Touchdown on Europa

Dilwyn standing proud amongst the remains of Cymru III on Europan surface
Dilwyn standing proud amongst the remains of Cymru III on Europan surface

We’re now starting to get the early details about the touchdown itself – (touchdown, of course,  being used in the loosest possible sense)Only about an hour late Dilwyn and Meg pushed all the furniture to the front of the ship to tip the craft towards the surface to start the descent as planned.

From there things all happened a bit quicker than we expected.  Cymru III then accelerated to about 800mph in a perpendicular descent to smash into the surface ice  some 1,100 miles from the proposed landing site – which is pretty close for us though.

The insurance company did start to quote all legalese stuff at us when we first rang them to claim for a new spaceship.

“The definition of accidental damage is that which occurs suddenly as a result of an unexpected and non-deliberate external action. blah blah blah”

Yes, we know smashing into an unknown planet’s surface in a glorified grain silo might not be describable as a  non-deliberate act.  But it wasn’t our fault nobody had told us about re-entry friction, and ballistics and all that stuff. And we certainly didn’t intend it to catch fire and start to burn up on re-entry.

Anyway, they were very good about it and have decided that from an insurance point of view, Cymru III is a write off and they will pay the £325 (less £250 excess).  Lucky we bought fully-comp.

Touchdown

Dilwyn on surface of Europa with Wrexham FC flag
Dilwyn on surface of Europa with Wrexham FC flag
We come in piece(s)
 
and claim this planet

on behalf of

Wrexham Football Club (2006) Ltd*

(and Wales).

 
more news soon…
* not the Crusaders Rugby Club though, they can sod off.

All the best Dilwyn, love from Morris & Co. on earth

morristobed
With Cymru III on the last few orbits before turning nose-ward for the surface of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, we’re all very excited here at WASA Towers.  None more so than our in-house car-parking space measurement executive, Morris Spoon.  Seen here giving Dilwyn, Meg and the mission a big thumbs up before heading off up the big wooden hills to bed.

Morris wears eye protection to sleep on account of the relative fecundity and abundance of insects and other wildlife in his attic bedroom.  He can be seen here wearing the special commerative tee-shirt Mamgu knitted for his birthday.  And of course, his bedtime Bovril.

Naturally, this being a first for Welsh Aeronautical and Space something beginning with A, we’re all on tenterhooks as the relative distance between our craft, Cymru III and Europa’s icy surface decreases towards zero. We’re also quite worried about the alarming speed at which the twain shall meet. But we’re modestly optimistic they can make it to the surface in a low number of pieces.  But if not, Uncle Rhodri has baggsied Dilwyn’s car.

Countdown to crunchdown

landing site on europa
landing site on europa

So here we are, the last few orbits before the much-awaited plummet towards the surface of Europa.   The space scopes on board Cymru III are zeroed in on the chosen landing site – a spot about 200 metres north-east of the southern cliff face in the ‘arch’ of the surface feature we called “bigfoot”.

It takes nearly 4 hours for our craft to do each orbit of the planet and so timing will be critical when it comes to the descent.  There will still be forward momentum to take into account when Dilwyn and Meg rush to the front of the ship with all the on-board furniture, winalot sacks and cases of Buckfast to tip the balance and nose the craft downwards towards destruction or glory*

close up of europan landing site
close up of europan landing site

The angle at which Cymru III slices through the thin Europan atmosphere might also be critical to the vertical speed and rate of descent.  But we have only just thought of that and so are relying on the walls of the ice chasm to contain the blast and confine the debris to a small area.

This second photo, taken at higher magnification, to examine the crash/landing site* shows an unexpected bright yellow object at 7 o’clock position to the scope graticule.  It’s regular outline piqued our curiousity and so we telautographed Dilwyn to have a closer look with the telescope.

The image that he faxed back astounded us.  For it looked exactly like an everyday common or garden council grit bin.  And when he adjusted the scope to maximum zoomification we saw that it was indeed one of our very own Denbighshire County Council grit bins!

