Athena 17

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Fictional story about the lunar landing. Inspired by the Apollo 11 moon landing July 1969.

Inspired by the Apollo 11 Moon Landing July 1969.

All eyes were on us. The world was watching. We’d been preparing for this moment for years. It was as though my whole life had been preparing for this moment, for this voyage. I took a deep breath and stared at the control panel in front of us. I looked ahead out the window of the shuttle. The skies lay waiting for us. Our target, the moon.

I turned to the others. I gave them both a thumbs up, the thick glove of my space suit making my hands look like a cartoon character. Barney Alderman replied with a mock salute. Carl Michaels just nodded. Like the others I was ex military, also with a background in the sciences. What lay ahead of us was like no battlefield or science lab we’d ever experienced. The three of us came from different States, had lead different lives, yet we’d been brought together by the lunar mission. These guys were my friends. We needed each other. Right then we were entrusting each other with our lives. I was scared, I’ll admit. We all were. The risks we were taking were huge, but we’d prepared and studied and trained for so long. It was like going into battle. All you could do was train hard and hope when it came to it, it all worked out okay.

This is Tucson Mission Control. Athena 17, come in, please.

‘Copy, Tucson. This is Athena.’ I replied. ‘How are we looking?’

All systems go. Looking good for take off, Athena.

‘Copy that.’ I replied.

We waited for an almost unbearable amount of time. All three of just wanted to be away, wanted the mission to start. Nobody spoke. What was there to say? Then came the message we’d been waiting for.

Athena, all checks complete. We are go.

‘Roger, Tucson, we know it will be a good one.’

As the Gemini V rockets under us thundered and roared away, the shuttle shook and vibrated. It was like revving the engine on the world’s most powerful sports car, or lighting the world’s biggest firework. We set off, shooting forward, up and up, higher and higher. We were pinned to our seats. There wasn’t a great deal of room in the command module. The interior was about the size of the inside of an automobile. The walls were crammed with switches, circuit breakers and dials.

I breathed in and out slowly. I tried to focus and remember everything. I glanced at the others. Barney was grinning like a mad man. That was typical of him. I was here because I wanted to do something special, meaningful, somehow. Barney, he was here for the rush of it. For him it was the thrill. He wanted the buzz of being one of the first men to set foot on the Moon. Carl had tears in his eyes, bless him. He always was a sensitive soul. I couldn’t tell if he was emotional at the take off or just utterly terrified. Life in the space program had always been more of a challenge to him. He was here because he wanted to prove something to himself.

We shot up and up, through the sky, towards the heavens. My mind went to the last conversation I’d had with my wife. I had told Betty that when I got back I’d take her out for dinner. She’d shook her head, tears streaming down her face. She had whispered that I shouldn’t make promises I wasn’t sure I could keep. You have to make it back first. I had smiled gently, what could I say? Of course, there was a real chance we wouldn’t make it back. Life was about chances. There was a chance we’d die on take off. There was a chance we’d die before we even got to the moon. There was a chance we would not make it back. But we had been given this chance, the chance to go. We chose to go to the moon.

As we neared the layer of the Earth’s atmosphere it was time to get rid of the rocket that had fired us up here. Ditching the rockets would leave us free to set off into space. It was called Staging. Right on time Control’s voice came across our headsets.

Staging is go, Athena.

‘Affirmative, Tucson. Initiating staging.’

We flicked switches and studied the dials. Tucson Mission Control would be monitoring us closely down there too. It was like learning to drive with dual control. The experts could help out where they could. Staging began. The Gemini V rockets broke away and drifted, tumbling away across the sky.

‘Initiating ignition.’

The ignition of the propulsion engines fired us through the Earth’s atmosphere.  We shook and swayed, the vibration making our teeth chatter. We broke through and emerged in space. It was like jumping in to a pool. Everything felt and looked so different. We no longer needed the propulsion engines firing.

‘Initiating Shutdown.’

Shutdown is go.

The three of us tapped at keys, watching the readings the whole time. The propulsion engines faded.

‘Shutdown complete.’

Roger that, Athena.

This was it. We’d broke through the Earth’s atmosphere and were now on our way to the Moon. A ball-point pen floated gently by in front of me. Our space adventure was well and truly under way. Now that the launch was complete we were free to unbuckle. We clipped out of the seats. We removed our goldfish bowl helmets. My helmet started to drift away to the ceiling. I caught it and put it in my cabinet. We were now in the zero-gravity wonder of space. If leaving the Earth’s atmosphere was like jumping in a pool, then zero-g was like being under water. We’d had training back in Tucson but this was the real thing. The weightlessness was magical. We were flying. We made our way to the windows and saw it for the first time. The Earth. There she was in all her magnificence and glory.

