The probe arrived fifteen days after the first humans set foot in the colonies.
Of course, the colonies were already there and waiting. They’d been there for a while, sitting idly on the surface of Mars, occasionally powering up at regular intervals to perform preventative maintenance and keep their surfaces clean. There were, after all, always more tasks that the robots could carry out. The solar panels needed to be swept clear of dust daily, the supports that anchored the habitats to the thin Martian soil beneath needed to be bolstered and checked to ensure nothing had torn loose, the atmospheric synthesizers that would, one day, lead to Mars possessing a breathable atmosphere had to be maintained, the generators needed the occasional check-up…
So the robotic “minds” of the colonies passed time, waiting for their first inhabitants to arrive.
And somewhere else, out in deep space, the probe waited as well, watching the developments in the Sol system with endless patience…
It was, after all, the smartest way to go about settling another planet, Mark Skye considered to himself as he monitored the thrusters. You don’t send the people along with their survival habitat. What happens if something goes wrong? If it’s just a habitat, we can always send another. That’s just money.
But if the people arrive to find no working habitat for them, well, they can’t exactly just turn around and head back home.
So NASA, working hand in wallet with the Legacy Umbrella Corporation, had fired off dozens of rockets to Mars, taking advantage of every launch window they encountered. The rockets carried supplies, robots, machinery, inflatable and disassembled structures, and more. Everything that a colonist on a foreign, harsh, uncooperative planet might ever need to survive and thrive.
Pretty soon, they had robots up and trundling around the site that they’d picked for colonization. Mark remembered seeing some of those images when he was still a pimply teenager, watching on his phone screen in amazement as little six-wheeled robots with GoPros trekked back and forth, calculating out distances between various rocket landing locations and outlining next steps. As construction went on, the structures starting to come together, Legacy even started renting out those craft to someone who, for an astronomically (hah) high price, could pilot a remote control rover on another world.
But that was nothing, compared to what Mark would soon get to do.
“All outputs appear nominal,” he read off, running his eye over the green outputs on his control panel. Of course, it wasn’t like he could do much, even if something went wrong. The whole landing sequence was programmed in, being run remotely by a joint cooperation between Mission Control, back on Earth, and the burgeoning artificial intelligence that had been constructed, uploaded, tested, and verified on the surface of Mars.
Even though Mission Control, close to a dozen minutes away, couldn’t reply – or even hear – his words, he still spoke them out loud. He was just following protocol, the approach that had been drilled into his head for months.
The landing had a curious sense of unreality about it. Of course, part of this came from the lack of windows in the landing craft. Mark and his fellow crew watched the landing through video screens, connected to outside cameras. The whole thing felt a bit like a video game, he thought as he stifled a hysterical giggle.
Mars. They were really landing on Mars. The red planet. They would be the very first humans to set foot on another world.
The impact felt less jolting than the average airliner touchdown on a runway. Mark sat there with the others, feeling stunned and looking around, wondering who would be the first to speak on this breathtaking occasion.
Finally Chernov, who didn’t seem as affected by the majesty of the moment as the others, popped his seat belt buckles. “Well, let’s get out of this tub and find out if they flew out some champagne for us,” he grunted in his heavy accent, pulling himself forward.
Reaching for his own buckles, Mark sighed. It seemed, he thought to himself, like a missed moment. This was history-making. They should have had a speech prepared.
Little did he know, however, that the real history-making moment still lay ahead.
To be continued…