“I’m getting too old for this,” or so goes the daily ritual at the start of every shift. Since the normal 24-hour cycle is meaningless here, that happens once every 18 hours. I think the 18-hour day was developed by the US Navy for use on submarines. Oh, for the days back on Earth—24-hour days; wake up and get a cup of coffee and go out on the patio and soak in a little sunshine! Things are not that way now. It’s a chemical sponge bath, put on an ill-fitting plastic jumpsuit, and off to the common area for an evil-tasting energy drink. I guess looking at the sun is out too, since viewing it without the proper filters would fry your retinas.
Well, I’ve arrived at the common area. The rest of the groggy crew is streaming in. It’s time to discuss the shift’s activities. When I started my career, that used to amount to toolbox safety talks and work assignments. Now it’s check life support, check inventory, remind everybody that one stupid move results in instant death, and hope that we get something accomplished this shift.
Ever since they solved the fusion problem with a process that requires helium 3 to work efficiently, He-3 became such a hot commodity that mining the stuff on the moon became the next gold rush. Like the others doing this ex-planet thing, it seemed like a really great idea to me. A one-year contract, and I’d make almost enough money to live the rest of my life comfortably. Of course, I knew that during the year things would sometimes not look that shiny. The run-up to leaving was actually kind of exciting. Getting a ride on a rocket seemed like a good thing. Who knew how weightlessness would suck. Three days of being sick while everything like eating, sleeping, and especially going to the can is 1,000% harder than on terra firma. Things improved when we arrived on the moon where 1/6 G can make you feel like Superman.
Well, time to climb into our space suits. Your space suit, essentially a personal mini-spacecraft, is starting to smell a bit funky. I suppose that one could clean it with the chemical swabs but, after excreting into it for 6+ hours at a stretch, you just want to get away from it. Oh well, your brain will tune out the funk in a little while. George, Adrian, and Jose are donning their suits too. From the looks on their faces those suits don’t smell too good either.
The task at hand this shift is elongating a tunnel to a new mining area. The panels for this got here a couple of shifts ago. While these panels, made from layers of Kevlar, plastic, self-sealing mush, and aluminum foil, would weigh slightly over 200 kilos on Earth, tossing them around up here isn’t that much of a problem. Even Adrian doesn’t seem to have too much trouble. She is quite good at positioning her small frame to counter the inertial moments. George got lucky for this shift and drew the sealing job. We all hope that he pays attention to what he’s doing since loss of atmo is dangerous (although, trying to find the oxygen leak in the structure could be pretty exciting). Our robots do most of the heavy lifting and hauling, but final positioning and sealing is still a human’s job. Construction hasn’t changed that much over the years in that “what is supposed to fit—doesn’t”.
After slinging panels and wedging them into place for five hours, Jose, Adrian, and I are pretty beat. Toward the end, those damn little cotter pins are a problem with these bulky gloves. It’s actually amazing how tired your hands get. The cotter pins are required to hold the wedges in place when the mining machines start vibrating the area. Consequently, if you’re tired and forget to insert one, the results could be catastrophic. It looks like George is almost done sealing the newly constructed tunnel. We managed to get 38 meters installed this shift. It’s time for all to hit the airlock and decon to remove dust and grime. This moon dust is nasty stuff. It gets into everything if allowed to enter the habitat.
Unsuiting is usually uneventful and is done by rote while thinking about something else. One high point is that the habitat air is kind of fresher (bigger scrubbers) when you unseal the suit. Twelve blessed hours until this starts all over again. Now, it’s off to my personal space for a quick chem sponge bath and a fresh jumpsuit.
I think I’ll wander down to the common area and get something to eat. You would think they would come up with better chow, but it’s freeze-dried—guess it’s still too expensive to haul food with the water weight in it to the moon. As I clear the lock into what can only be described as a cylindrical tank with a few tables, a vid screen, computer terminals, drink fountain, and a freezer, I see the rest of my crew with a few people from the other crews. Everyone is laughing and telling stupid jokes and stories (pretty normal) but perhaps a little more animated this time. It seems George, an amateur brewer back home, managed to smuggle some yeast in his kit. His biology experiment has yielded some liquid that contains some ethanol. Apparently, the yeast really likes the low gravity. Everybody thinks the stuff tastes kind of vile, but the resulting buzz makes it worth choking down. Let’s just say George is a popular guy this trip. I join the party and agree the stuff is vile. We have a relatively good time for a change really enjoying the lame jokes and stories tonight. However, I know we’re going to pay for it on the next shift, as a hangover in a spacesuit isn’t fun.
I crawl back to my personal area (2.5 m X 1.5 m X 2 m), which constitutes my private world in this place. I activate the screen above my bunk and check out the news from back home—not that it means much to me at this point in my contract time. After I have done that, I decide to blow off my normal recorded movie and instead opt for a book. My thoughts wander back to Earth—you never seem to know what you have until it is no longer available. I mark one more black X on the calendar (123 blank days left waiting for an X) and turn back to see the vid screen lock in on my book selection. And begin to read: Moby Dick—“Call me Ishmael …” I guess time marches on, but some things never change—men will still leave home for adventure and money only to find that the adventure is work, and the money is meaningless until it’s over.
James P. Gilroy started out cutting grass and digging graves and moved on to construction, where he helped build airports in the U.S. Virgin Islands, roads and bridges in Pennsylvania, and dams in Nevada and Montana. His portfolio also includes cleanups of uranium mill tailings in Colorado, mining services in Colorado and Utah, and work on a NASCAR Track in Kansas. Early in his career, he also spent a short time in the anthracite coal Industry in Pennsylvania. He currently performs engineering services for a small family-owned contractor in eastern Pennsylvania.
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