2012 Winner's Entry

6th Grade Winner:

Team: Team Transcendence (Lucas Kramer)
School: Home School
Location: Minnesota, USA
Adult Sponsor: Angie Kramer

By Lucas Kramer

2011 What If? Competition

January 3, 2040: Neal Armstrong, Ms. Ansari, and I were preparing to lift off from Cape Canaveral on top of a Falcon 9 in a dragon capsule.  Space flight was now routine, with several launches a week.  We were headed to space station Phoenix, an experimental self contained “biosphere”, the first of its kind.  Space station Phoenix’s main job is to beam back solar energy in the form of microwaves to portable receivers which can be deployed in disaster areas.  To read more about space station Phoenix.

Finally, (after a 4 hour hold because a game warden needed to come in to remove a bald eagle that kept on trying to nest on the nose cone), we lifted off.   Three hours later, we docked with the space station and began setting up for what we thought would be relaxing months of experiments while we were ready to beam power anywhere it was needed. 

Three days later, that all changed.  Mission Control was radioing instructions to us when suddenly we heard someone scream “There’s ash falling!” Then there was a huge crash and the radio turned to static.  We fired our thrusters to move our orbit over the US to investigate.  To our horror, the entire US was covered with ash!  I managed to make contact with my friend, Jason, who had rigged up a radio out of an old stereo. 
“Yes, there sure is ash falling here.  My Dad is outside shoveling ash off the roof so it doesn’t collapse.  The Yellowstone volcano just erupted.”
I almost fainted.  After I finished explaining to Neil Armstrong about what had happened, all ms. Ansari had to say was, “I hope the world doesn’t end.”
I radioed down to Jason to call NASA and to tell them to send several disaster relief microwave power receivers (DRMPRs) to the Yellowstone area, but all the phone lines were down and the cell phone signals couldn’t get through because the ash was so thick.

Also Jason said, “There isn’t much use sending receivers up to Yellowstone because the ash was still falling and the microwave beams wouldn’t get through.”
I told Jason the power could go out any second so I explained how to hook up backup batteries out of 100 feet of copper wire, 50 feet of zinc wire and 100 gallons of lemon juice and vinegar.  However, he misheard me and thought I said 100 pound of baking soda and vinegar and his laundry room quickly filled full of foam.  I quickly re-radioed the instructions, but he was already telling his neighbors how to build a battery out of baking soda and vinegar.  It took him a while to get the foam out of everyone’s houses.

I radioed down to Jason, “You might want to test your battery in case we lose power.  Unfortunately, he must have miss wired something because the second he hooked it up, all the power in the US failed.  Only his house had power.  Then he smelled smoke.  In the laundry room there was a tremendous 20 foot arc going between two frayed wires which had apparently caused the US power outage.  Jason (being that he drives a power chair) quickly drove over to the power cord which he snagged with his right wheel and did a 360 which in the process pulled out the plug.  Meanwhile, at NASA the technicians got the backup generators running and were finally made contact with the space station.  They radioed up the coordinates to the places that they were deploying the microwave receivers.  The Phoenix automatically oriented its power beams to line up with the coordinates.  Then NASA told us the bad news- we would have to stay in space for 3 years because the ash made it impossible to re-enter the atmosphere.  We couldn’t get accurate reentry coordinates with the whole US covered with ash.  Besides, recovery would be impossible, and flying a rocket for a replacement crew was too dangerous – even after the ash cleared enough to re-enter, there wouldn’t be anyone to man the space station. 


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The US government and NASA decided that the best course of action would be to launch many satellites that would beam down microwave power to all over the world until the ash cleared and the solar panels in the US could be used again.  The US ran power cabels from the microwave receivers to form a new power grid.  These satellites in addition to the satelllite and the Phoenix and its 3 sister ships, Phoenix II, the BEAMR-T (Beamed Energy extra-Atmospheric Maximum Remote Transmitter) I and II.  Even though theUS had addressed the energy problem, there still was the problem of food.  The ash had wiped out all crops in the US and the only source of grain was rice from China, which was currently at war with the US.  Scientists were concerned that wheat was going to go extinct.  Also, the tremendous amounts of CO2 released from the volcano dissolved in the oceans suffocating many fish.  The massive amounts ash in the air blocked out much sun causing massive global cooling.  Also, the ash covered plants (and solar panels) preventing any light from reaching them. Scientists tried to keep plants growing by building small green houses with small ultraviolet light in them to simulate growing conditions, but the lack of nutrients (because the hot ash destroyed nutrients) stunted their growth.  However, hydroponics systems were used (successfully) to grow plants.  Minerals were added to the water by running it over ash, and some systems were built that were based off of the Phoenix’s system. 

