emo to whoever finds this floating hunk of half-chewed junk: You might think it’s odd to come across a wooden capsule adrift in space. You also might think it would be a bad idea to build a spaceship out of that same wood.
And you’d be right, but not because of the obvious.
You see, the wood isn’t your ordinary wood. (Look at me: now I sound like a flooring salesman. “Get your engineered planks here! Fifty percent off! Get ‘em while they’re still rated for intergalactic travel!”)
The ship was Dex’s idea. He was convinced a composite of lignin (for its compression properties) and cellulose (for its tension strength) would revolutionize the space industry. No more “gold foil” insulation made from layers of Kapton and metalized Mylar. Our new polymers are derived from cheap, plentiful materials that require minimal chemical inputs. Radio waves penetrate the timbers easily so we can keep our instruments inside the ship. And on re-entry, the wooden bits burn up in the atmosphere, simplifying retrieval.
There are still some conventional pieces, of course. Nickel-chromium alloys in the rocket engines; phenolic-impregnated carbon in the heat shield—that sort of thing. (We’re not all the way bonkers. Just the next best thing.) Dex also devised a slick process for treating the wooden components to withstand the extreme temperature shifts occurring in space when you move from direct sunlight to shade or vice versa. I’d share the details, but, like I said…THIS IS A BAD IDEA! Here’s why: Space termites.
You read that right. Mother-effing space termites on our mother-effing spaceship.
Big suckers too. About the size of your fist, with psychedelic shells harder than Kevlar. Dex broke his wrench over the skittering bastard leading the charge when the first termites bored through the hull.
Fortunately, we’d just geared up for an EVA. (I really do mean “just.” I’d barely finished securing my helmet before various mandibles started punching through our clever, not-at-all-stupid wooden panels.) So we didn’t suffocate.
But after that, well, how do you think it played out? For some reason, we’d neglected to bring a space anteater or much in the way of insecticide. (Sure, we’ve got the standard measures for dealing with terrestrial stowaways. We also had the ship sprayed before we took off. Again, we’re not completely incompetent. Even if we were, I defy you to find a NASA checklist that plans for effing space termites.)
Dex tried to stuff the hungry, hungry hijackers back through the holes they’d made; I patched the cavities with the proprietary seal we’d prepared for minor (I repeat, minor) perforations. But the greedy punks were on a mission. It wasn’t long before the main cabin acquired a rather alarming swiss-cheese aesthetic.
Venting the buggers out of the airlock didn’t accomplish much; they just flew back to the ship. Dex attempted some manic chemistry in the lab, but his improvised fumigant worked about as well as my repertoire of insect insults. I even gave the laser torch a go. (Don’t get too excited—that’s just an astronaut’s welding gun, which isn’t actually a gun or the least bit effective against space termites, as it turns out.)
That about catches us up. We’re in our bunks, waiting for the swarm to munch its way through the rest of our proof-of-concept and devour our beds for dessert. Our suits have a few hours of air left. Dex is rigging a tandem tether so we can stay attached to each other and the hull’s untouched titanium frame while the transmitter beams a distress signal. (Dex is an optimist).
I’m writing this letter with my fancy space pen and readying the capsule to serve as our black box in case the flight recorder doesn’t make it. (I’m a realist.) The capsule started this voyage as lignin-based piping; I salvaged it after the first wave and cobbled together a cap. If I jettison it in the next minute or two, I bet it’ll clear the horde. (Because who bothers with a stray French fry when they’re still glorying in the burger?)
Part of me wants to document how deeply absurd and unnecessarily ironic this all is. On a related note, I’d like to point out that we achieved our secondary goal: locating alien life.
Then the aliens ate our spaceship because we made it out of wood.
So yes, bad idea.
And also, MOTHER-EFFING SPACE TERMITES!