Denbighshire council grit bin sighted on Jovian moon Europa
Denbighshire council grit bin sighted on Jovian moon Europa
Close up of a grit bin
Close up of a grit bin

Europa Landing

Welsh space agency ground crew
Welsh space agency ground crew

If you’re checking back here to see if Dilwyn’s landed on Europa yet, then, no, he hasn’t.  But you’re probably as sick of Europa as we are by now.  Only we can’t do the landing bit until the month end – any month end.  That’s the only way we can be sure we’ll have a sober ground-crew as their money runs out before pay-day.

It’s not that we need a ground-crew though – especially as the action is all ‘up there’.  But they’re the ones who are seen on TV news to cheer at the moment of landing or whenever something goes right.  Or in our case to just cheer anyway.  Then off to the White Lion.

Megan’s continuing digestive discomfort

Graph showing Charles' law verses Megans eggy pong
Graph showing Charles’ law verses Megans eggy pong

Ever since Megan dined on Dilwyn’s septically gouty big toe, (see recent post) her digestion has been all to pot.  Not to put too fine a point on it, she’s been letting off.  Rather badly.  So badly in fact that the accumulated gastric gas has started to affect the onboard instrumentation and has caused the plexi-glass windows to cloud over and some of the zinc plating to crack and flake off the inside of the ship.  Not to mention putting Dilwyn off his pot noodles which have acquired a nasty tang.

The solution, once again, was a scientific one.  We applied Charles’s Law to the problem.  Which states :

“At constant pressure, the volume of a given mass of an ideal gas increases or decreases by the same factor as its temperature on the absolute temperature scale (i.e. the gas contracts as the temperature reduces).”

So, with that in mind we set about reducing the temperature inside Cymru III as close as we could get towards absolute zero.  Dilwyn put his hat and coat on and opened the door to let the parkyness in from the deep space outside.  This succeeded in getting the temperature down to -272°C (1° Kelvin) but when Dilwyn took the peg off his nose he still got a whiff of Megan’s flatulence.  But once he’d opened the fridge door for ten minutes, the thermometer finally registered absolute zero, -273°C or 0°K. Unfortunately, no sooner had Dilwyn shut the fridge and the outside door and got the place warmed up again when Megan went behind the space-sofa and did a right messy one.

Christmas on board Cymru III

Surface features in the ice on Europa
Surface features in the ice on Europa

While we earth-lubbers were all cracking skip-loads of brazil nuts over the Christmas period, and arguing about what to watch on the telly, our intrepid space crew on board Cymru III were busy carrying out endless  mission duties as they skimmed the very outer edges of Europa’s atmosphere.

Festivities comprised just the briefest pause to exchange presents – Dilywn gave Meg a winalot nugget wrapped in toilet paper, and Megan gave Dilwyn a nasty bite on the arm.  She’s developed a bit of a taste for human flesh after the gout-riddled big-toe excision episode of a couple of weeks ago.

With the space-furniture all moved to a position just aft of the centre of gravity our crew must now choose a suitable landing site.  The photo above shows a position about 53 degrees north of Europa’s equator – which puts it in about the same position as Cerrigydrudion would be if it were on Europa.  Our scientists became very excited when this picture first came back as it appears to show three separate areas where sub-surface oceans seem to have welled up and flowed over the frigid surface before re-freezing. The water table may be close enough to be accessible here.

Tyre print patterns in the ice on Europa
Tyre print patterns in the ice on Europa

As Cyrmu III passed directly overhead, the automatic 110 camera took another picture.  This one we have nick-named the tyre-print on account of it looking just like a car has recently driven through some snow.  The similarities end there though as each of the indentations is about 10km across.  This zoom photo taken from an altitude of 1,870 km.
WASA geologists think it shows a vast plain where tidal forces from Jupiter have affected the relatively thin crust, and refreezing has caused the features shown. Either that or there is some seriously big Europan traffic to watch out for.

