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things to worry about.
Time seemed to telescope on them as they ran through another checklist to make
sure the ascent stage was ready to go in an emergency, then they depressurized
the lander and popped open the hatch to go outside. Rick went first, not
because it was his Apollo or because he was in any way more deserving, but for
the same reason that Neil Armstrong went first on Apollo 11: because in their
bulky spacesuits it was too difficult for the person on the right to sidle
past the person on the left in order to reach the door.
It was a tight squeeze, but he made it through the hatch. The corrugated
egress platform and ladder were in shadow, so Rick had to climb down by feel.
He pulled the D-ring that lowered the outside camera, and Gregor radioed that
they were receiving its signal back on Earth. Rick figured he was probably
just a silhouette against the side-lit background, but he supposed that was
about as good as the grainy picture of Neil taking his first step.
He was on the last rung when he realized he hadn't thought up anything
historic to say. He paused for a moment, thinking fast, then stepped off onto
the landing pad and then from there onto the frozen lunar soil. It crunched
beneath his feet; he could feel it, though he couldn't hear it in the vacuum.
Tessa had made it through the hatch, too, and was watching from the platform,
obviously waiting for him to speak, so he held his hand up toward her--and
symbolically toward Earth, he hoped--and said, "Come on out. The water's
fine!"
#
The water was indeed fine. Fine as powdered sugar, and about the same
consistency. Brought to the Moon's surface in thousands of comet strikes over
the millennia, it had accumulated molecule by molecule as the vaporized water
and methane and other gasses froze out in the shadowed crater bottoms at the
poles. It was too cold, and the Moon's gravity was too light, for it to pack
down into solid ice, so it remained fluffy, like extremely fine snow. When
Rick and Tessa walked out into it they sank clear to their thighs, even though
they only weighed about fifty pounds, and they would probably have sunk
further if they'd gone on. But they could feel the cold seeping into their
legs already, so they had to scoop up what samples they could in special
thermos bottles designed for the purpose and turn back. The sample equipment
packed in the lander was designed for a polar mission, but their spacesuits
were made to keep them warm in vacuum, not against ice that could conduct heat
away.
So they walked around the crater rim, bounding along in the peculiar
kangaroo-hop gait that worked so well in light gravity, looking for anything
else that might prove interesting. That was just about everything as far as
Rick was concerned. He was on the Moon! Every aspect of it, from the rocky,
cratered ground underfoot to the sharp, rugged horizon, reminded him that he
was walking on another world. He looked out toward the Earth, about two-thirds
of it visible above the horizon, about two-thirds of that lit by the sun, and
he felt a shiver run down his spine at the sight. He had thought he would
never see it like that except in thirty-year-old pictures.
They were making pictures of their own now. Tessa carried the TV camera and
gave a running commentary as they explored. Gregor said that everyone in
Russia and
Europe was watching, and Tomiichi said the same for Japan. And surprisingly,
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Laura said the same about the United States. "They even pre-empted Days of Our
Lives for you," she told them.
"Hah. Maybe there's hope for our country yet," Rick muttered.
"Watch it," Tessa said, but whether for fear of him offending their watchers
or for fear of him getting too hopeful she didn't say.
Rick didn't care. He felt an incredible sense of well-being that had nothing
at all to do with whether or not they made it back alive. They were on the
Moon, he and Tessa, at the absolute pinnacle of achievement for an astronaut.
Higher than anything either of them had ever expected to achieve, at any rate.
No matter what they faced on the way home, or after they got there, nothing
could alter the fact that they were here now. And Rick couldn't think of
anyone he would rather share the experience with. He and Tessa would be spoken
of in the same breath forever, and that was fine with him. He watched the way
she bounded along in the low gravity, listened to her exclaim with delight
with each new wonder she discovered, and he smiled. He wouldn't mind at all
sharing a page in the history books with her.
They collected rocks and more ice from all along their path. At one stop Rick
packed a handful of snow into a loose ball and flung it at Tessa, who leaped
nearly five feet into the air to avoid it. When the snowball hit on the sunlit
side of the crater, it burst into a puff of steam.
"Wow," Tessa said as she bounced to a stop, "did you see that? Do it again."
Rick obligingly threw another snowball past her, and she followed it with the
camera until it exploded against a rock.
"Did you guys back home see it too?" she asked. "What makes them blow up like
that?"
Gregor said, "Heat, I'd guess. And vacuum. Without an atmosphere to attenuate
the sunlight, a rock will heat up just as much there at the pole as it would
at the equator, so when the snow touches the hot rock it flashes into steam."
"Hah, I suppose so. Looks pretty wild."
"It might also give us a good idea what gasses are in the snow. Rick, could
you set a sample down a bit more gently on a sunlit surface and let us see how
it boils off?"
Rick did as he asked, packing a double-handful of snow and setting it on a
boulder's slanted face. Steam immediately began to rise from it, then stopped
after a few seconds. The snowball shifted slightly and more steam sublimed
off, then another few seconds passed before the remaining snow melted into a
bubbling puddle.
"Aha!" Gregor said. "Three separate fractions, at least. I would guess methane
for the first, then ammonia or carbon dioxide, and finally water. That is
wonderful news! All four gasses will be useful to a colony."
"If we ever send one," Rick said, trying to suppress his silly grin so Tessa
wouldn't grow afraid of his optimism, but that in itself made him laugh out
loud.
"Damn it, Rick, you're scaring me half to death!" she said. They both turned
to look at the lander, glittering like a gold and silver sculpture on the [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]