by Frank Roger
Champagne is flowing freely at the headquarters of the European Space Agency as great news are announced about the agency’s biggest project ever.
A spokesman for the agency declares in a live interview on TV: “Ulysses has made a safe landing on the lunar surface and is already transmitting data. The first unmanned European mission to the moon is a success. It is now clear to everyone that Europe is fully taking part in the exploration of space. Americans, Russians, Chinese and Indians now have a serious contender in the game to reckon with. It goes without saying that this is merely the beginning of a grand space adventure for our Agency. Now some people may be tempted to start dreaming of our first manned mission, but let us focus on the present and start work with the treasure trove of information Ulysses is transmitting.”
Not a word is said about the technical problems the mission was facing in the beginning: error messages, news about technical mishaps, predictions of a mission bound to fail. “All’s well that ends well,” a major newspaper has it, even if the mission has barely started rather than ended.
Ulysses has landed where it was supposed to, all its technical systems are functioning properly and it is transmitting data to earth: so much for the good news.
There is some uncertainty, however, concerning the problems that arose right after the launch. Now that we are told the lunar module’s first images cannot or may not be shown to an impatient audience, the grapevine has been stirred into action. The Agency’s spokesman denies there are any serious problems and promises that images will be shown “as soon as some issues have been dealt with”. He cannot elaborate on the nature of these issues.
The media abound with speculation as to what may be going on.
Images supposedly taken by Ulysses were leaked on the internet by a staff member of the European Space Agency. The images are of poor quality and seem to show signs of activity. It is impossible to determine whether the footage is genuine, edited or simply fake. A few hours later, social media are teeming with comments, and later that day the ESA makes an official announcement.
“The video images transmitted by Ulysses show irregularities that are related to the technical problems the mission was facing after the launch. We are now examining the nature of these problems and will take appropriate measures.”
The rumors, spread by anonymous sources, that stowaways have sneaked aboard Ulysses are adamantly discarded by the spokesman: “These rumors are sensationalist nonsense. Security measures at Corou spaceport are very strict. Moreover, there is no room for stowaways aboard the lunar module or the booster. In the unlikely event of a human being or an animal going along for the ride, it would inexorably end in death: the acceleration, the lack of oxygen and temperatures well below zero will not leave any living creature a chance.”
Expectations are high as the ESA announces a press conference after more images were leaked, unmistakably featuring moving human figures. The spokesman breaking the news is clearly ill at ease:
“We can now confirm that prior to the launch of Ulysses unauthorized persons managed to gain access to the restricted area as well as to the lunar module itself. Although all scientists and experts explicitly exclude the possibility of surviving the journey from the earth to the moon without proper facilities, these persons apparently beat the odds. Nothing is known about their identity, their motives or their methods. When our investigation sheds light on this mystery, we will provide further information. Finally I am happy to report that this problem does not seem to interfere with Ulysses’ regular activities. The lunar module keeps transmitting data and has started its soil research program.”
Earlier attempts by desperate refugees who miraculously survived a flight, hidden in an aircraft’s landing gear, are recalled in the media. Everyone realizes, however, that there’s a world of difference between air travel and a journey through the void.
The BBC broadcasts an interview with a Somali man, who prefers to remain anonymous and who claims to be the brother of one of the stowaways who traveled to the moon with Ulysses.
“My brother and his wife prepared their trip thoroughly,” he says. “They did not arrive at their destination alive by coincidence. They trained in cold storage rooms and underwater, building up resistance to temperatures below zero and the void. They manufactured thermal suits made out of discarded insulating material, and multi-layered plastic bags with an oxygen supply. They also smuggled food and water aboard, as well as some other useful stuff. I’m happy to see that my brother left the entire scientific world awe-stricken with his determination, persistence and resilience.”
Experts and ESA staff members refuse to believe the man’s bold claims, but cannot give an alternative explanation for the stowaways’ accomplishment. “Our investigation is making progress and will eventually allow us to unlock this mystery,” the spokesman concludes.
The ESA finally releases video footage clearly showing two human figures clumsily moving about on the lunar surface, wearing spacesuits that were crudely stitched together but which appear to hold up well. It is not clear what they are doing, as they are mainly active beyond the camera’s visual range.
Some commentators doubt the images are genuine, but ESA confirms their authenticity. “It’s a miracle this couple arrived alive on the moon,” says the spokesman, “but we have to realize that their chances at survival are about zero. Very soon they will run out of oxygen, food and water, and there’s no way to get new supplies up there. Then there are the extreme differences in temperature and the low gravity. We fear this success story will soon come to an end.”
The trials and tribulations of the Somali moon dwellers are all over the international media. No one is paying attention to Ulysses’ real mission anymore.
Somali communities of various countries have created a benefit fund for New Mogadishu, as they call their “first extraterrestrial colony”, a bridgehead of hope for a people left to its own devices. “Refugees from areas plagued by war, chaos and famine aren’t welcome anywhere anymore, and all host countries claim to have reached or exceeded their immigration quota. The only option left is to push the boundaries and explore new horizons, to go where one is still welcome, where one cannot be sent back, where one can build a future undisturbed, even if theoretically impossible. Time will tell.”
More sensational news about the lunar expedition is released upon an unsuspecting world: It is now revealed that the Somali woman who made the journey is heavily pregnant. This clearly shows on recent images released by the ESA, and the fact is also confirmed by the alleged brother of the male stowaway (and reputed father of the child). He even adds that this is all part of a grand plan, soon to unfold before the eyes of “those who stayed behind” (i.e. the people on earth).
It is now easier to see what the couple are doing on the lunar surface, after the man pushed one of the cameras in another angle. Next to the lunar module a modest construction is arising, made out of material either smuggled aboard or taken from the module itself. A green mass can be seen under a transparent piece of plastic or glass.
There are plenty of rumors buzzing about in the media. Are those two people building a small moon base? And what could that green mass be? Some claim it’s algae or other plants that produce oxygen and can also be eaten. Is this the first step towards a hydroponic garden that will support the basic needs of the “colonists”? Is there a future beckoning then for these two people, where no life was considered possible?
The news of the birth of a child on the moon – the first human child ever not born on earth in the history of mankind – leaves the world stunned and elicits a lot of reactions.
There are some who criticize the parents because it’s irresponsible to have a child in an environment that’s hostile to life, and where a boy – in the unlikely event of his making it through his first days – is doomed to grow up without friends of his own age, completely cut off from his world and with an unending fight for survival as his only perspective.
Scientists who say it will be interesting to see what influence the low gravity will have on the child’s development get all sorts of reproaches hurled at them – for instance for being out of sync with the real world.
According to the father’s brother (the child’s uncle), by now self-appointed “ambassador of New Mogadishu on Earth”, this birth gives a new impetus to the story: “A first step has been taken towards a flourishing, viable colony, a beacon of hope for all refugees in the world”.
On spaceports in the United States and elsewhere security measures and surveillance are upgraded. There are well-founded fears that the Somali success story will set an example and incite other refugees to try and sneak aboard spacecraft.
Refugee communities are cheering and celebrating: the impossible has now become feasible, dreams may come true, a new and unexpected horizon is beckoning. The picture of the father proudly holding up his newborn child (wearing a cute space suit that was obviously made beforehand) in front of Ulysses’ camera is without a doubt the most shared image ever.
Frank Roger was born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium. His first story appeared in 1975. By now he has a few hundred short stories to his credit, published in more than 40 languages. Apart from fiction, he also produces collages and visual art in a surrealist and satirical tradition.