The Return

The Return

The camera floated in front of Doctor Christina Reese’s face, slowly spinning to the right. On its side, in large letters, were the words, “Return to the Moon LIVE* Webcast.” Below, in smaller letters, was written, “*with 1.5 second time delay.”

With her ponytail twitching behind her, Christina reached out and grabbed the camera, and set it “right-side-up” for her viewers. The background – a jumble of cables and light grey panels – was still tilted at what most people would consider an odd angle. With a smile she said, “Sorry about that. Hope none of you got sick.”

Christina let go of the camera and raised her datapad. “Now, where were we? Our next question comes from Anja Donde, age twelve, from Helsingør, Denmark. She asks, ‘How do you go to the bathroom on the moon?’” With a broad smile, Christina said, “Well Anja, since the moon has gravity, we can pretty much go to the bathroom the same way we do on Earth. The habitat already on the moon has something you would recognize as a toilet, although it does have a few more bells and whistles. The main difference between going to the bathroom on the moon and Earth is that on Earth the wastes would go to a sewage treatment plant or into a septic tank. On the moon, it will go into our greenhouse where it will be treated, and made into clean water and fertilizer for our plants.” Christina wrinkled her nose. “I know that sounds … icky, but it is a compacted version of what naturally occurs on Earth. And it is perfectly safe. Our life support system has been tested for years on Earth and the space station, and it works.”

Another astronaut floated into view behind Christina. “You were talking about going to the bathroom on the moon, right?” he asked.

“Yes.” Christina grabbed the camera and aimed it at the astronaut. “I’m sure you all recognize our Base Commander, Don Padel. Was there something you wanted to add?”

“Well,” Don’s face split with a wide grin, “did you tell them about the diapers?”

Christina laughed. “Uh, no. I left that for you.”

“If you insist.” Looking into the camera, Don explained, “While we’re setting up the base, we’re going to be outside in our spacesuits for long periods of time. Since it takes so long to take off a spacesuit and put it back on, we can’t come in for bathroom breaks. We do have small bags to collect urine, but we also wear diapers … in case we can’t hold it.”

The camera swung back to Christina’s face. “Thanks Don, I’m sure you’ve given our viewers far more information than they wanted.”

Off camera Don laughed. “Glad to be of help.”

“Moving right along,” Christina said, “Philip Coonan, age seventeen of Menindee, Australia, asks, ‘What are you going to do once you get to the moon?’ Well Philip, in the past few months several things have landed at the base site, a teleoperated bulldozer, a small reactor, and the habitat. The bulldozer – which has been nicknamed Bob for reasons that would take far too long to explain – landed first with the reactor. With it, technicians in Tsukuba leveled off a landing area and dug two trenches; one for the reactor and the other for the habitat. They also began to bury both in regolith which will serve as a shield from cosmic rays. The more sensitive areas of each were not covered for fear of damaging them, so our main concern on this first mission is to finish burying them. Once we’re done with that, we’ll start setting up the habitat for the next crew. Responsibility for setting up the base will be,” Christina paused and grinned, “Diaper Don’s.”

“What was that?”

Christina looked to the side. “Nothing,” she said before sticking her tongue out. She then took a sharp intact of breath. “I’m telling your mother.” Turning to the camera she said, “Mrs. Padel, Donny just made a rude gesture.”

Don floated into frame at a ninety degree angle to Christina. He held the back of his hand to her forehead. “I was afraid of that,” he stated. “It’s Space Madness. Incurable.” Don grabbed the camera and brought it very close to his face. “If this is how bad our doctor is, imagine how crazy the rest of us are.”

With that he let go of the camera – which tumbled ever so slightly – and began to doggy paddle away.

Steadying the camera, Christina glanced to the side and stated, “NASA’s finest.

“Anyway,” she continued, “besides setting up the habitat, and making the NASA Administrator pull out her hair, we will also be doing some basic science experiments. Doctor Ryota Orita, our selenologist – which is a geologist for the moon – will be conducting mineralogical surveys around the base. His main goal is to explore the ice field our base is situated on. His work will be used by later crews to gather water. As I pointed out in the last question, our water is recycled, but the recycling is not one hundred percent efficient. Until we can get water from the moon, we’ll have to import our water from Earth, which is very expensive. And before this base can expand into a colony, it will need to be self sufficient in regards to water.

“While Don and Ryota do their work, our Flight Commander Pytor Zholobov will make sure the Armstrong is kept up and running in case we need to make an emergency return to Earth. He’ll also help the rest of us with our work as well as do several webcasts of his own.

