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I am aware that this might not be a good question because you probably won't be able to understand what I am asking if you haven't read "Space Odyssey 2010", and it's impossible for me to introduce the whole background in detail, but I will try my best provided that space odyssey is a quite famous series.

Screenshot of book

...already explained gloomily, "I'm a space engineer, not a space monkey"; but the job had to be dome. He alone possessed the skills that could save Discovery from Io's grasp. Max and his colleagues, working with unfamiliar circuit diagrams and equipment, would take far too long. By the time they had restored power to the ship and mastered its controls, it would have plunged into the sulfurous firepits below.

"You're not scared, are you?" asked Max, when they were about to put on their helmets.

"Not enough to make a ...

My question is about the highlighted text. The spaceship discovery had been circling IO for several years after its passenger got lost. Max and his colleagues were on a second spaceship to rescue it. To do that, they need to board the spaceship. The text here says that if they don't go with someone who really knows the ship, it will take them much longer to "restore the power and master the control". What I don't understand is how come it is long enough for the ship to "plunge into the sulfurous firepits below". The ship had been circling IO for years and in common sense it would sustain for much longer. I checked the chapters before without finding anywhere saying the ship had begun to descend, then why here it says the ship would fall into IO? Is it a semi-humorous way to state that the job would take too long (long enough for the satellite to fall)? It seems to me the context doesn't support the idea that the author is being semi-humorous here.

I often encounter this kind of situation when I try to read English literatures, where I seem to understand every words of the text but the whole passage or the whole chapter just doesn't make sense to me.

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    You seem to understand the situation correctly. What you don't understand is "why the author chose to introduce that particular constraint." This isn't a problem with English it's a problem with story plot complications and so is unfortunately off-topic here. – Jim Dec 21 '15 at 20:43
  • To find out whether it is my English is part of the purpose of this question. :) – shenkwen Dec 21 '15 at 20:50
  • I disagree that "common sense (says) it would sustain (itself in orbit) for much longer"; the book should have made orbital issues clear. I can't cite chapter and paragraph, but as I recall, the Discovery was in a decaying orbit and was either going to crash in a matter of days, or at the very least pass a point of no return (that is, reach a point where its rockets would not have enough power to boost it back into a stable orbit) even if it still took it weeks to actually crash. – Hellion Dec 22 '15 at 16:24
  • @Hellion I did a text search for discovery but couldn't find anywhere indicating the ship was gonna crash in matter of days. And if it was, then what a coincidence it was - Are you saying that the ship had been circling for at least 9 years (2010-2001), and now that the rescue ship finally got to it and it was gonna crash in several days? If the author did mention it, it is too dramatic for me to miss it ( If I did miss it, then I definitely need to find out why, because this is excatly the reading problem I am facing: Tendency to miss indications and eventually lose the clue) – shenkwen Dec 22 '15 at 16:42
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The sentence a little before that, "He alone possessed the skills that could save Discovery from Io's grasp", is the clue since it tells us that Io (the name of the moon, named after a human woman in Greek mythology that Zeus/Jupiter boned, as is typical for Zeus) is 'grasping' at the derelict ship. This most likely means that the moon's gravity is pulling at the ship.

It's possible to be in movement/orbit around a planetary body for a long time (years, in this case) and still be on a trajectory to crash into the planet eventually. You might find this article on "orbital decay" interesting. Basically, outside effects like atmosphere, debris collision, etc. can knock objects slightly out of balance and their distance from the body decreases as a result until the orbiting thing just smashes into the planet or moon.

I had trouble finding a detailed enough summary of 2010: Odyssey Two so I'm not sure, but from this information I'm going to assume that the ship Discovery is on its path to crashing into Io, and you may be right to say that it's a slightly joking way of saying "It'd be a million years before Max and co. got around to fixing it."

(The summary I did find says the Russian ship Leonov that Curnow is on has a faster engine than the American Discovery Two and would therefore reach Discovery sooner, and so the main character of the book was transferred to the Russian ship instead. Maybe there is time pressure here to fix up and stabilize Discovery before it crashes.)

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