Earth, Year 2040
It is not easy – the road I had to take – before I got here. After graduating from St. Mark’s School, Southborough, Massachusetts, I studied in Syracuse University and took up a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Statistics. I was often called ‘nerd’ during my high school years, and being in Syracuse University with people who had the same interests as me slowly built up my late bloomer-confidence. It was also in Syracuse University that I decided to become an astronaut.
Because NASA is strict when it comes to qualifications, I took up a master of science in physiology and biophysics from the University of Kentucky. It was then that I applied in NASA, but since I was a newcomer and quite young for any ‘important’ post, I served as assistants to chiefs until I was given a place as a CapCom. When I operate the dials and switches, I felt like I was really doing an astronaut thing.
But my big break came five years after working behind switches. Today, I will fly to planet Roejen, a small, beautiful planet four billion miles away from Earth. This planet, which is beyond Pluto, was discovered in 2035 when NASA developed the most high-tech space telescope to date. It was also a good thing that rockets and spaceships were vastly improved in speed – at this rate, I will be back from Roejen in just three months!
“Hey, Sammy! Check your bags to make sure you have everything you need.” The chief told me as he handed me a very big bag, the one that looks like a cross of a military-issued bag and a camping bag. I opened it and saw many shirts and shoes. I knew what each of that was, and why I need so many, but I still cross-checked it on the list that the chief also gave to me. I looked on every item listed to make sure that I had them in my bag:
1 pair of shoes for the treadmill
1 pair of shoes for the bike
1 pair of exercise shorts for every 3 days of exercise
1 T-shirt for every 3 days of exercise
1 work shirt for every 10 days
1 T-shirt for under the work shirt for every 10 days
1 pair work pants/shorts for every 10 days
1 pair underwear for every 2 days
1 pair socks for every 2 days
2 pairs Russian overalls (optional)
I would have also brought some special personal effects like my companions for this mission like family photographs, a necklace or ring from a loved one, letters from their kids…but I have none of any of that. My parents died when I was in Syracuse University. I don’t have a special someone, and more so kids. Kids! I could not even cook a decent pizza. I considered getting a dog before, but as I am always at work, I decided not to get Fido and just leave him neglected.
So basically, I am a loner of an astronaut with only the space to console me.
I will take a special camera, however. My first mission is a very special one, and since we will pass all the planets in the solar system, I might as well take a selfie with each one of them, including the prettiest and newest of them all – planet Roejen.
“Sammy, get down on the prep room!” the chief called out. I double checked if I was wearing the spacesuit that astronauts wear during launch and landing, and when working outside properly, and then I walked to the prep room. My teammates for this flight were Dan Ricks, Kit Basinger, Rufus Teflon, the pilot Ernest Winston and the co-pilot Merida Osborne.
“Hi Sammy.” They greeted. They are already repeaters in flying, except for me and Kit. Both of us looked pale, and my hands are clammy.
“What have you got in there?” Kit asked, pointing to my bag.
“A camera. You?”
“I brought my daughter’s good luck letter and a bunch of pictures.” He said. I gave him a smile that did not quite reach my eyes. I will never understand these married folks, but I am always sympathetic.
The mechanics on ground started the preparation in launching our rocket, and my stomach stirred in nervousness, begging me to throw up. I held on to my dignity, however. Before I was chosen for a mission, I received basic classroom learning about the International Space Station and spaceflight generally. I also became a qualified scuba diver, did military water survival training, underwent swimming tests, was exposed to high and low atmospheric pressures, did flights in the “vomit comet” and got media and Russian language training, among other things.
It’s not like I am a total amateur, but apart from this totally normal fear that I feel, I am also excited!
I remembered the things stuffed inside my bag. Aside from the NASA-issued clothing and my camera (which can also be used by any of the crew), each of us has a Personal Preference Kit inside our backpacks. It is about the size of a long paperback novel. NASA allows astronauts to take up to 20 items that weigh no more than 1.5 pounds in this small nylon case. I don’t know about my companions – I suspect their PPK’s are filled with their families’ pictures, but mine contains an iPod, my Syracuse University Physics club badge, my University of Kentucky Science Award badge, a long list of ‘pictures to shoot when I am in outer space’, a small paper where I once sketched the planet we are going to, and a book of a renowned (now dead) writer Dan Brown that is on the smallest print size possible.
“Get onboard!” the chief said, and off we went to the half-done escalator-like lift that will take us inside the space rocket. I am always in awe of these majestic, gigantic transportations, and more so when they light up and soar to the heavens. We strapped ourselves in our seats and when the rocket was launched, I closed my eyes and felt the laws of nature (gravity, friction, inertia, and etc.) govern the safety of my life. I wanted to scream both in fear and excitement, but before I could do so, the tremendous force shooting us upward stopped and then I felt like the rocket just stopped operating.
“You can now get off your seats. Go to your respective places!” the pilot instructed. Everyone moved, except for me. I looked outside the window and saw that we were passing on the dark side of the moon.
“Lovely to be an adviser here, eh? Not much work to do.” Ernest Winston, the pilot, asked. I gave a smile.
“It will be lovelier if we will not need any advising in this trip.” I replied. Ernest’s face darkened a bit but his co-pilot, Matilda, just laughed.
“Ernest is just envious because he could not be laid back like you.” Matilda said. Ernest busied himself with the knobs and switches while I did some reading on Dan Brown’s book.
“I like that author too.” Matilda butted in. “He writes so cleverly, so wittily, I think he masterminded these historical inaccuracies just to have something to write about.” Matilda said. Of course it was a joke intended to praise Dan Brown’s great talent in writing and thinking about that, I wondered if I could be a writer when I retire from the service in NASA.
“I don’t think you should be reading as soon as you did as if you are in some tropical island enjoying a getaway.” Ernest injected. I looked at him with distaste but then thought that he might just be so uptight. They are in a dangerous mission – all outer space missions are dangerous – but he could use some lightening up.
“Do you want to read it?” I asked. Matilda grabbed my book and threw it on Ernest’s direction, and after just ten minutes, Ernest was already deep in the book.
I will remember to bring another Dan Brown novel here in space if we come in a mission together again, I thought as I watched Ernest reading.
I took many pictures of the planets as we passed by: Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto – and their biggest moons – until we reached planet Roejen.
It is a beautiful planet in a lush, creamy color pink. White gases swirl around its atmosphere. Scientists assume that these white gases were hydrogen and helium combined, while the pink must be the planet’s color just like Mars is red.
I took pictures of the planet to be sent to NASA, and for the other shots left, I used it for selfies. We did a 360-degree turn around, used Roejen’s pull to gain a boost on our way back to Earth. We arrived safely on the thirtieth day of our mission, and it was really an experience for me. I will go back to serving NASA as a CapCom, but it will be likely that I will be invited to another mission a few years from now.
By that time, I wondered if I will have a family picture to take up with me.