“And my job will be taking blood samples and conducting numerous medical tests to make sure we all stay healthy. Well, physically at least. Mentally I think we’re goners.” With a quick smile, Christina continued, “We don’t have to worry about moon germs, but how the human body responds to lower gravity. Thinning of bones, atrophying of muscles, weakened immune systems, all are problems of living in zero-g, which is most of our experience. We have very little experience living at one-sixth g, so I will be on the lookout for anything new. In addition, I’ll also be in charge of the setting up our greenhouse. Lucky for these guys,” Christina gave a thumbs up to the camera, “I have a green thumb.” Laughing, she added, “And if that isn’t enough, I’ll also be conducting several more of these – hopefully – educational webcasts.”

Glancing back at her datapad, she said, “Well, getting back to your questions,” she smiled, “David Rohr, age fifty-two of Colliervilee, Tennessee, in the US asks, ‘How can you justify wasting billions of dollars going to the moon when there are so many problems on Earth?’ Well, Mister Rohr, there are two standard answers to this. The first is that we don’t have the billions of dollars sitting in an airlock, ready to be blasted into space. All the money spent on this project was spent on Earth. The money you claim was wasted was used to pay the wages of the thousands of people involved in building and operating this.” She reached out her hand and patted the hull of the ship. “They in turn used the money to buy homes and cars and send their kids to college.

“The second answer was best summed up by the early Twentieth Century Russian theorist Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky when we said, ‘Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one does not stay in the cradle forever.’ It is in humanity’s interest to explore and colonize space. Did the King and Queen of Spain waste their money on Columbus?” Christina shrugged.

“If you’re more interested in a monetary reason, the lunar regolith contains Helium-3, which is extremely rare on Earth but could be used in fusion reactors like the JFT-100 being built in Japan. Also, while the potential of low-gee, high-vacuum manufacturing is unknown, it is potentially boundless. And there is the idea of the moon itself. Several companies are in negotiations to place a hotel near the base. Even at the projected ticket price of one billion dollars, there are already a dozen people signed up to spend two weeks on the moon. I know few people can afford that, but like everything else, the costs will fall until going to the moon will be no more exotic or expensive than touring Europe. So Mister Rohr, the billions of dollars you think wasted on this mission will have returns in the trillions.”

Christina smiled and looked at her datapad. “Our next question is from nine-year-old Bibi Gajraj from Queenstown, Guyana. He asks, ‘How can I get to the moon?’ Well Bibi, a lot of people think you need to be a serious scientist or engineer or something like that to go into space. I think we’ve disproved the serious part. But all that was in the past. Our mission is truly the beginning of a Lunar Colony, and you can’t have a colony of just scientists and engineers. You’ll need doctors, teachers, chefs, florists, cinematographers, politicians. In time, every occupation on Earth will also be an occupation on the moon. So, how do you get to the moon? My advice is to just follow your dreams. If you really want to go to the moon, you’ll find a way.”

Glancing at her watch Christina said, “And we have time for one more quick question.” She scrolled through the list of questions, then smiled, “Ahh, a perfect one. Sara Han, age nineteen of Hong Kong asks, ‘Who is going to be the first one to step out?’ Well Sara,” Christina smiled, “you’re just going to have to watch and see.

“I have to close down the Q&A for now, but the next Q&A will be from the lunar surface.” With shaking, clenched fists held in front of her, Christina stated, “I can hardly wait.

“But right now we’re nearing LPOI, or Lunar Polar Orbit Insertion, which is a fancy way of saying we are going to fire our rocket engine to slow us down so that we can go into orbit around the moon. Since we’re just going to be strapped in, I’m going to attach the camera to the wall here so you can watch.” As she said this she maneuvered the camera and gave the viewers a close-up of her chin. After a couple hard jolts – and a “Sorry” – Christina pushed herself back from the camera. Checking her work, she declared, “Perfect.”

Floating to her left she said, “While I was busy talking to you off in the corner, my fellow astronauts have been reattaching our seats.” The new view showed the Armstrong’s flight deck; a bank of computer displays and switches surrounding two small windows before four seats. “We don’t need them in zero-g,” Christina explained, “so we fold them up and store them away. But we put them back for our launches and landings.”

Pointing at the left, front seat, Christina said, “As you can see, our serious, Russian Flight Commander Pytor is already strapped in, running though checklists for our LPOI.”

At his name, Pytor turned around, smiled, shook his head, and went back to his checklists.