I can’t describe what it was like looking down at the planet. That would be like asking a Holy person to describe Heaven. All the words in my vocabulary just can’t capture the wonder of it.  We’d seen the images in preparation but it was like seeing photos of the Pyramids and then finally seeing them for yourself. I sighed.

Athena, how you guys doing? Stats coming back fine and good.

‘Roger that, Control.’ I laughed. ‘We’re all good up here.’

All three of us had the same mix of fear and excitement in our eyes. The adrenalin had really kicked in. This was the greatest adventure of our lives and each man hoped to make it back to tell the tale. Would our names go down in history as those who made it to the moon and back, or as martyrs, fallen heroes who had taken this brave step and perished on the journey of the century?

Athena 17 pushed into the inky darkness leaving the green-blue globe of the Earth behind us. The sky was full of stars. We were trained, we knew what we were doing, we had practised but nothing could have prepared us for the scenery. The vista was just astonishing. We looked out in silence for a long moment.

‘That view,’ Barney said. ‘is worth the ticket price.’

I didn’t reply, nor did Carl. I knew he would be thinking the same as me. We just hoped the price wouldn’t be too high.

 

In the next four days we got used to zero-g. You got into the habit of locking things away. If you didn’t it would drift off across the cabin. We worked hard and went over and over the landing mission. And through the viewing panels the Moon grew larger and larger as we got closer and closer.

We kept in regular contact with Tucson Mission Control, the radio chatter between them back home and us helped them with their studies and stats and also kept us from losing our minds at the magnitude of it all. Tucson would tell us all about what was happening back there. That helped. They would read out newspaper headlines and sports results. The Tucson Sugar Skulls play-off final against the Rattlers seemed so far away. They entire world was engrossed by our venture. We were the talk of the whole planet. The President himself sent us his best wishes.

‘Oh yeah? He can buy us a beer when we get back.’ laughed Barney.

The Moon loomed larger and closer.

 

Then it was time. There she was. The Moon.

We fired up our propulsion engine and barged our way into lunar orbit. We rocked and shook as we pushed into her orbit. It was like getting an old banger on the highway. Well, I figured, we’d made it this far. Not bad for a farm boy from Battle Creek, Missouri. When I’d left high school I’d had no idea that I would end up floating around a tin can, heading for the moon. I knew there would be kids all over the world looking up to the moon trying to spot Athena 17. They would point and swear they could see our ship. It would be like it was Christmas Eve and we were the sleigh.

 

The plan had been worked out in the early days of planning the mission. Carl would stay in the ship, the Command Module. Barney and I would man the Landing Module, the LM. We would then manoeuvre our way down to the lunar surface. And then we’d be the first humans to set foot on the Moon. At the time it hadn’t quite seemed real. Now, the grey chalky planet was directly beneath us. Very real indeed. In fact right then, it was the Earth that seemed unreal and distant.

Carl looked stunned as we suited up in our bulky, chunky space-suits. He was close to tears. We’d come such a long way and he was about to watch us venture down to the surface. I wasn’t sure if he was envious of us or if he wanted us to stay on board the Athena.

‘You okay, buddy?’ Barney asked. ‘Has it come as a shock that we’re going down there? Have we sprung it on you?’

Carl managed a smile. I placed a thick, suited hand on his shoulder. The three of us shuffled towards the connecting doors to the LM. We tugged on the door and swung it open. We then pushed on the LM door.

‘Best of luck.’ Carl said.

‘You too.’ I said.

With nothing really more to say, Barney and I floated through the hatch and into the LM. Compared to the Athena the LM seemed so small. It was like leaving an ocean liner for a tug-boat. If the Command Module was an automobile we were now in a sidecar. We found our seats and buckled up. The LM was known as the Falcon by Mission Control. I wondered who had come up with that name. We completed our checks. Then we were good to go.

There was a clicking sound as the LM disconnected from the Command Module. Carl would be controlling the LM with the on-board computer. Barney and I would make any manual adjustments.

‘Falcon has wings.’ I reported as we manoeuvred down towards the lunar surface.

