Last Man on the Moon
Written in 2022 based on a short story I wrote in school in 1990
The launch was intense. I don’t think there is anything that can really prepare you for it. All the training we did with NASA. All the simulated gravitational forces that we were put through combined with the motion sickness and free fall exercises. It prepared me for the greatest roller coaster in the world. What it didn’t do was prepare me for the shuttle launch.
I guess physically it is all there, but sounds and smells of the shuttle’s exterior burning away with the tremendous temperatures it was experiencing. My job at the launch was simple, sit there and try not to pass out. But the radio was buzzing with men in Houston and Cape Canaveral shouting statistics to each other. Almost like a robotic drone that is going on in the background. It is when one of them have fear in their voice you suddenly realize you may be sitting on a bomb with no control of anything.
As I rose the G-forces gradually increased. The clanging of metal on the outside of the shuttle sounded like a drummer keeping beat. The temperature increased, the smell of burning steel entered the cabin. I focused on my breathing to keep conscious trying to ignore the worker back in Houston who had that tinge of panic behind his announcements. The whole shuttle shook violently although it felt incredibly solid, almost like I was in an earthquake.
My heart rate rose to what for many people would be dangerous levels, but after eight minutes or more everything faded away. The force, the sound, the smell, it all just drifted into an eerie peace as I began to escape the Earth’s gravity.
There is something about floating in space, careening towards our moon that is both soothing and terrifying. Being out here in the inky blackness is a calm embrace that I can only imagine is similar to the grip of death as we slip away from our consciousness. It is the lack of innovation that really makes sliding through the universe an unnerving event.
The general idea is that in space, unless you get pulled into a gravitational pull, you will move in a straight line, the same direction and speed you are moving now. Back in the nineteen-fifties we decided that we could slingshot an object into space and as long as it was moving fast enough to exit the Earth’s gravitational pull that object would continue in a straight line. With a lot of math we could send a space craft to another planet or celestial body by having that straight line intersect with a planet’s gravity at a specific point in time. So, if we miscalculate, the craft just continues out into the space with no brakes, no end, just an endless journey out into nothingness.
Don’t get me wrong, I have faith that all the math was done correctly, but in all the decades since we designed this process it bothers me we haven’t developed a new way to travel in our solar system. So, here I am drifting out towards our moon trusting a nearly century old technology to get me there.
I’ve been trying to focus on the experience because this is the greatest thing I will ever do. Very few people have ever been to the moon and my life is destined to be defined by it. Until this point in time I was going to be remembered as a father, husband, friend. But, those things would last a generation at best and I would fade away into the cluster of humanity that came before me. But, now that I am onboard a ship that will land on the moon I will be marked by books, videos, articles… I will, until the end of humanity, be one of the first few to visit the moon.
I haven’t reached my destination or my destiny yet and I am already questioning how to go on with my life. What else can I do? What purpose will the rest of my days serve?
I am on board this vessel doing things to make sure that when I get back I am still a functioning person on Earth. I am required to do daily exercises to keep my muscles from deteriorating while I am in zero gravity. I am making repairs on the ship to be sure it comes back in a usable form. But, my mind can’t comprehend it. My contribution to society and the world ends here. When I return, although I may be greeted with a hero’s parade, there is nothing left for me to contribute.
Maybe this is just my midlife crisis on steroids.
My body seems to have decided I have no use for a sense of balance anymore which is nice because it was constantly making me nauseated. I feel like I can finally eat some food without the fear of vomiting it back up, but all the fresh food I brought with me doesn’t look so edible anymore. I had a small bowl of fruit, but it was already pre-cut and I don’t have refrigeration. Everything else is preserved in some fashion that takes away from the experience. Everything is either ionized, irradiated, or dehydrated. No matter how hard they have tried it all tastes like plastic.
I am starting to regret coming out here alone. I always read about people in solitary confinement and I thought that I would be able to handle such loneliness, but now, out here, I am realizing just how alone I am.
Of course, that is why I am here. I am to be the first solo mission to the moon. When I was building this up in my head I was putting myself in line with such historic figures as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Captain Chuck Yeager, and Yuri Gagarin. It wasn’t until I was up here with my lonely thoughts that I realize I was just pushing the profiteering of space. If a single man can make it to the moon and back there is no need for a full crew. Instead of my contribution being a feat of adventure and exploration, it will most likely be a chance for business to send out more people alone into the wilderness of space.
