King Stephen, the Silver man and Greta the Witch

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Chapter 55 – Kennedy Space Center

While Mary was having breakfast in Jamaica, Ali Palaszwaski returned to work at the NASA John F.Kennedy Space Center in Florida, or KSC as it was known. KSC had a proud history, it was where the Apollo missions were launched. From KSC, Neil Armstrong left Earth and became the first man to walk on the moon. All the space shuttles were launched from KSC. The KSC Visitor center still attracted millions of visitors every year. Visitors could walk around the huge Apollo rocket, could walk inside a Space Shuttle and even touch some moon rock.

From his office window Ali could see Tower 39, where the Space Shuttles were launched. He could also see the enormous assembly building where the Space Shuttle was hoisted vertically so the huge liquid hydrogen tank and rocket boosters could be attached. These amazing feats of engineering would send the shuttle into orbit in 9 minutes. A shuttle launch literally made the ground shake for miles around.

He could also see the building where most of the International Space Station or ISS was built. The ISS was the size of a football field and would continue to orbit the Earth for another 20 years.

But all of these achievements were in the past, and these days Kennedy was a sad place. A bit stuck in the past. The buildings were largely built in the 1960’s and 1970’s and it reminded visitors of a high school, with that characteristic and uniform floor and wall finish, exposed pipes and plumbing. The low-rise buildings had long windowless corridors with many doorways, which had obscure and impersonal numbers and letters on them. Such as COSH Lab 17 or ISS S Detail 44.

Many of Ali’s colleagues and friends had left over the previous two years. They had been given early retirement or simply ‘let-go’. When Congress refused to fund the Shuttle follow on program, KSC no longer had a mission. NASA had its budget slashed, and costs were cut.

Ali’s department was one of the few areas of activity left. The team joked it was easy now to get a parking slot close to the building, and there was no longer any long lines at lunch, but most of the NASA employees of Ali’s generation wished the old days were back.

The State of Florida and NASA had set-up some agencies to assist ex-NASA employees to find a new career. Many NASA employees had joined at graduation or soon after, and now in their late 40’s or early 50’s were too young to retire, but too old to just walk into another job.

One such agency, Space Florida, had an incubator unit just outside the Security Gate to help ex-NASA employees set up new businesses. The building had once been inside the security perimeter, but as the number of employees had shrunk, so did the security perimeter, and unused NASA buildings were leased or demolished.

Ali was entering the incubator now to meet an old colleague and friend, Dr. Frank Perusich. Frank and Ali had joined NASA about the same time and both had an interest in the study of deep space particles. Frank was a larger than life character with a loud voice and an even louder belly laugh. Frank and another ex-NASA colleague had been given support by Space Florida to set-up a consulting company to investigate mineral deposits in space.

The 2-man company somewhat grandly called Space Precious Metals Mining Incorporated, had a brass sign outside a small office suite on the second floor. Frank had emailed Ali a couple of days ago and invited him to drop by because he had something interesting to discuss.

Ali had decided to drop in, on his way into KSC that morning. They were both early birds by habit, and it was just after 7.30 AM in the morning in a largely deserted building. Frank had bought a tray of pastries and coffee at Dunkin’ Donots on the way in, so they sat at a small meeting table in the office, talked of old times and their families, while they had their morning fix of sugar, carbohydrate and caffeine.

After a few minutes of chit-chat, Ali finished his last mouthful of cherry danish, ‘You said you had something interesting to show me?’

‘Yes, I do.’ Frank turned his swivel chair, wiped his hands on a paper napkin, and grabbed a print out from his desk. ‘We have been working on a consulting contract with Elon Musk’s Space X to look for evidence of some rare earth minerals, on some of the asteroids.’

Ali knew that what Frank’s company did was to look for certain spectrums in data from old space missions. This data had been accumulated by the Hubble Space Telescope and other deep space satellites that were looking to map the asteroid belt. Ali knew that the Asteroid Belt was a region of the solar system between Mars and Jupiter which was occupied by numerous irregularly shaped bodies called asteroids. It was thought that many of these asteroids could contain valuable minerals like gold, platinum, lithium or even precious stones like diamonds. Elon Musk, the billionaire behind Tesla electric cars and the Space X commercial space missions, had also stated an intention to one day send a mission to an asteroid to collect these precious metals. Ali thought all this fanciful and unrealistic, but said nothing.

Frank flicked through the print outs and pointed to a graph on the page.

‘When we look for the minerals, we normally see a peak in this part of the spectrum here.’ Frank pointed with a sugary finger at a small range of peaks on the graph and then turned the page. ‘However, what we found here was not what we expected at all.’

Frank’s sticky finger was pointing at a second graph that showed a much higher peak in a different part of the spectrum.

Ali said, ’anomaly?’ It was a reasonable question from one scientist to another to see if there was a flaw in the data.

Frank had obviously anticipated the question, and pushed the print out to Ali. ‘See for yourself.’

The rest of the print-out were pages of similar readings showing the same peak on different days, but from different satellites. Clearly there was a consistency in the data.

When he arrived at his office twenty minutes later, Ali closed his office door and called the Admiral on his cell phone.

The Admiral answered on the second ring with a curt, ‘Yes?’

‘Admiral this is Ali Palaszwaski at KSC, how are you doing?’

‘Fine, what can I help you with?’

‘I have come across some new data that I would like to discuss with you?’

‘How significant is it?’

‘Admiral, it could be very significant, I would really like Mary Morrell to also have—’

‘Ali, Mary cannot be reached just now, I’ll send a plane for you this afternoon.’ The Admiral hung up.

Ali emailed his boss that he had to go to Washington for a few days, and then went home to tell his wife he would be away, and collect an overnight bag. He didn’t want to make the same mistake this time.

Two hours later, Ali arrived at Fort Meade and was shown into a non-descript meeting room with a view of the parking lot. He was offered ‘something to drink’, and told that the Admiral would be with him shortly.

A few minutes later the Admiral walked in looking as immaculate as ever in his tailored suit. They shook hands, and the Admiral got straight down to business.

‘So what have you got to tell me?’

Ali reached into his briefcase for the sheaf of papers that Perusich had given him and went through a similar explanation of the graphical peaks.

The Admiral sat straighter in his chair, and looking at Ali and deliberately not at the print outs, as if to dismiss them, ‘so what?’

Ali said in clear and measured tones, ‘I think it’s a beacon for alien visitors’.

‘What do you mean a beacon?’

‘To guide them in, a bit like the way commercial airliners navigate their way across the globe. They lock on to air traffic radar controlled tracking beacons in certain locations.’

‘You mean there are more of them coming?’

‘I don’t know that Admiral, and I cannot be 100% certain of what I am saying is correct, but I believe … ’

The Admiral interrupted, ’Why are you not 100% certain?’

‘I need to verify with colleagues, and the best person to do that is Mary Morrell. I called her cell phone but it was no longer connected, and she hasn’t replied to my email.’

The Admiral sat in silence for a few minutes, staring directly at Ali. Ali knew when to shut-up.

Suddenly, the Admiral stood up, said ‘Wait here,’ and left closing the door behind him. An Orderly came in and asked if he would like something else to drink. Ali asked for coffee. He knew it would be a long night.

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