April 12

International Day of Human Space Flight


You’ve been looking forward to this getaway for many months.  The shuttle trip was limited to 30 civilian passengers, in addition to the scientists and administrators who were traveling on official business.

For you, it would be all scenery.  Bragging rights about how high you traveled, how many light years, what alien surface you had the chance to walk on.

The tickets were expensive, but that wasn’t the only cost.  Unlike a commercial airline flight, you had to attend extensive training sessions before the trip.   In a controlled chamber, you experienced a lengthy simulation of zero gravity.  You needed to pass several tests of physical endurance, including a thorough medical examination.  A psychological evaluation was also mandatory.

Now that you’ve passed all the hurdles, you’re finally able to take your assigned seat on the space shuttle.  You click the seatbelt over your waist, adjust the straps over your chest.

The safety instructions on a commercial airflight are typically 5 minutes long, and most passengers ignore the presentation.   For this journey, everyone pays careful attention to a 20 minute video that details every possible catastrophe — and what instruments and equipment might improve a passenger’s chance of survival.

Finally, the video ends.  You’re more nervous than you were before, but you also fell an adrenaline rush as the doors close before takeoff.

The pilot’s voice comes over the intercom, and you assume he’s going to announce the duration of the flight, citing weather conditions on Earth and beyond that might affect the smoothness of the ride.  Instead, the pilot says:  “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have an unfortunate situation with the number of seats on our flight.  Some government dignitaries will need passage, so we’re going to have to ask some of you to give up your seats.”

You hold tight to your armrest.  You’ve worked so hard to get here, and there’s no way you’re giving up now.

“We can offer you a full refund of your ticket price, plus significant credits toward future voyages.”

One of the crew members laughs reflexively at that last part, then covers his mouth.

Dignitaries.  You wonder if something…

“Volunteers.”  You detect a fresh note of panic in the pilot’s voice.  “Quickly, or we’ll have to choose for you.”

The passengers look at each other.  Several of the civilians pull out their phones and try to check for news reports.

“Put those away,” the laughing crew member says.  “Electronic devices interfere with our navigation equipment.”

The entry hatch opens at the front of the plane.  Instead of the announced dignitaries, a group of armed soldiers storm into the passenger area.

“Five volunteers needed.  Sorry:  six.”  The pilot sounds like he’s trembling, or trying to hold back tears.  “Right now, or we’ll have you forcibly removed.”

God, this is turning out to be like a commercial airline after all.

You’re not giving up your assigned seat, no matter what.