TC-Apollo

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MAA: At 5:26 PM EST on December 13, 1972, six days after leaving Earth and during their third day on the surface of the Moon, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt made the final moonwalk of Apollo 17.

Gene Cernan had flown to the Moon before, on Apollo 10.

MAB: That flight was with his commander from the Gemini 9 mission, Tom Stafford. On Apollo 10 Gene flew a lunar module to within a tantalyzing nine miles of the Moon’s surface, then returned to altitude, leaving the glory of the first landing to Neil and Buzz on Apollo 11.

MAC: He wasn’t exactly tight buds with his partner, Harrison Schmitt, a geologist who had bumped Gene’s pal Joe Engle from the flight so NASA could say the program was shifting from hot dog military test pilots trained to do science to professional scientists trained to fly.

MAD: Like the two preceding moonwalks of the Apollo 17 mission, the third one was to last about seven hours. But it would differ from the first two EVAs in a very important respect, not counting the trivial fact that it was about an hour late getting started.

MAE: Robyn had been following live television broadcasts of the mission from only a few miles away at Taurus Base. Now she followed the mission with the television in her truck as she drove down the flanks of North Massif to reach the floor of the Taurus-Littrow valley.

MAF: So many stations on Earth were airing the moonwalk the only trick was to pick out one station with a selective receiver.

The landing site of Apollo 17 was on the southeastern edge of Mare Serenitatis where an asteroid hit the Moon nearly four billion years ago.

MAG: The unimaginable violence of the collision created a basin four hundred miles across. The rim of Serenitatis is a ring of mountains which have collapsed in some places. This results in a corona of long valleys like Taurus-Littrow aligned toward the center of the Mare.

MAH: The pyroclastic flows that filled the "Sea of Serenity" had been accompanied by lava fountains which covered the area with tiny glass beads bearing bright colors such as orange and yellow.

The outer, southeastern end of the valley butts up against a large mountain.

MAI: In the run-up to Apollo 17 NASA took to calling this mountain the East Massif, and the name stuck. In the south, there is a narrow canyon that leads to yet another valley. The west side of this canyon is the sheer wall of South Massif.

MAJ: Crossing north to the other side of East Massif is another canyon leading to still another valley. Beyond this canyon is the so-called Sculptured Hills, and to the west of those hills is North Massif. Between North and South Massif is a narrower exit valley.

MAK: This valley is about four miles wide, partially blocked by Family Mountain and a sharp fault ridge three hundred feet high. The eastern foot of that sharp ridge forms a gentle ramp leading up and around the western slope of North Massif to some rugged back country.

MAL: In that area, where it would be too difficult for landing craft to safely touch down, Judith Gervasi chose to build Taurus Base from a deep "cut-and-cover" tunnel, with macros doing the cutting. A layer of lunar soil was carefully groomed to cover and disguise the ceiling.

MAM: Robyn drove her truck to the current position of the astronauts. There was a large, dark, shattered boulder wedged in the foot of North Massif where geologist Harrison Schmitt was gathering samples. She was careful not to run over their fragile electric Rover parked nearby.

MAN: That Boeing-made Lunar Rover contained a built-in navigation system that kept track of every turn of the wheels and calculated the distance back to the Lunar Module. This was a safety feature. If the Rover became inoperative, the astronauts would have to walk to the LM.

MAO: This system used Intel's new four-bit microprocessor, the 4004, which was essentially a computer on a single silicon chip. As the 1970s progressed, this innovation would undergo further advances and become the heart of the Micro, sparking the Information Revolution.

MAP: The boulder being examined by Schmitt, which was in five separate pieces, lay beneath a long furrow of dents showing it’s recent plunge down the face of the mountain. Apollo 15 Command Module pilot Alfred Worden had photographed the area in 1971 from orbit.

MAR: Using a large panoramic camera, Worden captured photographic evidence of what looked suspiciously like tracks of wheeled vehicles and bright debris that did not resemble stones at all. But analysts, making inquiries of the Russians, concluded the anomalies were from natural processes.

MAS: They said the tracks and other debris were probably from boulders that had rolled down the face of North Massif in a "recent" (less than 20 million years) moonquake. The truth was, Worden had found evidence of Taurus Base construction, but the floor of the valley was pristine.

