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Houston, We Have a Problem
A celebratory cheer of triumph erupted from the NASA control room as the Eris robot lander-rover signaled that it had successfully landed on Eris, the dwarf planet often called Pluto's twin. The historical first landing was 100% done by robot control as there was a 6 hour delay in commands from Earth to the edge of the solar system. Moments later, a second cheer rose from mission control as the lander's camera beamed back the first live picture from dwarf planet surface on the main screen. It was the first close up look at the mysterious distant world. All eyes were on the rocky, icy landscape sky on the main viewer. The world's dim light and black sky gave the surreal scene a dark, ominous look.
“Robots are the shape of things to come,” said Flight Director, Glen Krane to the Astronaut Director, Derrick Smith. “Sorry Derrick, we just don't need a human presence on space missions anymore. Robots are cheaper and don't need any life support systems.”
“I strongly disagree,” said Smith. “There are things an astronaut can do that just robot can't do and you know it. Humans are more flexible and can conduct scientific work. Eris is prime location for mining oil and natural gas. The rover will probably identify other rare minerals too. We need to a human presence on the surface for the complicated and interpretive tasks involved in mining the moon. I've submitted a detailed plan to the director of NASA for an Eris mining colony, similar to the one on Titon.”
Krane flashed a condescending smirk of victory. The two friends had been debating the classic man vs. machine argument for years. The robot landing was a victory for the machine side of the debate as it clearly displayed the advances in robotics and artificial intelligence. He was confident that NASA would choose his smart robots for any Eris mining operations in the future. As the camera slowly panned to show other angles, there suddenly was a dark movement to the left of the picture.
“Is that...a dust cloud?” said Krane—although he knew it really wasn't a dust cloud. For a few seconds, his mind simply couldn't accept the unbelievable that his eyes saw on the main viewer.
A hush came over the NASA crowd as they watched as several hulking, gray hairy creatures charged towards the lander's position. There were several screams from the NASA crowd as a huge fanged mouth opened up on one of the monstrous creatures as it reached down and enveloped the small Earth machine. The camera feed on the main screen immediately went black.
“What the hell was that?” said someone in horror.
“Houston, we have a problem,” wisecracked someone else.
“The radio downlink is also dead,” said the radio tech.
“That thing just ate a 500 million lander!” said Krane. “We were on the surface for only 60 seconds! How many monsters does this damn place have?” He sat down on his chair—stunned at what had just happened.
Derrick Smith casually stepped beside his friend and slapped him on the back. “Not exactly the friendliest or most hospitable place to visit. On further reflection, I don't think I want to put my astronauts on Eris. I think Eris is much better explored and mined by robots than humans. The dwarf planet Eris is all yours. You win.”
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