Joe Black turned over in his bed again for what seemed the millionth time that night. The buzzes and whines from the life support machine were louder tonight than ever before and Joe could not ignore them no matter how many pillow cases he taped around his head. If he had to tell the truth the noises were the same as any other night, but tomorrow Joe would land back on the Moon again, the first person back in almost half a century and he was nervous. The thoughts of Armstrong reverberated around his head, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. Such powerful words the first time, but even the nerves had got to Armstrong as he meant to say “one small step for ‘a’ man”. Undoubtedly what came out was better and more profound, but Joe was scared of messing up his first words. The idea that the first words back on the moon could be “erm, what was I going to say now”, kept Joe from sleeping and the unbearable noise continued. Joe couldn’t take it anymore.
He unstrapped himself from the bed and floated downwards to the control panel below. The 3 day trip back to moon was really starting to take its toll. Joe knew he was the best person for the job, being the most successful NASA astronaut he was far ahead of the competition, however he had failed to prepare for the nerves of returning to the moon, even though many people had warned him, like a child on Christmas Eve he was finding the simplest of tasks difficult as he concentrated purely on what was going to happen in the next few days. He leaned over the control panel to the back of the console and pulled out the itinerary for the landing. He had checked over the paperwork too many times, but reading it he imagined the activities and tried to relax enough to hopefully send him to sleep.
Before landing he would get into the spacesuit, so that if anything went wrong he would not suffocate. After landing he would start the process to unpack the rover, check the systems and radio back information about the ground structure and composition. Then the moment would come to go out onto the surface make a little speech and plant the flag attached to the outside of the Lander. The rover would then take him the short distance to the recently completed moon base. He would have to drive around some of the structures, to make sure the robots have set everything up correctly. Checking the hoses on the habitation modules and the fuel lines so that when he pressed the button to open the airlock he knew the place won’t blow up. Here he would be the first person to climb inside the command capsule, a large Lander that was one of the first to arrive on the project. Checking the life support systems, the atmosphere generators, and also powering up the habitation deck. The final step would involve moving outside to the robot module where the robots would be charging. Here he would have to insert a card into the control panel to override the construction codes and turn the robots into maintenance machines, they would then start their tasks to clean the solar panels and start preparing tracks for movement around the base. The final task of setting up the base would involve travelling the short distance to the vegetation modules and checking the development. These consist of inflated compartments that contain different types of plants. The plants would not be ready for a while yet, and Joe would have to pretend to enjoy food supplies being sent from Earth, but in the future they will have Moon grown food to look forward too. The purpose of these plants at the moment is to provide a better quality of air, air that only organic materials can produce, it will be Joes’ job to check that the pipelines are intact and no robots have been running over them. By the time he returns to the camp the other 3 space craft should have caught up, landed and there would be 10 people on the Moon, ready to turn on the mining equipment and start the main tasks that would keep them on the Moon for 6 months. The final task of the day will be communications with Earth, where they get to talk to the loved ones and friends. This part would be tedious for Joe as he had no loved ones to communicate with, no girlfriend and his parents were no longer alive. The small party that would inevitably result from this activity would be fun, as the crew would have had their spirits lifted by the voices from Earth.
Joe floated over to the tap and squirted a small amount of water into his mouth to help him swallow a pair of sleeping tablets, then after strapping himself into the bed he slowly fell unconscious. He awoke to the loud alarm of the computer. It was time to get up ready for the biggest day of his life. The computer had put the craft into an orbit around the moon and was prepared for landing. Unlike the basic computers that first orbited the moon, these computers were state of the art, capable of carrying out all the tasks without any human intervention and Joe often wondered why NASA even bothered to send people into space any more. The increased cost of keeping people alive in space was pointless now computers can do anything a human can do.
One hour was the time limit NASA has set to get into the Lander and prepare for detachment but first he would have to hand complete control of the orbiter to NASA so that they could give instructions to the computer. Joe floated down to the control panel and started to make communications with Mission Control. The green light came on as Joe pushed down on the communications button. Quietly Joe started his commentary of the mission.
“Mission Control, this is Joe Black reporting a successful orbital entry and preparing for descent to the Moons surface, Over.”
There was a small pause before the return message, Joe assumed they were asleep and imagined them jumping awake as his voice came through the headphones.