MAT: Not even Robyn, with her gift, could sense a significant divergence of the present Beta timeline, the one Michael and Yeshua found so unsatisfactory. She pulled her truck to a stop, pumped the atmosphere down to a near vacuum, then popped the door open to wait for the boys.

MAU: Cernan and Schmitt hadn’t heard Robyn roll in, of course. And they were so busy it was sixteen minutes before they looked up from their tasks and noticed Robyn's truck parked next to them. Both of the astronauts uttered sharp expletives and the live feed was hurriedly cut.

MAV: CBS cut to Walter Cronkite for commentary. The blackout would last for nearly an hour as NASA claimed technical difficulties. Robyn used her talent as a B'nei Eloah to probe her own future. Time was "lazy" as she well knew. You had to kick it in the pants to change it.

MAW: Without this inertia, this reluctance built into time, Robyn would be a boiling nexus of change. Everything she did, no matter how small, would make all of reality bifurcate, even as her own personal consciousness, her single point of view, persisted in just one track.

MAX: Robyn noted, to her dismay, that even her interference in the final Apollo mission didn't change things sufficiently to prevent it from being the final mission. She saw that NASA would simply swear the astronauts and flight control crew to silence, and cover it all up.

MAY: Robyn waved for them to come inside. There was plenty of room for at least one astronaut to be seated next to her, even fully garbed as they were. The sun illuminated her face and they could see they were dealing with a young woman. Cernan described the situation to Houston.

MAZ: A phone call was made to a contact in the Soviet Union asking if they were operating in the same area and didn’t bother to tell anybody. The Russian thought the American joke was in particularly bad taste. "Is not enough you win Luna race?" he said. "Now you rub it on?"

MBA: Cernan and Schmitt, who were watching their oxygen steadily spend down, gently prodded Houston they were still waiting for instructions. At length C. Gordon Fullerton, the CAPCOM for that phase of the mission, said Cernan could approach the truck, and perhaps even enter it.

MBB: But he ordered Schmitt to wait outside and be prepared to hustle back in the Rover to the Lunar Module, which was then about four miles away. So Cernan walked over to the truck and performed a complete circuit around it. There was only the one woman seated inside.

MBC: This woman was wearing a vacuum suit, and she was waving at him, motioning for him to come inside. So Gene, now free to oblige, did so. She gestured for him to close the door and when he did, she began to re-pressurize the cab of the truck with pure oxygen, to just 3 psi.

MBD: When the dial read the appropriate pressure Robyn removed her helmet and invited Cernan to do the same. The sharp spent-gunpowder smell of the lunar regolith assaulted her nose. She wrinkled it and said, "Do people ever imagine what the moon smells like? Oh, no."

MBE: But Robyn was used to it, and after two lunar EVAs so was Cernan. When he removed his own helmet his first words to her were, "You sound like an American." Robyn looked him over and saw Gene was rather gaunt, and thought it was a shame a man in his thirties was going gray.

MBF: She said, "I was born on the high plains, Commander Cernan. Smack dab in the middle of the country, or close enough as never mind. My name is Robyn, with a 'Y'. Just Robyn, no last name."

Cernan's ice seemed to melt a little. He said, "Then forget 'Commander'. I'm Gene."

MBD: "It's an honor to meet you, Gene," she said. "I represent a privately held corporation named Astrodynamics. Sometimes we just call it Astrodyne. It's nothing mega. We're based out of Seattle, but we have a few offices around the world, and, believe it or not, even up here.

MBE: "We've been watching you fellows drop by over last the few years, but this is the first time you've come within driving distance. I couldn't resist dashing over for a chit-chat, as brief as it must be."

"So tell me Robyn, what does your Astrodynamics Corporation do?"

MBF: "We're not focused on the bottom line, Gene, at least not to the mindless level you would expect. We're actually about the business of philanthropy. Thirty years ago we were a church. We see human history as a work of art, and we are making an endeavor to perfect it.

MBG: Now humanity leaving the Earth and spreading out into the universe is much closer to perfection than staying home with all our eggs in one basket, to use the cliche, especially when you consider the powerful weapons we now have, and the sheer insanity behind making them."

