.... Mars 2022.... On board of Icarius ...Mars I mission

The lander needs to reach the center of caldera of Olympus Mons. The engineers had pointed to a computer simulation of a near-perfect parabola over Olympus Mons. Michael switch his computer to the landing program. They were now in a perfect orbital position.

The problem was standard fuel did not burn well in carbon dioxide, so they carry oxygen in two tanks added on the flanks of the vessel. They were bound to the lander by a metal strap. The Icarius should have never fly well on Earth. But it was not designed for Earth conditions. Earth's gravity was much greater and its atmosphere thicker. The vessel was intended for Mars...

Lewton walked to the command bridge forty meters from the lander..." Ready for launch. "

Michael, who was watching through high-powered binoculars from inside the lander, typed in the instructions to inform the computer.. The sun was directly overhead. He watched as Lewton join the team in the landing module. "Ten minutes to launch," the computer announced.

"Here we go," Michael said. He has now the full attention of the crew. Vladimir was watching a wide-screen camera. Igor , Tatiana, and Meg had gathered around the control monitors .

" Three minutes and counting," announced the computer.

Michael pulled his goggles over his eyes. He switched the button to activate the virtual interface. He was laying on his back looking at Mars. He instructed the computer to filter the light. A

At fingertips were the controls for the landing. The computer metallic voice "Minus one minute."

Meg looks around her, each face was quiet but she could feel the fear floating in the module

"Ten, nine, eight, seven...." He took a deep breath. "Lift off." For a few seconds the sky shacked slightly. And then, it split apart and flew past him, dissolving into a black void. The lander penetrated the Martian atmosphere. He held onto the control panel as if it were the only thing that kept him from being torn apart. He could sense the lander swinging and rocking back and forth. He had the sudden sensation he was about to fall, but then the vessel was lifted up and he knew the parachutes had opened.

He adjusted the filter to allow for maximum visibility. At the upper edge of his peripheral vision he could make out the booster stage just before it dwindled into nothingness. The entire rim of the caldera was visible beneath him, and he knew that it would begin to slip out of view in the next thirty seconds. He was descending fast. At a height of twenty-nine kilometers there was not much air for the parachutes. He had to work quickly. He instructed the computer to display his coordinates--the numbers flashed yellow. To his surprise the ship was several hundred meters south of its planned trajectory. He ordered the computer to overlay the navigational grid and to project the lander's entry point, taking into account wind speed and direction.

Thin lines of Martian longitude and latitude appeared superimposed over the mouth of the volcano. A dotted line, originating at his current position, which was represented by a bright yellow circle, curved inward toward the middle of the volcano and terminated dead center of the targeted entry point.

"I'll be damned," he said. Some people, as Michael later enlightened reporters, peed in their pants when they got excited, he cursed. The computer had taken into account a shift in winds. He released his grip on the controls. There was nothing for him to do. He rested his head back against the seat cushion and enjoyed the remaining twenty-three seconds of free fall.

The rim of the volcano disappeared around him. He took a deep breath as he reminded himself that he was not actually in the lander. The interior of the volcano was cluttered with collapsed craters and long twisting ridges that looked like veins inside a dissected body. The largest crater, which was also the deepest, was forty-two kilometers across and was the one he was to drop the glider into. The computer highlighted its rim with blue targeting lines. The walls of the volcano had disappeared completely.

The scientific instruments aboard the lander had already begun their sensing of the volcano's internal conditions. A gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer was separating elements in the atmosphere and reporting their quantity and type to the satellite overhead. Temperature, air pressure, and humidity data were also being transmitted. Satomura was watching the data intently and was pleased with what he saw. "Wing extraction initiated," announced the computer. A pair of wings extended outward from the body of the lander. The control panel in front of Michael transformed into the instrument panel of a glider. "Parachutes disengaged."

