Down the Cable

Each propulsion module was equipped with the main cable on which hung the habitat and the solar panels arrayed along its length. Each spoke of the pinwheel also had a smaller cable that ran alongside the propulsion module, then paralleled the main cable and attached to the side of the habitat, next to the airlock. This was the cable on which we were to move until we landed on the small platform jutting out from the airlock. The plan was to hook onto the cable with a braking mechanism that was in turn hooked to our strong safety belts. Then we would move hand-over-hand down or up the cable, depending on how you looked at it, until there was enough centrifugal force to pull us along the cable, at which point the brake would allow us to move in a controlled manner. Simple.

I made my way to the small personnel cable, hooked on, and started my trip. But despite my best efforts to keep my eyes focused on the job right in front of my nose, my attention repeatedly strayed to the greater space around me. The sensation of weight increased as I moved along the cable, and with it the dizziness induced by our circular motion. Two revolutions per minute would not cause dizziness for those inside an enclosed habitat because they only feel the sensation of gravity the rotation creates through centrifugal force. We, on the other hand, were outside watching the sun, stars, and planets whirl by like the spectators one would see while riding an Earth-side amusement park ride. I got sick to my stomach. Fortunately, or rather as a result of Captain Jones’ foresight, none of us had eaten for hours prior to the EVA so the nausea had no disastrous results.

According to the plan, we were to use the brake when we neared the habitats and gently lower ourselves to the platform. Well, the brakes were not nearly sensitive enough for the lightness of our bodies. They either stopped us cold when engaged or allowed us to fall freely when disengaged, so we ended up dragging ourselves the rest of the way to the habitat airlocks with the brakes on. It was slow and exhausting but had the unintended positive effect of taking my mind off the universe whirling around me. I was glad when I was inside the airlock with the door closed, watching the indicator lights as it cycled. I’m no agorophobe, but the feeling of spaciousness outside was just a little too much for me.

Excerpt from Chapter II: Galileo Mission

Artwork by Joe Hardwick

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