“This is Mission Control, we hear you Joe, your stats look fine and you are go for descent, try not to land on anything expensive, you break anything you’ll have to pay for it!” The voice was of Tom Pulis the head of NASA, jesting about Joes piloting ability. Joe recognized the voice and a smile crept across his face.
“Good Morning Tom!” Joe shouted down the microphone, “I thought you were on holiday somewhere, not like you to work this early in the morning.”
“They couldn’t trust you to land the damn thing on your own so I had to come in and help.” Tom jested.
Tom Pulis had worked for NASA all his life and although he was only young, he had soon found himself rising through the ranks within NASA until he was at the top. Many people had speculated that this was mealy a publicity stunt, his wife also worked for NASA and the “Family” image that they gave the institution would somehow be more welcoming to the general public. When people suggested this to Tom he would smile and tend to agree with them as their public image had increased but there was also no denying the fact that he and his wife were also the best people for the jobs, the public image was a nice addition.
Joe radioed back the machine code that would give control to NASA and pressed the communication button again. “There you go Tom, she’s all yours now, just don’t release the Lander before I’m inside.” Joe and Tom had history that went back to flight school, and the banter about who is better at their job had been between them for nearly as long. Even though they now specialized in different areas, they still managed to find ways to poke fun at each other.
Suddenly there was a loud hiss of steam coming from behind Joe, and fear ran across his face. He quickly turned to locate the source of the noise before realizing it was coming from the speaker beside his bed. He immediately reached for the communication button. “Very funny Tom! That’s one very expensive NASA space suit you’ll have the cleaning bill for.” For a while all that came back was laughing, however Tom finally managed to pull himself together to get words out.
“I loved the look on your face! I have been planning that for quite some time now!” Tom’s voice was in hysterics. Joe looked up and saw the on board camera looking directly at him. In disgust he reached behind the console and pulled the itinerary sheets out, placing them very purposefully in front of the camera lens. Tom radioed back, “That’s against procedure you know, how will I know when you’ve gone into the Lander?”
Joe thought about this problem before radioing back, “I have an idea!” Joe reached behind the back of the console and flicked a metal clip that held the camera in place. The camera immediately started to float up and away from the console. The entire control board had been designed and built out of modules, and new improvements could easily be added, they are powered by a self contained battery that would charge through the control board, however the crew would be able to take away any part and it would still communicate with the rest. Joe found this type of system both practical and useful at the same time. On a different mission, he was alone and managed to pick up a stomach bug which effectively kept him on the toilet for the best part of 2 days. It was useful being able to transfer the control panel into the toilet, but not very private.
Joe reached around the back of the console and found the headband that he was looking for. The camera was only the size of a credit card and slid into the front of the headband. Now NASA could witness everything Joe was doing but more importantly Joe had made his point and not shown them his face again.
“Very clever” Tom’s voice radioed back to him, “I’ll give you a few minutes to get your possessions into the Lander, then you will have to move the control panel in there before you say goodbye to the orbiter.”
Joe floated up to his bed compartment and reached into the draw that he was allowed to have to contain his own personal belongings. He pulled out a set of juggling balls to master in low gravity on the moon, he could never juggle on Earth but thought slowed down movements on the moon would give him a better chance of learning. He pulled out an unused harmonica, he had never used it and had no interest in it but in every film he had ever seen, when someone was left alone they always had a harmonica and were always very good at playing it. The only other thing he had in the draw was his tablet PC. This wafer thin machine was rolled up, but when it was laid out and turned on it became surprisingly rigid. This was his main source of entertainment. The machine was built by a company which had brought up most of the technology businesses around the world. This company was owned by Dom Spensor and he believed in producing the best product available. Before he came along there was a trend for companies to purposefully produce inferior goods so that customers would upgrade as soon as something better came along. Dom’s philosophy was to create the best product now, and worry about future sales in the future. This mentality saw his products fly off the shelves as his products were years ahead of what rival companies were planning. He then used the vast amount of money that was raised to develop knew products that would only be released every 3 years. This allowed his company to become the best technology company in the world. There was a rumor that he was looking to sell his business and there was fear that the days of inferior products would return as investors looked for quick profits. Joe didn’t need to worry about that now though, as he had the best product, the 4th Generation machine was basically a piece of flexible plastic that turned into a very powerful computer.