As Carl steered the small module lower and out across the sweeping surface of the Moon, Barney and I watched the dials and sensors intently. Everything came down to this. I really felt the pressure. The landing was notoriously the most treacherous part of the mission.

We went on further and dipped slightly. The computer on the command module seemed to be guiding us towards a rocky ridge on the edge of a large crater. The ridge came closer, looming large up ahead. I glanced at Barney. He shook his head. That wouldn’t do as a landing area.

‘Command Module, come in.’

‘CM here.’ Reported Carl.

‘The planned landing are is unsuitable.’

‘Roger than, Falcon. How’d you want to play it?’

We had two options, alter the programmed co-ordinates in the computer, or else, we could attempt a manual landing. I wasn’t quite sure we could rely on the machine to select a substitute site that would be any better. Manual landing meant we had to steer and guide ourselves down. That was not ideal. But it was better than gambling the system got it right a second time.

‘Switching to manual control.’ I said.

‘Copy that, Falcon.’

I gave Barney a nod and took hold of the control lever. He watched the dials as I tilted and steered and manoeuvred the LM. We would have to watch the fuel levels. Wouldn’t want to trek all this way only to run out of gas.

I spotted a low flat section of terrain up ahead. I pointed a gloved finger to show Barney. Hopefully that spot would be more suited to our landing. We made our way over in the tiny craft. I tilted and turned the lever and guided the LM lower and lower. We neared the lunar surface. In every window was the grey wonder of the Moon.

I don’t know what went wrong but it wasn’t the smooth landing we’d rehearsed in training. One second we were creeping closer and closer to landing, and the next we were tumbling over and over. Despite the zero gravity we were flung around the small craft. It was like falling in slow-motion or driving off a bridge into a deep river. This was not how the landing was supposed to go. This was our moment. And we’d blown it. Control had told us that the images from the LM would be beamed all over the world. Live on TV, they’d said. Your moment of triumph, they’d said. And yet, the first images would be rolling and spinning, it would be like being inside a washing machine. We tumbled and rolled over and over.

Finally we came to a stop. Amazingly the LM was the right way up. I sighed and tried to catch my breath and get myself together. I gave Barney a thumbs up, he did the same. We were okay. In front of us the green contact light flashed on. We had landed. Out of the windows the grey white surface stretched away like a vast desert. The scene was so beautifully desolate. I suddenly felt so far from home and very alone.

The communicator crackled.

‘This is Command Module.’ came Carl’s voice. ‘Come in LM.’

‘LM here.’ I replied. ‘The Falcon has landed.’

‘Good to hear you.’ Carl responded.

‘How are we looking, Carl?’

‘It’s not looking good. You guys have got a lot of work to do before you can even think about heading back.’

Our moment of triumph would be different than expected.

‘What’s the word from Tucson?’ I asked.

‘Falcon crew to make the necessary repairs and make ready for the return.’ Carl quoted.

The scientist part of me was raging. We’d come all this way, made it to the moon. What good was that if we didn’t conduct the planned tests and gather data? But Tucson saw it the other way, what good was the data collection if we perished out here?

‘Roger that.’ I said. ‘Crew preparing to leave the LM.’

Even though our landing had been tougher than expected, and even though we were now not to conduct our intended experiments, it still gave me a thrill to be here. And we were about be the first people to set foot on the surface of the Moon. We shuffled over to the door. Barney looked nervous. I placed a hand on his shoulder, not sure how much he could feel it through the suit.

I yanked on the yellow lever and pushed the door open.

I climbed down the small ladder and with my heart pounding, took the huge step off the bottom rung and stepped onto the lunar surface. I took a few tentative steps and tried to describe down my headset exactly what I was experiencing.

The surface consisted of a fine powder. I kicked and scuffed at it with my boot. I stared down in awe at the footprints I was leaving behind me. These footprints would be here forever. As Barney descended the ladder I took a photograph on my chest-mounted camera. We would have to wait until we got home to see how the images came out.

Barney took the plunge and stepped off the ladder. In my headset he repeated Oh my goodness time and time again.

We hopped along in the zero-gravity. In spite of the dangerous nature of our mission and the looming likelihood that we may not make it back, we still managed to take in the astonishing surroundings of the lunar landscape. Grey-white dusty crater-packed land stretched away all around us. Barney gasped and pointed. I looked over.

‘Would you look at that?’ I blurted out.

The two of us stood there for a long moment staring at the Earth, our home planet, that great distance away. It looked about the size of a billiard ball.

