The first excursions of the US Mars expeditions lead to FRA-1. What they found was pretty much what they had expected from the images of Pathfinder. A half sphere of about two hundred meters in diameter, where the dust storms of Mars had slowly stripped away much of whatever had covered the dome once. Here and there the astronauts could see some remaining parts of the cover, but after touching it, it slowly fell apart. The astronauts were able to bag some of it for later analysis, which was not much of a problem as Enterprise contained some laboratory equipment.
At some places it was possible to see exposed circuitry underneath the silvery layer of the dome and to extract some parts as well as some of the circuitry. These samples were the first things that had to be returned to Earth and be analyzed, as the laboratory of Enterprise was insufficient for a local analysis.
The material of the dome turned out to be a complex polymer with unknown carbon based structures embedded in it, giving it its color. The carbon structures later turned out to be an allotrope of carbon with a cylindric structure, not unlike the so called Buckminsterfullerenes. A preliminary analysis made clear that these ‘carbon nanotubes’ were responsible for the rather high strength of the polymer.
The circuitry recovered also contained a high amount of carbon, instead of the expected silicon. Some of this carbon was in the form of wafer like diamond, while other parts were single sheets of carbon atoms, used in a way that suggested that they were used as semiconductors.
Several companies, such as the Bell Labs, and universities, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, were the first to try and find way of replicating the materials, as they had great potential for use in conventional and electronic engineering.
On Mars there was at that time no way of getting into the dome of FRA-1, short of trying to destroy one of the outer walls of the dome.
The first excursion to FRA-1 was followed by several excursions into the area of Honore City, even though the astronauts remained in the outer reaches of the city. The buildings turned out to be largely circular and elliptic in nature, with only a minimal number of angles, using a sweeping and curved design instead.
At first the astronauts remained outside of the buildings, getting a general feel for the area and searching the immediate area of the buildings for any signs of intelligent life. They did not find any, but it was noticed that more than one building showed signs of heavy damage to their structures. One of the astronauts, Robert Springer, had been a US Marine aviator during the Vietnam War and originally been selected to provide security against the Soviets on Mars. His combat experience however allowed him to identify some of the damage to the structures and buildings as the result of high explosives and pressure waves caused by explosions. Other damages at less exposed areas were identified as projectile damage. High temperature damage on some of the buildings suggested the use of more exotic weapons, such as lasers.
The extent and nature of the damage caused tension with some of the groups within the US government. To the Pentagon it meant that either the alien city on Mars had been destroyed by a different, and hostile, species or that the damage was from internal fighting of the same species on Mars.
On the first visits of Honore City it was also noted that all buildings showed signs of having been designed to be airtight and could only be entered through airlocks. This suggested that the aliens were not native to Mars and that Honore City was either a large outpost, a colony or another sort of base.
Prior to the Soviet Landing Incident, the crew could recover a number of artifacts from the ruins of Honore City. A basic analysis happened on Enterprise before they were stored on Artemis for the return trip to Earth.
Following the Soviet Landing Incident the EVA focus shifted slightly, with less excursions to Honore City to keep the crew at hand in the case that the surviving cosmonaut would do anything ill conceived.
This opened up more time for exploration on Mars that did not involve Honore City or FRA-1. The astronauts did a geological exploration of the surroundings and collected a number of interesting looking rocks. They also discovered water ice in the soil.
NASA was positively surprised and welcomed this discovery as it meant that it could be possible to extract the water from Martian soil and purify it for either drinking or for In Situ resource utilization to produce oxygen and methane, as fuel or for replenishment of the habitats atmosphere.
After the return of Artemis into orbit and finally to Earth, the remaining five man crew of Enterprise, was ordered to carry out an experiment to try and extract water and test its purity. In combination with on site testing of the soil the scientists on Earth could confirm that the water was fit for human consumption after a basic purification with a simple distillation apparatus that could be built with material on hand. Musgrave commented that he had seen this on MacGyver once, calling the apparatus an abomination of duct tape and plastic foil.
The water was also put into the chemical plant of Enterprise, where it was electrolyzed and used to produce hydrogen and oxygen and injected into the Sabatier and Bosch reactors from there.
Over the next months more expeditions into Honore City followed and the astronauts were able to collect a good number of artifacts.
An exploration of Musgrave and Guy Gardner on April 2, 1989, discovered the first actual remains of the aliens inside a building that had been opened up by an explosion. The skeleton was recovered and returned to Enterprise where it was possible to make the first image of the alien with the help of Mission Control.
The aliens were radial symmetric with eight limbs, four of them legs and four arms. Their barrel shaped torso appeared to contain most of their organs, topped by a small baseball sized spherical head that had apparently contained four eyes.
Gardner was the first to use the name ‘Ziggies’ and when asked about the name, he noted that Mission Control had woken them on the day with ‘Starman’, from David Bowie’s album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and that the song had been stuck in his head for the entire time.
Mars was a bleak world however and the astronauts had a rather monotonous timetable. Expeditions of up to 12 hours into Honore City constantly reminded them that the creators of the place were all long gone, killed either by themselves or an outside force. NASA had not fully accounted for psychological problems of the mission and although Manley Carter was a surgeon, he was no psychologist and could do little to help with the onset of light cases of depression, that had already showed in the way to Mars. Later on the main causes had been the sight of seeing the blue planet slowly get smaller and finally fade away into the darkness of space.
That the crew was confined to Enterprise for one month, during one of the dust storms that covered the entire planet, did not help much either.
