Starting Point: Any Landing You Can Walk Away From…


Alex Brunner was standing on the surface of Mars. It was amazing. What was more amazing was that he had survived the worst landing ever. The chutes fired on time, but their reentry track dropped the ship into a dust devil a half a klick across. Most folks think that they are harmless. For the most part they are, but not when you’re descending at Mach 3.

“Any sign of a rescue, Alex?” asked a female voice over the comms.

Looking around carefully, Alex scanned the sky. “Nope,” he said in the Mare Tranquility drawl. “Nothing as far as the horizon.”

Climbing out of the capsule, Raquel Zorento swore as she somersaulted to the dusty red soil. “Frak. I hoped we got that mayday out before we turtled. The others don’t look too good. Brian’s leg is broken, and Keiko is still unconscious. Sid… we need to bury him or something.”

Alex looked to the West and the lowering sun and said, “Lowell City is that way, we overshot them… by a bit.”

Looking in that direction, Raquel frowned, and asked, “When you say ‘a bit’, do you mean a few klicks?”

Musing on that question, Alex replied, “Maybe a hundred-two hundred kilometers. Give or take a couple of klicks. Get the capsule’s oxy tanks, make a sledge. Make it inna week, week anna half.”

“You’re not suggesting that we walk to Lowell City?” exclaimed Raquel.


So how would continue this story? Some questions to consider:

  • It gets bitterly cold in the Martian night. How do they keep warm with what they can drag between the two of them?
  • Do they have some sort of airtight shelter? If not, eating and maybe drinking could be difficult to do.
  • Are the people of Lowell City searching for them?
  • Even with the lower Martian gravity, dragging a sledge through the red sand is going to be tough.
  • Who’s left behind?

Time to get your imagination going!

Written by John Reiher

Image: Abandoned ‘Mars’ ©2014 LMorse

  • Steven Lyle Jordan

    I think traveling to other planets and hostile environments will force us to change that old slogan: “Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.” Probably to something like: “Any landing you can walk away from doesn’t do you any favors”…

    I’d bet Lowell City knew they were coming, and would be starting a search as soon as the ship went AWOL. If there’s already people on Mars, and as long as the dust storms don’t cover you up , I would stay in place and wait for Lowell (probably with the help of satellites and search craft) to find us. Use debris to make a large marker capable of being seen from orbit, and bivouac until they get discovered.

  • Peter Hanely

    If Mars has a decent space traffic control system, a reasonable assumption given a city, people probably know about where to look for survivors or wreckage. A satellite fix on the location may have to wait several hours for a satellite to pass overhead.

    Survival gear for a capsule should also include a spare radio, though useful range surface to surface may be well less than 200 km if it operates on a microwave band. They may count the suite radios as the spares, in which case useful range is clearly short of reaching the city. But a ground vehicle headed to estimated point of touchdown would have a good chance of coming within range.

    In short, if someone is looking for them they do well to stay put.

  • dan cummins

    Everyone stop what you are doing and look up “The Martian” by Andy Weir. You won’t regret it.

  • John H Reiher Jr

    Everyone is being very practical and assuming levels of support that may or may not be there. If this happened early on in Lowell City’s settlement, there may not be the resources to mount an expedition to rescue them. I do agree that searching from space is an option, so it behooves the survivors to create some sort of sign that they are alive and need rescuing.

    But the conflict in this story it seems is between Alex and Raquel. He thinks they need to rescue themselves, she might be in the stay in one place and get rescued camp. How does that play out?

  • Looking at the craft it does not look like it held four people on a journey from Earth. It looks like a lander. Meaning the actual space craft is still up there.
    Also the tech level does not look like much beyond our own. Meaning there is a mission control. Given the fact that there is a settlement would also suggest they were expected.
    So weren’t they in constant contact with Lowell throughout the entire descent?Would the settlement not raise alerts and start any efforts to rescue them,the second radio contact fails?
    Why would the mother ship monitor the landing? Even the ones now do that,so why stop doing it when people are aboard?
    Now it would make a little sense if the Mars colony is not theirs but a “Russian” or “Chinese” . But I seriously doubt the Chinese,the Russians or the Indians would call their first colony on Mars Lowell City. Our four protagonists ,don’t sound Chinese.
    while the idea of a crash landing is certainly a story worth exploring. I think that story, any story including a story starter need to follow cause and effect.A string of logical causalities. A story, any story not limited to SF but a core element to all fiction. Causality is needed even more than being “believable”.
    Don’t get me wrong,John’s story starter is still viable,but I think it is not a very simple one to pack into a story.
    Every reader will ask a few questions that must be answered :
    1) Why are there on Mars.Research? Colonists? Both seems unlikely.They don’t have scientific titles and their approach to the situation also does not strike me as academic.Colonists, yes more likely. They are even paired (male/female) but why put all the effort into a trip to mars for only 4 individuals and why would a ship that brings more colonists not also bring more supplies? That capsule doesn’t look like it could hold much of anything,especially if it held 4 people.
    2)There is a colony / city – Now it could be an inside joke and the City is nothing more than a small outpost with a few pressure domes. But the word city usually means more than 10 people.
    In both cases – the Four make little sense. – No matter how big the colony is,it has to be fairly independent from Earth. So any ship coming from Earth would not be just another event on the calendar, but THE!!! event. Why was there no constant communication? Even the Eagle had constant contact to Mission Control.
    What about the mother ship? Is it automated or are there more up there? In any case Iam certain it is in contact with Earth and Mars. They are talking to each other,that means they do have radios. And certainly strong enough to reach an orbiter.
    Did they simply stay silent and twiddled their thumbs while they got caught in that “Sand Devil” I would think they say something
    3) A Sand Devil is a funnel storm akin to a tornado (just smaller and not a strong) But as it might be, they do not reach very far up, The lander’s parachutes need to deploy much further up in the atmosphere)

    But the whole premise is quite illogical unless it is one of John’s VR adventures.

    Now if those four went to Mars for illict reasons…Let’s say to steal something from Lowell City, and maintained Radio silence. Because they are members of a competing corporation. But then coming down (as planned) right over the city might not be …

    Well it is a starting point, but it has a host of causality problems…which of course would be a challenge…I have a feeling this was John’s intention the first place.

  • Do you know the “Emergency equipment” of all Astronauts (and Cosmonauts) was a cyanide pill?

  • Maybe a case of “female parking?”

  • The biggest challenge to make this story work is protocol.If it supposed to be a near future, Hard SF.The eventuality of a crash is expected from the first planing of the mission.Mission participants are trained and instructed in what needs to be done in case of an emergency.
    Before crew is allowed to work on an Off shore Oil rig. They need to participate in safety training that includes the simulation of a helicopter crash in the water. Astronauts to a Mars mission would certainly receive training of similar kind as the Apollo mission crews. That would mean the crew of that lander should have protocols in place as what to do in case of a crash ( Something that is not unlikely but actually expected to happen with a reasonable percentage of chance it does)
    That means the craft is also equipped with some sort of emergency gear. If there was room in the Moon lander why would there be none in a Mars lander?

    There is actually quite a bit of resources out there on what the Apollo Missions carried along , what training the crews had to endure. Would a mission profile to Mars be very different.
    Why not conducting a little research ? I mentioned it before, most writers conduct research before they actually write. Something even more important to those who laud “Hard SF”

  • Not everyone might be very pleased:

  • John H Reiher Jr

    I love how much work you folks are putting into fleshing out the background for this story. Story ideas contain a seed and it’s up to the potential writer to flesh out this seed and find ways to make it work. And boy howdy, you are building the background suggested by this picture.

    Yes, Mission Control is working hard trying to find out what happened. Lowell City is trying to figure out if anyone survived. The parent ship, which might look like the attached image, may have seen what happened, or not. This may have happened on the other side of Mars from the mother ship. But now they are looking for where it landed. All this is true. And it’s all built from the story seed.

    Let me make a point here, Story Ideas are short, they introduce an idea, and then stop. It’s not up to the author of the story idea to make it feasible or even believable. That’s YOUR job as a writer. All we can do with a Story Idea is set it up for you the writer to knock it out of the park.

    And all this background work is great! You’re working out what is there, what might be there, who’s doing the looking, and once you have it locked down, write that story based on that information. Is Alex the pilot? Which explains the five person crew. Did they run into a dust devil, (I’ll fix that in the text, thanks VR) or did something else happen?

    Let’s see what you folks come up with!

  • A great movie with the same theme is : The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

    • John H Reiher Jr

      I loved this movie. It shows what you can do when you have to. However, turning a crashed capsule into something that can get airborne… eh, not so much.

      • I was refering to the movie as a similar situation.

        Besides before you “poo poo” the idea nothing could be “,made” out of the wreck that could aid the crash survivors. There were parachutes ,they could use components to make a sail or even a kite. They could use metal parts for skits and manufacture a crude sled. Using a kite or sail for wind propulsion they be in town in no time. According to your Intro they are only a few klicks away. Suggesting anything under lets say 20 kilometers? (Usually a few klicks suggest something in the neighborhood of 2-9 kilometers.

        So on a good day and on a little hill, they should be able to SEE Lowell town.You would be amazed how far you can see even climbing on top of the capsule.

        First you say and I quote: “It’s not up to the author of the story idea to make it feasible or even believable. That’s YOUR job as a writer”

        Now you seem to insist on facts of your Starter piece. And limit object the idea of something useful crafted from the wreckage.
        It seems you have crafted the outline of a story for that starter in your mind and reject or dismiss other ideas?

        • John H Reiher Jr

          I could be wrong. Anyway, I didn’t say it couldn’t be used for what you’re proposing VR. I just surmised that it that capsule ever sees air, it’s going to be using something like you’re proposing and a good breeze Lowell City-ward.

          Also, Alex states “Maybe a hundred-two hundred kilometers.” But I like you’re idea. Piece enough of the chutes together and you could make a kite big enough that even the thin Martian atmosphere could pull you along.

          And I do apologize if I came off a bit cane-wavery.

          • Yes the atmosphere is thinner but gravitation is less.
            Exploring larger regions of Mars . Exploration with helium balloons ,kites and parachutes that drag a ball across the landscape are looked at.
            I even suggest that the stranded team could get something air born, parachutes could be made into an ultra light or make shift kite.
            Of course just hypothetical but not so impossible within a crash on Mars scenario

            • John H Reiher Jr

              All these are great ideas! Sounds like you have a story in mind!

            • Do you not do the very same thing? Looking at a picture and your inner wheels start churning. A few words and the associations to many stories read or watched start clogging your mind. In the middle of writing a book there is this new nagging idea for a story….Yes I have a story in mind (Bu so do you I know it) But I won’t write it because it doesn’t really fit in my “Universe” right now.

            • John H Reiher Jr

              Always. And I do have an idea for this picture, but I’m holding off and letting someone else take a stab at it.

          • Rising a digital camera on a small hot air balloon or kite (using parachute strings etc) would give them a birds eye
            view and a observation radius of a few hundred kilometers – thus seeing Lowell city and a direction.
            Rising the dead man’s helmet radio that way they can vastly increase the range of even the weakest transmission…so the options of using items of the crashed capsule to improve the odds of rescue are not completely impossible