“I’ll be sitting right behind him, so I won’t see much out through the window. You at home,” she pointed at the camera, “will have a better view of our landing than I will. At some point during our descent, the feed will switch to the outside camera. But, right before we land, it will switch to Pytor’s Heads-Up-Display which will give you a night-vision look at our landing. We’re landing in a permanently shadowed crater which – oddly enough – is permanently in shadow so the external view will just be black. We’ll use the night-vision when we land, but when we step out we have floodlights on the Armstrong as well as on the teleoperated bulldozer I talked about earlier.

“Next to Pytor,” Christina went on, “you can see Diaper Don strapping himself in.”

Don turned and asked, “Are you trying to get me in trouble with my mother?”

Christina only laughed. “And behind him is Ryota’s seat.”

Ryota – who had been arranging the straps on his seat – floated over to the camera. “I hope Christina hasn’t scared all of you away. I’d hoped to have an audience for my lecture on lunar geology next week.”

“You’re just jealous,” Christina said with a smile, “I deal with interesting people, while you deal with boring old rocks.”

“But the boring old rocks as you call them are why we’re going; not to find interesting people,” Ryota replied with an equal smile.

“If we had the time, I would explain why medicine is the more interesting field of study,” Christina winked at the camera, “but we’ll have to take a rain check.”

Ryota nodded and smiled and they both floated to their seats laughing.

For the next fifteen minutes, the viewers watched and heard the four astronauts strap themselves in and run through various checklists. Eventually, they heard Mission Control in Houston say, “Armstrong, Houston, you are go for LPOI burn.”

With a strong Russian accent, Pytor replied, “Roger Houston. Go for LPOI.”

While the computer counted down to ignition, Christina waved to the camera and said, “Watch this.” She took a pen out of her pocket and left it floating between her and Ryota. “I hope you can see this.”

Ryota reached over and tapped the pen setting it spinning. “That might help.”

“Three, two, one, ignition.” Immediately, the pen “fell” to the floor.

Christina waved again. “Cool, huh.”

Other than the falling pen, there were no noticeable results from the engine firing.


Once the Armstrong achieved lunar orbit, the crew spent most of an orbit going through the decent checklists. After they had received a “Go” for landing and a few minutes before they began their descent, the crew received a surprised from Mission Control. “Armstrong, Houston, standby for video transmission on channel three. We have some VIPs who want to see you.”

The screen split to show the flight deck of the Armstrong and one of the conference rooms in Houston. A small gathering of men, old of body yet young of spirit, stood around a table. One man in the front, with slow, careful steps, stepped forward a few feet with the help of a cane. He straightened himself as best he could, and threw a sharp salute. The other men behind him followed suit.

The four astronauts, getting ready to fall to the moon, solemnly returned the salutes.


As the computer counted down to the beginning of the descent burn, the feed changed to the external camera which showed a perfectly black sky above a sliver of gray. For several minutes into the descent little changed except for variations in the gray sliver. Then came Don’s call of, “Stand by for pitch up.”

A few seconds later, the view changed as the grey expanded into a vast world of craters and boulders with a sliver of black sky above. The craters and boulders all cast long shadows and the Armstrong was flying into them.

As the grey and black world slid silently below the Armstrong, Don marked their altitude. “800 meters. Picking up secondary beacon.”

A few seconds later Houston replied, “Copy. Continue on 1-P-S.”

“700 meters. 660, 1412 alarm.”

“Copy 1412. You’re go. Continue on primary.”

“Rog. 500 meters. 400 meters. 340, secondary beacon back online.”

“Disregard secondary beacon. Continue on primary.”

“Rog. 300 meters.”

Into this Pytor stated, “I have visual on the landing site.”

The external camera now showed a world almost entirely in shadow, and the view changed to one tagged with “Pytor Zholobov’s HUD.” Between several swirling displays of the spacecraft status was a green world with numerous dips and bumps. In the middle however, was a flat square space. At each corner were lights blinking every second.

As the landing area grew to fill the entire field of view, Don continued calling out the altitude. “One hundred. Fifty. Twenty. Kicking up dust. Ten. Five. Contact light. Engine stop.”

A few seconds later, Pytor announced, “Houston, Shoemaker Lunar South Pole Research Station, Armstrong has landed again.”

“Copy Shoemaker. A lot of us wish we were with you.”


Once all the landing checklists had been completed, the astronauts unstrapped and began moving around the cabin. Several took small hops that took them to the ceiling before they slowly settled back to the floor. Twenty minutes after landing, four small squeeze bulbs of champagne were brought out and a toast was shared with countless millions back on Earth. Then they got down to work.

The seats were stowed once more, and four space suits were unpacked. Christina conducted medical exams declaring all, “Healthy and ready to go.” After a quick snack, the four began helping each other into their suits.

