Author : Al Vazquez

The retro-rockets jolted the ship as it began its decent into the thin, cold atmosphere. Excitement welled-up inside his belly. He felt a slight shaking in his leg, but his hand was steady on the controls. He was known for that; cool as a cucumber when it really mattered, and it never mattered more than now. He briefly recalled his first landing at the airport near his hometown. It seemed like yesterday. He remembered his leg shaking then too as he pressed against the rudder pedals.

He peered out of the window. The trajectory on his heads-up display was exactly like the simulations but the vividness of color and texture; seeing the planet below with human eyes, could never be duplicated by any sensor. He loved his job, he had always been lucky that way. He looked over toward his partner thankful she was there; someone to share the experience.

The ship was the peak of technological advancement; it had to be. They needed it for almost two years; it was their home; their lifeboat. They would leave a large part of it behind to continue the work in automation that they would begin shortly. Skilled colleagues, friends all, would follow their path and continue the endeavor. But they were the first ones. That weight rested on their shoulders, on his shoulders; he was after all landing the craft.

Back on earth everyone was watching on television video feeds from orbiting satellites. This, he knew, was going to change things, colonization; Terra-forming under geodesic domes …a permanent colony, one small step. But now his job demanded his full attention. Knowing this she declares, “Whatever you do, don’t f:)k this up”. They both laughed out loud. She never cussed; he thought to himself. She must be nervous.

The violent buffeting came and went just like it was supposed to; the product of atmospheric breaking – then parachutes. And finally what every pilot lives for, the switch to manual control. A little more precious energy, crab a little to the left to avoid some rocks, near the trench, but not too close, touchdown! “Piece of cake”, he declares back to his singular audience. They laugh aloud again, relieved.

He calls the boss – “Houston, Argonom Base here, the Eagle has landed.” About seven minutes would pass before the words crackled through the speakers at Mission Control. The place would erupt in the traditional cheers, handshakes, and smiles. On Mars their silence was interrupted by the whir of solar cells beginning to deploy.

They gathered those things needed for their first excursion – the inflatable dome and anchors, the atmospheric processing units, the machinery that would dip into the trench ice and provide them with life giving water, hydrogen, and oxygen. Three months didn’t seem enough time for all the work they needed to accomplish.

When everything was ready they made their way to the exit hatch and opened it, as far as the eye could see – magnificent desolation.

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