While looking through the window, James was wondering whether he had packed everything he needed. It was his first extra-planetary job and his mother had advised him against it. “Too many casualties”, she said. Indeed, there had been many accidents. First, there were the misfortunate accidents where spaceships failed, shortly after take-off or before they reached orbit. Of course, burning alive was not a good prospect for anyone. The landing was also a bit of a problem. Most people knew that going to the Moon was risky. He was trying not to think of the dangers that he faced in his new job. What he had learned in class was the theory. But this was no longer theoretical. He was leaving for space at this very moment, not knowing what the future had in store for him.
Of course, the job was well paid, but it also included the hazards. And the expenses for living on the moon were equally high. Air, food, and water were high-cost commodities.
He tried to calm down and looked around. He liked the design of the cabin. Many windows, customized lighting, comfortable seats, all these details were supposed to give travelers a feeling of security. But he didn’t like the cameras. There were cameras everywhere and being watched was making him feel uneasy.
“Please fasten your seatbelts!”
The voice hit his eardrums like a hammer. The words were blinking on the front screen and an uncomfortable buzz made him feel even more agitated. He hated flying and this was his first space travel. Suddenly he started hearing loud noises, the bumping and thumping of valves opening and closing, as the engine systems were pressurized. He felt his heartbeat accelerate. Sweat was forming on his forehead and small drops started running down his temples.
He was wondering why he had such a fear of flying. He once read an article about reincarnation; it said that people with a fear of water had probably drowned in a previous life. Emotions persist into the next life and things that remind of the strong emotions in the past lives activate the recollection process of past events. Thoughts began racing through his head. “Did I die in a plane crash? I could have been a pilot in WW2? This is bullshit!”
The first engines began to light. The cabin filled with a terrific low-frequency rumbling and things started to shake. Then the main engine started and the rumbling and shaking intensified. The spaceship started to move up and away from the launch pad. It was building up speed and the g-load on his body increased. It felt like he was pressed back into his seat with twice his weight. He could see light coming in through the windows. He heard a loud bang and the g-load dropped immediately. Then the third stage engines lit. He felt a big push forward and the g-load built up again. It felt like a huge stone was pushing on his chest, making it more difficult to breathe. He felt a huge kick from behind and suddenly, after just a few minutes, he was floating in space. It felt like he was hanging upside down in his shoulder harness. Everything was floating around him. He started feeling dizzy and grabbed the sick bag. He waited for a few minutes, hoping that the bad feeling coming from his stomach would disappear.
He leaned back in his seat, trying to relax, while he was looking down at the Earth that was getting smaller and smaller, with every minute that passed. It was a weird feeling to see Earth from that point of view. He tried to locate his home. It was noon and his family was probably dining. A thought went through his head: “I must not forget to call them, once I’ve arrived”.
He touched his face; it felt swollen. “The fluids in my legs are moving upwards”, he thought, remembering what he had read on zero gravity.
Once exiting the atmosphere, James saw the real black color of the universe, with only a few tiny light sparks, generated by the stars and galaxies. It felt empty, huge, and cold. He felt like a tiny ant high on a giant tree, far away from his home planet, which was still shining in shades of white and blue in a corner of the window.
The approach to the Moon gave him the chills. It felt as if he was on a one-way trip, with no hope of return. The Moon looked grey, dusty, and cold. “There must be about 250 °F and that lasts for 354 hours”, he thought “and I’m wondering what it is going to be like, to have a 2 weeks long night.” All these thoughts were racing through his head, while he was watching the Moon approach and getting larger with every minute that passed. He was looking at the lunar lava tubes area. With their 100 feet thick basalt shield, the tunnels underneath were providing some protection from the huge temperature variations, solar radiation, meteorites, and ejecta from impacts and cosmic radiation. Larger than 1000 feet in diameter in some places, they were perfect for living inside. To protect colonists from the lunar dust, the tunnels were sealed off and pressurized, because the lunar dust, harmful for the health, could also damage the electronic devices since it was electrically charged. Situated between the lunar mares, with their landing sites and the highland regions, which were useful for communications, the tunnels had access to the mines, as well as to the regolith deposits.