MBH: Robyn showed him a binder containing many documents and photographs. "The names and faces in this dossier will probably mean nothing to you, but they will mean a great deal to certain people in the government. Please accept this package and run it up your chain of command."

MBH: Cernan took the documents, and as he did, he searched Robyn’s face. He really wanted to like her. "Why are you giving this to me?" he asked.

She said, "Think of it as a list of serious grievances we have with the United States going back for more than a hundred years."

MBI: "I feel like I've stepped into the middle of an old argument," Cernan said as he flipped through the binder to briefly sample the information. Old argument indeed. Some of the documents, just as Robyn said, were on age-yellowed paper dating back to the Reconstruction period.

MBJ: Robyn said, "If you have the time during your flight home, Gene, please take a deeper look at that material. I think you'll see why we didn't find it a good idea to get permission from the government of the United States before coming up here and doing what we have done."

MBK: "And aside from whatever you've done up here, Robyn, what else have you done?"

"Stuff. You know that Watergate thicket the President has got himself in? That was us. Unlucky for him, lucky for everyone else. It prevents something much worse than the Cuban Missile Crisis."

MBL: Within the binder were also five sets of color photographs that drew Commander Cernan's interest, with the negatives clipped to them. He pulled them out and asked what they were.

"Images of each one of the previous Apollo landing sites, taken very soon after departure.

MBM: Note the missing ascent stage in each photo. We thought NASA might want a photographic record."

Cernan became quiet and put the photos back inside the binder. He seemed to grow a little melancholy. Competing with the Soviet Union now seemed like a farting in a hurricane.

MBN: Robyn sensed this and tried to brighten him up. "It’s twelve days before Christmas. I’ve got a hundred and fifty of your Earth pounds of presents for Mr. Harrison Schmitt. Rocks from right here at the North Massif, taken at depths up to six hundred feet below the surface.

MBO: There's also sulfur from a channel we call Yellow Rille. Documentation provided with the samples have original location and depth. We don't boast any trained geologists but Judith Gervasi has experience with archaeology in the Middle-East. Some of the same principles apply.

MBP: Hopefully all this will compensate for the precious minutes you’re losing talking to me."

"And why are you talking to me, Robyn? Is this just a fancy sales pitch? Am I to be your go-between?"

She smiled and shook her head. "Basically, it all boils down to this, Gene:

MBQ: You may be impressed that Astrodyne got to the moon before Apollo 11, but the way we get here takes a strange shortcut. We specialize in some things but not in others. Your lunar lander out there, even your mothership orbiting overhead, we don't anything like those.

MBR: So we were willing to forget all the dirty laundry when America was on the fast track to coming up here and possibly teaming up with us. We could have built something together. But in the end the whole Apollo program was just so you could stick it in the eye of the USSR.

MBS: The interest of the American people started to wane right after Apollo 11. The space race was just a big Cold War stunt and after you 'won' it started to look like spending a lot of money for nothing. Now to be fair, the Soviet Union lost interest as well, after you 'won'."

MBT: Robyn noticed a feeling of well-being that bordered on giddiness and looked at the cabin pressure. It had crept past 4 psi of pure oxygen. Cernan's spacesuit was still running, and pushing fresh air through his collar ring into the interior of the truck. She bled it down.

MBU: "Then Nixon canceled Apollo 20 and ordered the reconfiguration of the third stage as Skylab," Robyn said, resuming where she had paused. "After that Nixon even canceled Apollo 19 to shift funding to the Shuttle. It seemed to us that America wasn't looking outward anymore.

MBV: Then we visited the Soviets and told them there was a hard currency waiting for what they had to offer, or potentially had to offer. So the moon race is a variation of the story of the tortoise and the hare, with the hare putting one toe over the finish line and turning back.

MBW: But the tortoise is closing in now, and he's bringing a nuclear third stage. What did you do with your third stage, Gene?"

"We let it crash onto the moon."

"That's right, and one more reason we're glad things are winding up with NASA. We live and work here, you know."

MBX: "We didn't know that, Robyn. And it was for seismic research."

"Okay, Gene, but dig this: The Soviet third stage is fired three times, once for Earth orbit, once for translunar injection, and once more for the return. Their vehicle is just that third stage and a lander."

