A Question Not About This

Author: Jason McGraw

Zach opens his AI tutor and selects “Asteroid Belt” from the index. In his learning visor, 3D images of spinning rocks reflect the sun.

A male voice narrates: “The Asteroid Belt is located between –” Zach fast forwards. “There are three major types of asteroids. Metallic –” Fast forward. “Common ores present in asteroids include –” Stop.

“Tutor, I have a question about asteroids,” Zach instructs.

“Go ahead, Zach,” answers the tutor

“Can people live on asteroids?” Zach asks.

The Narrator begins. “Astronauts have visited, captured, and successfully mined asteroids in the Asteroid Belt. The first such mission –”

“Do humans live on them?” Zach interrupts.

“No Asteroids are currently colonized.”

“Is it possible?” Zach asks, hopefully.

“I do not understand the question, Zach, can you rephrase your question?”

“What do people need to live in space?” Zach queries again.

The Narrator answers. “Space suits provide a human with air, warmth, cooling if needed, constant pressure, protection from radiation, and carabiners to which devices can attach. Examples of devices which attach to carabiners include –”

Zach interrupts, his voice louder this time. “Do space suits have food and water?”

Narrator: “For long spacewalks, astronauts will attach external tanks to their suits that provide calorie rich water from which the astronaut can drink. The most common size of tank is one gallon and provides 2,500 calories.”

“How many tanks can a person carry at once?”

“I do not understand your question, Zach.”

“How long can an astronaut live in a space suit?”

Narrator: “An astronaut in a typical spacesuit can be in space for up to six hours before the astronaut’s air supply must be changed or supplemented. For longer journeys in space, an astronaut will carry –”

“Do asteroids have air?” Zach is practically yelling.

“There are no known asteroids with an atmosphere.”

Zach takes off his tutoring visor and, without the noise and light canceling features of the visor, Zach is momentarily disoriented by alarms and flashing lights. Pushing off from his desk, he uses handholds to make his way in zero gravity. Zach feels clumsy in his bright green emergency space suit with the helmet dangling behind him on a tether.

He sees his classmates, helmets on, huddled at a bulkhead. On the other side of the bulkhead is the vacuum of space and in that space is the front half of their spaceship. Holding onto the wall, Zach can hear and feel vibrations as small rocks bounce off of the hull of their crippled ship.

“The tutor wasn’t any help,” Zach tells his classmates. “But we can’t live on an asteroid.”

Zach feels vibrations and hears twisting metal. He decides to clamp on his helmet. Soon a rock breaches the hull and the ship’s air escapes into space.

The broken spaceship is not going to protect us anymore. Zach makes his way, hand over hand, to an airlock. It opens easily since the pressure is the same inside and out. Pushing off from the hull with his legs, Zach soon sees the two pieces of the broken spaceship, thousands of pieces of flotsam, and hundreds of asteroids reflecting sunlight just like in the tutorial. In the debris are green objects — others in emergency space suits.

Zach traces the path of one such asteroid with his eyes as it silently collides with his former spaceship. Zach feels a sharp pain in his stomach. High-velocity debris has run through him and depressurized his spacesuit. Zach has joined the flotsam.


  1. SimonJM

    Not a good way to go (is there a good way?) but better, I suspect than protracted asphyxiation! Nice and gentle swing from typical, bored, impatient child to marrow-chilling end.

  2. Hari Navarro

    “How long can an astronaut live in a space suit”, this was a question I have asked from when I was a kid. That and is there an upsidedown in space. Never did get an answer.

  3. xdhz8

    Should’ve stuck with field trips to the local museum. Good flash.

  4. Adam Gerencser

    Great expositionary intro, with a sudden mid-swerve into (literally) breathless, chest-cavity-piercing action. ‘Watch out for debris, sasa ke, beltaloda..’

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