James felt disappointed by the picture. He expected to be more impressed by the Moon colony. The thought of spending the next year at this location made him feel nervous. The large hill of the Moonbase was not very visible in the surrounding area, due to its color. For protection against meteorites, the base was covered in a thick layer of regolith. It was only the large glass dome at the top, which was shining like gold, which attracted the eye.
The landing on the Moon surface was unexpectedly smooth. He attached the magnetic soles to the shoes and prepared to disembark from the spaceship. The descent into the underground lunar port gave James a feeling of claustrophobia, for the first time in his life. He felt as if he was descending into a mine. As he passed through the scanner, he started thinking about the planet he had left behind. He knew that for a year, he wouldn’t see the blue sky, rivers, or trees anymore. He was wondering if he would manage to adapt to the new environment. Inside the port, robots were moving in all directions. He started looking for his luggage.
From behind him, he heard a voice.
“Mr. James Hall, welcome to Artemis!”
Startled, he turned around, looking at the source of the voice. A robot had stopped next to him. It was pulling the baggage cart.
“Is this my luggage?”
“Yes!” came the answer. “I will escort you to the living quarters, please follow me to the hyperloop station.”
“Thanks, I know the way, I read the documentation.”
When they entered the train, James checked the time on his brain chip. He forgot to call his family. “I will probably not be able to call them from within the tunnel.” he thought to himself while sitting down. Most people in the loop seemed to be tourists, who had come to visit the colony. Kids seemed to be excited by the things they saw around, while adults didn’t always feel at ease.
There was a certain psychological pressure induced by the idea of being underground, buried under a basalt slate, in a pressurized tunnel, hiding from a world with no oxygen, burning hot during the daytime and freezing cold at night, hit by meteorites and where the cosmic radiation so seriously damaged the human DNA that it lead to cancer, degenerative and cardiovascular diseases, and central nervous system problems. The nanorobotic treatments were of course useful, but as usual, prevention was a better choice. “I hope I won’t need a doctor while I am here.” He had heard rumors that colony doctors weren’t the best, nor did they have the best medical devices. Some medical tests were even carried out on the home planet since lunar labs were poorly equipped.
When he got off the train at the Moonbase, he was feeling dizzy. “It must be the space sickness,” he said, hoping he would soon adapt to the new world he was living in.
“Please follow me!” said the robot.
“Where are we going?”
“Sector 15, it is located on level 4 of the base”
“I did not understand your question.”
“I hate A.I.,” said James to himself and continued “I meant level 4 is 4 levels deep from ground level?”
“That is correct. The Moon Base Artemis has 8 underground levels and 3 levels above the ground. The levels are divided into sectors. Your quarters are located on…”
“That’s OK. Stop! I hate those stupid robots, talking on and on!”
“I did not understand your question.”
“I wasn’t talking to you!”
When they entered the elevator, James tried to call his family through the chip connected to his brain.
“Why is there no signal? Hey, do you have a name?” he asked the robot furiously.
“This area has no signal, due to the location. The cosmic radiation is too strong. I apologize for the situation. Regarding your second question, yes, I do have a name. My name is David.”
“Great! I will report this cosmic radiation thing. Why haven’t we been informed about that? If there are health risks…”
“Our specialists are aware of the problem and a team of engineers is already working to fix this issue.“
“Very well organized!” he thought ironically. “I bet I will love my stay on this base!”
Once in his quarters, James took his jacket off and struggled to hang it on the wall.
“Damn this gravity!” he shouted, while his jacket seemed to have magically received a personality of its own and stubbornly refused to be hung.
He took the magnetic soles off. Suddenly, his moves began to look weird. “What luck that the room is so tiny, otherwise I would surely hurt myself.” he thought while making some acrobatic moves, meant to keep his balance.
