His fans know him as Europa Nick, the guy online pretending to explore Europa in a tiny space-age cabin. The author of the popular DIY spacesuit-building book Build Spacesuits, Will Explore.
A power outage in the middle of a blizzard gives Nick a chance to record exciting footage for the web series and a reason to suit up.
Business as usual until an unexpected visitor takes Nick’s dreams literally.
If you love fun and weird science fiction stories, check out “Europan Holiday”
I’m starting my new challenge today — serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad, and Leanpub. I plan to post a new chapter every other day or so. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.
Nick leaned close to the porthole and the soothing steam from his mug of hot cocoa fogged the thick glass and filled his small space-age cabin with the scent of rich chocolate. Outside thick ashen snowflakes floated down from the freezing dark and blocked out any view of his surroundings. It was almost possible to imagine that he was in a lander on Europa’s surface, next to some sort of icy volcano spewing out ice from deep beneath the thick crust.
Except the snow floated. It danced and moved with the breeze, a thick billowing curtain of dark snow blotting out everything around him. It was an Earthly snow rather than an Europan snow. It fell from clouds rather than sprayed upward from an ice volcano. On Europa snow was volcano ash and water the magma of the world.
He sipped carefully at the scalding cocoa, with a hint of peppermint, made with boiled snow on his compact rocket stove — cobbled together from recycled stove pipe and insulated with cob and stones for thermal mass. A real lander would have a self-contained system to maintain internal temperature, to recycle air and water, and basically keep the crew alive. The biggest problem his tiny cabin faced here near Fairbanks, however, was the cold. Given the 110 square feet of space, however, the rocket stove was very efficient at keeping it warm even when the temperatures insisted on staying below zero. It was October 23rd now, and the snow around Fairbanks would stay until May, creating a wonderland icescape that made it easy to imagine he was looking out at the surface of Europa from the shelter of his very own lander.
The cabin was quiet. The fire in the rocket stove had already gone out, the thermal mass sufficing to keep the place warm. His MacBook Air, sitting on the spotless glass tabletop that folded out from the wall, didn’t make any sound either. The only sound, other than his own breathing, was the snow-muffled throb of the generator outside. A necessary concession if he was going to post to his Europa Nick blog and YouTube channel.
He wore his usual dark blue mission polo shirt, with the mission patch he had designed. Shorts and socks were enough inside. As Europa Nick, he shared his experiments in living in a tiny space. An example of what it might be like for other explorers in the future, reaching out to worlds other than this one.
At forty-three there was no way anyone else was sending him to space, and with Carol gone no one was around to keep him company, so he’d built his off grid space-age cabin on his isolated property outside of Fairbanks. Really just one of thousands of tiny homes springing up on trailer beds around the world, but he’d built his to look like a high-tech, other-worldly rover and used it to launch an online presence that let him live simply.
The lights flickered and died along with the noise from the generator. The MacBook’s glow and readouts from his cabin sensors provided some dim light. More came from the emergency lights above the airlock. Nick put the cocoa down on an Apollo 13 mission patch coaster.
He tapped record on the laptop and cleared his throat. Shadows wrapped in nicely around his face on the camera. “Control, looks like there’s a disruption in my power systems. I’m going to suit up and go EVA to check out the problem.”
Nick tapped the button to save the recording and got up. It was time to suit up.
For all the work that had gone into making the cabin look like a vehicle that could go travel on another world, it was still mostly a stick-built cabin designed to look like a vehicle that could serve as a home on another world. It wasn’t air-tight, it couldn’t recycle his air and even the solar panels were mostly for show.
His spacesuit, though, that was special. His first several spacesuits were nothing but costumes. Dangerous costumes at that, which did little to protect him from the cold outside. He’d nearly gotten frostbite the first time he had gone out on a “geological mission” wearing one of his costume suits. But it wouldn’t look too good if he layered up over the spacesuit for the photos. So he took to wearing as many socks as he could fit in a boot and a long red parka over the suit. Then when he wanted to get a photo he’d dump the parka, get the shots, and then hurry up back into the parka.
