How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mars Lander

A response to a writing prompt, first published on 18th January 2018

“Why does it have to be so boring?” he said to himself but in reality not really to anyone in particular. “What was that?” asked a tinny voice. It was Frank back in Houston, Flight Director of this Mission, speaking to him via radio. “Oh Nothing. Just forget about it” was the answer followed by a deep sigh. There were some clicking sounds on the line. That meant that Frank wanted to say something but had stopped. The little noises just meant that the Microphone went on and off again. Then with a conciliable voice Frank said: “Steve, you know we can’t do anything about it”.

“I know” growled Steve feeling defeated. Then he proposed: “We could try that one again where I try to ride the Probe?” There were some more clicking noises. After a short eternity a feminine voice filled Steves Headset. It had a pleasant french accent and stated: “You seem to have a strange affection with Dr. Strangelove.” Steve grinned mentally, the Day was always better when he made Dr. Laurent-Roux join the Com. “It’s the only thing I can really relate to, I’m an avid Cowboy Hat connoisseur” joked Steve. “Très drôle, Steve. Really funny.” laughed the Doctor. That was a tick of hers, saying something in french and then follow it up with the translation.

“I never saw the film but I can relate to the bit where the guy sits on the atom bomb.” mused Steve audibly: “Just that I’m still alive. But I don’t have a cool hat. I think he wore a hat. I feel underdressed.” More clicking sounds again, he hadn’t wanted to bring it up but sometimes it just slipped out of his mouth. Now it was Frank again who continued the conversation: “This again, Steve? You know there is nothing we can do and until we can finish that ABC lab. It’s just not safe enough to return you to earth.”

As fate had it one of the solar panels reoriented itself and Steve saw himself in a blue tinted reflection. What greeted him was a chalk gray skull with an immaculate smile in a fire scorched Space Hardsuit.

Years in the past he was NASA’s most promising Astronaut. On the start of the mission an insulation tile had hit one of the separation charges on the last stage. When it was time to decouple from the carrier rocket all hell broke loose. He did not feel anything. He did not remember anything. But almost a year later he simply awoke and was greeted by a sea of stars. First he had thought it had only been seconds since the explosion. By some cruel miracle he must have had survived it. Then he found out about the missing glass in his helmet. He managed to hotwire a solar panel into the radio box which let him talk to Houston again. This sent Mike, the then Flight Director straight into the nuthouse. Guess that speaking with the dead wasn’t on his bucket list.

The remainder of the first year they spent on formalities. The “Why the F are you not dead” and “How do you speak to us if there is nothing that can move the sound waves to the microphone” they did not even bother with “How do you actually hear us?” or “How is live as an animated skeleton?”

Eventually, it was found out that somehow it had to do with radiation. And that was all that Steve concerned or wanted to know about it. He had become immortal by virtue of being dead to begin with. A living skeletal being trapped inside an old space suit. But NASA was never known for letting anything go to waste.

Steve did never tire, did not require any provisions and was already in space. So he was used to check on satellites and save otherwise doomed machines. But on most days his boredom knew no bounds. Then he was introduced to Frank. Absolute Madman but very likeable. He had invented a Plan to prepare a Mars Colony by using Androids, it was airtight. He knew it would work, NASA knew it would work, everyone agreed that they should do it. Only problem was: It relied on bipedal robots with really dexterous hands. And whatever NASA tried, they could not make it work.

When Dr. Laurent-Roux told Steve about it, he basically begged to be sent instead of a robot. He even offered to put his head into a metal box and to say “Beep Boop” every now and then. It took Frank Years to persuade everyone involved to give Steve a chance.

Then it was just a matter of timing and really delicate orbital mechanical calculations. Steve met the probe on the dark side of the moon, grabbed a strut and moved himself inside the descent stages cargo hold. Now he just had to wait until it automatically landed on the planet.

“What’s in the Box labeled Do not open before Bird has landed?” asked Steve. He heard Franks grin over the Radio: “It might be a Quick Tester for Atomar, Biological and Chemical Contamination.” There was a pause for dramatic purposes: “Or I filled it with Bricks and a half used roll of toilet paper.” Steve started to chuckle, then worked himself up to a giggling and ended in a wholehearted laugh. The Doctor joined the call: “If you look inside the Medkit you will find a Media Player. I think you have enough time to watch Dr. Strangelove now.”

Steve quickly grabbed the Box from it’s mounting point and opened it, there was the Player and a DVD. Someone had put a piece of Duct Tape over the original title, in big letters it said: “Dr. Steve or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mars Lander.”