Joe had moved everything into the Lander now, and set up the control panel to control the last part of the decent. He looked around the orbiter for the last time. The orbiter would speed up around the Moon and then dive bomb into the Moons surface to measure the consistency of possible future landing sites. Therefore it might be recovered in the future if it finds a suitable mining site, but Joe would likely never see it again.
“Ready to go.” Joe radioed back to Mission Control.
“We here you Joe, we will start the Landing sequence.” Tom replied, and with that transmission red flashing lights started in the Orbiter to warn Joe to leave and get into the Lander. Once he passed into the Lander the detectors informed the Orbiter module and the doors closed behind him. Then, with a slight hiss, the module floated away from the Lander. Joe watched through the window of the Lander door. As the Orbiter became too small to spot, Joe turned and prepared for landing by strapping himself into his space suit and then into the chair.
The helmet contained a display that linked to the main control system and a camera on the bottom of the Lander. As the Lander rotated, the Moon came into view and this was the closest Joe had ever seen the Moon. He tried to look behind him, to see out of the doors window but he was facing away and the straps allowed little movement. This would be his greatest achievement so far.
Although the Moons gravity was small, the descent to the Moon was far from smooth, but the jets on the side of the Lander kept him as upright as possible. There was slight buckling on straps Joe’s body was forced up out of the chair, but eventually the boosters kicked in and the Lander hovered over the Moon’s surface looking its perfect landing spot.
With a small bang the Lander hit the Moon’s surface and slowly settled into the ground. From the outside the landing looked inch perfect, but Joe knew that something was wrong. He ripped the straps off and jumped out of the chair, completely underestimating the change in gravity. He was expecting Earth gravity, as he had received in the many training exercises, but instead he floated up to almost the top of the Lander, and slowly floated down, rotating so that he landed on his head with a slow, but comprehensive thud.
“Lander to NASA, I think we may have a problem”. Joe radioed back to NASA but wasn’t sure if he was still in the Radio-Blackout zone.;
“I here you Joe.” Tom radioed back, “We tried to be too smart and land you closer to the Moon Base, but we seem to have landed you directly on top of the power and atmosphere tubes linking the Base to the plantation. You should be OK but you will need to watch the Rover deployment as it comes from the bottom of the Lander and could rupture the pipes.”
Joes suspicions were confirmed, he had watched the video from the bottom of the Lander and noticed the unmistakable signed of buried pipes.
Joes mind was more focused on who to blame for the landing than what he was about to say on the Moon. It wasn’t until he had put one foot on the surface and felt the crisp Moon dusk under his feet which made him snap back to reality and realize what he was doing. Then, without thinking about it he said his speech, “We take this vast trip once again, but this time we intend to stay.” Joe thought it was short and sweet and now he intended to get on with the task of watching the Rover.
NASA remotely released the Rover and Joe watched it descend, with a hiss of pneumatics a platform came from the bottom of the machine where the Rover was parked. As it came down further it blasted the dust away from the pipes, exposing them to the harsh space environment. As the platform came to a rest on the pipes, they creaked and moaned. Joe couldn’t hear them, but he felt the vibrations through the surface. The Rover then rolled away from the Lander. Just as it was clear, the platform shuddered down through the pipes, and as the electricity cables met the atmosphere tubes and fuel pipes a large explosion blasted out of the bottom of the Lander, this started a chain reaction in the emergency fuel supplies on the Lander.
The ground below Joe vibrated quickly and then went still, as the emergency valves in the pipes closed, and the Lander flew up into space.
On the horizon Joe could see the dust cloud of the robots on their way to repair the damaged pipe work. This was a natural response in case of meteor strike, they never imagined damage to the base would be self inflicted. Joe watched the Lander fly up into space, and slowly it began to turn and come back again. The blasters would not slow it down this time and Joe knew it. With no wind to blow it off course, the Lander would arrive back again soon but Joe was already in the Rover and powering away. Just as he met the robots heading in the other direction the ground shook and a cloud of Moon dusk covered the Rover.
“Joe to Mission control. We are off to a great start!” Joe sarcastically yelled down the radio.