Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
The maintenance spacecraft pulled alongside Lunar Array II, located in selenocentric orbit approximately 500 miles above Crater Korolev on the far side of the moon. Lunar Array II was the second of six lunar satellites to be visited by the maintenance team during their fourteen day refurbishment mission.
After unloading the magneto-torqures, Henry Selkirk returned to the cargo hold and began uncrating the replacement gyroscopes. Suddenly, the spacecraft lurched heavily to the starboard side and broke free of its mooring lines. Through the open hatch, Selkirk could see the moon rotate out of view as the ship began an uncommanded barrel roll. Instinctively, he closed the cargo hatch and made his way to the cockpit. As he reached the cockpit, the onboard guidance system was valiantly trying to stabilize the spacecraft. He watched helpless for twenty minutes as the computer fired the port side attitude control thrusters, while intermittently compensating for changes in yaw and pitch. Finally, all vibration stopped. Selkirk repressurized the cockpit and removed his helmet to assess the damage. It was bad. The main fuel tanks read empty. There must have been a valve failure, or perhaps a meteoroid impact. Either way, he wasn’t going to be able to fly home. Calmly, he activated the ship’s diagnostic protocol and starred at the monitor as his fate revealed itself with terminal clarity. The ship was in a decaying orbit, spiraling toward an impact event with the lunar surface in less than six hours. A little over two orbits, he realized. He also knew that rescue was out of the question. It would take more than a day for a ship in Earth orbit to reach the moon.
He spent the next hour consulting with NASA, and racking his brain, for possible ways to extend his life by the necessary hours. But in the end, there were no viable solutions. The best he could do was to leave the ship in his EVA suit, and exhaust its propellant to gain altitude. But it would only extend his orbit by a few hours. And even if he could gain the necessary speed, it would be fruitless, because the suit only had a ten hour air supply. Eventually, he resigned himself to providence, and asked to be connected to a personal channel. He spent the next two hours saying good-bye to his wife, and an hour with each of his two children talking about what they would do when he got home. He and Amanda had agreed that it would be best to let them have a few more hours of joy before she would tell them that their father wasn’t coming home. Finally, thirty minutes with his parents, and five minutes telling his boss what an asshole he was. Content that his affairs were in order, he donned his helmet and abandoned ship.
As his suit’s thrusters sputtered the last of his fuel, he turned around to face the moon. In complete silence, he watched for hours as the lunar craters and mountains paraded beneath him. Halfway through his last orbit, he looked toward the Earth to watch it set behind the moon for the last time. The surface of the moon was approaching quickly now, flying by at more than 4000 miles an hour. Although he knew it was useless, he braced himself for the inevitable impact.
Back on Lunar Array II, Alex Pitman glanced at his air supply; only one hour remaining. With a suit-to ship radio too weak to contact home, he would die alone, and unable to say good-bye.
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