Worlds Without Number (2)

The countdown had begun. In several minutes the ship would launch on the first journey to what was assumed to be an inhabited planet. A trip that would take a few decades to complete. All systems had been checked thoroughly several times, and all Tom could do was wait and think.

The last few weeks had been spent in intense preparation. Rare spare time was spent avoiding the media, and answering repetitive questions when he could not. He had been asked to speculate several times about what he might find when he arrived. For some reason they thought since he was the astronaut that he ought to know. He had avoided making any public speculations, but private curiosity forced him to consider the possibilities.

The scientific part of Tom wondered about what evolutionary processes would produce on a different planet. Even minor differences in climate and planetary events could dramatically change the evolutionary path of an entire world. The very thought of documenting an entire planet of entirely new species was very exciting to Tom, and he smiled to himself as he considered it. Would he be safe? And what of the intelligent life? Wouldn’t it be fascinating if the intelligent life on this planet was completely different from human beings?

The religious part of him had other thoughts. Tom had not been an ‘active’ Mormon for a long time. His line of work made that sort of thing nearly impossible. He still generally believed many of the teachings, at least those he could remember. He had served a mission, and received his endowment in the temple, but had never married. His devotion to his education and his career choice had made that unlikely, and even unwise. While he had not given religion much thought over the recent years, the religious implications of what was going on had not fully escaped him. The media questions had helped make sure of that. Now he thought — Wouldn’t it be fascinating if the intelligent beings on this planet were human beings just like us? Children of God? What if all the plants and animals were just like the ones we have on earth? He chuckled at the thought of a group of PhD’s trying to explain that.

Just a couple of minutes left. The image of his mother came into his mind. Of all the people in his life that he had missed, he missed her the most. What would she think of all this? Just then he imagined his mother asking, ‘Aren’t you going to pray, Tommy?’ He scoffed at the thought at first. He had not prayed in a very long time. Why should he start now? The thought nagged at him. Tom knew that he was being monitored, and did not want to be heard, or appear to be praying. He started a silent prayer in his mind. At first it was quite routine, but increased in sincerity and feeling as he went on. He felt a peaceful calm that had been missing for quite a while. He also felt that what he was doing was important, and was what God had intended. His mind and body relaxed, and the ship started to move.

‘Wish I was going with ya,’ a voice from the control center said.

‘I could use the company,’ Tom replied, ‘I just don’t have room for anyone else.’

People had often asked why only one astronaut usually went on these missions. Weight and room were two primary reasons. Tom knew that in many cases even one astronaut was often not necessary. The rovers and the flying drones were quite capable of mapping an entire planet and gathering the regular data in just a few days without any help. The astronaut was often along for the ride just in case something didn’t work properly. Being a good technician was often the most important function an astronaut served. Even that turned out to be unnecessary much of the time.

The earth was now left far behind, and Tom went through the complete checklist one more time. When it was completed, he prepared himself for the hibernation chamber and pressed the ‘sleep’ button. The next several years would seem like minutes.


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