It probably doesn’t matter though. My name will still be printed in all those books. Children for centuries to come will associate Xavier J. McKannon with the first solo flight to the moon.
All that training. Everything I have every done was building to this moment. I was at the controls for maybe an hour. Slowing my descent, putting out landing gear, making sure the launching mechanism didn’t get damaged. I did it. I landed. While the shuttle continued in the orbit around the moon.
Houston is running a bunch of diagnostics and making sure everything survived as expected. So, now it is just sit and wait. At some point in the very near future they are going to give me the go ahead to walk out on the moon. I should get a few hours on the moon.
I am starting to regret not taking my magnetic exercise more seriously. Just swinging my arms in this space suit has become a lot of work. Once I get out on the moon and try moving I will be surprised if I don’t pull some muscles.
It has been an hour and I have radio silence. It isn’t just Houston not having anything to say, I get no response at all. I can send out any message and there is not confirmation of receipt, no returned voice at all. The plan was for me to spend a few hours on the surface and then I am to launch the lunar module back into orbit and dock with the shuttle. I am unsure if I can do that without Houston’s help.
There must be something wrong with our radios and I don’t want to miss my one opportunity to walk on the surface of the moon due to technical issues in Houston. I am giving them another ten minutes then I am heading out.
The radio silence continues. The moon is a gorgeous landscape. It is a never ending dessert of greys and whites. Although there is orange sediment just below the dusty surface. The peacefulness that I described before soaring through the solar system. It pales in comparison to the true centered stillness of being on the surface of the moon.
I have no direction from NASA so I played with the gravity. I jumped around in my suit and kicked at the dirt. But when I finally looked up and saw the Earth, it took my breath away. You can see all the oceans and the greens of the plants. From what wasn’t in the shadows I could mostly see North America.
There is a strange effect that I don’t understand. There were intensely bright flashes that shimmered from the Earth. I don’t understand what they were. But they were random appeared all over the landmasses. But there must be a lot of weather events because the cloud cover is thorough. Although many of the clouds seem to reflect some bright reds and oranges. Not what I was expecting before I came.
I am now back in the lunar module. I am supposed to launch it and dock back with the shuttle. But with no one onboard the shuttle and no eyes from Houston to see if I am aligned, I am not sure I can do it. I may give them another hour, but I need to launch before dark.
Still no response from Houston. I panicked and thought that I needed to get back to the shuttle so I attempted the docking by myself. I miscalculated the speed of the shuttles orbit and knocked myself back to the surface of the moon. When I awoke it was dawn here on the moon. The lunar module still has a lot of battery power left, but I think I damaged the thrusters. I will need to get backup from Houston. I have enough food, energy, and water to last for a month at least.
I am recharging my suit right now to be sure that if I get back on the surface I will have temperature control. Without it I will boil or freeze within minutes.
Spent some time back on the lunar surface staring back at home. I had a good view of Europe. Again those colorful clouds and shimmery spots just amaze me. I keep trying to figure out what it could be what kind of gas could be reflecting to cause those things.
Eventually, there was not much else to look at. I have spent the last couple hours sending unreturned messages back to Houston. Now I am contemplating which cardboard flavored meal to have for dinner. It is funny how I am experiencing a major event from human history, but all I have to do to pass the time is watch clouds and debate flavorless dinners.
I was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of a squeal. Maybe it was something in the heat system of the lunar module, but it is the first time I’ve heard it. I have nearly convinced myself it was in my dream and I was half asleep still when I heard it. But, I know that isn’t true. It sounded like something that would have come out of a bat, but it was loud. Loud enough to wake me up while inside the module.
I don’t know what to think of it. Except I know I am alone. I probably am starting to loose my grip on reality. This is solitary confinement at its most pure. I will work on the radio again in the dawn.
The clouds have started to clear over North America. I bet if I go out earlier in the day I will see them clearing up over Europe. It is bad news. I was excited to see the beautiful greens of the eastern half of the United States, but as the clouds cleared there was no green. It was an array of blacks and greys. The occasional brown would show it’s ugly face, but the greens I should be seeing in the late spring are not there.
I have to come to grips with the idea that those flashes of light were bombs. If I could see them from here, they were most likely nuclear bombs. The colorful clouds were mushroom clouds disguising the fire and death they covered below.