‘Falcon, how you getting on?’ Carl asked in our ear.

‘Just about to make a start, Carl.’

In the other-worldly wonder, further than any person in history had travelled before, on a different planet, and with our blue-green planet in our eye-line, Barney and I set about making the repairs to the LM. Carl came on the radio and talked us through the exact repairs needed. He would be up in the Command Module studying the readouts and filling us in.

We tried to ignore the mind-blowing vista and keep our attention on the repairs. I focused on the individual tasks as we went and did my best to forget that our lives depended on the success of our repairs. Carl was a constant guide in our headsets. Barney and I grafted hard, following his instructions.

Just over two hours later we were done. We had done all we could. It was time to see if it would work.

We headed back to the LM. As we reached the foot of the ladder I picked up a pebble-sized rock and tucked it my chest pocket. We took one last look around at the unbelievable landscape before climbing up the ladder.

With the door shut behind us, we buckled ourselves in the seats in front of the control panel. This was it. We tapped at the keys and flicked the switches. Nothing happened. The LM should be firing up about now. We tried again, without speaking. Nothing.

Was this the end? Were we to breathe out last out here? We tried again. Still nothing. I made a few adjustments and tried not to panic. I told myself this was a training exercise. Barney looked petrified beside me. His wisecracks had left him. I turned back to the control panel and spoke to him.

‘We’re going to be okay. You ever see those old movies? Those old-school space heroes? That’s us, right now. We are doing this. Fifty years from now people will still be talking about this. They will point to the moon and say, we went there.’

I don’t know where the words came from. I think I was talking to myself as much as him.

‘We have worked a long time for this.’ I continued. ‘It is not going to end this way.’

At that second my mind went back to a training exercise back in Tucson space centre. Would it work? It had to be worth a shot.

‘SCE to Auxiliary.’ I said.

The headset meant my words would be heard back on the Command Module.

‘Copy that, Falcon.’ Carl confirmed.

We tapped away, flicking switches, turning the dials, as we set about making all the necessary adjustments. We worked hard in a focused silence.

When we had completed the changes we paused for a moment. We had done all we could. I really wasn’t sure what would happen if this didn’t work.

‘Let’s get this over with.’ I said.

‘Affirmative, Falcon.’

And so we tried again. I breathed a huge sigh as the LM shook and vibrated. Dust and rocks blew away below us as we took off. The upper stage lifted free of the landing stage. The landing gear would remain on the moon. We didn’t need it any more. The Athena was designed so that any excess parts or anything we were done with was discarded.

Carl, Barney and I steered the LM away from the surface of the moon. We lifted up and towards the waiting Command Module. Between us we shifted, twisted and manoeuvred our tiny craft towards the CM.

We neared the waiting CM in constant dialogue with Carl. I hoped that with the three of us, we’d be able to reconnect. This mission seemed to consist of one perilous hurdle after another. The current dangerous task was connecting with the CM. We shifted and straightened up. There came the wonderful clunk as we made connection. The locks clicked and clanked. We’d done it. We were reunited.

We tugged open the connecting door and floated through the hatch. Carl grinned, with tears in his eyes. We had been the ones in danger down on the lunar surface but it must have been torture for Carl up here all alone while we were down there. We had faced the prospect of dying down there but he had faced the prospect of returning alone. But we had made it.

We were Athena 17 once again. We struggled and wriggled out of our space-suits. We hugged in the zero-gravity. We laughed and high-fived each other.

‘The band is back together.’ Barney beamed.

Athena, this is Tucson. Please report.

‘We are go for return, Tucson.’ announced Barney.

Roger. Stats looking good. Everyone at Control congratulates you boys on a job well done. The SCE to Auxiliary was a nice touch.

‘Noted, Control.’

Am sure you’ll appreciate, there’s a lot of interest in you fellers. The whole world is going crazy. Do you guys have a message for the folks back home?

Carl wished his parents a happy anniversary and thanked everyone for their support. Barney said hello to everyone, especially those that knew him. He then complained that the moon had no atmosphere. We laughed partly as his wisecrack and partly in relief at being on the way home.

What about you, Tim? Do you have anything you’d like to say?

Barney and Carl turned to me.

‘Tell Betty to book that table. I’m coming home.’


Submitted: July 19, 2019

© Copyright 2022 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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hullabaloo22

A terrific read, CT!

Fri, July 19th, 2019 7:54pm

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