All members of the mission had specifically been selected for their previous experience with longer stays on the Moon, save for Jerome Apt, who had been primarily been selected for his background as physicist.
On November 11, Apt had a small accident where he fell through a damaged floor, into a room with several dozen alien skeletons. Gardner, who had been his partner on the excursion, was unable to help Apt at that moment and had to return to Enterprise to get assistance. For nearly six hours, Apt was trapped within a room filled with alien corpses, unable to do anything to help himself.
Following this experience, Apt began to show signs of claustrophobia and paranoia that lead to a mental breakdown.
During the rest period on November 13, Apt put on his space suit and left Enterprise, using one of the rovers to drive out into the Martian desert surrounding Honore City. During the drive he continuously talked about aliens and how his fellow astronauts wanted to get rid of him to reduce the crew back to the original four. It was continuously transmitted back to Enterprise and from there to Mission Control. Mission Control could do little to prevent Apt from doing anything stupid as even waking the remaining crew was too late.
Apt continued driving the light rover and the pursuing rover was unable to catch up. Six hours later he was out of range of the suit’s radio transmitter. The rover was later discovered stuck in a dune, Apt was found nearly three kilometers further. Sadly, too late. His oxygen supply had depleted and in the end he had slowly asphyxiated.
The Incident and the first death of an American astronaut since Apollo 1, sent an outcry throughout the American public. NASA was forced to admit that their planning for the Mars mission had been too hectic and that they had underestimated the fact, that there would be any psychological problems.
Another problem became apparent as well. How was NASA to deal with dead astronauts in space? There were no contingency plans in place for this case. Standard procedure for deceased American soldiers was to transfer them back to the United States, but a dead astronaut on another planet on the other hand…
The psychological pressure of being put into a tin can along with a dead body was expected to be high. However burying Apt on Mars might become a problem for the American public who expected the return of a dead American hero.
In the end NASA decided to follow at least some maritime traditions, opting for a ‘Burial at Sea’. To keep up appearances, they broadcast the funeral on Mars nationwide, showing as the remaining astronauts lowered Apt’s body, covered in a space American flag, into a hole only a hundred meter away from Voyager 1, the first place where an American probe landed on Mars.
The burial on Mars however didn’t refrain a group of people from trying to sue NASA into returning the body of an American Hero back to Earth to be buried in Arlington. The lawsuit was pretty much laughed away in court.
The death of Jerome Apt cast a dark shadow over the first Mars Expedition. To keep their minds off his death and as a way to honor him, the remainder of the astronauts threw themselves into work. They managed to open up a number of previously confined areas and recover a number of very interesting artifacts.
On Earth the derelicts returned by Artemis had been spread out over several universities and research laboratories. Some artifacts turned out to be trivial, such as everyday items tailored for the specific anatomy of the aliens, made from the same materials as everyday items on Earth, stamped steel or simple polymers.
Other items contained the same microelectronics as the circuitry from FRA-1 and were expected to be computers of some sort. Many of these devices contained a form of superconducting capacitor for energy storage. The biggest surprise however was that these capacitors were room temperature and in two cases high temperature superconductors. Chemical analysis showed that these cermet materials contained high amounts of rare earth elements.
Another set of materials was an advanced form of cermet that had properties of a polymer and was partially organic in nature.
Meanwhile, NASA was preparing for the next Mars Mission in June 1990. This time a more conventional approach was used for the mission, as there was no need to rush things since the United States had already beaten the Soviet Union to Mars. On the other hand the early Soviet preparation for a two craft mission to Venus in 1989 did make the United States a bit nervous, as they did not really know what the Soviets hoped to gain with a manned expedition to Venus. The Soviets did prepare a second mission to Mars as well, using the same techniques as they had done for the first mission, only this time without a plan for an aerocapture, going for a conventional propulsive capture.
NASA prepared a larger Mars craft, which was to carry two landers. One was similar to Enterprise, but was expanded with a special docking module that allowed to use the top docking port of Enterprise to combine both landers into a single station. Additionally the chemical plant of the lander was specifically designed to be able to purify Martian water into a form that was one hundred percent fit for human consumption and to use as base for more propellant.
Additionally one of the two decks of the habitation module was modified to carry a hydroponics system, to provide the astronauts with some fresh food that they could grow by themselves. Aside from the obvious reduction of external food supplies it was also expected to have positive effects on the astronauts psychologic condition.
The second lander was the return vehicle, modified to carry a larger amount of artifacts back into orbit as well as additional material down to the surface. NASA already had later plans to use the propellant production on the surface for a form of reusable ferry lander.
Like it had been done for the first mission, the modules of the second Mars Mission were named by the American public. The base module was named Intrepid and the return craft Stardust.
The Intrepid-Stardust Mission launched on June 29, 1990, five days earlier than the Soviet MEK 2 Mission, reaching Mars one week ahead of the Soviets on February 15, 1991.
Upon landing, the crew of Intrepid-Stardust was welcomed by the remaining crew of Enterprise, who was glad to have some fresh direct human contact after nearly two years and a death. Mission Commander Robert Crippen and the other members of the four man crew first of all paid their respects at the grave of Jerome Apt, which was broadcast all over the United States.
While the original crew of Enterprise moved the most interesting artifacts into Stardust, the Intrepid crew worked to move the new module to Enterprise, before connecting both modules, increasing the useable space for the crew by one hundred percent.
On March 20, Stardust left Mars and docked with the waiting return spacecraft to reach Earth on August 28. The original crew of Enterprise was glad to be back and after being welcomed home almost directly sought out psychological help.