Cold and Steel Episode 5: Snowman on Mars




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Cold and Steel

Image of the AEDF1 Fleet Command Emblem. An acoustic cover of Major Tom by Peter Schilling begins to play.

TEXT: AEDF Outreach Media Presents:

Montage of AEDF filmstrips throughout history- NG2 craft in black and white, photographs of primitive spacesuits on the surface of the Moon, excavation of Lunar sites, NG vessels over Antarctica, censored images of Howler noocraft3, engine tests, space station construction.

TEXT: In Cooperation with the Department of Personal Efficacy and Wellness

Montage of AEDF personnel at work; donning spacesuits, conducting experiments in laboratories in low gravity, constructing the keel of a torch vessel on the surface of the Moon.

TEXT: Cold and Steel: Stories from the High Frontier

Cut to black. Music continues

TEXT: As part of the production of Cold and Steel, AEDF and Ares II base personnel were provided handheld cameras to record a snapshot of their lives on the surface of the red planet. These are their stories.

The low churning of an industrial drill hums just out of shot. The camera zooms out from a CRT screen, displaying an EKG. Numbers are redacted for patient confidentiality. The camera zooms out and begins a slow panning shot of a cramped domed-shaped room roughly 9m wide and 2m tall. The walls are sleek, metallic grey with little texture, excluding a slow-rotating ventilation fan embedded into the ceiling. Medical equipment is haphazardly left on tables propped up beside empty hospital beds. A tower of half-opened medical shipment crates sits stacked along the curved edge of the room.

TEXT: Episode 5: Snowman on Mars

SUBTITLE: Created by Engineers Heitor Aldo and Doctor Jordon Cook

Music fades, replaced by the steady beeping of the heart monitor and the vocal grumbling of Heitor Aldo. The camera zooms in and refocuses its shot on Engineer Aldo, indisposed and covered in electrode pads. A copy of The Cosmic Flame, authored by John Russel Fearn, covers his face.

COOK: Humans can't sync their circadian rhythm to the Martian day. I told you this would happen.

ALDO: Don't be a smart-ass, Doc.

ALDO: I'll gladly take temporary jetlag over working at night.

COOK: You need to start listening to my medical advice. Before you give yourself a stroke, tell the folks back at home about what you do.

Aldo removes the book from his face and checks his wrist-mounted watch. He swats away the electrode pads and pushes himself off the bed with considerable force. As Aldo slowly floats back down to the ground, he tosses his book on a bedside table. It ricochets off the desktop into a pile of boxes, but Aldo doesn't show much of a reaction in his fatigued state.

ALDO: [Yawns loudly with mouth open] It's about that time of day anyway. Come on.

The camera spins around and refocuses on a narrow slit window. Bloom from the outside surface overexposes the image for a second before auto-dimming. A clear picture of a Martian rover with four occupants comes into view. The vehicle parallel parks into a shallow subterranean garage mound connected to the base. The camera shifts its focus depth on the horizon. For hundreds of kilometers, the ground is covered in nothing but packed CO2 ice, with the occasional patches of red iron dust. In the distance, roughly 5 km, a massive industrial drill churns up a steady stream of reddish debris, creating a backdropping for a white humanoid-shaped silhouette.

ALDO: Thank God for the low atmosphere density, or sleep would be impossible.

COOK: You barely sleep as-is.

ALDO: [Aldo looked directly into the camera, putting on a forced smile]. Ok, class, you see that thing behind me. It's what we in the business call a drill. It's a similar make and model to the drill NASA's Perseverance rover is equipped with. Ours has just been scaled up a tad and built to tolerate higher stress forces. My job, and a half-dozen other engineers' jobs, is to keep the thing operational 24/7, no, 24.4/7.

COOK: So, what does it do?

Aldo walks into the frame and sticks up his index finger.

ALDO: Well, it scrapes up snow. Then we melt the spoils down with heat coils. If we're working with CO2, it just evaporates, and we pressurize it into canisters. If we're working with rusty Martian H2O, into the filters it goes, and presto, out comes aqua pura. The base stores about a fourth for general all-purpose use. The rest is sent to whoever might be in the general vicinity of Mars.

COOK: And number two?

ALDO: Um, oh yeah. Secondly, we dig up a mineral called bauxite. It's not that valuable back on Earth, but out here; it's worth its weight. Bauxite is formed when a lot of clay meets a lot of pressure, like on a planet. It was believed that Mars wouldn't have any due to the cold and lack of rain. But by sheer luck, we found trace deposits in the rocky clay. These deposits date back roughly 4 billion years, suggesting Mars might have once had an active water cycle and possibly suitable temperatures for life. Now the bauxite itself isn't so special, but during the refinement process, you can get gallium.

COOK: And what do we use gallium for?

ALDO: I'm getting to that. Where was I? Oh yeah. When mixed with arsenide, a sort of mix of arsenic and other stuff we dig up, you get a suitable semiconductor that can be used to make many things. Oh, and one of those things is the red-light LEDs, which I believe are installed in every med bay. The science behind it is beyond me, but Dr. Cook has repeatedly assured me that they help the body heal in zero-g conditions.

The camera spins around to show a close-up of Cook's face. The slight fish-lense effect exaggerates his facial features.

COOK: You're welcome, space cowboys. You can buy me a beer when we get back down the well.

ALDO: If that's all, let's end the video. I need your help suiting up in the airlock.

