Arrival at Planet Wooh

As we reflected on the successful colonisation of Planet Wooh, it came to mind that hopes weren’t always this high. The following passage was taken from the diary of one of the first colonists. You can almost feel the shock of seeing their home for the first time. The differences in colour, vegetation and geography seem to stir up feelings of misgiving. Remember this was before the colony became famous for its discovery.

OUT of the darkness and coffin-like silence of space came a growing brilliance, initially a pinpoint glimmer of light almost dwarfed by the myriad of stars but rapidly expanding in size and radiance as it emerged from the wormhole that had been its path across the vastness of the universe from the distant tiny planet of Earth to here — here being the outer edge of a new world.

Even as the spacecraft’s massive Typhon rockets began their programmed three minute retro fire to decrease speed into orbit, the handful of passengers crowded into the viewing pod where triangular-shaped slivers of clear wall gave them their first glimpse of Planet 3650211-NA-098-W-00-H as the bureaucrats had named it back on Earth, or simply Planet Wooh as it was known to everyone else.

Even from this distance we could see the planet was nothing like we had imagined. Back home we had been assured by everyone, including the astrophysicists, that Wooh was very like Earth, that it had a similar atmosphere and gravity, and that there was surface water and even vegetation. Probably life of some kind too, and all of us had assumed it would even look like Earth.

But it didn’t. Gazing intently at the looming planet, its surface still 300 kilometres away as the spacecraft aligned itself for entry, even I could see that Wooh — a much larger planet than Earth — was far more elongated or egg-shaped, with its ends almost exaggeratedly pointed. A broken purplish haze hid much of the surface but penetrating it, in a semblance of a ragged line, were jagged fingers of what appeared to be silvery-coloured rock soaring up through the haze barrier. From space the chain of rocks resembled a studded belt encircling the planet. ‘Or sharp teeth,’ one of the more imaginative of the passengers suggested — a suggestion that produced a small frisson of excitement and a heightened feeling of adventure in some of my fellow colonists. In others it sent a chill down their spines.

What could be seen of the surface in the intermittent breaks in the haze showed streaks of dirty greenish-grey over a lumpy background of light orange-yellow, the darker streaks almost shimmering as though oily or perhaps even metallic in nature. They almost looked fluid from this height but more as though they had been created in some hotter past from molten lead contaminated with copper which didn’t agree with any of the predictions. More concerning was that so far there had been no sight of any large bodies of open water, at least not that they could recognise. For that matter, no small ones either, but we HAD been assured water would be there. Somewhere. But its immediate discovery wasn’t as important as getting to the surface safely as we carried the technology to produce enough water for our immediate, short term needs. Certainly enough to give us time to do some serious exploration. Hopefully.

Throughout this time the spacecraft had continued slowing and descending following instructions pre-programmed into the computer mastermind on board and acted on by a handful of robots whose design roots seemed to lay more in steam-punk than current technology. Having achieved successful orbit and confirmed its position relative to the planned landing zone, more speed was bled off the craft to once again dip its bulbous nose, drop out of orbit and angle down in a shallow dive towards where it expected to meet the upper atmosphere. Protective shields slid into place over the viewing ports blocking out all view of the approaching new world but where there had been excited spectators a moment before, there was now only an empty corridor. We were already retreating to the enveloping arms of our independent cushioned capsules deep within the inner body of the spacecraft.

At around 100 kilometres above the surface and still travelling at more than twenty times the speed of sound, the first bumps and rumblings began to be felt as the craft slowly descended into the thickening air, and the outside began to glow with heat from highly ionised air particles caused by the increasing friction. Most meteorites could not have withstood the enormous temperatures generated by the descent but the craft’s special carbon and borosilicate glass compounds had been carefully designed to survive undamaged. It was still a hot and wild ride for the more delicate human passengers. More was to come as the deceleration continued and then, low and slow over the ground now, the craft re-positioned once again and the roar of the giant Typhons bellowed over the land, the immense blaze lighting up the semi-darkness as the huge transporter eased down and juddered to a halt.

As the roaring and shaking of the rockets dwindled and died, the cocooned passengers patiently waited for the final small lurches to cease as the craft settled firmly in position. The unfamiliar silence poignantly spelled out that four years of mind-numbing travel through the vastness of space to this tiny speck in the universe had ended and a new task — surviving, exploring and ultimately colonizing our new home — was about to begin.

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