An astronaut gets his first big chance at a real-life space walk
What is it that makes men yearn for outer-space? What is that longing desire we all have to reach the stars? It tugs at our very souls, softly calling out to come home . . . .
Commander Jacob Lawless gazed down upon the earth in absolute astonishment. He desperately tried to control his rapid breathing--calm himself from the unexpected adrenaline rush of his first space walk.
“You’re good to go, Commander.”
“Roger that, Jimbo. I am securely tethered and pushing off.”
Bending his legs slightly, he performed a small jump and launched himself into space. “My God, this is incredible!”
He looked down from the heavens at the brilliant azure planet below him. It reminded him of a blue marble he had cherished when he was a child.
The American continents were just coming into view, and the cloud cover around earth looked like swirling white smoke from a fine cigar. He wasn't ready when the nylon tether suddenly snapped tight.
“Whoa!” Jake felt as if someone had tried to rip his spacesuit off of him. His forward motion was stopped short as he spun around like a played-out yo-yo on the end of a string. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“You okay, Commander?”
“Yeah, roger that! Just wasn’t paying attention, that’s all. It’s so beautiful out here!”
The odor of pure oxygen filled Jake’s EMU with the smell of rubber and electrical ozone. He had always hated the damn things; they made him feel so awkward and claustrophobic. Looking through the shielded faceplate of his helmet was like watching the world through a tiny TV set--he just couldn’t see enough of the whole picture. Jake yearned to rip off his helmet and get the full panoramic effect of space. He wanted to be naked as a newborn out here, reaching out to touch the stars, caress the moon, and embrace the beautiful earth.
He turned his gaze upon the pure white moon that was pocked and honeycombed with craters. It shone bright and clean as it hung in the perfect blackness of space. He felt as if he could almost touch it.
The static crackle of the intercom blared in his ear.
“Commander, we are picking up some space debris on our radar. It’s heading right for us! You better get back in here on the double.”
“Roger, Jim. Understood, and on my way.”
Jake slowly turned and grabbed hold of his tether. The lifeline felt soft and rubbery through his suit gloves. Hand over hand he pulled himself back toward the shuttle as fast as he could. “Status, Jim. How close is it?”
“Hurry, Commander! It’s almost on top of us. Can you see anything?”
Commander Lawless looked left then right.
“Negative, Jim. How big of a blip you got?”
“It’s not that big, but it's definitely headed our way. You sure you can’t see it? It should be right over us!”
Jake looked up and saw a piece of scrap metal heading right for him. “Jesus!”
He released the tether rope and tried to swim backwards out of the way. The maneuver saved his life, but his rope wasn’t as lucky. The piece of junk shot by him like a missile, severing his cord to the ship and catapulting him toward deep space.
“Commander! Commander, can you hear me? Jake, where the hell are you?”
“I hear you, Jim. I’m okay. But I’m heading toward the moon--fast! I’m just off your starboard side, about 500 hundred yards out. Can you give me a lift?”
Jake heard the buzz and chatter of the shuttle crew.
“We got you on radar, Jake! Jeez, how you’d get so far away from us?”
“The damn debris nearly took my head off--cut my tether and shot me out like a bullet. I guess I should have used the MMU like you suggested, Jim. That nitrogen jet-pack would have come in real handy right about now.”
“Just hold on, buddy. We’ll get you.”
Jake noticed a blinking red light on his oxygen panel.
“Oh, Christ, Jim. I've got a problem here!”
“What’s wrong, Commander?”
“I got a red light on my PLSS. I must have a leak somewhere.”
“Uh, roger that, Jake. You still got your backup life support. No need to worry just yet. We are calculating trajectory for pickup. Hang in there!”
“Oxygen is down seventy percent. I better switch to backup.”
“Roger, Commander. Your backup has got thirty minutes of oxygen. Should give us plenty of time for retrieval.”
“Roger, Jim. Switching over now.”
Jacob flipped the switch to his backup oxygen, but the light on his chest panel did not turn green. He flipped it several more times... nothing happened. A sinking feeling washed over him.
“Damn! It’s not working. That piece of space junk must have clipped my PLSS! Oxygen level now down ninety-five percent. You better hurry, fellas. There's not much time left.”
“Roger, Commander, we’re firing thrusters now.”
Jake noticed his air had a tangy, metallic taste to it, the first sign of low oxygen tanks. The red light no longer blinked--it stayed solid red. He started to feel lightheaded. His oxygen was gone.
“Jake! We’re almost there! Harry’s suiting up now!”
“No good, Jimbo! It takes several hours to get used to pure oxygen. He’ll get the bends if he attempts it.”
“Then we’ll use the arm to snag you! Just hang on!”
“My air's already gone. There’s nothing you can do.”
Jake saw the shuttle move in close to him and fire its retros. He reached for it, trying to use a swimming motion to get closer, but the action just propelled him further away.
The bay doors were already open, and Jake saw Harry come floating out, still hooked to the umbilical they used to prepare for space walks. To purge all the nitrogen from an astronaut’s body usually took three or four hours; Harry was taking a big chance.
Jake could hear a humming in his ears. His body began to shudder as stars filled his vision.
The suit was killing him. Jake wanted to live, not die inside of some stinking contraption. He had to get it off--he had to breathe.
“He’s not responding, Captain! He’s going into convulsions!”
“Can you reach him, Harry?”
“I’m almost there!”
Jake wasn’t thinking clearly as he reached up to unfasten his helmet locks. He knew he would live if he could only get it off. He had to get it off.
“My God, he’s trying to remove his helmet! No, Jake! Jake, stop!”
“Must . . . breathe!”
He broke the seal and lifted his helmet off his head--took a deep breath.
Jake's vision cleared momentarily as he saw Harry reach out and grab him by the front of his suit, but it was already too late. Within seconds his body fluids began to boil and then freeze. His tissue and internal organs started to expand.
Jake moved his mouth like a fish out of water. A stupid look of total surprise spread across his face. Just before he exploded, he died.
What is it that makes men yearn for outer-space? What is that longing desire we all have to reach the stars? It tugs at our very souls, softly calling out to us.
Commander Jacob Lawless reached out and touched the stars, caressed the moon, and embraced the earth. At last he was home.
EMU=Extravehicular Mobility Unit
MMU-Manned Maneuvering Unit
PLSS=Primary Life Support System