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Back to the Moon

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Back to the Moon

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Author: Travis S. Taylor
Les Johnson
Publisher: Baen, 2010
Series: Space Excursions: Book 1

1. Back to the Moon
2. On to the Asteroid

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Decades after the last footprints were left on the Moon, the U.S. was preparing to return to the Lunar surface in a new class of rockets, when the mission suddenly became much more urgent. It would have to be a rescue mission.

Unbeknownst to the rest of the world China had sent its own Lunar expedition. A manned expedition. Until a distress call was received, no human outside of China even knew that the mission was manned--or that their ship had crash-landed and couldn't take off again.

Time was running out, and if the four Chinese astronauts were to be rescued, the American lunar mission would have to launch immediately, with only a skeleton crew. Once the heroic U.S. astronauts were underway the army of engineers and scientists back home had the daunting task of deciding what equipment could be left on the Moon to permit the Lunar lander vehicle vehicle to lift safely from the Moon with the two U.S. astronauts and the four stranded Chinese taikonauts! Could the U.S. mount such a mission successfully--and would thousands of years of instilled honor "allow" the Chinese astronauts to accept a rescue?



Mare Serenitatis, the Moon
December 14, 1972

Standing on an airless, desolate plain flanked by boulders the size of houses and by mountains taller than eight Eiffel Towers stacked atop one another had a way of leaving a man humbled and feeling just how fragile a human so far from home truly was. Gene squinted in the bright sunlight, pondering what to do next. He and his two colleagues were near the end of a decade-long journey; the three days of travel from the Earth to the Moon followed by three amazing days on the lunar surface were only the most recent portions. The journey of Apollo 17 was the culmination of the most technologically advanced endeavor mankind had ever attempted. With the majestic, stark, and absolutely unforgiving Moon soon to be only a memory, a fleeting moment from his glory days, Gene reached behind his spacesuit as best he could to point the camera toward the vehicle that would soon take him from this place and put him on a journey back home. Gene realized that it would be a while before humanity felt the spark to return. Humanity's candle had burned exceedingly bright for a decade, but it just couldn't maintain such a vast level of effort. Going to the Moon was a major endeavor that took the full focus of an entire nation driven by the desire to defeat another great nation. Americans had won the race, and Gene, along with the rest of Apollo 17, was the final flicker of that bright-burning candle.

At a distance of about one mile, the camera would capture his moment of liftoff and transmit the video back to Earth. Or, if something were to go terribly wrong, the video might be useful in reconstructing how he and his partner might have met their untimely demise on the distant lunar surface. The camera, mounted on the lunar rover that had served them so well during their all-too-brief visit, provided a needed connection to mission control back on Earth. Gene didn't want to leave so soon, but at the same time, he was anxious to go home.

After making final adjustments to the camera, he again paused. Then, ever so slowly and with the appearance of great clumsiness due to the limited movement granted by the inflated spacesuit, he kneeled down to the surface of the Moon and scratched three letters into the lunar dust. Satisfied with his work, he stood up, brushed off some of the dust from the lower half of his suit, and began Moon-bouncing back toward the Lunar Module.

It was a short walk, but Gene was nonetheless huffing and puffing by the time he arrived. Working against the inflated suit required strength, aerobic conditioning, and endurance all at the same time. Despite the technological prowess required to send him to the Moon, the bulky, awkward, and oh-so-heavy spacesuit required considerable effort to use--even in one sixth of Earth's gravity.

Gene stood by the Lunar Module knowing it was his time to make a historical last statement for the bold and ever-decreasingly budgeted American space program. He uttered what were to be the last words spoken from the surface of the Moon for over a half century.

"Bob, this is Gene, and I'm on the surface; and, as I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come--but we believe not too long into the future--I'd like to just say what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."

With that, Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan climbed the ladder to join his crewmate and friend, Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, in the Lunar Excursion Module. They would then let their training take over and begin all the prelaunch preparations required to get them off the surface of the Moon and on their way back to the only place in the universe known to contain life--Earth.

The next day, with the camera recording nearly every detail, the LEM named Challenger lifted into the blackness of space, carrying two brave men back toward home, leaving the Moon lifeless once again.

Humanity had left its mark on the Moon six times, impressions of twelve feet, and two of those feet had been Gene's. But he had left more, a more personal mark. Etched into the lunar dust, probably to remain undisturbed for several human lifetimes, or more, were the letters TDC--the initials of Cernan's daughter.

"Shh, Mommy! They're leaving the Moon for good!" Bill gave his mother a stern shush as the precocious five-year-old kept his eyes glued to the small black-and-white television in the family room. He leaned in and squinted at the screen as if that would help him see more details of the spaceship and the Moon. All it really did was accentuate the large phosphorus pixels of the old black-and-white picture-tube technology.

"Don't sit too close to the TV, honey--it will hurt your eyes," his mother said.

"Oh, mom."

"So, you think the spacemen are neat?" Bill's father smiled proudly at his son.

"Yeah, I like the Moon. I'm gonna go there someday." To Bill, the statement was simply the fact of the matter. He was going to go to the Moon someday.

Copyright © 2010 by Travis S. Taylor

Copyright © 2010 by Les Johnson


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