At eight PM that night, the mining shuttle returned safely to the Hope, carrying along with it the analyzed asteroid piece.
The asteroid was covered with multiple layers of insulation to prevent exposure to the Hope's air. After all, the reports they had so far had been results from the makeshift lab in the shuttle, so for absolute safety, the asteroid still needed to go through more experiments conducted within the Academy.
As captain, Yao Yuan was present when the shuttle arrived at the Hope's hangar. He approached each team member individually and sincerely thanked them. He knew that it might seem weak to have the captain bow down to his citizens, but these people had risked their lives going on the mining shuttle. He owed them that much.
Then, the whole Academy threw itself into analyzing this asteroid. It was dissected from multiple angles, not only from the biological and chemical. The analysis carried on through the night, but not one whisper of complaint was heard. On the contrary, most scientists were giddy with excitement. This was, after all, a groundbreaking discovery.
All of the analysis drew to an end the following morning, and all the data was promptly compiled and sent to Yao Yuan.
As he sifted through the technical-term-laden reports, Yao Yuan was glad he had spent his free time reading up on the sciences. If not, he would have felt he had failed the Hope.
Other than that, Yao Yuan was immensely grateful that they had spent resources to locate these brilliant minds before they departed from Earth. Throughout their journey so far, both institutions of Academy and Workshop had proved invaluable to the Hope. For example, they were indispensable on Planet Sahara and later when they were trapped in the nebula as well.
According to their reports, the asteroid was confirmed to not contain any harmless microbes. It also showed no traces of housing any living organisms.
Secondly, the asteroid was made up of a myriad of components, some metallic and some non-metallic, but most of them were complex compounds or oxides. Therefore, their empirical form could be broken down through the usage of chemical processes like electrolysis.
However, according to the Academy's hypothesis, asteroids that could be found within the cluster were too fractured to be mined. Mining efforts would have been wasted anyway since their small size meant that they couldn't carry much minerals.
Comparatively speaking, the forming terrestrial planet that was two-month journey away from the Hope showed much better promise. The asteroids gathered around it were much bigger in size. In fact, the biggest among them had become the planet's core. Its big size meant that it had the strongest gravitational pull, which in turn ensured that its surrounding cluster would remain stabilized throughout the planet's formation. Because it was forming a terrestrial planet, the Academy was certain that it would be filled with minerals that the Hope needed.
Closing the reports, Yao Yuan grew deep in thought.
The reports expressed two opposing opinions. One party felt that the Hope should depart for the forming terrestrial planet immediately. According their satellite pictures, the biggest asteroid among that cluster was spacious enough to allow the Hope to land. Furthermore, its impressive size promised a wealth of minerals and radioactive fuel.
The other party quoted the unknown dangers of space. They advocated for a safer method, which was to stay and harvest the close meteorite cluster. Even though they wouldn't contain much deposit, the Academy calculated that the amount they could provide was more than enough to support two to three space warps. Therefore, instead of putting all their bets on the terrestrial planet, the safer route would be to harvest everything around them first before leaving for the terrestrial planet.
Both sides had their pros and cons, but the second option had the support of over 70% of the scientists. It incidentally was the option Yao Yuan was leaning towards too.
However, the second option had a fatal drawback. To prevent collision, the Hope would not be able to enter the meteorite cluster. In fact, some of the scientist even felt that the 50 kilometers distance they currently held was not secure enough. The safest distance, according to this group, was about 100 to 200 kilometers away.
In any case, the Hope couldn't participate in the mining itself. The mining had to be done through the shuttle or vehicles the size of the shuttle.
The issue was that the Hope had only one functional shuttle left. Furthermore, they couldn't just blindly pick an asteroid and mine. Space mining was much more complicated than that. Selection had to be carefully made based on size and surface conditions, not to mention the shuttle couldn't carry a very large load. It would take nine months to mine the amount the Hope needed, and this was without counting the supplies that would be lost in those nine months…
"Is there no other way than to go with option one?" Yao Yuan rubbed his frowning forehead, thinking.
As he continued to sift through the stack of reports, he happened upon one written by Bo Li, one half of the Hope's pair of known Whisperers… The other was Ivan, who was still on life support. The Hope's futuristic medical tech had kept him alive, but he needed a skin transplant before he could make a full recovery.
Bo Li's report came attached with a blueprint for a simple mining airship. It was about fifteen times smaller than the shuttle, its interior could sit two to three people, and it had rudimentary communicative equipment and life support that would allow its passenger four to five hours of action in space. It was armed with a pair of mechanical arms but had no room for storage. Its small size allowed it to venture easily into the cluster and literally lug the selected asteroids back unto the Hope…
The locomotive, if it could even be called that, was nothing more than a moving box. Other than a system to moderate oxygen, temperature, and pressure, it came attached with nothing extra. Even the navigation system was simplified into a one-screen panel that controlled both speed and direction.
Because of its extreme simplicity, Bo Li's design required little resources to build. According to Bo Li's calculations, the Workshop could pump out five to seven of these machines daily. The number might increase to ten after they were familiar with the process.
"Could this even work…?"
Ten minutes later, Yao Yuan came to find Bo Li calculating something in one of the labs.
Bo Li had a pretty face, but she usually paid no heed to the upkeep of her appearance. Most of the time, she appeared looking disheveled and disinterested. When Yao Yuan asked her about her airship design, Bo Li snapped her fingers, uttering, "It has exploded."
"What has exploded? What do you mean?" Yao Yuan asked, slightly alarmed.
"It has exploded," repeated Bo Li, stressing the pronoun. Noticing Yao Yuan's flummoxed expression, she moved to a nearby computer with a tsk. Soon, a simulation appeared on the monitor.
In the simulation, as the airship returned to the Hope heavy with minerals, it started to combust. Before long, the airship exploded in a fiery shower. Right then, a GAME OVER message flew over the screen while Yao Yuan broke out in cold sweat.
"The airship couldn't use the shuttle's engine. This is because they have different sizes and thus different energy consumption. The engine obviously needs some tweaking, but that is a modification that I can't complete on my own in such a short time," said Bo Li openly.
Yao Yuan was ready to leave, but Bo Li's statement pulled him back. Excitedly, he asked, "Is that so? Then is it possible for us to design and build this mini engine with our current technology?"
"Of course." Bo Li narrowed her eyes haughtily, saying, "There is no problem with my blueprint. The issue is just that it needs a specially-designed engine…"
Yao Yuan suddenly broke into a hearty laugh while patting Bo Li lightly on her head. This earned him some deadly stares, but he paid them no attention as he turned to saunter out of the room.
That afternoon, Yao Yuan gathered specialists from the Academy and Workshop to introduce Bo Li's blueprint and discuss the engine issue…
Three days later, the first mini engine was successfully created. Everyone on the team was given a 50 to 100 H-coins bonus. Bo Li as the lead designer had a 250 H-coins bonus. After that, the Hope poured its effort into building the mining airship prototype.
"Two hundred and fifty …"
Bo Li saw the numbers appeared on screen, notifying her of a new inbound transfer. She smirked condescendingly.
"How old are you already to still be doing childish things like this…?"
"Also, between the two of us, you're the idiot here, not me!"
250 in Chinese also referring to an idiot.