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January 30, 2042: We’d been in space for more than 2 years, and were getting tired of all the freeze dried meals and we were starting to lose our bone and muscle mass.  The exercise bike had broken a month earlier and there wasn’t a way to send up a spare one.   By now the ash cloud over the US had mostly diffused and the solar panels were fully operational now.  However, the people on earth had to clean them off every couple of weeks from the ash settling on them.  Meanwhile on the space station we were able to do in our free time some of the experiments we were sent up to do.  Supplies were running short though and NASA was considering sending up a re-supply mission as soon as enough ash had cleared for the rocket to launch safely.  For a while we though that we’d have to be up there for 3 years, but, since the ash cleared faster than expected, we only ended up spending 2 1/2 years.
During this time we only had one major incident:  Neil was firing the retrorockets to bring us into a slightly different orbit so the microwave was focused better on the receiving dish, but one of the attitude control thrusters became stuck open.
“Oh no, not Gemini 8 again!” Neil Armstrong sighed as he put his hand across his head.  “Well, at least I’m prepared.” Neil was talking about how a stuck thruster caused his Gemini space craft to go into a spin, and he had to re – enter prematurely because he had needed to activate the emergency control system.
However, this time we didn’t have a backup emergency control system like there had been on the Gemini capsules.  Meanwhile, instead of being fixed in one spot the microwave beam raced across a corn field, lighting it on fire.  People who saw it wondered why there was a glowing spot moving across the ground lighting everything in its path on fire.
Back at the space station, the Phoenix was spinning out of control.  “Neil!  Push the stick the other way!” I shouted when he fired the wrong thruster.  I guess the G- forces were high enough to start degrading his ability to think, since he was an experienced pilot.  Finally he yelled “Lucas!  Help me!”  While Neil worked on stabilizing the spin, he managed to get the microwave beam pointed to deep space so it would stop frying things on earth.
Ms. Ansari finally had to go on a space walk to replace the stuck thruster with a new one.  It was something rather risky since there was thousand degree gasses and rocket fuel spraying all over the place.  She started screaming when it almost burned through her face plate.  She finally resorted to hitting it with a sledge hammer until it exploded, then screwing in a new one. It took us a couple hours before we regained control of the Phoenix and recalibrated the microwave beam.

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            By July of 2042 when the crew of the Phoenix finally reentered, the emergency power grid was finally decommissioned and the normal power grid was brought back on line.  The BEAMR – T and Phoenix II stations stopped transmitting power while the Phoenix I began beaming power to Kenya, and all the stations continued to do research. 
The Phoenix II eventually ran electrophoresis experiments, in which electric fields are used to separate particulates out of a colloidal suspension or solution.  This technique is widely used in biomedical research in making drugs.  However, in weightlessness, larger, purer samples can be made.  As a result, the crew eventually discovered a cure for leukemia. 
Several years later, after working on the PhoenixI and II many times, Lucas, Neil, and Ms. Ansari took a long vacation to Venus, taking along Buzz Aldrin.  However, engine trouble caused them to wind up on mars by accident.  They later took part in a trip to the moon. 


The power satellites were still used, but to beam power to developing countries and to provide cheap power.  Power companies could buy satellites to put energy on the grid.  The ash was eroding and being bulldozed away, exposing the dirt.  The earth was more or less back to normal by 2045, although some ash remained in the oceans for several more years.




About Space Station Phoenix

Space station Phoenix creates oxygen by means of an algae bioreactor, which uses solar energy to convert CO2 into oxygen.  A pump bubbles cabin air through the algae, which convert any CO2 into oxygen.  In weightlessness, bubbles don’t settle out by themselves. Instead, twice a day a pump pulls the water through a carbon filter, which traps and vents the bubbles.  The pump is then reversed to remove the algae from the filter.  You can tell when the filter needs replacing, because the whole cabin will start to smell like pond water. 
Nutrient rich water from the algae tank is used to water the onboard Hydroponics system used to grow fruit and vegetables, and a fish tank provides meat for the crew.  Space station Phoenix can go up to 3 years before needing a re-supply mission. 



Remaining Ash