Michael grinned as the glider plunged downward into the volcano. The first few seconds were the most critical. He had to be careful the glider did not tumble into a spin. He stopped chewing as he pulled back on the yoke. The ground swept out from underneath him, and he was looking at the volcano walls, and then the sky. He took the glider as high as it would go. He pushed forward on the yoke and headed for the nearest wall. The upper rim of the volcano was indented by a series of flutes. They blended into a smooth, flat cliff, which descended uninterrupted to the volcano floor.

Michael dipped the glider's nose to get a better look. The solidified field of volcanic rock that he saw left little doubt in his mind the volcano was extinct. Several days earlier they had performed an analysis of the pumice outside the volcano and had determined it was over two-hundred million years old. He picked the glider's nose back up and attempted to reclaim some of the height he had lost.

The volcano wall was now only a couple of kilometers away. He was beginning to wonder why he hadn't heard anything from Satomura when the gruff voice of the Japanese scientist burst through the intercom.

"Northeast fifteen degrees," directed Satomura.

"Roger," Michael responded as he checked the altimeter. He had descended several hundred meters since the parachutes had been disengaged. The negligible air currents within the volcano did not provide enough lift to maintain a constant altitude. Individual rocks in the cliff were becoming visible. He checked his radar. He was forty-seven meters from the volcano wall. He decided to continue for another twenty meters before turning. Even with a stereoscopic view, it was difficult to accurately judge the distance to the wall. He ordered the computer to place the radar readout on his head-up display so that he would not have to keep glancing down at the instrument panel.

"Turn," Satomura cried out. Michael chuckled at Satomura's alarm. A two-dimensional monitor, like the one Satomura was watching, made it difficult to judge distances, and although Satomura did have a separate monitor which displayed the simulated instrument panel, he did not have the benefit of a head-up display. Under the circumstances, the urgency in his voice was more than understandable. To him it must have appeared as if the glider were only centimeters from crashing into the cliff. "She's got plenty of elbow room," Michael drawled. He fought the urge to demonstrate what a real flesh-and-blood pilot could do. He banked the glider thirty meters from the volcano wall. As the cliff flashed past him, he wondered what had piqued Satomura's interest. This particular section did not look any different from the others, at least as far as he could tell. But then he knew he did not have an eye for such things. He was heading toward the center of the volcano, searching out the winds, when Satomura instructed him to turn back.

Michael brought the glider around with a wide arc and approached the volcano wall several hundred meters lower than before. The flutes had dissolved into the cliff. The wall could have been a dark sheet of glass. It was cracked and scarred with deep pits. A dark almost eerie wonder filled Michael. He felt as though he were looking at the ancient remnants of a monument beginning to crumble under its own weight. The wall sloped perceptibly outward from the accumulated debris that had fallen from the cliff overhead. The great volcano was in ruins. He flew in toward the wall to the point indicated by Satomura, then back out again in search of an updraft.

He lost altitude with each pass. The craft was too heavy and its wing span was too short to make a good glider. He managed to fly for nearly two hours before he was forced to enter the crater at the volcano floor. The diameter of the crater was more than half that of the caldera. He could see where the nearest wall had collapsed and where lava had flowed down the rim. Satomura instructed him to fly toward the breach. The lava must have come from a vent somewhere outside the crater. He struggled to keep the craft aloft as he made his oblong passes, but there was even less wind here.

"Need to take her down," he said. "Five more minutes," Satomura demanded.

"Not possible." The ground was moving quickly now. A glance at the altimeter revealed that he was eleven meters above the surface. He knew there was a clearing to the east, but the boulder he had seen from overhead was now much larger and blocked from his view the site he had selected. He searched for another clearing. There was none close enough. The boulder was too high for him to fly over, and he wasn't certain he could fly around it. But then he had no other choice. He banked the glider hard. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the ground was only centimeters from his wing tip. He pulled out of the turn. As the glider leveled out, the outer edge of the clearing came into view. He banked toward the clearing. The touchdown was perfect. His first reaction was to pull off his helmet and open the cockpit to breathe the fresh air. But he knew that was impossible. He could remove his goggles, but he did not want to. He wanted to remain inside Olympus Mons.