by Mike Wilson
I remember them as if it were yesterday. Those first flights to
Mars. Oh, the naysayers were legion, insisting we would die of early
cancers, or radiation, or even by each other's hand, but we made it. We
sure did, and even built a colony there. The forerunner of Bradbury
City. Hard to believe a city of 100,000 souls began with just a few
astronauts. I was just a young navigation officer, barely 22.
Anyway, once we established a tiny but thriving community, it was
time to move on. Thanks to the Trinity pact of 2031, three major world
powers had committed their space programs to outward expansion in the
Solar System, whether anyone else wanted to join in or not. It was
assumed the Europeans would want to join the effort, but they had their
own problems. Anyway, the Russians, Chinese, and US programs for manned
spaceflight were practically joined together at the hip. Well, when you
have that kind of manufacturing power set to a task, miraculous things
can happen, and they did.
The next outbound place to explore was the asteroid belt, and the
two largest bodies, Ceres and Vesta. These had regular enough orbits
that we were able to place EMF beacons on those, and many other things.
I've walked on both of these worlds. Very minute gravity there, but oh,
the view is amazing! When we set up a small telescope and looked
around, we could make out dozens of asteroids, of all sizes. The
mineral content on those alone is worth billions, as we have since
discovered. It was an honor to help explore those.
I wanted to always be on the vanguard. After the Mars and Inner Belt
missions, I was in my mid-50's. Many in the agency said I should
retire, but I just could not see sitting in a chair and watching
someone else explore the outward, Jovian Moons. So I pulled a couple of
strings--I had a couple of pals in the Russian space agency--and got
myself back in the game. A new superbooster with five stages was able
to throw a small crew into orbit, then outbound at a very high rate of
speed. That, combined with our new deep-sleep technology, allowed us to
reach the Jovian system in a few months: We were rested and ready to
Of course, the radiation emitted by Jupiter itself was a concern,
but we took precautions, and in due course, we were able to explore
Ganymede and some smaller Moons, using surrogate drones to help.
What an amazing thing it was, too. There I was, further from Earth
than anyone had ever been--in person. We spent a few months out there,
and then used Jupiter itself as a gravity-assist to get back home. We
needed a lot of recovery time after getting back. Our diet and the
sleep-time were deleterious to human physiology, but I bounced back in
due time. (Good genes--thank you mom and dad.) Anyway, it was amazing.
After that trip, I had it in mind that was it. Now, let's see... oh,
yes. There was the Saturn trip next. The Trinity and ESA were beginning
to work better together again, after a few years of friction. I'll tell
you about that sometime, if you have time to listen. Now where was I?
Oh, yes. Saturn. I was in my 60's, and had to fight like hell for a
berth. What finally sold it was the media. What better story, what
better way to create wonder and garner funding than to have an original
Martian astronaut along for a ride to Humanity's new outpost. By that
time, we were really lifting a lot of hardware into cislunar space.
They had a mass thrower, and it would send materials outbound super
Someone OK'd the idea of sending a spacecraft out, coated with
enough conducting metal to be thrown by huge magnetic coils. They had
to tone down the acceleration, or we would have been flattened, but
they made a spacecraft for four of us. Just four, and just enough
supplies to get there, snap some photos and return. A proof-of-concept
mission with people on board. Pretty controversial at the time, but
someone got it OK'd, and I was on-board. That was a tough trip at
first. We were cramped, there was barely enough to eat, and the
Deep-sleep was welcome relief.
We made it out there, in a very wide orbit of Saturn. Let me tell
you, to see those rings up close is such a surreal experience. I wanted
to exit the spacecraft and swim in them, but as we got up closer, we
saw that they were made mostly of dust, as of course we knew already.
We grabbed a few samples, took a few terabytes of photos and videos,
then slingshotted our way back home. Almost missed EOR too. Would have
been a hellova thing, to end up on our way into the Sun after a journey
like that! Anyway, we made it back, and were treated like heroes. They
fussed about radiation exposure and all, but we were fine. Just a few
days orbiting at a million miles out is not a guarantee for cancer,
thank goodness. I took it easy for a few years after that. As easy as I
could, giving speeches and making appearances at SpaceCons.
In my laid-back 70's, I still kept up with the news, and exploration
initiatives. A prodigy nephew still worked at the space agency, and
kept me posted. I would say to him, "Remember, Ben, if they ever need
an older astronaut, you recommend me. You know I'm always ready and
willing to go."
Ben would say, "Sure thing, Uncle. I will definitely do that." I
know he was just humoring his old uncle, but I was dead serious. I
wanted to die in space, after all--what better place to end your days
than in the heavens. That day when my HandiCom warbled, I had no idea.
"Hello, Uncle Mark. Good news. They are doing preliminary planning
on a big mission to the outer planets. It will be a major expedition, a
crew of twenty or so."
"Good. Do they want an older ambassador type, like me?"
"Of course. That's why I'm calling you. You landed on Mars, and followed the wave all the way. They want you aboard," said Ben.
"The last time I had to beg and crawl on all fours. This time they want me. Amazing, Ben."
"Well, this time they have a faster drive, and better accommodations. You would be able to travel in comfort."
"Hmph. Comfort, eh? Will they have Deep-Sleep?" I said, enjoying the moment.
"Yes, yes you know they will, uncle."
"I don't know anything except what you tell me right now, dear
nephew, but I'll tell you what. Give me a day to think it over. Could
you do that for me?"
There was a silence at the other end, and then, '...A day. All
right. I'll tell them. Thank you, and talk to you tomorrow." We ended
Of course, I wanted to do it, but I also wanted them to wait on me,
maybe beg a bit. Call it the vanity of an old man. I had really had to
do my share of begging in the past. Their turn! The next day, I called
Ben and told him yes, naturally.
"Great, uncle! You won't regret it. You'll be amazed."
"Hmph. I'd better be something."
To tell the truth, I was amazed. I traveled down to Florida from my
retirement home in Phoenix the next day. My cats were boarded, the
condo locked up, and I was on my way to Uranus and Neptune. They even
claimed we would be able to see Pluto with an onboard scope. When I got
to the cape, they were doing preflight checks on a jumbo shuttle. We
would be flown up in two groups of ten. The interplanetary spacecraft
had been assembled in LEO. and was being prepped.
I was greeted warmly by a host of young folks. They kindly informed me I would need to undergo some tests and refreshers.
"Skip the damn tests. Any refreshers I can learn when I am aboard your new wonder-craft. Just get me up there, will you?"
"But Mark, now please consider some orientating first."
"Give me a days worth. I've flown spaceships when you were not even
a gleam in your daddy's eye. I landed on Mars nearly fifty years ago,
did you know that?"
The young technician glared, but said nothing. A woman stepped between us, and interceded.
"Mark, sir. We just want to give you an update on the latest systems
aboard the Outer System Express. Surely, you can see the need for that?
We realize you are very experienced, but no one here has a crystal
ball, and we don't think you own one either."
I started to retort, then her words sank in and I laughed. She had
me, there. So, I agreed to a few days' training. Good thing, too. That
spacecraft was incredible. Tons of room, and even more supplies. A huge
viewing area where we could walk around, circular, surrounding the
propulsive core. The entire ship was at least five hundred meters long.
Fusion plasma drive. We could have flown it there and back several
times and still had fuel left over. It was like a fast flying
hotel-resort. Why, I even met a young pixie there and had some hot sex.
Heh-heh. The view of the gas giants was spectacular. Uranus was
blue-green, and Neptune was more of a total, greenish haze. We could
make out strange land formations near the surface of both planets,
which astounded us. We spent a month at each world. Only took us a
month to get there, too.
I didn't even opt for Deep-Sleep. A one-month cruise in deep space
is my idea of a pleasure cruise. Boy, did I take the pictures, too.
Must have taken a hundred Terabytes, if not more. Some of that would
have that young pixie on there, but that is password protected,
naturally. It was a hellova trip. When I got back, I sure had stories
Of course, my best trip was to the Kuiper Belt. We had a ship twice
the size of the Outer System Express, called OST-2B. We called it the
Ostrich, I can't remember why. That baby got us out there in two weeks!
We spent several weeks, checking out small worldlets, planetesimals,
and moons. Just amazing scenery, and I met a hottie on board that one,
too. Good thing we used birth control. I think I embarrassed the crew,
but hell, I couldn't help it. The whole experience just turned me on.
When I got back from Kuiper, I was pushing eighty-one Earth years young.
"And here I am today, on my eighty-fourth birthday. I am the perfect
representative for the Solar System to educate young people like you,
see? You do see my message? There is much life and amazement out there.
More from the Earth should undertake the journeys that I have."
"Yes, yes, Mr. Roebuck. Now, it is time for your medication. Don't
make this any more difficult than it has to be, now, Hmm?" said the
staff worker at the Shady Lawn nursing home.
The medical aide looked over at a co-worker and smiled. They both
got Mark Roebuck to swallow his heart meds, then let him resume
regaling the other residents with tales of System exploration that had
taken place only in his mind.
The two med-aides later took their lunch in a corner of the dining room, and chatted.
"You know, the detail that Mr. Roebuck has is amazing. Almost like he had really been there," said one.
"Well, he was in the air force at one time, and was an
astronaut-candidate, according to his daughter, but when NASA ended all
manned space exploration back in 2023, he was washed out. He flew
commercial planes for a while, then ended up working as a
luggage-sorting boss at an airport. A sad ending for him, really."
"Well, in his mind at least, he has explored the entire Solar System. He seems pretty satisfied with it all."
"Yes, he does. It's just too bad that none of it is true. Well,
almost time to go back on-shift. See if he has started over on Mars
yet. Or maybe this time it will be the Moon. Talk to you later," said
the aide to his co-worker.
The co-worker shook his head in wonderment. Just too bad people
have never set foot on any other body than the Moon in all these years.
Oh well. At least we have the probes going out there.
Still, seems like a shame.
© 2017 Mike Wilson
Bio: Mr. Wilson has been writing for nearly a decade with pieces
published in numerous online periodicals. He sincerely appreciates all
of his readers out there.
E-mail: Mike Wilson
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