Thursday, March 2, 2017

“The Greater the Risk”

On Monday, SpaceX announced their plan of sending two tourists on a trip around the moon.  I wrote some of my thoughts onthat on my other blog. 

Later, I was doing some other things and I thought, Didn’t I write a story along those lines?  I couldn’t remember the title, or if I had even finished it.  It took me ten minutes or so to find the story “The Greater the Risk.” I published it on my website back in 2008 as part of my first 30 Stories in 30 DaysChallenge.  That was where I challenged myself to, well, write thirty stories in as many days.  Since I needed to get the stories out as quickly as possible, they were a little rough.  But this one I just gave a slight polish to and it’s posted below.  I hope you enjoy. 

“The Greater the Risk”

“Enjoying the view?”

Sue Travis smiled.  Without turning around she said, “It’s the number one reason I took the job.”

Michael Wheeler floated up next to her and for several seconds they both watched the Andes gliding away far below them.  “It wasn’t,” he finally asked, “to handhold a bunch of snobby, nauseous tourists?”

With a smirk, Sue replied, “That was a close second.”

Michael returned the smirk and nodded.

“Mister Wheeler, I’m surprised you refer to the backbone of the company you and your brother recently bought a controlling share in as, ‘snobby, nauseous tourists.’”

“If we are questioning motives, Miss Travis, perhaps we should start with yours.  After two stints on the ISS, word is you were on the list – perhaps not the short-list but on the list nonetheless – to be picked to go to the moon.  Instead, you leave NASA to take up command of this dinky, little, commercial station that’s part lab and part hotel.  Between experiments you play hostess to rich tourists getting a taste of space.” After a brief pause, Michael added, “Such as myself.”

Glancing out the view window, Sue saw they were now over the Caribbean and turned back to Michael.  “Just about everyone in the Astronaut Corps was on ‘The List,’ but my chances at being picked were … slim.  I’m better at running experiments in microgravity then exploring the lunar surface.  Besides, here I get six months on orbit and six months on the ground.  That’s far more flight time than I could get at NASA.  Plus, I do support NASA, but the future is in the commercial sector.  And an ex-astronaut taking command of this ‘dinky, little, commercial station’ has added an element of credibility to the company.  Has it not?”

“Indeed it has.” Michael smiled.  “So you believe the future belongs to the commercial sector?”

“Of course.”

“Do you believe part of that commercial future is exploration?”

Sue frowned.  “What do you mean?”

Glancing over his shoulder, Michael floated a little closer to her.  “How would you like to go to the moon?  Not to land, not even to orbit, just to swing around and come back to Earth.”

Her frown deepened.  “How?”

“In two weeks, a new lifeboat will be launched, to replace the one that’s been parked here for six months.  When it docks, it will still have the third stage of the rocket attached to boost the station to a higher orbit.”

Placing a hand on his chest, Michael went on, “Now I am a business man, but my brother Tom is the engineer.  He has worked out that it is just possible to use the third stage to put the lifeboat into an orbit that will swing it around the moon then back to Earth.  The lifeboats have enough supplies to keep six people alive for two days, so it should be enough to keep one person going for the seven days a trip to the moon and back will take.  It is extremely risky, but we need to show that there is more to us than just expensive vacations.”

For several seconds neither said anything.  “I have been watching you for the past few days,” Michael finally said.  “We were still working out the details three months ago, and since you’re not scheduled to land for another three months, we couldn’t wait to talk to you on the ground.  We had picked you as our number one choice, but we felt one of us should meet you in person before making the offer.”

Sue nodded.  “Of all your employees I have the most experience in space and am therefore best suited for such a colossal publicity stunt.”

Michael smiled.  “Precisely.  Next month NASA is finally returning to the moon after fifty years.  And it’s taken them almost a decade to get to this point.  We don’t plan on stealing their thunder of landing on the moon, but we’d like to show what we can do with less than a year’s planning and existing equipment.  Yes, it will be a grand publicity stunt, but one that should increase public interest in the commercial sector.  And having an ex-astronaut make the trip will just make it even more news worthy.  So, have I piqued your interest?”

“I think,” Sue paused for a moment before continuing, “I think I would like to see your brother’s figures.”

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