Friday, March 18, 2050

Pluto Station

Landing the Cerberus on Pluto involved a variation on the permafrost problem: a standard rocket engine would simply drill a hole in the nitrogen ice that made up that world's surface, leaving the ship buried in a deep pit. The planners in the Proposals Division came up with a new engine configuration to deal with the problem. Instead of a single engine pointing straight down, there would be three engines pointing down and away, leaving the surface below the lander untouched.

The Cerberus's onboard computer was sufficiently versatile that I could simply point to where I wanted it to set down, and the actual landing would be handled automatically. The surface at the literal south pole of Pluto was too rough to land on, so I had the Cerberus land about 350 meters away, in what I later determined was the 110th longitude. The computer shut down the engine, and I waited to see whether the surface would cave in underneath us. It didn't.

I had been in free fall for the better part of a year, but since Pluto's gravity is only about a fifteenth of Earth's, I didn't have any trouble getting up from the pilot's position and walking around. Now that the lander was down, the mission planners and I had agreed, it was no longer appropriate to call it the Cerberus. This was going to be my home for the rest of my life, and it was also going to be the central research base in the Plutonian system. Now that it was at rest, the lander had become Pluto Station. I walked over to one of the three big viewports that had been built into Pluto Station, and undogged the outer cover. I took a long first look out at the landscape, lit by a Sun that was 2000 times dimmer than back on Earth, but still 500 times brighter than a full moon. It was a wild landscape, with twisted shards and knobs of nitrogen ice studding the ground, below a black sky with Charon off to the right, halfway above the horizon. I spoke the first words ever spoken on Pluto.

"Mine," I said. "All mine."

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