Monday, March 21, 2050

Getting Around on Pluto

If you take the diameter of a sphere, square it, and multiply it by pi, you get the sphere's surface area. If the sphere has a diameter of 2388 kilometers, as Pluto has, that gives you a surface area of just under 18 million square kilometers. Any way you slice it, that's a lot of real estate for one man to cover, even in a lifetime.

Fortunately, the mission planners gave me a few options for getting around. The first, of course, is just me and my heavily insulated boots. Even allowing for Pluto's one-fifteenth gravity, one man can only travel so far with a six hour oxygen reserve. Assuming I want to return to Pluto Station before my oxy runs out (and I do), that means I can only travel three hours in any direction. This works out to a range of about thirty kilometers.

Second is the Plutonian bicycle. It took the mission planners a great deal of ingenuity to design and build a bicycle that could operate at 40 Kelvins. In order to avoid the inevitable wear and tear inherent in moving an object from room temperature to 40 Kelvins, I usually keep the bicycle on the surface of Pluto. The saddle is insulated, so I can keep the bicycle at 40 Kelvins while riding it (except for whatever heat builds up while I'm riding it). I'm not sure just what the bicycle is made of, except that it's not metal. The best thing about the bicycle is that it can carry an extra oxygen tank, which extends my time out by another hour and a half. With the extra oxygen thrown in, the bicycle triples my range to about ninety kilometers.

Third is the jet pack. This wouldn't be sufficient to lift a man on Earth, but with Pluto's light surface gravity it works just fine. The jet pack fits onto the back of the oxygen tanks, and uses compressed nitrogen for propulsion. This is by far the most economical propellant on Pluto, since the surface is mostly nitrogen ice. The jet pack extends my range to about 150 kilometers, and allows me to reach heights of about a hundred meters while doing so. All of the aerial views of Pluto you've ever seen were recorded by me while flying with the jet pack. Incidentally, it's been calculated that my use of the jet pack over the last twelve years has just about doubled the density of Pluto's atmosphere.

Finally, if all else fails, I can always move Pluto Station itself around. Since I make a trip to Charon every year to stock up on water, it's simplicity itself to simply choose a new landing site when I return to Pluto. Over the course of twelve years, I've been slowly spiralling away from the south pole. I'll certainly run out of life expectancy before I run out of Pluto.

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