Just over three hours after landing, four space suited figures stood in the Armstrong’s cabin. Christina – with two red stripes on the helmet, upper arms, and legs of her suit – took the camera off the wall and attached it on her right shoulder. “This will give you more-or-less my view,” she explained.

She looked at Pytor with a single red stripe on his suit as he stated, “Ladies first.”

“Thank you, gentlemen,” Christina replied. “Who said chivalry was dead?”

“You’re just standing closest to the door,” Don answered.

Christina pointed at Don who had a single blue stripe on his suit. “Don’t make me get your mother involved in this.”

“If you two want to argue, Pytor and I can …” Ryota began to say but Christina cut him off.

“I’m going, I’m going,” she said as she turned around and faced the airlock. She opened it and swung the door out of the way. Entering it she stood sideways and a few moments later Don joined her.

“Funny meeting you here,” he said.

“Those at home can’t see this, but I’m rolling my eyes.”

Once the airlock depressurized, Christina opened the outer door and stuck her head out. For a few seconds she was quiet, then stated, “You know, if it wasn’t for the fact that this is the moon, the view would be rather boring.” The leveled landing area for twenty meters around the Armstrong was lit with floodlights, but beyond that was only darkness. “The stars are nice,” Christina added, “but you probably can’t see them through the camera.”

Christina pulled her head back into the airlock and turned around. She gave Don a thumbs up and announced, “Here I go.”

The view switched to one tagged “Shoemaker Base – Bob” which showed the Armstrong as an island of light in a sea of darkness. The camera zoomed in on the space suited figure hopping down each rung on the ladder. When she reached the bottom, the screen split to show the view from Bob and the camera on Christina’s shoulder.

“I’m on the porch,” Christina said. “I didn’t have any problems coming down the ladder.” Leaning over she added, “Though this last step looks like a doozy.”

A few seconds later, Houston replied, “Copy. But some of our VIPs say it’s not as bad as it looks.”

Christina laughed. “I hope we put on a good show for them.”

The view from Bob showed Don hopping down the ladder. When he reached the bottom, Christina turned to him and said, “Funny meeting you here.”

Don laughed. “I heard this was the hottest spot in town. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to get reservations.”

Christina sighed. “To give the people at home an idea of what we’re doing, we are standing on the porch, or the external cargo platform.” Leaning over she added, “As you can see it’s just a simple metal grate about four meters by one meter that was folded up against this landing leg. The main purpose of the porch is to temporarily store cargo that’s going in or coming out of the lander. The reason it’s a grate instead of a solid sheet of metal is to be lighter, but more importantly it allows us to knock some of the dust off before tracking it into the ship. As the Apollo astronauts found out, the lunar dust sticks to everything. We even have a twenty thousand dollar broom attached to the back of this leg we can use to brush some of the dust off. The reason it cost so much is the bristles had to survive a vacuum as well as be soft enough to not damage the suits. Also, the handle is adjustable to make it easier for us to get to the hard to reach places. While these suits are far more flexible than the ones the Apollo astronauts wore, they still make it tough to, ah, bend in certain ways.”

After a few seconds Don asked, “Are you done?”

“I think for now,” Christina answered. “I know the people at home are probably tired of waiting, so I was trying to fill up some time, but I think they’re just going to have to wait with us now.”

Don gave her a thumbs up. “Sounds like a plan.”

For a few minutes, neither said anything and Christina just panned the camera around at the grey dust before them. Then, the view from Bob showed a third space suited figure with two blue stripes hopping down the ladder.

When Ryota reached the porch, Don asked, “What took you so long?”

“Has your wait been intolerable?” Ryota asked.

“Very much so.”

Ryota faced outward and stepped over towards Don. Pointing out he said, “That looks like an interesting rock. Do you mind if I just step off and pick it up?”

“I think we would have something to say about that,” Don replied.

“Just so the people at home know,” Christina said, “the porch wasn’t really designed for us to do this. It should work, although we will be a bit crowded. I’m moving over to the very right edge. My right foot will be hanging in space. Literally.”

“How long have you been waiting to say that one?” Don asked.


Christina faced outward and the view from her camera only showed the lunar surface. The view from Bob showed Pytor hopping down the ladder.

When he reached the bottom, Don said, “I guess we can get started now.”

“Well,” Pytor replied, “don’t you say ‘Save the best for last?’”

Don laughed then asked, “Everyone ready?”

The other three astronauts all gave thumbs up.

“All right then.” Don began and it moved down the line. “One.”



Christina finished with, “Four.”

In unison, the four astronauts set their boots upon the lunar surface. For a few seconds they looked at one another, and then Don stated, “We have returned to stay.”

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