Thursday, February 21, 2019

Excerpt from Homer Hickam's novel CRATER about the fate of the Apollo 11 Landing Site

         Crater walked out of the dustlock into the most amazing place he’d ever seen, the main corridor of the bustling marketplace of the moon’s largest town. Maria was still dealing with the Armstrong City clerks and inspectors who’d emerged from the airlock to register the convoy, tax the heel-3 canisters aboard, and assist in their further transport. She also had to attend to the handling of Captain Teller’s body, including seeing his family. Crater wanted to see Teller’s family, too, but there was an urgent message for him to go to the Medaris Mining company offices and meet a representative sent from the Colonel. In the dustlock, the Armstrong City dusties insisted that he remove his Deep Space BCP suit with the explanation that the biotechnology had not been approved by the city health department. Crater didn’t mind removing it—the sheath was pretty dusty, after all—and the hot water showers afterwards felt very good.
         He headed for the company office but before he got there, the Sheriff of Moontown appeared out of the crowd, took him by the arm, and turned him around. “We have to be careful, Crater! There may be assassins.”
         Crater was surprised to see the sheriff. “How did you get here?”
         “Jumpcar,” he said. “The Colonel had a visitor and I hitched a ride.”
         That sounded awfully convenient to Crater, but the sheriff seemed sincere. So he let himself be led to a ticket counter which had a sign that said See the Site of Humankind’s First Landing on the Moon. There were photos of the American astronauts Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin for sale along with other souvenirs, including models of the Apollo capsule and the Eagle lander. The sheriff handed over an adequate number of johncredits and the clerk handed back two paper tickets. “Let’s hurry. We don’t want to miss the tram,” the sheriff said.
         The sheriff pointed at a dustlock which said Tours to Tranquility Base Landing Site. They went through it, emerging into a pressurized tram filled with tourists. “Welcome,” the tour guide said. “I hope you enjoy your excursion to Tranquility Base.”
         The sheriff pointed at two empty seats and he and Crater sat down. The tram pulled out, following a well-used track, while the tour guide announced that only one mile away was the landing site of Apollo 11, the place where humans first walked on an “astronomical body.” Calling the moon an “astronomical body” was something of an insult to Crater but he didn’t say anything, just looked out the window at the boring view which was mostly devoid of craters or anything else other than a mildly sloping plain of pebbly dust. Before long, the bus arrived at the famous landing site which was lit up by big spotlights. The tourists immediately started to take pictures.
         Crater gazed with some wonder at the truncated base of the landing craft called Eagle. Beside it was the American flag on a staff stuck into the dust. The flag was a recreation, of course, since the original flag had been knocked down when the upper half of the Eagle had taken off and, over the years, bleached white by the relentless sun.
         The tour guide had already exhausted his spiel on how close Armstrong had come to aborting the mission because of an overworked guidance computer, and how the brave American had landed anyway, completing the promise of the long-dead and little known President Kennedy who had ordered the landing to occur before the Russians could get to it.
         The guide was Russian so he proceeded to tell the tourists that, of course, the Russians had launched the world’s first earth satellite called Sputnik, and also launched the first person into space whose name was Yuri Gagarin. He also went on to say that during the civil war, poor Gagarin’s body had gone missing from the Kremlin during an attack by Siberian revolutionaries, but that was neither here nor there.
         The tour guide next turned to what had happened to the Apollo 11 landing site in the years following the landing. He mentioned the outrage in the provinces comprising the old United States of America that had occurred when a Chinese robot on tracks had barged into the site and destroyed many of the footprints while also knocking over some of the experiments left behind. A mission by the Independent States of America, which claimed the Apollo sites since it included among its member states Texas, Florida, and Alabama—where much of the Apollo hardware had been designed and built—studied the site to see if it could be reconstructed. One of its interesting findings was that it wasn’t the Chinese who had destroyed Armstrong’s famous “first step for man, giant leap for mankind” boot print but Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who had inadvertently stepped on it as he climbed off the ladder of the landing craft.
         While the tourists clicked their photos, the sheriff said, “I have your ticket for the elevator and the Cycler.”
         “I hope whatever is in that package is worth Captain Teller’s life,” Crater said.
         The sheriff took a moment, then said, “I guess nothing’s worth that.”
         “The crowhoppers were after me.”
         The sheriff looked incredulous. “You shouldn’t take these things so personally. The Colonel has many enemies. There might be any number of reasons why his convoy was attacked.”
         “Then why did you mention assassins?”
         The sheriff shrugged. “I’m a cautious man.”