Man on the moon

A few things have recently brought the moon back to my attention:

  1. My wife and I have been watching “For All Mankind” (which I love and my wife loved certain bits of)
  2. All of the articles about the very exciting Artemis project – in particular this article in the Guardian
  3. When I was in the toy section of the department store this weekend I saw this Lego set which said it was inspired by NASA’s actual designs (!)

And then I opened up my word press drafts after ages away to find a partially written short story about the moon…which meant of course that I had to finish it.

I think the flow will reflect being started and then stopped and then started and finished but enjoy anyway!

—–original start—–

Just a super short story inspired by all the recent celebrations around 50 years since the moon landing…

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to fly out beyond the sky, to actually break through and enter the void? Go beyond and stand on another celestial object. First the moon and then further?” The young man mused to his grandmother.

She nodded along, sitting in her arm chair browsing a photography book, but said nothing.

“Would you have gone if you could have Grandma?”

Looking up from her book, she studied her grandson and then said, “I did go up.”

It was an odd thing to say for sure. No one had ever gone up. JFK had tried to (and for a time convinced everyone he did) beat the USSR to the moon after they claimed to have launched the first man into space on Sputnik, but it was all thoroughly debunked as fakery more than 40 years ago.

“You’ve been to space?” The grandson asked incredulously, “that’s ridiculous grandma.”

“Why so?”

“No one’s ever been. They disproved all that years ago – the moon landings were filmed in Hollywood and the Russians filmed their fakes wherever Russians make movies. Everyone knows that.”

“That’s what everyone’s been told.”

“You’re saying there was a joint governmental conspiracy to cover it all up? If I give you the benefit of the doubt, I’m still struggling to see how you were involved.”

She gave him a light smack on his shoulder, laughing and said, “the cheek of you sometimes. I didn’t say I’d been to the moon, just up there. Many years after Neil and Buzz landed on the moon.”

“What kind of name is Buzz?”

“They were the first humans on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. I guess their names are a bit lost in history now since everyone thinks they were just actors. I assure you though, they were astronauts.”

The grandson’s disbelief persisted in the face of his grandma’s claim. There was no way she was right, he thought, and so went about the only real way his generation knew to rebut a statement – look it up on their phone. So he pulled out his mobile and duly typed in the question, “were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin astronauts?”

The familiar refrain was highlighted at the top of the search results, “did you mean actors?”

For a man from a generation trained largely to believe what is online as gospel, the top search term was a trigger before he even got into the meat of the search results. Sure, there were some references to it being real, all of it, but they were from some pretty strange websites. Who to believe, he thought, grandma who he trusted to the ends of the earth or the all seeing web?

It certainly required a bit more information from grandma.

“So what did you do up there?” He ventured to see if the answer sounded plausible.

“Nothing too racy. Monitored the solar system for extra terrestrial objects. Ran tests to see how micro gravity effected humans, plants and other processes.”

Grandma didn’t bother looking at her grandson. His belief or otherwise didn’t change what she knew to be true – her actual, lived experience. For his sake she hoped he could open his mind to the possibility, though. After a few moments of silence she ventured, “Ben, are you ok, dear? Would you like to hear more?”

Ben knew his grandma was no liar. Was she even prone to tell take tales, he wondered to himself. He certainly couldn’t remember any story she ever told that wasn’t true, but then maybe they had been stretched and his entire memory of his grandma and every story she ever told would need to be re-examined! No, no, he thought to himself. There must be another answer.

“Having you been feeling ok grandma?” Ben ventured as he bit his lower lip and did his best to avoid eye contact.

“Yes, Ben, I’m quite alright, than you. I’d be a bit angrier with you for trying to call me senile in such a backhanded way if I hadn’t just lumped something so fundamentally astonishing at your feet.”

They both sat back on their arm chairs – grandma’s a royal blue covered smart looking number with mahogany arm rests, handed down from her grandpa, and Ben’s a cumbersome brown leather George Smith, worn through years of accommodating all sorts of people. Grandma could sense that Ben was processing and she had nothing but time. In fact, this probably meant she’d have more company than usual, at least for a time. As he mused about the reliability of his Grandma’s statements, she dreamt about those days, so long ago now.

Her first time up was filled with the double excitement of reaching for the stars and knowing a massive secret. More than anything she knew that a man – many men and some women in fact – had been on the moon. That was sadly not her mission, but just knowing it was something special.

NASA supervisors had explained to all of them that they couldn’t publicly justify the costs with everything going on in the world – hunger, disease, war – but that so many within leadership believed it was the best path to international cooperation and a brighter future, that they had to keep finding it in secret. Some funding came from the government, notionally for supporting sending satellites into low earth orbit, and the rest from selling minerals mined on the moon and shipped back.

How they had kept it secret for several decades was a mystery, but most people were content in believing what was presented regardless of evidence to the contrary, and so generations of astronauts flew into space from secret locations. In any event, her first time was glorious – she went up in a rocket of smaller size than those that went to the moon as her mission was simply to spend some time studying the effects of solar radiation and micro gravity on plant life. It was the ride of her life – the subsequent times were fantastic but with it was never the same as that first trip.

Ben had finished absorbing, at least as much as he could and interrupted her daydream, “So how many times did you go up? Why did you stop? Are we still going up there?”

She laughed and then sighed. It was tiring for her old body to keep up with the quick fire desires of her youth, but her mind could not resist. “I went up for four separate stints of a couple months over the course of ten years. Not the most anyone did, but a good haul. It’s effected my bone density somewhat which is why I’ve had all the breaks in my older years – you’ll remember my leg break last year and the hip the year before that.”

“Is that why you stopped?” Ben eagerly interrupted.

Another laugh, “no, no – nothing so dramatic around me. I just reached the end of the line. It was my turn to train people going up rather than go up myself. The natural cycle of such things.”

Ben bit his lower lip and looked around the room, unable to focus, “So when did you stop being involved? What do you know about what they’re doing now?”

“It must have been 15 years ago now. It feels like a lifetime for me, but in terms of space exploration, it’s nothing. It took years to build rockets and test them, more years to bring people to the moon and more to build a base on the moon. I was a small part of it all. Orbiting the earth was a joy, but it was as far as I got to go. There is still the longing in me to go further, to break the tether of earths gravity and venture out to into the sparkling darkness. For me though, that will never happen. Here, in this house, and maybe someday (god forbid) in a nursing home, is where I am destined to be until I embark on another journey to beyond death. I doubt very much there is anything beyond there, but I cannot rule it out completely. So, my dear grandson, you ask all these questions, but not the most important one.”

His eyes widened, but his face drew blank, “surely it’s the one I asked – are we still going up there?”

She shook her head and smiled.

“Why did you go up?”

“Closer, but no. You ask if they are still going up and my answer to you truthfully is that I do not really know. It has been 15 years and they are good at keeping secrets.”

“I don’t know grandma,” he sighed.

It was a decision she had taken before she even knew they would have this conversation, that she would not answer a question she had not been asked. All she wanted her dear grandson to ask, the only person in decades outside of her colleagues to have asked her about space, about the moon, was how he could get up there himself. It did not appear he had the courage or the desire to ask and so she would not give him that answer.

She grew tired and thanked her blank-faced grandson for the visit, telling him not to stay away for long. He prodded her for the question so more but she would not budge. The knowledge he sought could not be gifted so absently, it had to be paired with desire.

In her bed at night she fell asleep, dreaming again of the stars, as she had done every night for so many years.

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