his inspection, and would make a detailed verbal report to Mission Control, talking until the acknowledgment started to come in. Then he would switch off his own transmitter, listen to what Earth had to say, and send back his reply to any queries. At 1800 hours, Poole would awaken, and he would hand over command.


    He would then have six off-duty hours, to use as he pleased. Sometimes he would continue his studies, or listen to music, or look at movies. Much of the time he would wander at will through the ship's inexhaustible electronic library. He had become fascinated by the great explorations of the past - understandably enough, in the circumstances. Sometimes he would cruise with Pytheas out through the Pillars of Hercules, along the coast of a Europe barely emerging from the Stone Age, and venture almost to the chill mists of the Arctic. Or, two thousand years later, he would pursue the Manila galleons with Anson, sail with Cook along the unknown hazards of the Great Barrier Reef, achieve with Magellan the first circumnavigation of the world. And he began to read the Odyssey, which of all books spoke to him most vividly across the gulfs of time.


    For relaxation he could always engage Hal in a large number of semi-mathematical games, including checkers, chess, and polyominoes. If Hal went all out, he could win anyone of them; but that would be bad for morale. So he had been programmed to win only fifty percent of the time, and his human partners pretended not to know this.


    The last hours of Bowman's day were devoted to general cleaning up and odd jobs, followed by dinner at 2000 - again with Poole. Then there would be an hour during which he would make or receive any personal call from Earth.


    Like all his colleagues, Bowman was unmarried; it was not fair to send family men on a mission of such duration, though numerous ladies had promised to wait until the expedition returned, no one had really believed this. At first, both Poole and Bowman had been making rather intimate personal calls once a week, though the knowledge that many ears must be listening at the Earth end of the circuit tended to inhibit them. Yet already, though the voyage was scarcely started, the warmth and frequency of the conversations with their girls on Earth had begun to diminish. They had expected this; it was one of the penalties of an astronaut's way of life, as it had once been of a mariner's.


    It was true - indeed, notorious - that seamen had compensations at other ports; unfortunately there were no tropical islands full of dusky maids beyond the orbit of Earth. The space medics, of course, had tackled this problem with their usual enthusiasm; the ship's pharmacopoeia provided adequate, though hardly glamorous, substitutes.


    Just before he signed off Bowman would make his final report, and check that Hal had transmitted all the instrumentation tapes for the day's run. Then, if he felt like it, he would spend a couple of hours either reading or looking at a movie; and at midnight he would go to sleep - usually without any help from electronarcosis. Poole's program was a mirror image of his own, and the two schedules dovetailed together without friction.


    Both men were fully occupied, they were too intelligent and well-adjusted to quarrel, and the voyage had settled down to a comfortable, utterly uneventful routine, the passage of time marked only by the changing numbers on the digital clocks.


    The greatest hope of Discovery's little crew was that nothing would mar this peaceful monotony in the weeks and months that lay ahead.