The World From Above

Turns out, when you're in space for the first time, and you're looking down on the planet you grew up on, making on a post on your blog doesn't seem that important.

The launch was amazing and terrifying. After I said goodbye to Granny Vida and Dad and Uncle Zoo all us passengers went to wait in the holding room for launch. It was pretty quiet in there. Some people who were old hat at launch and had skipped the tour/introduction joined us, and they were talking normally and showing off how relaxed they were, but the rest of us were tight and silent with nerves.

The astronauts came in, dressed in their flight suits, and introduced themselves briefly, before disappearing. A few minutes later, Yoseph showed up and loaded us all onto a little bus like the one we had used for the tour, except this one was unmarked. The lady across from me was clutching her little regulation-size hang luggage bag to her so tightly that her hands were shaking.

We rode up in the elevators, the veteran passengers still chattering happily, our silence growing deeper. I was doing my best to be nonchalant, but I'm sure the veterans could see right through my nonchalance to my own overtight grip around my own luggage.

Following Yoseph's instructions we adjusted our seats and buckled in. The door was sealed behind us with an audible hiss and click, and suddenly all the outside noises disappeared, and it was stuffily silent except for the two men ahead of me, who were still talking about meeting a friend at some Mars Orbital restaurant. The older man beside me asked me to pass him a vomit bag.

The astronauts turned on the Comm. and welcomed us to the Dragonfly, informed us that the launch would take a total of three minutes, and told us to enjoy the ride. "Get on with it," the man beside me said under his breath. In the background behind the pilot's spiel, we could hear the count down: 20, 19, 18...

Ignition, the nuclear engines switching from 'silent' to 'launch' mode was like a gigantic subway train suddenly going under us, and shook everything. The actual launch was oddly like rounding the top of a steep rollercoaster, only upside-down. There was no sense of falling, but there was that same sense of leaving your body far behind, and the same rattle. Even the veterans in front of me had fallen silent, unable to continue casual conversation as we raced upward.

Lots of people had closed their eyes, but I kept mine wide open, although all there was to see was the passenger cabin- and a guy throwing up. I wanted to see all the people around me, gripping their seats, their bodies pressed back in the fitted chairs.

And then, all of a sudden, it was over. The g-forces disappeared, the rattling ceased, and I saw my hair drift up in front of my eyes. I instinctively reached up to push it away, but it didn't fall, it floated. Everyone's hair was doing the same, as were their arms. People who had had their eyes closed opened them to discover they were weightless. The silence was broken with the delighted exclaimations

"Welcome to space," the astronaut said. "We'll be docking with the Mars Orbital in about twenty minutes." The veterans were already talking again, discussing their dinner plans.

Docking was a simple procedure. Disappointingly the artificial gravity of the the Orbital is applied while were are still seated safely in our chairs, so there was no floating around the passenger cabin. The cabin door was opened, and a woman dressed in the same uniform as Yoseph came through into the cabin, disposed of the vomit bags and welcome us pleasantly to the Mars Orbital.

There are no windows in the passenger cabin of the Titanic XI class launch ship, but as we entered the Mars Orbital, there was a tiny round porthole. The veterans didn't give it a second glance but the rest of us crowded around it, trying to get a look outside.

"There's a bigger window in the launch foyer," a veteran passenger said to me, as I was trying to stand on my toes to see over the taller passengers. I left the window and as a result I was one of the first people to walk through into the foyer and look down.

The windows were directly opposite the doors, set in the wall, curving so you could see a wide and tall expanse of space. There was a great mass of stars, so big and bright, even with the lights on that I could hardly believe it. There was a corner of the Orbital visible, a strut of some kind. And there was Mars.

Remember the Door Museum room? It was like that, only... only so much bigger and better and clearer, and exhilarating. It's greener than in the Door Museum, but still with that orange and red hue that marks Mars as different from Earth. You can see the colour of the planet's red earth behind the vegetation and the ice somehow.

Yes, I teared up. I cried. It is the most beautiful, amazing, incredible thing I have ever seen. Standing on Mount Olympus is amazing, but it could not compare to seeing the whole planet like a giant ball, hanging in space.

We had three hours on the Orbital, and I did as much exploring as I could, but everwhere I went there would be a window or a porthole, and I would stop and stare, distracted. I have spent so long going about my ordinary business on that planet below, and now I'm above everything, looking down at Granny Vida, and my parents, and the University of Olympus, and Hurricane's greenhouses and Andrew E. Curring Spaceport, and the Door Museum, and the Tomb of the Unknown Survivor, and even Mount Olympus itself. Incredible.

The Orbital itself is smaller than you would think. It's pretty busy and active and compact, and there are quite a few hundred people living there, but all in all there isn't that much space. There's one open 'marketplace' in the centre, with windows all around, but the rest is white corridors, artfully designed to seem bigger. Although... it never seems crampt. Nowhere with windows to space can seem crampt.

When we reconvened to board the ship that would take us to Earth, among a few others who had already been on board the Orbital and minus a few whose journey ended there, there was a sense of camraderie that hadn't existed before. Something about the harrowing launch, and that foyer window, had created aquiantences where none had existed before.

And we all seem to be part of a bigger club now. The veterans seem more accepting of us, as if we've passed some rite. We have a liscense to be nonchalant. We, you see, have seen the world from above.

More later.

Your Launch Veteran,


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