48 Hours a Day

Chapter 291 - Dangerous Mechanical Tick

Chapter 291 Dangerous Mechanical Tick

Being an astronaut was one of the most complicated jobs a human endured. When Project Mercury first started, NASA recruited a total of 100 experienced pilots as astronaut candidates. Only seven were selected in the end. During the early stages of human space exploration, nobody really knew what would happen the moment they left the confines of planet earth. Theoretically, the list of mishaps could be endless, since space was infinite, and all they had were their guts and an overpriced tin can. Ground control was thousands of miles away, and there wasn’t anyone up there they could rely on. As an astronaut, they had to be prepared for every instance of an emergency, fixing problems that weren’t even in their manuals. It was a job that required not only bravery but also ingenuity. That was why the astronauts’ training was essential to them.

Their entire day during training was filled with a tight training schedule, enough activities each day to drive anybody crazy. Even breathing had become somewhat of a luxury. However, training did get interesting at times. The anti-gravity simulation on the parabolic flights allowed their bodies to float freely in the air. They also got to try astronaut food for the very first time. The dehydrated ready-to-eat meals weren’t nearly as good as the over-the-counter burger, but still decent and palatable.

The last activity was Zhang Heng’s favorite. He was in his spacesuit when he dived into the swimming pool, seeing the light piercing through from the surface to the bottom. A stream of air bubbles continuously shot out the snorkels of the divers beside him. He could hear the whoosh of air blowing from the vent inside his helmet and the low rumble of the occasional air bubble outside. Once wholly immersed in the water, Zhang Heng felt as if he’d entered a world of complete silence, and although he knew that he hadn’t yet encountered space, he had to admit that he enjoyed the feeling a lot.

Of course, these were just the highlights. The training was exhausting and a dull affair most of the time. Pushed into a regime fit to recruit a secret agent, the trainees had their limits put on trial, and even some of them were even broken. Not too long after that, the teaching-to-the-test classes and high-intensity physical training started taking a toll on the lot. Even Jia Lai had lost some weight as well. The saddest part was that he knew the lumps of fat would return once he left this quest. However, theory class and physical training weren’t the worst part of the course, for NASA had this machine that was capable of torturing one’s very soul.

Known as Johnsville Centrifuge, the machine could accelerate from zero to two hundred kilometers per hour in seven seconds. It was everyone’s worst nightmare. During training, the candidates were supposed to keep conscious under the pressure of tremendous G-forces while the machine sped up. Seeing how this machine worked, the Multi-Axis Trainer didn’t look so bad anymore.

Lastly, the most horrifying machine award had to go to the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle. This must be NASA’s ugliest and most dangerous invention. From its exterior, it looked like a giant mechanical tick and was used to simulate moon landings. NASA themselves admitted later that the Lunar Lander Training Machine couldn’t accurately simulate an actual moon-landing. It did not show what it was like to exit the aircraft. Most of the time, the clunky machine would put its pilot in grave danger too.

Inside a modern virtual simulator, operators could calmly discuss and analyze the reasons for their spacecraft crashing. The Lunar Landing Training Vehicle was different, however, were only two outcomes were possible once the pilot stepped into the machine that literally took off the ground. They could either successfully land the craft, or if they failed, god forbid, it would explode once it touched the ground. Right before the explosion, the pilot would best be quick to eject, if burning in rocket fuel and oxidizer wasn’t their choice for death.

According to statistics, NASA once produced four Lunar Landing Training Vehicles as an experiment. Three were destroyed during training sessions. In other words, it had a shocking failure rate of 75%.

“I wish someone can tie the machine’s inventor to it and let them have a taste of their own medicine,” grunted Jia Lai under his breath.

No matter how much they complained, though, the captain had already summoned the first person to the machine.

“The first person to go is Anthony.”

Anthony raised his eyebrows, not the least willing to get on the bonkers contraption as well. However, after going through a month of intensive training, he had tried all kinds of weird machines and was able to muster up enough courage. Besides, the captain was still grading them, and Anthony wanted to leave a good and bold impression on him. After all, physical attributes weren’t the only factor that contributed to the assessment; the mental side of things was just as important.

Although he had a bad feeling in his heart, Anthony relented, deciding to obey the captain’s command as he boarded the aircraft. While fastening his seatbelt, the staff did a quick checkup on him.

“The wind is acting up today. Be careful,” the staff warned.

“Am I… supposed to say my last words right now?”

“The lever is under your seat. Pull it if you see your life flashing before your eyes. Once you pull it, you will be ejected out of the machine, and your parachute will bring you back to the ground safely.”

“Understood.”

“Let’s begin if you are ready,” the captain’s voice echoed through the intercom.

The Lunar Landing Training Vehicle started wobbling around dangerously like a drunk man the moment it lifted off the ground. Luckily, it soon stabilized and reached its expected altitude.

“1100 feet. Exceeding minimum altitude,” Anthony could be heard saying.

“Roger that. You can attempt to land now,” replied the captain.

At the same time, the rest of the players kept their eyes on the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle. From where they stood, it looked like a colossal flying tick, with an unsightly, exposed metal frame and four tiny legs sticking out its bottom. The front part of the aircraft was exposed and they could see Anthony nervously fumbling with the controls. Piloting the vehicle required great reflexes and skill, essentially like trying to balance a unicycle on a tightrope. Without a doubt, this was one of the toughest parts of their training, not to mention that the wind wasn’t on their side today. It would greatly increase the difficulty of landing the sensitive and erratic craft.

“He’ll kill himself if something goes wrong,” the listless young man said all of a sudden.

The other players glared at him in silence.

“What? Don’t tell me the thought hadn’t crossed your minds. We knew his day would eventually come, am I right? One less competitor ain’t a bad thing. Note to all; I’m referring to all of you here: I have never seen him as a worthy opponent.”

Although whatever he said wasn’t pleasant to the ear, it was hard to argue with him. He might seem like a useless teenager, but throughout the month he spent at NASA, he had managed to surprise everyone with his excellent airmanship and theoretical knowledge, second only to that of Zhang Heng. Although the results weren’t released yet, he should have no problem getting selected as an astronaut. As for the rest, they started to think about what would happen after the results were released. Maybe the time had come to see the other players as enemies.

Anthony was still struggling to land the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle slowly. However, the rest of the players no longer paid their attention to him. They were backing off as if avoiding impending doom that was about to strike at any moment.

“You’re coming down too fast! Slow down! I repeat. Your landing speed is too fast. You need to slow down. Pull up and try again!”

Anthony was sweating nonstop, flicking switches, and vigorously adjusting the sticks in an attempt to bring the craft under control. Unfortunately, it seemed like the machine had lost its bearings and began wobbling violently in the sky. At the same time, it was coming down really fast. Then suddenly, it seemed to lose all power and dropped from the air like a stone. Within a few seconds, it crashed to the ground in a massive fireball. The players ducked to the ground as flames and heat washed over them with the shockwave.

The next thing they saw was a cloud of black smoke rising to the sky.

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