Packet Rat: The Rat has a close solar encounter
The cyberrodent hopped a transport to the Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah for a long-anticipated moment of geek tourism.
He intended to be on hand when a stunt helicopter snagged NASA's returning Genesis solar probe midair and rushed it off to a clean room for analysis of the data it had collected. What a feat!
NASA had been struggling to get its act together after a streak of bad luck with software, including the 1999 loss of a Mars orbiter whose landing software mistakenly used English rather than metric measurements.
The Spirit and Opportunity rovers salvaged the space agency's high-tech rep'well, except for a file system problem that gave Spirit a nightly blue-screen-of-death experience. But the coders at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory hacked a patch, and the two rovers are still roving thanks to a remote system update over the most expensive data connection in the solar system.
So, the cyberrodent was primed to enjoy yet another spectacular NASA success over the Utah desert.
Arranging his cooler, blanket and beach chair, the wired one plopped down among the Dugway dunes. Training the binoculars, he waited for the show to start.
His own personal antenna farm was catching the video and audio feed from flight control, picked up by a WiMax wireless broadband base station he'd set up the night before for his Army pals.
As landing time approached, the wirebiter applied a fresh layer of sunblock and cracked open a Utah-legal beverage. Then, as he adjusted his earphones, he heard someone mumbling something about drogue chute deployment.
Or, as it turned out, the lack of it.
Computer failure had again struck a NASA probe and, unfortunately for the Rat, the unsnagged projectile was now heading his way.
'Drogue chute has not deployed,' flight control repeated in his earphones. 'Impact in 10, 9 ...'
There was a metallic flash just above. 'Eeek,' he squealed as he spewed faux beer.
Some days later, the Rat limped back to his cubicle at the network command bunker in Washington, looking slightly the worse for wear.
'Hey, boss,' one of his underlings called out, 'looks like some of the Genesis experiments survived that crash. It must have been something to see. Do you think the sand cushioned the impact or something?'
'Or something,' the Rat groaned as he gingerly lowered his bandaged tail into the chair. The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected].