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The Helios Resort was an extensive hotel and entertainment complex in orbit about Earth. In 2071, it saw the deadliest accident in the history of space tourism. One of the first mass-market space resorts -- built after the antimatter revolution, which saw general availability of antimatter propulsion -- Helios saw millions of visitors during its first year. Collision with a defunct satellite destroyed the hotel's docking port, killing hundreds immediately, and subsequently damaged the life support systems, causing tens of thousands to die of hyperthermia. The station was abandoned after the disaster, while Hyperspace Industries, the corporation owning Helios, went bankrupt. After the Helios incident, world governments established an international agency to track and remove dangerous space debris, and regulate the expanding space tourism industry.
The mid-twenty-first century saw the antimatter revolution, in which antimatter technology, and particularly antimatter propulsion, became widely available. Advances in particle physics through the 2030s and 2040s led to the efficient production of antimatter particles. While positrons and antiprotons were created in particle accelerators before, they were never generated in high enough quantities to be of use to the space industry. In the 2040s, stabilized positronium atoms were first contained in magnetic fields, and space agencies soon started experimenting with the applications of antimatter in propulsion.
Positron beams, produced from a positronium source, were used to heat a central solid core. Liquid propellant was then ducted through this core, and expanded into space, producing momentum. The key advantage of this technology was the specific impulse (efficiency) it provided. Conventional space shuttles had a specific impulse on the order of 4-500 seconds, and often required a quantity of fuel ten times their dry mass. Positron rocketry offered an SI of about 1,500 seconds, however, and thus allowed for far cheaper and more practical spaceships. In the 2050s, launch costs quickly fell from roughly 3,000 USD per kg to less than 100 USD per kg. Space travel soon became a mass market industry as opposed to a form of recreation for the planet's plutocrats, while space hotels expanded from small stations to sprawling resorts capable of holding thousands of people, due to the cheap cost of putting material in orbit.
The Helios Resort was built in the 2060s as the flagship of Hyperspace Industries, an initiative jointly owned by a number of powerful industrial and technological corporations that wished to invest in space tourism. The Helios Project was to offer the most spectacular orbital resort ever seen, and largely met its expectations in this regard.
Hyperspace Industries started drawing up plans for the Helios Project in 2060. Its main competitor was Saturn Corp., the first company to build a mass-market space hotel (Orbital Palace), which opened in 2055. Founded in 2056, Hyperspace wished to surpass Saturn Corp. as the leading orbital tourism company. A vast initiative like Helios would offer Hyperspace a large amount of publicity, and bring in a great deal of revenue.
The most expensive part of the Helios Project was the construction of all the antimatter infrastructure. A vast number of positron generators were built by Hyperspace Industries to service the construction ships that would build the Helios Resort, as well as the passenger ships that would bring tourists there. All told, Hyperspace spent some 55 billion USD on infrastructure, paid for through 15-year bonds.
Actual construction on the resort itself began in 2067, when cargo ships first arrived in orbit with construction materials. The entire resort was assembled in space, where the 0G environment afforded far easier engineering. The materials used were largely carbon fibre composites, which had surpassed steel as the staple of construction. Robots were used to assemble prefabricated pieces.
The fitting out process took months, in which tens of thousands of pieces of artwork, hundreds of thousands of plants, and much interior decoration were brought into the Helios Resort. Finally, on Christmas Day, 2070, the hotel opened to a media frenzy.
Helios Resort was designed to be the largest entertainment center that outer space had ever seen. With a total capacity of some 800,000 gross tons of volume, 10,500 staterooms, and nearly 30,000 guests, Helios would bring in over ten billion dollars a year to Hyperspace Industries.
The complex was built around a central hub, that itself was attached to the Docking Port. This hub contained a shopping area, restaurants, a museum, and the astronomy center, and was designed to mimic the features of a fictional "spaceport". About the hub were three cylindrical extensions that housed the main hotel. Each such region had a particular theme--a science-fiction section, a fantasy section, and an Ancient World section were established by the designers. All three sections were connected to the central hub by a hover-rail network, as the sheer size of the resort necessitated a fast means of transportation.
Each themed section contained about 3,500 rooms, as well as a number of amenities. In addition to restaurants, theaters, shops, and the like, a number of specialized observation lounges were built that allowed guests to view the Earth from above. The windows of the spacecraft also employed a holographic information system which pointed out specific landmarks and locations on the surface of the planet. The most popular parts of Helios, however, were the 0G recreation areas, which offered entertainment that took advantage of the low gravity environment. These ranged from simple "chambers" in which guests could float around, to complex 0G sports centers, in which tourists could participate in microgravity games. Several cylindrical swimming pools were built which rotated slightly to pin the water at the surface, but still offered a novel low-gravity environment. Large "water rooms" allowed guests to throw blobs of water at each other in 0G. In gardens, visitors could float through a 3D path in the greenery, while they could also participate in scientific experiments in microgravity. Amphitheaters offered tremendous acrobatics shows in low-gravity. These attractions brought millions to Helios.
