PANDORA'S BOX

Forward
According to Edith Hamilton, in Greek Mythology the source of all misfortune was Pandora's curiosity. "The gods presented her with a box into which each had put something harmful, and forbade her ever to open it. Then they sent her to Epimetheus, who took her gladly although Prometheus had warned him never to accept anything from Zeus. He took her, and afterward when that dangerous thing, a woman, was his, he understood how good his brother's advice had been. For Pandora, like all women, was possessed of a lively curiosity. She had to know what was in the box. One day she lifted the lid and out flew plagues innumerable, sorrow and mischief for mankind. In terror Pandora clapped the lid down, but too late. One good thing, however, was there...Hope. It was the only good the casket had held among the many evils, and it remains to this day mankind's sole comfort in misfortune."

Chapter 1. The Mars Mission
Sunday, December 17, 2028
James Horvath had just finished helping M.E.R.V., the Mars Environmental Research Vehicle, manipulate into the Mars Research Station with its last capsule when he heard the transmission from Colonel Bill Bradshaw, orbiting somewhere above the planet. "Jim, we've got sensor indications on our instrument panel that the last collection of samples by Merv may have some interesting anomalies from that small cave in Sector Four. Julia wants you to send him back with two more of Pandora's boxes to get samples for our other clients." By the time Julia in Mission Control back on Earth had received the sensor readings transmitted by Bill; made the assessment to collect two more samples and transmitted the request back to the Pegasus, Merv had already returned. Jim chuckled at Bill referring to Merv as 'him' but he knew it was easy to do. After all Merv could see, talk, travel to a target unassisted and even had deductible capability that allowed it to make choices. The two other clients Julia had referred to were IASA member countries, France and China, that had invested large sums of capital to help finance this massive joint operation with the International Aero Space Administration. He was anxious to get back to earth after  spending five and a half months on this voyage to Mars and knew that it would take another four and a half months to get back home. Oh well, what's another couple of hours, he thought to himself. He replied to Bill in the affirmative and began loading two more eight-inch long empty cylinders onto Merv's frame and replaced his two battery packs with fresh ones. He smiled as he thought of Julia and how she referred to the capsules as 'Pandora's Boxes'. She called them that because, as she said, they always came back filled with WMSIWYG. What Merv Sees Is What You Get. Jim knew this mission was very important for the world's scientific community. Although he couldn't see too much from Merv's camera in the tiny cave, which was little more than four foot wide by 18 inch high fissure, he knew that there were small pools of frozen liquid, and he suspected, as had NASA, that it was water. These specimens could determine once and for all whether there was, or had been, some form of microscopic life on Mars. The capsules from the last previous unmanned visit in 2007 had only contained soil and rock samples with out any trace of past or present life forms.

This was the first international manned mission to Mars and he would be glad to get out of this inflatable research station with the four scientists working with him and back aboard the spacecraft Pegasus circling Mars, with Colonel William Bradshaw, and Captain Vladimir Klenovic, the Russian navigator, who were monitoring their progress on the surface. The team at the Mars station consisted of scientists from Canada, Germany, England, and Japan; all specialists in different fields. They had been in this station for five earth weeks and were almost finished their tests and calculations on the surface. Jim Horvath was the son of a hard working farming couple in mid western South Dakota. Ever since Jim could remember he had wanted to fly the heavens and visit far away worlds. He never forgot, and his mother to this day would still remind him, of the time when he was seven years old, she awoke from a deep sleep in the middle of the night with an uneasy feeling that something had happened to him. She went to his bedroom to check on him and found him gone. She frantically woke his father and they began searching the house and were just about to phone the sheriff when he strode in through the door. He had been down by the river on a rope swing. When she enquired as to why he wanted to go swinging in the middle of the night he had replied, "I couldn't reach the stars in my spaceship in the daytime!" His dedication and perseverance had made him a top choice for this mission.

Jim watched Merv through the front portal of the Lander, returning from the cave with its two containers and thought out loud, "I wonder what kind of surprise you have for us this time, my little friend".

The world would find out, but it would be many months later.

Chapter 2. The Mission Returns Home
Monday, June 18, 2029
Two days ago the Mission Control Operations Room at Houston had been empty and as quiet as a morgue except for a couple of technicians checking circuits and wiring. Today it was buzzing with excitement as 143 technical operations staff, numerous news media with cameras, lights, sound equipment and a gallery filled with invited guests and dignitaries anxiously awaited the touchdown of the shuttle craft Rendezvous. Colonel William (Bill) Bradshaw, Major James Horvath, Captain Vladimir Klenavic and four international scientists were returning from the first manned excursion to the planet Mars after 404 days.

Bill Bradshaw had served seven years in the space program and was referred to as 'The Old Man' by the rookies. Although only 34 he had a wealth of knowledge and training behind him. His uncanny ability to handle stressful situations easily, and his cheerful nature made him a first pick as Mission Commander for this mission. He was also an admired friend of Jim Horvath and when not working or sleeping they spent much of the long trip talking about old times, playing cards and watching videos piped aboard by IASA.