Don’t ask me about paradoxes, because I still can’t figure them out.
There’s a party going on at Dancers in Williamsburg, and I am sitting and nursing a Tranquility cocktail of vodka and ginger ale. The millennials are decked out in their “Moon” outfits, glossy in golds and silvers or black Darth Vader capes and masks. It is hot in July even with the AC so they keep taking off the masks to wipe sweat or swig some beer. One masked girl tried to sneak a drink through a straw and her boyfriend started yelling something about sea turtles and it got a bit dicey for a while, but mostly they are a friendly crowd having fun.
Except for me. I’m at a party for the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, and I am sitting at the end of the bar crying. Most of the kids ignore me or leave me my space, and a few look scared or disgusted. One of the gold-clad girls comes up to me concerned.
“Are you OK, grandpa?” she asks.
I look at her friendly face surrounded by curly dark hair and want to tell her I was born in 1999. But that might get a call to the police and underage drinking would be the least of my worries. “Just sentimental,” I say. “I watched the Moon landing live.”
I shuffle off. I’m only 69 in real years, but my body never fully got used to Earth gravity. Even astronauts who go up in space for a few months have problems, but when you are born and raised at one-sixth G you never really adjust.
My name is Neil Adam Waterman and I was born in Armstrong City, near Shackleton Crater at the South Pole of the Moon, in July of 1999. Like many baby boys that month, I was named Neil after the heroic astronaut who lost his life during the tragic explosion during the first attempted Lunar landing.
After that horrific event, where both Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin were instantly killed, there was a negative reaction to using volatile fuels for space vehicles. A consortium of top universities worked on alternate propulsion methods, and a practical ion thruster was developed. The first lunar landing did not take place until 1982.
After that successful landing, there were several more, and a small American moon base was developed in 1987. My parents emigrated in 1992 after the second expansion, and I was part of the first generation born on the Moon.
But young people are always impatient. Judith and I grew up together, in the harsh yet protected environment of a Moon colony. We mostly lived underground with limited resources, but at a young age we were allowed topside to explore and learn. Always we kept looking at the stars and dreaming of suns and planets far away. It was a special time on Earth and the Moon, with visions of new beginnings and new places. The year I was born our scientists discovered a new planet around Proxima Centauri that might be habitable. That is only 12 light years away.
When we were both 20, they announced the Artemis Project — a large starship that would head out to form a colony around Proxima Centauri. We vowed to get married and take that ship out to a new star to raise children.
But Artemis was scheduled to fly in 2034, and couples over 30 years old would not be accepted. We would be oldsters at 35 and not eligible. If only we were born later.
Then one day Judith and I were exploring the Moon’s surface when we found an odd cave. A strange portal, strange markings, strange machine. Sure, we should have reported it, but, as I said, we were young. We set up some automated equipment that could bring us in and out on our end and found we could go into a small room on the other side. Eventually we figured out that it led to an office on Earth in 1969. We could only stay a few minutes due to both the instability and the high gravity.
Judith said it first. “If only that original Apollo hadn’t crashed, we would be so far ahead now!” I agreed. “We lost 13 years. If we could speed up progress, we could be young enough to go to the stars!”
It wasn’t hard to find the error that crashed the original lander — it was in every history database. The people doing the computations had been given a wrong constant for the fuel. On one trip we were able to call Katherine Johnson at NASA and inform her of the mistake. I guess as soon as we did that, we changed history. We couldn’t get back to the Moon.
I won’t tell you our struggles in high gravity, but we owe a bunch of people our lives. Let me just say that cover stories were easier in 1969. We were thrilled when we watched the Moon landing and the successful return of our astronauts. Judith never fully recovered and died nine years ago. We were married but she was never able to have children with the high gravity strain. Or maybe history just didn’t want to be changed anymore.
If you have ever complained you saw the space age begin and end in your lifetime, blame me. That we would go to the Moon and then stop is something nobody ever predicted. Maybe it is just a blip on human progress. I’m seeing renewed interest: Big countries, small countries, and private companies looking to go back and on to Mars. Maybe some of these millennials at the bar will invent the ion drive again and that starship will be built. I don’t have to be on it, but I would love to wave it goodbye.
Andrea Sue Mandel lives in West Windsor with her husband, Richard. She has a master’s degree in engineering from Rutgers and currently serves on the West Windsor Planning Board and is vice chairperson of the West Windsor Environmental Commission. An avid long time Girl Scout volunteer, she is a council delegate to the National GS USA Convention and has started and coached two championship Girl Scout robotics teams.