Helios Resort has been described as the "Titanic of Space Travel". Its collision with a defunct satellite on the eve of Thanksgiving knocked out life support systems, causing tens of thousands to die of hyperthermia. Following the disaster, all space resorts were evacuated, with world governments subsequently establishing new standards of space safety. An international agency was created to monitor and remove space debris, while stringent new regulations called for redundant safety systems in orbital stations. After the calamity, Hyperspace Industries went bankrupt, and the Helios Resort has since been abandoned.
On 8:35:27, November 25, 2071, a defunct satellite collided with the Docking Port of the Helios Resort, destroying that part of the space station. As a shuttle was unloading passengers at the time of the accident, over 900 guests were immediately killed. The central hub ("spaceport") of Helios was damaged, but sustained the blast. Crew members established contact with the ASCLC (American Space Command and Logistics Center), using the backup communications and telemetry systems that survived the collision. The ASCLC determined the cause of the explosion to be a collision with AL-232, an abandoned military satellite. AL-232 had been tracked uncarefully, and expected to pass several kilometers from the resort. Although hundreds of people were killed during this initial event, the greatest cost of life would arrive with the failure of critical life support systems onboard the station.
Life Support Failure
The collision with AL-232 damaged critical life support systems in the Helios Resort, causing most of the station's inhabitants to die. In such a heavily insulated structure as an orbital station, heat has no means of escaping. Without cooling infrastructure, the energy release of human bodies within a space station would heat the internal environment to dangerously high temperatures. In the case of Helios Resort, liquid ammonia was pumped through a series of radiators to absorb and dispose of heat energy.
Critical pumps within this cooling infrastructure were located near the Docking Port, and destroyed in the station's collision with the satellite. Nearly 30,000 human bodies, emitting some 100 watts of heat energy each, raised the internal temperature of the resort by almost 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit every hour--building up to 77 degrees within a full day. By the evening of November 26, most of the people onboard had died of hyperthermia, and the temperature increase began to slow. The rescue effort was further harmed by the fact that the station's electrical and lighting systems had also been destroyed in the collision, and the emergency lighting systems failed to activate, making the logistics of evacuating survivors immensely difficult.
The ASCLC used the single government-owned rescue shuttle to evacuate guests onboard Helios, and deliver heat-resistance suits and medical supplies to survivors. The governmental administration has been greatly criticized, as there were over twenty commercial shuttles in operation at the time, and only the one ASCLC-owned ship was used for rescue efforts. Subsequently, the ASCLC has expanded its fleet of rescue craft, and obtained the legal ability to mobilize commercial spacecraft in an emergency. Furthermore, the shuttle used to service the Helios evacuation effort was rarely filled to capacity, and delivered less than 1500 guests to safety. In the end, nearly 25,000 people died on Helios.
Cost of Life
25,514 individuals, including ten crew members, were killed during the disaster onboard Helios Resort. 893 of these deaths occurred immediately after AL-232's collision with the Docking Bay, as a tourist shuttle was unloading passengers at the time, while the rest of the fatalities were caused by the deadly rise in internal cabin temperature following the failure of critical life support systems. Only one government shuttle was used to rescue survivors, and 2,989 people onboard were saved. Distribution of temperature-resistance suits to guests by rescue teams saved the lives of hundreds of people, while thousands more were successfully evacuated to the ASCLC shuttle. Nonetheless, over 80 percent of those onboard Helios died.
November 25, the anniversary of the AL-232 collision, was unanimously named Helios Remembrance Day by a convention of the US Senate. A memorial was constructed in Chicago during 2072. The shock of the sheer cost in life has lent Helios Resort a strong place in popular culture, even years after the disaster.
Helios dominated the global media weeks after the events of November 25. The accident was the single deadliest space-related disaster in human history, and greatly harmed the prospects of orbital tourism. Hyperspace Industries, after seeing its stock value fall by 95%, declared bankruptcy. Antimatter infrastructure built for the Helios project was given to the US government, while the station itself was left abandoned in space. For three years after the tragedy, all civilian space stations were shut down and evacuated, eventually being reopened by 2075. Despite a brutal crash in the stock market, Saturn Corp. resumed operations, taking the place of Hyperspace to essentially monopolize the orbital tourism industry. A new system of regulations was introduced following the Helios disaster, requiring multiple and redundant backup life support systems, backup robotics to be used in an evacuation, and careful tracking of space debris.
Events are given in Eastern Standard Time, on November 25 and 26, 2071.
November 25, AM
8:35:27 Collision with a defunct satellite destroys the Docking Bay of Helios Resort. The central hub is damaged but sustains the blast. Approximately 10 tons of TNT equivalent energy were released.
8:35:29 Automated system informs the American Space Control and Logistics Center (ASCLC) of a disaster onboard the Helios Resort.
8:36:32 After a brief disruption, telemetry and communications systems onboard Helios resume functionality. However, emergency lighting systems have failed, and the interior of the hotel is left in complete darkness.
8:37:01 The ASCLC has established a communication line with the crew of the Helios complex.
