Archive for January, 2012

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Untitled Space Story – Chapter 1

January 2, 2012

The instinct is to slump backwards in relief, but the gesture lacks a certain something. Still, I suppose it doesn’t really matter. It’s not like there’s anyone else here to read my body language, after all, and I know full well how I’m feeling.

The relief is physical, like a knot dissolved from my stomach, a weight from my shoulders. That said, all the weight genuinely has been lifted from my shoulders. I suppose I’m going to have to learn to adjust my language to deal with this new environment. It only occurs now how many of our colloquialisms are related to gravity. I suppose that isn’t surprising. We’ve spent thousands of years in the dirt, after all, with gravity as a given.

And here I am now, floating gently. My head touches against the bulwark with all the force of a feather’s fall. I’ve done the training – plunging up and down inside a converted cargo plane in the stratosphere, trying to simulate the effects of zero gravity, but it doesn’t compare to the real thing. Nothing does. And no other human being in the entire history of our civilisation has ever been in a position to realise that.

The enormity of the concept stops it from truly sinking in. Not through lack of trying – I’ve been in training for this day for six years, in one form or another. I knew what would happen, and I knew how important a thing it would be. Philosophically, the human race has finally crawled free from the cradle of its life, and I have taken that first faltering step. And in more realistic terms, the space race has been won, and a major blow has been struck in the Cold War. I feel equal pride in both aspects of this achievement.

I drift across to the window, and peer down at the view below. The window is tiny – less than six inches across. In light of the view outside, I’d give almost anything for a bigger one, but the scientists at ground control tell me any bigger and it’d blow out into space under the pressure of internal atmosphere. I suppose, compared to explosive decompression, I can learn to live with the limited view.

The world turns beneath me – vast and beautiful and so close it seems I could touch it. Yet, so distant that I am no longer a part of it. It is night in the world below, and the cities of earth glimmer faintly against the encroaching darkness.

I’ve communicated with ground control, and delivered all that was expected of me. The radio protocols, the confirmation of telemetry, the inspiring soundbite I’m sure will be quoted for decades to come. I’ve been sworn never to admit that it was pressed into my hand by a speechwriter a few days before the launch. I suppose they didn’t trust an airman to come up with something suitable for the history books. Given the scale of what we’ve achieved here, perhaps rightly so.

I have a few hours of downtime now, to recuperate from the launch, then on with my duties. But what to do with that downtime? Weight was such a factor in the design of this whole system that I have very little to entertain myself with, and even though the last of the thrusters died away a few hours ago now, my body is still thrumming with the leftover adrenaline and sheer emotion of the moment.

No man has ever been so far from home.

I feel the urge to talk to someone about it. How absurd, how paradoxical is that? I have an opportunity to experience the most perfect and complete isolation and solitude ever encountered by mankind, and my instinct is to laugh and to talk and to joke, to communicate.

With a laugh on my lips, I spin the dial and repeat the standard radio hail like a mantra, waiting for the familiar voices of the ground support staff answering me. I wonder whether I’ll be able to draw them into actual conversation, beyond my operational parameters and mission brief. I have the mad desire to make small talk, to ask about the operators’ families, and sports results. However vicarious, this connection to normality suddenly seems so vital.

But no-one answers.

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