You’re Going to Space, Son
I’m sprawled out on a couch, my head tilted back over its edge. For the last few minutes I’ve been shivering. Now my thoughts are starting to slow and deepen, acquire a different flavour, and I’m feeling good. Like, really good.
I notice that an older American man is now standing over me, puffing on a cigar.
He starts reciting some generic platitudes, and then moves to giving me feedback on my recent performance. It’s obvious that he doesn’t want to go into detail right now — he simply wants me to know that they’ve all been very pleased with my recent progress. Not a complete surprise, but its very good to hear it confirmed by a superior. Damn, the last few months were fucked up.
Then he shifts gear again. Some more generic platitudes about mission and purpose. I’ve been wondering recently what the next step might be, once I get out of this current situation. Where’s he going with all this?
“You’re going to space, son”.
I sit up as I adjust to the shock. He is silent for the next few minutes. He fixes himself a tumbler of whiskey, offers me one — and insists, with a gesture, that I accept — then seats himself down in an adjacent armchair, while waiting for me to compose myself. Then he begins:
“By space, of course, I here mean any expanded field of possibilities.
“Now, the first question we must address is: why go there? Why is there a certain breed of young men we feel compelled to send into the black unknown?
“I should, of course, make clear at this point that you do not need to go alone. A small and versatile group of comrades makes an ideal mission crew.
“But, to continue.
“Some simply have an intrinsic desire for rapid motion — an in-built need, stronger than any other urge, to move at extremely high velocities into unknown territories.
“Others have a specific reason to go to space. They believe that in the expanded freedom out there they will find… something worthwhile.
“You have, of course, noticed that fuel is more readily available that you might have previously anticipated. Some have blatantly offered you fuel. Others have hinted at vast repositories.
“We’ve noted and noticed that you’ve been cautious about accepting such offers. In your case, that could have been simple timidity. Still, it was probably the right thing to do.
“Take it from one who knows: there’s no use collecting fuel when you haven’t yet designed a rocket.”
He pauses and sets down his glass on the table. He picks up the whiskey bottle and pours himself another drink. His movements are tight with purpose and control. He wordlessly offers me another drink — I’ve only taken a few sips of my first one, but he insists I finish it before pouring me another. He settles back into his chair and spends a few moments staring me straight in the eyes.
Then he continues:
“So, allow me to give you a beginner’s lesson in rocket design.
“A rocket is a machine designed to propel a payload at high speeds, sufficiently high to overcome gravity and atmospheric resistance.
“It generally achieves this by burning an extremely large amount of fuel in an extremely short time. Fuel is matter arranged in a chemical structure which locks in energy. Burning it breaks down the chemical bonds and releases the energy. There are other means! There are other means of generating motive power. For now, suffice to say that burning fuel is crude, but also tried and tested.
“A rocket also requires a streamlined chassis to minimise atmospheric drag, and detailed calculations to ensure a targeted trajectory.
“If one wishes to build a rocket and lacks experience, it is often recommended to build one or several toy versions. This gives one practical experience working with the basic principles of rocketry. However, one must keep the end goal in mind, and not come to adopt building toy rockets as a hobby. Set a concrete date for the construction of a working rocket — even if it is many years into the future — and immediately begin work on researching areas where you lack relevant knowledge”.
He sets down his half-drunk glass, and leans back in the chair. There’s somehow a pack of cigars on the table (they’re not mine, but I didn’t notice him put them there), and he begins puffing on one. He’s now looking up at the ceiling and his voice takes on a more relaxed, less didactic tone.
“OK son. Let me just tell you straight. There’s several logical steps from here on out. But, at some point in the very near future, you’re going to find yourself in a place without a next step, without directions, without a goal; and where any map, guidebook or third-party information will be worse than useless. By now, you know how to deal with such situations. Really, you do. Take it from one with experience, almost always you manage to deal much better than you think you will.
“From here on out, you’re pretty much going to have to figure things out for yourself. It has, of course, always been thus and could never be any other way. It also never stops being a ball-ache.”
I have a vague memory of him conversing further, but I can’t for the life of me recall anything beyond more vague platitudes.
All I can remember is that at one point I finally interrupted him. I really wanted to know if he had any specific advice for me. I’d recently been through a variety of quite weird situations. Weird in ways that couldn’t always be easily explained by coincidence.
“In one word, son?” For one, he looked hesitant, if only for a moment. Then he paused, breathed, mouthed almost silently his one final word: