Aphelion Issue 216, Volume 21
April 2017
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Many Trips

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 explore!

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 fast.

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 the call.

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 to tell.

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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