An Outer Solar System Odyssey: More Thoughts

It won’t be too long before I’m leaving on my jaunt to Cascadia — not even two weeks from now — so now is not a good time to start writing a story. It’s always a good time, however, to brainstorm for stories! And lately I’ve been brainstorming about what happens to two girlies, one of whom has already appeared in an (unpublished-as-yet) story, and the other has been only mentioned (in the same story, by the way), but has had a bit of background fleshed out. In this post I’ll be covering the latter.

A Space Odyssey without Parallel

In my post last January “An Odyssey to the Outer Solar System”, I posit that in my universe the same planetary alignment used by the Voyager probes in real life might be exploited for a manned version of their “Grand Tour” of the outer solar system. A girl, Apollinaria Valentinova, nickname “Polina”, will undertake this task solo in a giant spaceplane with an internal centrifuge habitat, her only company being a HAL-esque artificial intelligence. Using only nuclear thermal rocket propulsion, she’ll launch in August 1977, reaching Jupiter in July 1978, Saturn in August 1979, Uranus in September 1981, and Neptune in August 1983.

This is quite an audacious venture, considering the furthest anyone had reached up to this point was Jupiter. It’s also quite audacious considering she’ll be spending 6 years all alone from Earth to Neptune, seven times further than the previous distance record. Total trip time will be even longer than that. Turning around at Neptune in rather impressive fashion (dropping into the atmosphere and flying as a nuclear-thermal jet, sucking in air to use as working fluid; it should work well, considering local air is 80% hydrogen, generally the best propellant for use in nuclear-thermal rockets), she’ll reach Uranus again sometime in 1985, Saturn sometime in 1987, and then she’ll be on track to return to the inner solar system.

She could go to Jupiter, but Jupiter by 1987 has moved far enough in its orbit to be out of alignment, and she’s been there before. An Earth return direct from Saturn is possible in 2 years, but she’ll make an unexpected addendum to her trip: instead of Earth, she’ll head to Venus, which isn’t even significantly further from Saturn in this period, arriving there in August 1989. Keeping going toward Mars at the same speed, she could reach Mars in 4 months, in December 1989 (Christmas?). Another drastic change in her trajectory angle puts her on course for Mercury in 3 months, arriving in March 1990. Earth return from Mercury then takes another three and a half months, which would put her return to Earth in June 1990 (the summer solstice?).

Why would she take such a detour? Because that way she would become the first man ever to visit all eight planets, as well as the first man to ever visit all eight planets in the same trip…well, the set of the eight major planets known as of, say, the later 19th century; what counts as a “planet” or not is in very hot dispute as of this era in this universe, but Polina may well be of the same school of thought as our own IAU, at least for the purposes of touting her record 😉 . Her solo spaceflight duration, almost 13 years, might also set some kind of record.

Who is Polina?

I was originally thinking she’d be a wealthy heiress, but I have since gotten a much better idea: she could be a star celebrity child actress from early in her life; think Shirley Temple if she were Russian and in a later era. As she grows older she takes up long-duration solo yachting, such as sailing around the world, and, like many child stars, tires of her occupation; why not kill quite a few birds with one stone by putting her newfound wealth into undertaking mankind’s greatest adventure, a solo spaceflight lasting over a decade?

Working out the timeline for her, I’m sure she’ll be setting out at perhaps the age of 13, so very young; old enough to have exited the child star bracket and to have racked up some sailing and even cosmonautics experience, but still very young. The upshot, though, is that she’ll be 26 when she returns to Earth and completes her flight, so the whole formative part of her young adulthood will be spent alone in space. That’d be interesting.

It got me wondering: where would she go from there? I was thinking she’d make another great pivot in her life by assuming a more domestic role: wife and mother. But tacking on a random romance at the end seemed forced, and her conducting a long-distance romance during her spaceflight with some man back on the homeworld seemed undignified. As a heroine cosmonaut she should be akin to a Vestal Virgin; maybe not all cosmonauts should be like that (they’re certainly not in my stories…), but I really feel that Polina should.