Which wasn’t easy wearing a spacesuit.
Then he’d read about how the first Apollo spacesuits were made by seamstresses in the Sixties out of the same stuff they used to make bras. They’d made garments that would protect the astronauts in space and keep them alive. If they could do it, why not him? Why not make a spacesuit that really could protect him from the cold?
It wasn’t as easy as it sounded, and a lot of his money had gone into the suit, but now it really did function. He could put it on and walk around outside without freezing to death. If anything he had more trouble with overheating, but was working on that as well.
He’d even managed to get to the point of the suit having its own air supply. It was limited, an hour was all, but it worked and solved the problem of drawing in below freezing cold air that would ice up the inside of his suit.
His book, Build Spacesuits, Will Explore, available in both print and e-book editions, was one of his bestselling books and had gained him a ton of followers.
Like the first Apollo suits, his suit was a custom-fit suit. None of the interchangeable parts that came with the Shuttle program. He had individually crafted each layer, and it took time to put the whole thing on, but it wasn’t really any worse than the way Alaskans normally layered up before going outside.
The hardest part was the limited space he had to work in. There were people who had bigger closets than his space-cabin. His spacesuit took up most of the room in the cabin’s closet, the closet door sliding to close off the waste disposal facilities — his composting toilet and shower.
Hanging in the closet it looked like a big deflated suit. Much of the fabric was white with reflective patches, but he had also added red striping to the shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist and knees. He figured that visibility against the snowy landscape would help his viewers. He also had red stripes that went over his helmet, and the support pack with the batteries and electronics, air systems and the rest was also shiny red. That, along with the bright L.E.D. lights helped make the suit stand out. The only thing that didn’t were the boots, which were black.
He pulled it out and tugged and pulled and finally squeezed himself inside, reminding himself that even though he didn’t have a scale in the space-cabin, he was going to need to either work out some more or cut back on the calories. Either that or he’d need a new suit soon.
Still, he got squeezed in and pulled on the helmet last. Sealing the helmet activated the suit systems. Readout lights lit up in red on his left wrist panel. The row of red LED lights stayed dark. All systems checked out. Suit cameras came on automatically to record the EVA. Easier than having to direct anything. There were four exterior cameras, each shoulder, helmet forward and back, plus two cameras in his helmet filming him.
“Control, ready for EVA. All systems showing green.” He held up his forearm for the shoulder cameras to get a shot of the readout. “Preparing to enter the airlock.”
Nick turned and walked carefully — the suit and support pack were bulky — to the entrance. This was one of the coolest features of the space-cabin, and a practical feature for keeping the space warm. A lot of tiny houses were built as cute cedar wood houses complete with a tiny porch. He’d turned his into an airlock complete with a small view window and warning signs.
It’d have been cool if the door automatically slid open, but given the space-cabin’s small footprint he would have been triggering it any time he came close. Instead he’d done something that made it seem equally cool, without needing power for it to function.
Inset into the wall next to the door was a big red lever. He pulled the lever down. Doing so released the weights built into the wall and it pulled the airlock door open.
Nick placed his hands on the frame and pulled himself through, just fitting in the spacesuit. The first time he had suited up he had thought that he wasn’t going to fit. He did fit, but it was close.
And there wasn’t much space in the airlock. Emergency lights in the ceiling provided some illumination but he pressed the switch on his suit to activate his exterior lights. Bright LED lights on the helmet sent twin beams into the small space. He had windows on every wall of the airlock, allowing him to see out any direction.
Snow swirled and clouded the windows. It wasn’t sticking to anything but the light reflected off the bright, tiny flakes of ice.
“Control, looks like the snow storm has decreased visibility to less than a meter. Egress from Europa Base in five minutes, once I cycle the airlock. I will tether myself to the lander, following safety protocols.”
A storm like this, it could deposit inches of snow, but hopefully wouldn’t last long. It might make for some interesting footage once the snow stopped and the sun rose a bit. The dim light, doing work out in the snow, it made great space images to sell online. Better if he got the space-cabin’s cameras back up.