My efforts early this morning to reach Houston were unsurprisingly a failure. I believe I may need to reach out to other countries. I will keep an eye on the Earth to see who would be the best bet to contact. The United States definitely isn’t.
Radio is useless. I am not sure it even is working, but I am trying to send out messages to all the countries I can think of. I have already reached out to all that have a space program Japan, China, Russia, France, India, UK, South Korea, Iran, Germany, Canada, Israel, and Luxembourg. But the response is just like the US. I am trying to figure out how to reach the International Space Station. They must have a better idea of what is going on back on Earth.
The squeal came again last night. But it was more than one. At least two distinct voices of some nocturnal animal. There is something out here that we didn’t know about. This morning I plan on checking on the solar panels to make sure that I am storing as much energy as possible.
I don’t know what else to do but keep on with the communication attempts. It has been two and a half days since I spoke to another human. All I have are my own thoughts and the constant drone of the module keeping it’s climate control features up and active. I know I would freeze or burn alive, but the drone of that machine is starting to invade my sleep.
I was looking up at the Earth this morning and trying to allow myself to say goodbye to my wife and children. I can see the devastation, they are no longer with me. As the clouds sweep away I realize that there is very little left. I still see the occasional flashes of light, the intense shine that I can only compare to trying to look at the sun. Does that mean there are still some alive on Earth? Or are those automated response missiles still doing the work of men who have since left this existence.
No matter how I try, there is no mourning. I think I had mourned for myself on the trip here. I think my self wallowing has destroyed my ability to feel for the losses I’ve had.
I think the animals or whatever it is that it tormenting me at night is becoming bolder. While I was laying in the thick grey dust watching the destruction of home, I swear I caught something moving out the corner of my eye. It was hard to see, almost translucent and it drifted away when I tried to turn my head.
I finally found a radio signal. It is a loop of the Star Spangled Banner. I guess it is fitting. It reminds me of old television. When I was growing up the TV stations would shut down around midnight and they would play the Star Spangled Banner just before they went to the test pattern. Almost as if to say the last thing we should all think of before we close our eyes is our connection to one another.
Sitting here in the lunar module so I can write in this journal it almost makes me happy to think that broadcast is the final time we could all think of our connection to one another. Although I doubt anyone back at home was reminiscing over their companions and how much they shared with every American. My guess is they were more concerned with the thousands of bombs destroying the countryside, the immense heat waves that were eviscerating their bodies, and the all the smoke choking out their oxygen. I guess I can be happy that wasn’t me.
I appear to be getting a full charge each day in my solar cells and I still have a lot of food and water left. But the humming of the machines. And the squealing of the damn bat things. Yes, bat things. I saw one as I woke up this morning. I looked out my little port window and I saw something flying away. I think it was flying it kind of floated. But I saw it, all grey and white almost flowing as it drifted away into the void of black all around me.
I say bat. But it was flowy and clear and grey and smooth and I can’t explain it.
The nosies at night are becoming relentless. I hear them when I am awake too. They are scratches and bangs and squeals. I tried putting in ear plugs, but it didn’t stop anything.
The flashes from the Earth have ceased. I think all the trip wires and auto responses are done with. I ate my lunch with the realization that I am eating the last meals of a species. Seems more notable than that of a death row inmate, not that I am in any better a situation.
The days are getting shorter. I will be running out of daylight soon enough and the solar panels will have nothing left to charge them. I will freeze.
They aren’t bats. Last night they came into the lunar module with me. I saw them, their faces, their tears, their pain it was so present. The squeals are coming from my family I have their ghosts haunting me here. I don’t know if they blame me or miss me. But their pain and shock of what happened is all they can express to me.
Now that I know what it is that has been plaguing me here, I can’t handle the guilt. I should not have avoided the fate of the rest of my fellow men. I left my children to die in a fiery blaze. I left my wife to tend to our kids as if I was more important than them. Now I sit here and wait for my own death while they scream at me minute after minute.
I know I let you down. Shut up. Leave me be. I can’t help anyone anymore.
The screaming and squealing and pounding of the machines. Everything has been too much. I am forcing myself to write. I haven’t in days. I can’t. The focus is so hard.
The food feel poisonous. There is no flavor and I can’t keep ingesting it. I am just living on water now. But it is cold. It is dark more than it isn’t.
I am sorry honey. I am sorry Jack. I am sorry Lilly. We can be at peace and be with one another as we roam this lunar landscape. Please let me be. Please stop the screaming.