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The Wreck of the Argent Pride

We know what the specs say: don't land on anything with more than a twentieth of a gee.  That's all fine and good, but it puts all the big moons, even Triton, out of reach.  But to be fair, the whole set of plus Z thrusters on the M1200s are rated to 10,000 tons, which should get you over a sixth of a gee on half-full tanks, and more when near empty.  So there's nothing in the laws of physics that say that you can't land a freighter on a big moon.  Even Io.  Leonora Garg did it at Tornarsuk on Callisto, so Max Halonen figured he could pull the same trick on Titan.

Now what you have to do to make this trick work is to use the main engines to drop below orbital velocity, basically drop to a stationary hover.  Then, use all the plus Z thrusters and nearly all the thruster fuel you have to arrest the inevitable fall.  If you cut the approach low enough, you should have enough thruster fuel to make it to a soft landing.  Why, you ask?  Well on lots of moons, Callisto being one of them, Titan another, the one and only orbital port has a monopoly, and they charge you through the nose for shuttle service.

Smaller settlements on moons like that suffer for it, too.  They end up paying more for goods than we'd charge for direct delivery.  So Max, being all too clever, decided to take a full load out to Titan, and instead of paying the docking fees, handling fees, shuttle fees and the taxes on all those fees, he headed up for Annelese on the western shore of Kraken Mare.  Now obviously, you can't go in low on the big engines, and you can't come in fast, because Titan has an atmosphere thicker than Earth's.  So Max dropped below orbital velocity and angled the main engines just right to dip into the upper atmosphere at a very low clip.  Then he retracted the radiator wings and let the Argent Pride drop.  He'd done his homework, studied atmospheric pressure gradients and all that.  He figured the ship could handle terminal velocity with no problem.  Then all he'd have to do was turn on the thrusters high enough to counteract the vertical velocity, and then set down in the shallows.  The residents of the old domes at Annelese could come out and pick up their cargo; directly shipped from Luna all the way down to their homes at a bargain price.  Everybody wins.

Well, Max might have done his math all right.  His calculations didn't have a single error -- his problem was with his assumptions.  You see, the thrusters on an M1200 are only rated for vacuum.  Fire them in Titan's atmosphere and you lose about forty percent of thrust.  And that's going to hurt.

Max did his best.  He overloaded all the thrusters and got them up to .138 gees.  That's Titan's gravity, but, hate to say it, it's not enough to even hover -- he still had that eighty meters per second of terminal velocity to kill.  He tried, I'll give him that.  He nearly got the ion drives started.  Now, they wouldn't have helped that much in an atmosphere either.  But he figured if he could angle forward, he might have a chance.  But the damn things wouldn't even try to light up in an atmosphere.  When I left the bridge he was screaming something about a manual override, but I wasn't sticking around.  We were almost down on the sea by then.  Me and Wallace dove for one of the lifeboats and hit the eject.  We barely cleared the A.P. before the hydrogen thruster flames hit the ethane sea and the big light show began.

Well, Max won't try that again.  Bad news is that his family doesn't get squat.  He voided the warranty on his ship and the terms of his policy.  Next time, I'm sticking to space.  Gravity wells are bad news.  Atmospheres worse.

-- Amos Karlian, Systems Engineer, Argent Pride, in testimony to the Space Accident Investigation Board, 6 March 2511

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