COOK: Sure thing, but there's one thing left we need to show them.

ALDO: Wait, it's not. Oh no, don't show them that!

Jump cut to the two in their hab airlock, putting on their space suits. Aldo turns around and is given a once-over by Cook before Aldo does the same for him. Cook walks over to the camera and picks it up. A flashing light goes off, and the airlock depressurizes. Aldo picks up a toolbox and steps outside, the camera following him.

COOK: [Deep breath]. After you.

Jump cut to the back seat of a Martian rover. Engineers John Rico and Alex Rictor are in the front seats, with the former driving and the latter looking out over the horizon. The camera pans over to a drowsy Aldo, trying to make an effort not to nod off.

RICTOR: [Puts index finger to the side of his helmet] Four o'clock, on the horizon. See it?

Rictor points at the horizon. The camera moves away from Aldo and zooms in on a black speck darting across the icy landscape.

RICO: I see it. I am commencing Protocol 058-Sigma.

ALDO: [Snorts] Huh, wait, why did we slow down?

RICO: Sorry, folks; this slight delay will be resolved shortly.

RICTOR: Hey, Rico, you uh, arming the EMP.

The camera pans back to Rico and Rictor. The camera is elevated and pivoted downwards over the shoulders of the two upfront. Rico has flipped open a metallic cover obscuring a compartment labeled with electrical hazard warnings. Multiple red switches in the case have already been flipped, except for one, which Rico is steadily hovering over.

RICO: Already done. Protocol 058-Sigma is a go.

RICTOR: [Deep breath] Ok, let's do this.

Rictor steps out of the rover, the camera following behind. As the camera refocuses to get a clear shot of both Rictor and the black speck approaching, he unlatches the covering of a pouch built into his space suit. Slowly, he removes a small white polymer-framed firearm and pulls back on the weapon's slide with his free hand. Carefully, he places it back into his suit pouch, intentionally leaving the covering unlatched.

COOK: Good luck.

Jump cut to Rictor face to face with a 5-meter tall RPC-058-1. The camera zooms out to its maximum field of view to capture as much of the scene as possible.

RICTOR: Greetings, oh slave master.

The entity does not move. A sequence of loud, low-pitched, chirping noises emanates from the radio.

RICTOR: Oh yes, master. Mining operations are on schedule. Shipments shall be ready in five years.

Another sequence of chirps is emitted, but much louder and lower in pitch.

RICTOR: Last time- Oh, no, no. I meant Jovian years.

The camera pulls out from its wide-view shot and refocuses on Rictor. He begins thumbing the unlatched straps of his chest pouch and shifting his legs at an increased tempo. Without warning, the massive machine chirps and takes off into the horizon, kicking up white and red snow, forcing Cook to shield the camera lens with his hand.

RICO: Quick thinking, Alex. For a second, I could have sworn you had bought the farm.

RICTOR: Don't underestimate my ability to bullshit out of a sticky situation.

COOK: Like your medical checkups?

RICTOR: Hey, wait, that's completely different.

ALDO: It's ok to admit you don't like needles, Alex.

RICTOR: [Rictor groans]

Jump cut again to the Martian rover, parked 1 km away next to a deactivated drill. Engineer Alex Rictor waves to the camera as Engineer John Rico climbs a ladder on the drill installation's support frame. The camera spins around, zooming in on nothing but white snow. The camera slowly pulls back and refocuses on a crudely made snowman with a torn Snoopy cap.

COOK: Tada! Say "hi", Frosty.

ALDO: I told him it was a bad idea.

COOK: No, you said it couldn't be done.

ALDO: I don't want to be technical, but this isn't a snowman. It's an iceman. Snow-

COOK: Yes, yes, I know. CO2 snow is too tiny and not wet enough to stick together. We both aced our physics course. But in my heart, he's a snowman. Here, hold the camera for a sec.

The video recording gets blurred as the camera changes hands. Aldo spins the camera around and focuses on Cook against the red-speckled sky and starch-white horizon. Cook is down on one knee, rooting around in his toolbox with one hand. He pulls out a metal rod, a small hand drill, and a carrot.

ALDO: I'm honestly amazed that the giant killer spider robots haven't destroyed this thing. Wait, did you waste your yearly shipment bonus on a carrot?

COOK: No, I asked a friend to have it packaged with the camera.

The camera zooms in on the handheld drill as it makes a hole into the block of carbon ice.

ALDO: So, what compelled you to make a snowman?

COOK: Well, I grew up in Nevada. As a child, I never quite got the chance to build a snowman. When I heard AEDF was sending me off to Mars, I thought, "Well, Jordon, how different could it be from home?"

ALDO: And then you saw the snow.

COOK: Precisely. It was just there. And at that moment, I knew I had to make a snowman.

The camera then zooms in to show Cook pushing a small thin copper rod into the hole and sliding a dried carrot over it.

COOK: And it is complete—my incredible creation.

ALDO: Wow, congrats, you just won the world record for the number of snowmen built per person. So, what will you do now?

COOK: I think…I'll make a snowwoman. To give him company.

TEXT: Engineer Aldo and Doctor Cook have spent the last year, seven months, and 14 days on the surface of Mars as a part of Martian mining and fabrication operations. In that time, 15,000 L of water and 300 kg of industrial-grade gallium have been produced and shipped to ships in and beyond the Martian orbit.

SUBTITLE: AEDF Outreach Media, 2023.

Playback ends.

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