MBY: They're coming down with a crew of four and the whole crew gets to land. So they're doing it after you, but they're doing it better. Now if the only reason you're going to the moon these days is for rocks, I'm sure the Soviets can sell them directly to you for much cheaper."

MBZ: At that Robyn drew a sudden breath of air and paused briefly. What she had just said to Gene Cernan were the magic words. It took another Sputnik moment to get America to react, but react America did, or rather, she shortly would. The purpose of Robyn's visit was fulfilled.

MCA: Nothing, absolutely nothing drove technological innovation faster than war, even the faux war-by-proxy of the Cold One. Robyn had rekindled it. Reality had diverged and the Moon Race was back on. "Welcome to the Gamma track," she muttered to herself softly.

MCB: "I can imagine all of this must come as a terrible shock to you, Gene, because your entire remarkable career has been building up to this mission, but that’s the raw truth so there you go. The bottom line is that NASA does not need to follow up your flight with Apollo 18."

MCC: "Then, Robyn, I would say you are in luck. Apollo 18 has indeed been canceled. Dr. Schmitt out there was supposed to be on that flight, but he bumped one of my buddies to be the Lunar Module pilot on this one, to my great displeasure. This mission truly is the last one."

MCD: "I'm sorry about your friend, Gene. I didn't know that. We've been disconnected from things Earthside, just a bit." "How did you get up here anyway?" "It's a way nobody else has thought of doing yet, but even so, as I said, it's a shortcut. Easy ways always make you weak."

MCE: "I'm not sure I follow."

"Okay, suppose you're Captain Kirk at Starfleet Command, and you need to go to the moon. Do you ride the starship Enterprise to get out there?"

"No, you just beam up."

"Bingo, Gene. That's about as close as I can get to telling you what's going on."

MCF: "Okay, but what I don't understand is how you are willing to work with the Soviets. You told me you were born in America."

"Why would that be a problem, Gene?"

"Because they're...communists!"

"Actually,Gene, they're just socialists. Communism is the theoretical end state.

MCG: "People can espouse utopianism, and claim to be utopians, all while still living in a crapsack country. We're negotiating with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. And frankly, competing theories of economics bores the hell out of me. Yet wars are fought over them.

MCH: Besides, who owns your moon buggy?"

"The American people do."

"You see? Socialism. That dog-eat-dog every-man-for-himself and the devil-take-the-hindmost stuff doesn't really work all that well up here, any more than it works on the aircraft carriers you served on.

MCI: The American model even makes it worse, because the taxpayer's money gets shoveled out to the lowest bidder, or even to an incompetent contractor who happens to be in a district where somebody needs votes. That's how the Space Shuttle is going to bite NASA's ass someday.

MCJ: But, time marches on, Gene, and your backpack, which you have kept running by the way, won’t run forever. That was pretty much all I wanted to say. Thanks for taking this time out of your tait schedule to meet with me. I think we will meet again on Earth in the near future."

MCI: "I would like that very much, Robyn" he said. "In the meantime, I would ask a favor from you." "Anything, Gene. Just name it." "My beautiful ten year old little girl’s name is Tracy," Cernan told her. "I wrote her initials with my finger in the ground near the Challenger.

MCJ: "I did it far enough away that the blast of our ascent won’t erase it, but now that I know you're here I'm worried that new footprints might erase her initials."

"I can tell you love your daughter very much," she said. "I promise no one will ever come near the Challenger.

MCK: We'll make it off-limits to the Russians too. Your Tracy’s initials won’t last forever, of course, due to micrometeorites, but close enough. A million years? That’s much better than anything you could do for her Earthside. Take care, Gene, and have a safe journey home."

MCL: They put their helmets on once more and made sure of the seals before Robyn pumped the air out and motioned for Gene to leave. When the men returned to the LM Harrison Schmitt snapped a photo of Cernan. He looked haggard, exhausted, and perhaps just a little bit haunted.

MCM: To his mind the young lady he met out there with her sheaf of papers and bundle of rocks and all the things she said spelled slow but certain doom for NASA’s entire manned space program, not just the moon shots. But true to her words it was not the last time they would meet.

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