48 Hours a Day

Chapter 315 - Return To The Space Center

Chapter 315 Return To The Space Center

The Jeep came to a halt, stalling after circling the area halfway. It wasn’t because they had managed to find the other two, but the sandstorm was so severe that the dust and debris soon overwhelmed the intake, clogging it up. At first, the engine seemed underpowered, and the vehicle struggled to move. Not too long after, the engine sputtered before dying completely. In this case, it was impossible to start the engine again. Things didn’t go well for the second Jeep too. It was just the matter of which one would stop functioning first. Left with no other option, NASA had to give up on searching for the other players and hunkered down in the vehicle until the storm passed. It was then that a small accident occurred. A flying stone hit the right passenger window and shattered a hole through it. Everyone scurried to block the crack with layers of clothes to prevent sand from flying into the car.

However, nobody expected the sandstorm to last an entire day and night. Hours upon hours passed, and when the wind started to die down, they could finally exit the car. Seeing how it was buried halfway in the sand, those in the car wouldn’t survive if the sandstorm lasted any longer, let alone those completely exposed to the elements. Under such an unforgiving environment, it would be almost impossible for missing people to survive.

Even so, the captain chose to contact Area 51 immediately the moment the winds died down a little. He also requested a second rescue party to be sent out to search for the two trainees that NASA lost in the sandstorm.

Before they moved on, the captain sent Zhang Heng back to Kennedy Space Center as he was due for a one-week quarantine before he could get on the rocket. It was essential that he stayed away from his family and colleagues to avoid catching any viruses, colds, or any common diseases.

During this time, and unless absolutely necessary, only staff screened by the medical team could get close to the quarantined astronaut. Considering the odd virus and floating particles in the air, the astronaut wasn’t allowed to leave the isolation chamber either. If their spouse or child came for a visit, they had to first undergo a stringent medical examination. NASA even restricted the duration of their stay.

This would ensure the wellness of the astronauts’ health could be monitored to the greatest extent. Of course, all the trouble they went through wasn’t for nothing. NASA couldn’t afford to have the astronauts miss the launch window or postponing the mission because of a runny nose. Thankfully, this problem didn’t exist the moment the spacecraft entered orbit. No bacteria or any infectious viruses were in the vacuum of space, and it was rare that astronauts got sick while they were there.

Due to the mysterious infectious disease that ravaged the base, NASA paid particular attention to the quarantine process. Thanks to the unexpected sandstorm, Zhang Heng was quarantined a day less than initially planned. After the medical team conducted a comprehensive physical examination, confirming him in perfect health, NASA’s executives couldn’t be more relieved.

No one had expected things to move in this direction. Armstrong and Collins’ surprising return gave NASA a much-needed boost and even restored Congress’ confidence in the moon landing. NASA was in complete shock after seeing how accidents strangely kept happening to this batch of urgently recruited candidates. In the end, only one of the seven survived.

Fortunately, NASA eventually pulled together enough astronauts for the mission. That said, Zhang Heng, who survived, had the best training performance out of the seven, and although not the outcome that NASA had hoped for, they were content with who they got in the end. The selection process had unexpectedly turned into an elimination round. Thus, the final candidate was now set in stone.

Zhang Heng had to spend the next four days in the isolation room.

After entering the quarantine period, the astronauts would no longer be assigned any tasks or training. Of course, a good amount of everyday exercise was mandatory to ensure the astronaut was in the best of health. The astronauts could also use this time to adjust their sleeping patterns to adapt to the work schedule in space. In terms of diet, NASA no longer set any restrictions. In theory, astronauts could request whatever they wanted from the dietician. They were even allowed relatively high-calorie ‘junk food’ because space food could never be compared to the delicacies on earth. Whatever they could eat on earth now was considered as compensation for whatever the astronauts would miss out while in space.

Of course, this should be in no way compared to the infamous ‘last meal’ of death row inmates.

After all, it was only eight years since Gagarin entered space for the first time, and now, humankind once again challenged themselves to land on another celestial object. For the Apollo 11 mission team, it was an opportunity to create history. A venture of such great heights, though, didn’t come without an equal cost, one that was marred by extremely high risks.

Let alone returning the crew successfully, the entire undertaking was more of a shot in the dark, pun not intended. Despite all the years and hours of ridiculously complicated calculations done by teams of brilliant astrophysicists, no one really knew what would happen the moment the rocket took-off or if the spacecraft could even enter lunar orbit. They also had no idea if the lunar module would land safely on the moon, or if it would even land at all.

Although the process had been simulated thousands of times in the laboratory, nobody could predict what could happen hundreds of thousands of miles away on an alien world. After all, even insurance companies were unwilling to draft up policies for astronauts. Despite the glamorous title, the guarantee that their families would be compensated in the event of their death was now further away from earth than they could imagine.

For this reason, Armstrong and a few came up with a unique way of insuring themselves. They left hundreds of envelopes with their autographs and souvenirs related to the mission and gave them to their wives, relatives, and friends before they set off. If an accident did, god forbid, happen, these signatures would become their last gift to humanity. In other words, their autographs would hold considerable value, and the money from selling the envelope alone should help secure the future of their respective families.

Armstrong also suggested Zhang Heng do the same, to which he declined. After all, there was nobody for him to miss in the 1960’s United States. All his kin lived outside the game. Nonetheless, Zhang Heng still helped up Armstrong and Collins by signing a couple of envelopes, even taking a photo with them as well. These items could probably sell for good money when they were no longer alive.

Zhang Heng never thought that doing all these before the mission even began was pessimistic or somewhat of a bad omen. It was all standard practice to plan ahead in the event of failure. After all, even the White House would have already prepared a eulogy for them. Once the moon landing failed, newly elected President Nixon would broadcast it to all Americans.

While expressing his condolences, he would commend them for their courage and fearlessness. It would undoubtedly help with damage control, minimizing the moon landing failure’s fallout amongst the public.

But none of these things concerned Zhang Heng, and instead, he used the rare peace and quiet before the departure to check his recent yield. After killing Jia Lai, he received a reward of 20 game points. He got three game items in total: a wooden whistle, a lens, and a marble. Zhang Heng guessed that the lens should be related to Jia Lai’s ability to maintain his vision in the sandstorm.

As for the whistle and the marble, it was difficult to identify their functions, judging by their appearance. Coupled with the fork and teeth he got from Bruno, it was safe to say that Zhang Heng got five items in this round of the game. Game items were his high return behind the high risks he faced.

However, he cared more about the little gift from the Area 51 engineer called Einstein. Even though he knew that it was no game item, Zhang Heng could no longer look away from it the moment he opened the box. In it was a truly wireless Bluetooth headset; a pair of Apple AirPods.