8:38 A panicked crew informs ASCLC officials that "hundreds" of guests have probably died in the initial blast, as a shuttle was unloading passengers at the Docking Bay at the moment of collision. The figure now stands at 900. The crew also notes that the Resort's electrical systems, located near the Docking Bay, were probably destroyed, and emergency lighting systems had failed.
8:41 The ASCLC identifies the source of the explosion as AL-232, an abandoned satellite. AL-232's orbital trajectory was supposed to pass within ten kilometers of Helios, but a direct collision was unpredicted.
8:43 Crew informs ASCLC that the ammonia cooling pumps were destroyed, and instruments were showing a slight rise in temperature. Due to the resort's insulation, ammonia was pumped through radiators to absorb extra heat buildup. Critical pumps in the cooling infrastructure were placed near the Docking Bay, and were destroyed by the blast. This is immediately considered a dangerous situation, as the presence of nearly 30,000 human bodies within a completely sealed structure with no ventilation poses a temperature problem.
8:45 Global Information Network first picks up and reports on the news. Millions hear of the disaster, as the developing story is broadcast on holographic networks worldwide.
8:49 ASCLC scrambles a rescue shuttle, to rendezvous with the Helios complex within five hours. Unfortunately, the shuttle only has room for 800 passengers. While there were nearly 20 major commercial spacecraft in service around the world, only the single government-owned rescue craft was ever used for the operation. This subsequently landed accusations of incompetence against the ASCLC.
9:05 ASCLC chief Donald McPherson attends a press conference, claiming that the situation is under control. Despite this statement, the temperature onboard Helios was projected to rise 77 degrees Fahrenheit within only 24 hours.
9:10 Crew members express concern to the ASCLC about the logistical difficulty of assembling hundreds of passengers at the auxiliary docking port, where the rescue craft was scheduled to arrive. Without any lights (leaving the complex in total darkness) or intercom system, and with robotic systems non-functioning in the absence of electricity, the human crew of merely 50 people would meet significant difficulties in retrieving survivors within the structure.
9:15 Despite obstacles, the crew begins assembling guests at the auxiliary docking area
November 25, PM
2:15 Rescue vessel arrives at the secondary docking area of the Helios Resort. Only about a hundred tourists have been assembled at the location. Rescue teams enter the structure to search for people. The temperature of the internal atmosphere had increased over 16 degrees Fahrenheit, to 86 degrees.
2:47 The ASCLC orders the rescue shuttle to return to Earth after only thirty minutes. Crew and rescue teams reject the decision, but ultimately comply with the government authorities. A mere 356 passengers had boarded the rescue craft out of a capacity of 800. ASCLC chief McPherson claims that his intentions were to bring the craft to Earth as quickly as possible, so it could be loaded with medical supplies and returned to the Helios Resort.
3:00 Helios crew request that heat-resistance suits be brought to the resort to assist in rescue efforts.
7:55 Rescue craft arrives back at Earth with hundreds of survivors. The shuttle is engulfed in a media frenzy. Several resort guests and rescue workers are interviewed.
8:30 Rescue shuttle is launched once again.
8:36 Temperature onboard passes 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Three crew members have been incapacitated by heat shock.
8:38 First report of a guest dying from heat shock. Crew warns the ASCLC that elderly and sick passengers are the most at risk.
November 26, AM
1:45 Rescue shuttle reaches the auxiliary port. ASCLC employees search for survivors, and attempt to distribute over 1,000 heat-resistance suits, as well as medical supplies. Dozens are found dead, while two crew have died of heat shock. An estimated 300 guests have been killed by the heat at this point, with the internal temperature reaching 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
2:41 Rescue craft returns to Earth once again with only about 500 survivors
7:55 Arriving at Earth, dozens of survivors are interviewed by reporters. Meanwhile, the temperature onboard Helios has surpassed 140 degrees Fahrenheit, with the crew claiming that "hundreds, possibly a thousand are dead".
8:21 ASCLC shuttle is launched once again
November 26, PM
1:35 Rescue shuttle docks at Helios. Over a dozen crew are dead, with the rest protected by heat suits. Rescue workers assess that "perhaps the majority of guests are dead at this point". The temperature is close to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
1:55 Shuttle leaves Helios with 250 survivors. Additional medical supplies and heat suits were distributed.
2:00 Crew claims that the increase in cabin temperature is slowing, as there are "not as many people alive to heat the air".
7:02 Returning to Earth, hundreds of survivors exit the ASCLC rescue shuttle. One famous news interview on the occasion saw a shaken survivor describe the panic that gripped the station in the hours following the collision.
7:15 ASCLC launches shuttle again to survey the aftermath of the accident, and bring to Earth the last few survivors who lived by donning temperature-resistance suits.
11:35 Arriving in record time, rescue teams surveying the aftermath of the Helios disaster meet a tragic scene. About 25,000 dead are counted, while some 810 survivors, protected by heat-resistance suits brought by previous rescue teams, were evacuated. The rest of the survivors, as well as the dead bodies, would be brought back to Earth on the 27th and 28th.