48 Hours a Day

Chapter 318 - Mission Accomplished

Chapter 318 Mission Accomplished

Zhang Heng felt like he was experiencing a giant earthquake. Everything around him shook violently, and despite how sturdy the whole vehicle was built, the way each screw clanged and vibrated made them seem like they would fall apart at any minute.

As the rocket lifted off the ground, the powerful acceleration threw its passengers in the command module back into their aluminum alloy seats. It felt as if a gorilla sat on their chests, and even the simple movement of raising an arm became an arduous task. Fortunately, Zhang Heng trained for this very situation in the space center and was no stranger to the massive g-forces their bodies were subjected to while on the ascent.

The numbers on the display board kept jumping at a frantic pace!

135 seconds after liftoff, the central engine shut down. At 150 seconds, the other four F-1 engines around the periphery were cut off. When the first stage was exhausted of fuel, the Saturn V rocket had already reached an altitude of more than sixty-eight thousand meters.

Explosive charges separated the first stage from the interstage ring, and along with the Launch Escape System, they both separated from the vehicle and subsequently fell into the ocean.

The second stage could begin its job. The J-2 engines were ignited, and the entire vehicle increased its velocity from a ‘modest’ 9,200 kilometers per hour to a terrifying 24,600 kilometers per hour, sling-shooting it into the upper atmosphere in one fell swoop. The entire process lasted for a full six minutes until the second stage ran out of fuel. It was quickly discarded as well. Now that the entire launch vehicle was about a tenth of its original weight, it was the third-stage’ turn to engage and keep the vehicle’s trajectory. Apollo 11 continued to accelerate, and compared to liftoff, the awful vibrations in the cabin had calmed considerably.

The third stage shut down automatically after burning for precisely 2.75 minutes. The Saturn V launch vehicle carrying the Lunar Module had reached its escape velocity of 28,000 kilometers per hour, successfully entering Earth’s orbit.

The moment the announcement of successful orbit was made, mission control in Houston erupted into roars of cheers and applause. It meant that the launch phase was a success and was now over. When the engines were shut down, thrust levels dropped to 0% in just half a second. With a slight jolt, the pressure on Zhang Heng’s chest magically dissipated, and suddenly, he found himself floating above his seat. Thankfully, the seat belts kept him firmly strapped, and he wasn’t about to fly off anywhere.

He had read many books and watched countless movies about space, even witnessing the launch of Shenzhou 5, and fully comprehended every step of the moon landing. Now that it was actually happening, and that he was physically in the thick of it, it was an entirely different feeling altogether.

Right now, they were orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 166 kilometers. When their helmets were removed, they floated from their hands like feathers. The view of mother Earth finally came into sight through the porthole of the spacecraft.

Words failed to describe the otherworldly sight presented before them. An azure planet all alone in the deep, dark velvety sky. An arc-shaped horizon looming from the mists of the atmosphere, where thousands of tiny clouds drifted silently over the blue ocean. The ground was like a vast palette with a bright amalgamation of colors. They transitioned from yellow deserts to undulating mountains to dark green rainforests. The scene invoked indescribable awe and a landslide of emotions flooding through the hearts of the astronauts. It was a moment where everyone became speechless and dumbfounded.

Even Zhang Heng, who had been calm and composed all the while, found himself a little dazed, as he gazed at his homeworld from high, high above.

Just then, a series of system prompts echoed in his ear.

(Admire Earth from space – Mission complete…]

[Returning in four days…) [Successfully boarded the Saturn V launch vehicle – 10 game points. Please view the character panel for more details…] (Successfully entered Earth’s orbit – 20 game points. Please view the character panel for more details…]

[Successfully maintained continuous weightlessness for more than 500 seconds – 10 game points. Please view the character panel for more details…]

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Collins unbuckled his seatbelt and pushed himself with his legs to Zhang Heng’s position. “Once you’ve seen this view, you will never be able to forget it for the rest of your life. Congratulations, David. You are now a real astronaut. But you’ll only be able to get your golden brooch when you return to earth.”

On the other side of the spacecraft, a rare smile crept onto Armstrong’s lips. No matter how many times he had been to space, it was hard not to be completely immersed in earth’s beauty from miles above.

Right now, though, there was other important work to be done. Apollo 11 would stay in earth’s orbit for a period of time, and the spacecraft would use that time to conduct final inspections. Then, Apollo 11 Saturn would once again reignite its engines and officially begin the journey to the moon.

This step was also known as the trans-lunar injection.

At this point, although Zhang Heng had already completed the primary mission and gained 50 game points, he was still four days away from the return date. So, he had no other option but to remain in space and complete the moon landing mission with Armstrong and Collins.

Soon, it was confirmed that all systems were in order and that there were no problems with navigation. The spacecraft was pointing in the right direction. The third stage’ J-2 engines ignited again after 148 minutes, and with its last remaining bit of fuel, the spacecraft officially left earth’s orbit.

The Saturn V launch vehicle had now completed its duty.

Next, the skills of the three men on board would be put to the test.

It was a hairy maneuver that involved seperating the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) from its adapter, turning the CSM around, and docking its nose to the Lunar Module before pulling the combined spacecraft away from the third stage. It meant the pilot in charge would have to pitch up the CSM 180 degrees, make a U-turn and fly the front of the rocket before docking with it. Then, they would have to extract the Lunar Module and discard the third stage, no longer useful at this point.

While a good portion of these perilous in-flight operations would be assisted by mission control on the ground, the entire docking process required manual operation, and even the slightest error could bring catastrophic consequences.

“The next part is all you,” Armstrong told Collins.

The latter nodded and took a deep breath.

Collins separated the CSM from the rocket and gave the thrusters a little power. After he was 300 meters away, he completed the rotation. Then, at a velocity of 2 meters per second, the entire assembly reconnected with the Lunar module.

To avoid distracting Collins throughout the entire process, neither Zhang Heng nor Armstrong said a single word, merely observing quietly through the portholes above their heads.

Collins used the gas thrusters and gingerly adjusted the orientation and position of the spacecraft as if picking up a diamond with tweezers. His hands that gripped the joysticks were firm and consistent. In the end, with the slightest tremor on the bulkhead, he successfully connected the claws of the command and service module into the docking ring on the rocket, flawless and without a single error.

Three hours had passed since liftoff. Apollo 11 officially bid farewell to planet Earth and was on its way to the moon that was 300,000 kilometers away.