An Aunt for Polina

So how do I get her to wife-and-mother in organic fashion sans a romance during the trip? Well, I think today I thought of a rather clever spin on it. She’ll have some long-distance intimacy alright during her trip, but with her aunt, the woman who raised her. Polina’s own parents were adventuresome types — her father more so than her mother; however, the mother, who originally wasn’t quite so adventuresome, is so lovey-dovey and enamored with him she’s along for the ride ’til death do them part — and were off yachting, mountaineering, or submarining, or some such, and they at first mostly kept Polina right there with them on their travels and adventures.

However, when her aunt introduced her to it she displayed such a passion and talent for acting and performing they decided to let her stay with the aunt while they traveled and did their thing, since adventurism isn’t very compatible with closely supervising a child’s acting career, which became so big it turned out she had to be pretty much raised by her aunt, with her actual parents just being frequent visitors. It helps Polina considerably that she has a lot in common with said aunt, being practically the spitting image of her, and resembling her in personality and interests too, right down to the expressions they make, so they develop a very close aunt-niece bond.

A royal Bridegroom for Polina!

Auntie will come in handy in the story, because she’ll arrange a marriage for Polina! That’s a change of pace in my stories. My current thinking is that the aunt has the privilege of becoming a member of the State Duma, on one of the quota of seats selected at random from among the citizenry; so rare is this (her out of millions of Russians!) that Polina, who I’m thinking is a deeply religious Orthodox Christian (that’ll be another change of pace!), is sure it’s a sign from God.

Polina has become very popular (even more than she was originally) for her heroic feats, especially in Russia, and the aunt suggests to the parliament that she might be made Empress Consort (Tsarina) if she could be married to a nobleman of Rurikid descent, who then could be elected Emperor (Tsar). It helps that in this universe the monarchy is elective, not hereditary, the only customary restriction being that the Tsar must be a descendant of Rurik (as Prince Lvov was when he was proclaimed Tsar in 1916, deposing the Romanovs and ushering in liberal democracy in Russia; he had no natural heirs, so parliament chose another Rurikid nobleman, and the elective principle stuck).

Parliament accept the idea, which leads auntie to personally scope out prospects for her niece, selecting one leading candidate for her to meet upon her return to Earth, with the enthusiastic consent of the Duma, assuming Polina should wish marriage with him. He’s crazy about her, but it remains to be seen what she’ll make of him…until they meet, and it turns out she falls like a ton of bricks for him upon first sight.

At that moment she knows her fate is sealed, that she wants it, all of it, everything her aunt proposed for her, and accepts Empress Consort as the next chapter of her life, one where she’ll be beloved by her subjects and possessed by her man, her only role in life being to have fun, make babies…and point the royal scepter at the next destination: Proxima Centauri. A destination that, after their retirement (like Dutch monarchs it might be customary to abdicate in old age), they just might go to, tying their ultimate fates to the Thalssan Expedition as honored elders crossing the interstellar void, finally besting her own record she set in the full bloom of youth.

I think that works, which more or less takes care of girlie #1 in a rather elegant and interesting fashion that befits her character and the tenor of the story. Now onto girlie #2…

2 Replies to “An Outer Solar System Odyssey: More Thoughts”

  1. Going from prodigious explorer to housewife is such a stark juxtaposition. Is there a purpose for this change?

    1. Is it really so weird for a girl to dream of both being a prodigious explorer and a mother? Is it really so weird that she’d want to focus 100% on them at different times in her life, rather than attempting to combine the two? Like, I think of it as akin to a retirement, or the sort of career change anybody might make. It might also be worth noting that she’s independently wealthy, so her lifestyle would be closer to what most people would call “lady of leisure” than “housewife”; she’s certainly not going to spend her days over a sink doing the dishes or anything like that.

      Later in life when her kids are grown she may well go back to being an explorer; I had the thought that she might be on the expedition to Proxima Centauri much later on. Or she might do something else completely? Who knows? In terms of the length of a career lives are long; you could be a star actor in childhood, an intrepid explorer in the teens and twenties, a mother in your thirties and forties, and still be only 50, i.e. have 20 years (or more, potentially many more) years left to go before you get truly decrepit, time to devote a decade or more to yet another endeavor.

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