After he had inspected every corner of his tiny new lodging, he felt dizzy again. He lay down, hoping that it would pass. While lying in his bed, he closed his eyes, trying to relax. “I hate Moon gravity, it’s as if something is pushing me upwards as if I am sleeping on a damn bag or something!” He looked around and found the sleeping bag straps, attached to the bed. He fastened one strap around his waist so that he had less of a floating sensation. He looked around. “These quarters are so small, that if I turn the lights off, I will feel like in a sarcophagus. And there is this smell…like in a gym. I’m wondering if they actually clean these quarters. What kind of robots are they using for that?! They probably received some second-hand cleaners from the 2050s!
“Computer, it’s too hot in here, please lower the temperature.”
“What temperature do you prefer?” came a voice out of the wall.
“How should I know, it’s too hot!”
“I understand. I will set it to 72 degrees, the normal room temperature.”
“Whatever, as long as I can breathe.”
The beep startled him, awakening him from sleep.
He struggled to open the belt of the strap that was keeping him on the bed.
Without a window to the tiny room, he had no idea what time it was, or how long he had slept and was feeling disoriented.
The beep sounded again. Due to the low gravity, he made a weird jump through the room, towards the door. He pushed the door button and a man appeared in the door frame, in front of him.
“Hi, Mr. James Hall?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Sorry, did I bother you? Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I must have overslept. Must be the space sickness.”
“I know, you will get used to it. We all go through that phase. You’re lucky you’ve arrived during the Moon day. Getting used to the conditions is more difficult when it’s dark outside. Anyway, I’m Thomas Davis, you were assigned to my team.”
“I thought I should show you around so that you can get familiar with the place.”
“Sure,” said James, trying to get his thoughts together. “Just let me get my magnetic soles, before I injure myself, due to this weird gravity you have here.”
“So how did you travel?”
“It was ok.”
“Your first space travel?”
“Yeah…I’m not very fond of flying.”
“I suppose you haven’t had breakfast, yet…”
“Then let’s go to the cafeteria first.”
The cafeteria was in a huge room, covered by the golden dome, the one which James had seen from space while landing. A strikingly beautiful Earth was covering the horizon.
“Earthrise or Earthset?”
“Earthrise, it’s Moon morning.”
“I have a two weeks day ahead of me then,” James said, in a slightly worried tone.
“Don’t worry, we work in six-hour shifts. It’s like any normal job, only the days last long around here.”
“It’s a nice place. It looks different than in the simulation.”
“You saw the simulation? Then you know most things around here already…”
“This small part here is for us. All the rest of the hall is for the tourists. They bring a lot of money, you know. We’re here just for the maintenance.”
“Do you want some coffee? The food printers are all on this site. You can get anything you want, it’s all free.”
James went to one of the printers and ordered a coffee.
“No, I feel sick.”
“Perhaps you should see the doctor.”
“You shouldn’t believe everything is being said. Doctors on the Moon aren’t as bad as people say.”
“I don’t want to see him.”
“It’s a she,” Davis said, smiling. “And she doesn’t look so bad, either. Believe me, space sickness is a good excuse to see her.”
“I will think about it,” said James, without paying too much attention.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat? The training isn’t easy, and it will seem endless, on an empty stomach. You will be given lots of information and you must be able to concentrate.”
“Ok then, if you say so…"
James left the plate on the table and went to the dome margin. While contemplating the magnificent Earthrise, thoughts were racing through his head. He was looking at the mining area. Robot miners were constantly moving, like bees on a beehive. The helium containers of the soil processing plant were shining in the sun. A row of regolith-carrying robots was transporting building material to a new landing pad. Some telescopes were glistening at the horizon. A spaceship had just landed, probably bringing new groups of tourists to the Moon. Although barren, the moon seemed to teem with life. “I hope we’re not doing to the Moon what we did to the Earth.” he thought to himself while taking a sip of the coffee. Below the golden dome, the silica-based regolith wall, turned into glass by microwave treatment, gave the impression of being sugarcoated, like a big piece of candy.