The Space Patrol needed to ship a vial of serum to the Plague Planet. Twenty thousand lives were at stake. The only available laboratory where serum could be prepared was at Space Patrol Base. Time was running short.
The Pilot agreed to take the risky flight in an Emergency Craft.
The Emergency Craft was a marvel of engineering, trim and sleek, fast as the solar winds. It consisted of the absolute minimum of components, without so much as a kilogram of waste mass. It carried enough fuel for the voyage, and no more. It carried enough air to support the Pilot for the voyage, and no more. All excess mass had been stripped away. The Emergency Craft was the most efficient possible vehicle for an emergency run.
The Pilot boarded the Emergency Craft, and was launched on his voyage to the Plague Planet.
To his horror, he found that there was a stowaway aboard the ship, a young woman, little more than a girl. Her extra mass had never been calculated for when the ship was fueled. If she stayed aboard, the ship would not be able to match orbital velocities with the Plague Planet, and twenty thousand people would die.
The girl was ejected from the air lock, to save the people of the Plague Planet.
Air lock? What air lock? The ship was a miracle of Engineering, right? An air lock would add several tons to the ship's mass. There would be no air lock, only a sealed door. The girl could not be ejected. The Emergency Craft could not match orbital velocities with the Plague Planet, and sailed off into the infinite. Twenty thousand and two people died.
The girl was ejected from the ship by being chopped into little bits and put through the trash lock (see below.) It was grisly work, but it had to be done. The Emergency Craft arrived at the Plague Planet and saved twenty thousand lives.
The girl had been on the Emergency Craft for some time before being discovered. She had inhaled a part of the ship's air. The air ran out before the Pilot could match orbital velocities with the Plague Planet, and the ship sailed off into the infinite.
Where was the stowaway hidden? The Emergency Craft was a miracle of engineering efficiency. There were no interior bulkheads. There wasn't even a chair for the Pilot to sit in, nor a deck for him to stand on. The Pilot would stand on the bare ribs that braced the interior of the hull, and the single cabin would be as small as possible, little more than a closet. He saw the stowaway immediately when he boarded the Emergency Craft, and had her removed before he was launched on his voyage.
The Emergency Craft was a miracle of engineering efficiency. There was not a single kilogram of wasted mass. In fact, the ship's hull was exactly as thick as was needed to hold pressure, and not a millimeter thicker. Thus, when the Emergency Craft impacted a piece of space dust about a microgram in mass, the hull was pierced and the air leaked out.
The Emergency Craft was a miracle of engineering efficiency. This applied to the reactor shielding too.
The Emergency Craft was a miracle of engineering efficiency. No more air was supplied than the Pilot required. Unfortunately, the Pilot, in his excitement at matching orbital velocities with the Plague Planet, had been breathing more heavily than normal. His air ran out ten minutes before he could land, and the ship crashed violently into the grey, stormy seas of the Plague Planet.
To the bathroom he doesn't have to go? But no: the Pilot is a stern, tough, doughty man, and can hold it. If nature calls, he will relieve himself in one corner of the cabin, and simply put up with the smell.
During deceleration turnover, however, in a brief period of zero gravity, the mess in the corner of the cabin floats upward and interferes with his controls. He never successfully matches orbital velocities with the Plague Planet, and drifts off into the infinite.
Okay, the engineers compromised and put a very small air lock, the aforementioned trash lock, only a few centimeters in size, in the hull, so that the Pilot can eject wastes.
Even so, the Pilot, planning ahead, has dehydrated himself and had his system cleansed, so that he carries the absolute minimum of wastes aboard with him.
The Pilot, in fact, is a triple amputee, missing both legs and one arm. He was always a small man, a dwarf actually, and he has starved himself for the weeks prior to the mission. It is this heroism that supports him during the long and uncomfortable voyage, at the end of which he successfully matches orbital velocities with the Plague Planet and saves twenty thousand lives.
Of course, no airlock is absolutely efficient, and even the small trash lock will emit a certain amount of air along with the trash. The loss of a few cubic centimeters of air would seem trivial, but the Emergency Craft is a miracle of engineering efficiency, and carries no more air than is necessary. Weakened by his fasting and dehydration, the Pilot blacks out from want of air only seconds before landing on the Plague Planet, and the Emergency Craft crashes into the Plague Planet's capital city, killing more than nine thousand people. The Plague continues unchecked, and, in combination with the explosion, rather more than twenty thousand people die.
The Emergency Craft is a miracle of engineering efficiency. It carries no more fuel than is necessary.
Unfortunately, after matching orbital velocities, the Pilot learns that he must land at the Plague Planet's only spaceport, which is now on the approaching limb of the planet as it rotates.
The extra 1,500 kilometers per hour of the planet's rotational velocity are more than the Pilot can compensate for, and the ship crashes heavily into the grey and stormy seas of the Plague Planet.
Had the spaceport had been on the receding limb, the Pilot would actually have had fuel to spare after making a successful landing. The engineers who created the Emergency Craft, a miracle of efficiency, would have corrected this defect for future voyages.
Although the crew at Space Patrol Base is kept to an absolute minimum, for reasons of efficiency, it occurred to one of the engineers, who created the miraculously efficient Emergency Craft, that the voyage was simply too important to leave to chance. Excusing himself from his drawing board (an absence which would have consequences far down the line) he went and posted himself as sentry outside the launching bay where the Emergency Craft waited.
He caught the stowaway as she tried to enter the Emergency Craft, and took her to a detention cell. The Pilot came to visit her and explained what would have happened. They became friends.
When the Pilot returned from the voyage, he met her again, and they fell in love. They were married, and had seven babies.