“How’s the weather down there?” Jeremy Howard heard Amy Jefferson’s voice in his ears accompanied by just a hint of static.
“Hot.” He chuckled. “472 degrees Celsius. Atmospheric pressure equivalent to being 900 meters under the surface of the ocean. The wind speed is 710 kilometers per hour with gusts up to 750.”
“Sounds like a wonderful vacation spot.”
“You’re welcome to come down and join me, Jefferson.”
“Not a chance, Howard. This one’s all yours.”
So far it was light banter, but Jefferson was monitoring Howard’s telemetry and she was starting to get worried.
“Your processors seem to be heating up. At this rate, in ten more minutes, it’ll hit the red line and we’ll have to pull you out.”
“We were told this could happen, Amy. The recommended tolerance has a margin for error. Let’s see how much this baby can take.”
“Jer, this isn’t a race car. If the processors overload, we’re not sure what will happen to you.”
“What could happen to me?” I’m standing right in front of you.”
Jeremy chuckled again.
“Alright, but remember, I’m Mission Commander. You stay down there only as long as I say you do.”
It was a terse response, but Amy could tell he was still smiling.
“What are you seeing, Howard?”
“Yellow atmospheric haze obscuring most of my vision. Rocky surface beneath me. Some indication of low hills head. Wow! Look at that lightning.”
His transmission went to static for an instant when the lightning struck.
“We put you down in relatively level terrain for the first test. We need to see how well the legs work.”
“Fine so far, Jefferson. I’m a regular Astaire down here.”
They both laughed.
“You and your old movies, Howard.”
“Hey, you could come down and cut the rug with me, be Rogers to my Astaire.”
“I didn’t understand a lot of that, Howard. I only watch movies made in this century.”
His signal broke up for a second.
“More lightning. Ground’s still rocky but wet. Sulfuric acid.”
“Readings indicate your skin is holding up nicely, Howard. That’ll make the engineers back home happy.”
“It makes me happy, too. I’m not looking forward to melting.”
Amy looked down at her console and then over to Glenn Singh, the Vesper Project’s Engineer.
“Okay, Jer. I’m calling it. Semiconductor temps have just crossed the red line. Singh and I agree. If the probe goes offline with you still connected…”
“Wait! Five more minutes, Commander. Just five more minutes.”
“You’re scrubbed for today, Howard. I’m ordering Dr. Hildebrand to bring you out of it. Then we’ll start lifting the probe back up to the middle-atmosphere.”
“Acknowledged.” This time there wasn’t humor in Jeremy’s voice.
“Doctor, start the revival process.”
“Copy that, Commander.” Janet Hildebrand looked at Jeremy Howard, the real Jeremy Howard, strapped into the harness and wearing the interface suit. “We’ll have you back in just a minute or two, Jer.”
Then she adjusted the controls on her counsel in the circular room. Jeremy’s superstructure was at the center of the Vesper probe’s control chamber with the Mission Commander, Engineer, Physician, and Flight Controller’s stations forming a ring around him.
Janet looked up and saw Jeremy stir a bit. He took several deep breaths. His eyes fluttered for a few seconds and then opened.
“I feel like I’ve just swallowed a glass of sand.” Jeremy tried to laugh but his voice was too raspy.
“Try to relax, Jer. You’ll be fine in a few minutes.” Amy always worried about how hard Jeremy pushed himself. The human/probe interface was still experimental, but NASA thought it worked well enough to try it on the Vesper 2 mission.
“Nanji. We’ve got Howard. Start bringing up the probe.”
“Already on it, Commander.”
Damba Nanji was manipulating the floatation controls on the probe, slowly guiding it off the surface up toward their airship, sailing 51 kilometers above the surface of Venus. He used the auxiliary thrusters to steady its trip so it could maintain its course and dock with their dirigible ninety minutes from now.
I really got his idea from the article We finally have a computer that can survive the surface of Venus, reporting on the development of computer technology that could operate on the planet’s inhospitable surface for a significant period of time.
I “married” that idea with the 1993 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Interface, which had Geordi La Forge (played by LeVar Burton), use his visual inputs to interface with a planetary probe as if it were his body.
I cast Jeremy Howard in that role while leaving the technology involved rather indistinct.
Finally, I dusted off my interest in the HAVOC Airship tech to form a base of operations for my fictional tale, sailing 51 kilometers above Venus, about halfway between the planet’s surface and space.