Chapter 5 - Death's Other Path "Houston, Constellation. Good luck. You are Go for lift off," said the cap com. "Roger, Houston, 3.2.1. Lift off!" said Al the younger. Sam felt very little acceleration in the one-sixth g. As they lifted off the flag waved in the "breeze" of the exhaust from the ascent stage engine. Over his head set Sam heard "Anchors Away" in the background. Al the observer had a tear in his eye. "Yep. This mission was Navy through and through. Anchors away, Sam," said Al as they headed for a rendezvous with Enterprise. "Constellation, Enterprise. You're coming up real fast. It's good to she you," said Drop Kick." "You're one beautiful sight, Enterprise. How about a ride home?" said Al the younger. "I'd love the company. Come on board. You are closing at 50 feet per second," said Joe. Sam was very nervous at the controls. This was the job of the Lunar Module pilot. "Sam, Ziggy has everything set. We have a bright red light set up as a target. An arrow will tell you which way to go. No light means you're just on target. Just like an old video game," said Al the observer. Sam's eyes brightened while he started playing with the new target. Al the younger commented, "Don't use so much of the thruster fuel or we'll run out before docking." "Right Sam. Easy on the throttle. A little up!" said Al the observer. Sam eased Constellation up to the Enterprise and they had a hard dock. "Houston, Constellation. I confirm the hard dock," said Al the younger. "Houston, Enterprise, Clamps are in place. Soft dock is confirmed," said Joe in the Enterprise "Eighteen, Houston, Copy. Docking is complete," said Sam sighing. "Good work Sam. You actually brought it in earlier than in the original flight. You've sure got the 'right stuff'," said Al trying to pat his back with his hand going though Sam. We loaded the lunar rocks aboard the Command Module, sealed up the hatch and sent the ascent stage of the Lunar Module plummeting into the moon to create an artificial earthquake that was measured by the several seismic stations left by the various Apollo missions. "So long Constellation. you were a darn good ship," said Al the younger. "Best thing I ever flew," said Sam truthfully. Apollo eighteen orbited the moon two more times and behind the moon we fired the Service Module engine to kick us into a return to earth orbit. While my two faithful traveling companions thought the trip was winding down, my reason for being there was just beginning. The next morning after breakfast and housekeeping duties, it was time for Joe to perform his EVA. Joe had been taking pictures of the moon for three days while we were on the lunar surface. Control of the Scientific Instrument Module was from the Command Module. The film still had to be retrieved from the Service Module that was to eventually burn up when we reentered the atmosphere. Since the whole experiment package was the Command Module pilot's responsibility, Joe had to walk in space to retrieve the data and film. Al the observer was getting nervous. As he had told me earlier, the gauge that indicated the sudden change in pressure in the wild thruster was on his part of the control panel and was his responsibility. He didn't want to have the younger Al make the same mistake twice. His first suggestion was to get them to perform the EVA earlier. "Say, Al," Sam said to the younger counterpart. "Let's get the EVA over with earlier and we can do some stellar photo- graphy in our free time later. Or you can just goof off a bit." "I NEVER goof off! Though I do perform some tasks very leisurely, especially if I want to take it slower," said Al the younger. "You mean 'goof off'," said Sam. "Yea, I guess so. All right. As soon as our chores are done, I'll OK it with Houston," said Al the younger. "Great. That should put the flight sixty-five minutes ahead of schedule. That blasted thruster can fire all it wants and we'll be safely in the capsule. Great Sam," said Al very relieved. Unfortunately fate was not with us and Houston had us checking so many things that all of our extra time was whittled away. So we put on our pressure suits and decompressed the Command Module. I kept a very close eye on the thruster pressure gauge. "I see some fluctuations in the number two thruster fuel pressure gauge," said Sam urgently. "What? Let me thump it," said Al the younger