Surface feature dubbed the footprint on Europa
Surface feature dubbed the footprint on Europa

We’ve narrowed the potential landing site down to this area we have dubbed “big foot”.  This deep impression into the surface of Europa looks exactly like a human footprint, but is probably impact related in origin. Being about 15 miles long and about 90 Peter Crouch’s deep it should give us closer access to the long suspected sub-surface ocean.

Nearby, and highlighted by the camera’s graticule is another interesting geological feature – which appears to be the very tip of a mountain just poking through the deep crust of snow and ice.  It should be close enough to the landing site for Dilwyn to ride out to and investigate on the space-moped we packed into Cymru III’s boot.

Watch this space…

Gravity assisted landing on Europa

Diagram showing proposed landing manoeuvre on Europa
Diagram showing proposed landing manoeuvre on Europa

During the first few orbits of Europa, highly sensitive spectrographic analysing instruments on board Cymru III detected a tenuous atmosphere comprising molecular oxygen and trace quantities of methane. We had hoped to use this faint remnant of gas for what is known as an atmospheric-assist. This is where we calculate a course which would take Cymru III on a trajectory through these high altitude atoms, such that their friction when combined with the high speed of the craft, create enough aerodynamic drag to degrade the orbit and facilitate a descent to the planet’s surface.

But the number 4 key is still missing on our calculator and we don’t know how to do all that stuff anyway. So our plan is that once Dilwyn spies that their orbit has taken them over the planned landing site he is to quickly move all the on-board space furniture and provisions to the very front of the craft, including himself and Megan. And this should then tip the spaceship forwards, pointing it downwards and initiate plummet phase to the surface many thousands of kilometres below.

Prepare for Europa Encounter

Dilwyn looking wistfully down at the icy surface of Europa
Dilwyn looking wistfully down at the icy surface of Europa

We’re getting excited here at WASA HQ in our bunker shed at our top secret base somewhere near Cerrigydrudion.  Europa is getting closer.  In this latest photo from on board Cymru III Dilwyn is seen poring over the planet’s surface looking for a place to touch down.  It’s clearly pretty cold down there, so the fingerless gloves from Mamgu 5 christmases ago should be in order.  As well as a hat.

Dilwyn has been advised by our scientists that the surface looks to be a highly fractured icy crust, and may turn slushy underfoot.  Mass-spectrographic analysis indicates the long suspected sub-surface ocean on Europa is likely to be closer to the surface than anticipated.  Dilwyn will be taking his fishing rod.  And a spoon.

Medical Emergency on Cymru III

Dilwyn's gout riddled big toe
Dilwyn’s gout riddled big toe

We’ve relied heavily on self-medication thus far to keep all our space crews in tip top tipsy condition.  The slightest ailment, and they reach for the medicine cupboard to give themselves a shot of one of the space elixirs we put in the on board optics for them.  And but for the occasional headache when they’re a bit slow administering the Buckfast, everything has always been fine.  Until now that is…

At 7.10 last Wednesday evening, we received an urgent message on the distress channel – that’s the same as the normal channel, only you shout “help” before each message.  Anyway, it seems, that due to the excessive self-medication, Dilywn now has a terrible attack of gout in his left foot.

It’s not easy to administer “there-theres” all the way to a spacecraft floating around near Jupiter, so we asked him to fax a photo of his poorly foot for our ground-based space doctor, Uncle Rhodri, to ponder.  With no formal medical training other than that gained working in a butcher’s shop – until dismissed for inappropriate behaviour with a side of bacon – Uncle Rhodri recommended, as indeed he always does – for everything – immediate amputation.

Excising a hugely throbbing arthritic big toe is a difficult procedure at the best of times.  But in micro-gravity and millions of miles from home and given the fact that the only cutlery on board is plastic spoons – we had to rely once more on Welsh Space Agency ingenuity to save the day…

We instructed Dilwyn to not feed Megan for 3 days, then, after a bottle of the medicinal Buckfast, he was to smother his errant big toe in bovril from the space pantry and whistle Meg through for supper.  Lo and behold, two birds with one stone – Dilwyn’s gout has now gone and Meg got her first bone to chew since leaving earth.  Result.

1 2