thumping the gauge, "I don't think there's a problem. Enterprise, Houston. Do you read any pressure fluctuations on the number two thruster?" "Enterprise, Houston. We'll check it," said the cap com Pause. "Negative on the number two thruster. You are go for EVA." "Copy, Houston, EVA is green," said Al the younger. "Sam, the gyros are near gimbal lock!" said Al the observer. "Ah, the gyros are near gimbal lock!" repeated Sam. "What? Let me see! Nothing. Firefly, are you getting space happy? Why all the jitters?" asked Al the younger worried. "Sorry Sam. I'm getting "space happy!" Oh, boy. That last suggestion was too off the wall," said Al the observer. "Sorry, Yea, jitters," said Sam smiling to Al the younger. "Thirty-three minutes until the accident," said Al the observer. Joe crawled out the hatch and slowly worked his way back to the Scientific Instrument Module. I could imagine his view was spectacular out there among the stars. He proceeded very quickly, pulled out the appropriate cassettes and headed back top the Command Module hatch. "Five minutes, Sam!" reminded Al the observer. Sam stood up in the hatch. "Firefly! Get back in here!" called out Al the younger. "I just want to help him back in," said Sam urgently. "Good Sam. Now crawl out and sit in the hatchway!" coached Al the observer. As Sam crawled out of the capsule, Al the younger yelled at him again. "Ron, get back in here and that's an ORDER, Commander." "Firefly, what are you doing out here? This is a one man exercise," questioned Joe. "Hand me the cassettes," said Sam. "One minute," reminded Al the observer. "Firefly! Houston says to return to the capsule!" said Al the younger. "Here you go!" said Joe handing him the cassettes. Sam leaned over and pushed it in the hatch. "Give me your hand, Joe," said Sam. "I've done this twenty-five times in simulation, Firefly!" said Joe. "GIVE me you hand," ordered Sam. "Ok, OK!" joked Joe. "Al, check the number two pressure gauge!" asked Sam. "How can I do what when my whole crew is riding this capsule sidesaddle. Oh my God." Houston, Enterprise. We have a 45-psi rise in the number two thruster. 60. 75..90.." counted up Al the younger. "Hold on Sam!" said Al the observer. "Hold on tight, Joe," explained Sam. With no air there was not a sound. Gas shot from the number two thruster away from the two astronauts. The whole craft pitched violently in the opposite direction. Sam held on tight to Joe who was flying at the end of Sam's hand like a rag doll. Sam grabbed him with his second hand and held on to the hatch opening with his feet. "Great Scott!" cried Joe. "Don't let go!" "Grab my feet, Al!" called out Sam as he was losing his grip on the capsule. "You bet. Holy cow! I got you, Firefly. How's Joe?" asked Al the younger. "Reeling him in. He's one big fish," said Sam. "Luckily you're weightless!" "Enterprise, Houston! What was that motion? Our accelerometers went off the scale!" said the cap com. "Stand by Houston!" said Al the younger that was too busy to respond. He pulled Sam in by the waist and pulled Joe in headfirst. "You OK?" asked Al the younger. "Yep. Thanks to Firefly. Otherwise I might be in permanent orbit. God bless you!" said Joe. "Hey, forget it. You can buy me a beer at home!" said Sam. "Houston, Enterprise. We had an inadvertent thruster fire. The capsule was subjected to serious gyration. Firefly grabbed onto Jim and together we pulled him in. Everything is now normal. Hatch is closed and locked. Enterprise ready for re-pressurization," reported Al the younger. "Roger, copy. Begin re-pressurization. We'll look into that thruster problem. Glad to hear all is well. Good work," replied the cap com. "Roger, Enterprise, out!' said Al the younger. "Firefly. Not that I'm not grateful, but what prompted you to change our procedures, stand up in the hatch and be ready to help me?" asked Jim very relieved. "Yea, what was all that about?" asked Al the younger. "Well, you might say I had a premonition," said Sam not too convincingly. "Sure glad you did. How about that! The first psychic in space," said Al the younger. "SAM. THANK YOU!" said Al poking his head into the closed hatch door. "You saved me from a lifetime of regret and Jim's kids won't remember this as the flight their father gave his all. Good going, SAM," said Al standing there with sweat rolling down his face.