“I’ve decided what to do.” It was the voice of Astronaut, Robert Walden. “I’m coming back to earth in an EMU.”
Brad Carlson at Mission Control was horrified. “In a space suit? You’re joking. You have no heat shield. You’ll burn up! There has to be another way!”
“There is no other way,” responded Robert. ‘You know that as well as I do. I’ve made a plan. The EMU is sturdy. I’ll come down slowly and won’t need a heat shield. I’ll be using the retro-rockets to adjust my speed of descent and will be en route for about fifteen hours with an initial velocity of 25 miles per hour. I’ll be over Danville, Kansas on Tuesday at eight fifty-three hours at 19,000 feet. I’ll need helicopter transportation from there. I’m breathing pure oxygen now and will be exiting from the space station at exactly eighteen hours.”
“The suit doesn’t carry enough oxygen and rocket power,” Brad objected.
“The equipment is intended for extended EVAs,” responded Robert. “There is not a lot of reserve, but enough. And, I’ll tether two extra oxygen tanks to my belt. I’ll use them as required.”
“You’ve thought all this out, Bob?”
“Yes, I’ve checked my calculations and feel my plan has a chance. There’s a lot to consider. The International Space Station is at 240 miles above earth and making 15 to 16 orbits around earth. Earth, itself, is rotating. If I exit the ISS and give myself a brief retro burst, I’ll begin descending downward while still moving forward. Gravity will help at first but will become dangerous as I get closer to earth. I’ll be moving too fast and will have to adjust my speed.”
“You’re sure you want to do this, Bob?”
“Yes Brad. The good news is that even if I don’t make it, this will be a good learning experience for NASA.”
“All right, Bob. It’s your call.”
Fully clothed in his bulky space suit, Robert opened the ISS’s overhead door and eased into space. He gave himself a gentle shove at the door frame and sailed to a distance of about twenty meters from the station. With eyes focused on the huge chronometer on his gloved wrist, he pushed the retro button on his belt for three seconds. “I’m on my way,” he declared into the mike. “God speed, Bob,” said Brad. Robert began his epic journey.
Robert’s plight became instantly known to three-quarters of the earth’s population. Several billion radios and TV’s began following his adventure.
Robert and Brad engaged in nonstop conversation as Robert sped toward earth. The communications were fed to concerned audiences of the world. At midnight, Robert was about 175 miles above earth and descending at 28 feet per second. “It’s like I’m in an elevator,” remarked Robert, “except that the walls consist of empty space.” The two were tiring from the ordeal but only Brad could be relieved. Wendell Brown took over Brad’s chair at Mission Control. In the meantime, officials at Archwell Aircraft had been alerted to the need for a helicopter and the company had sent their new Altron speeding toward Danville.
Hour after hour the adventure continued. Robert’s positions were being reported and diagrammed minute by minute, second by second. Milestones of 150 miles above earth and 120 miles were reached. The latter was the midway point. Robert had been on his voyage about twelve hours. The first tank of oxygen had become exhausted at four a.m. Robert had disconnected it and watched as it slowly drifted away. He had then connected the first of the two extra tanks he had brought with him. He told Wendell he was going to try to get some sleep. Nothing was heard from him for two hours while the population of earth held its breath.
“How do you feel, Bob?” Brenda Lawson had just taken over at Mission control. “Hello Brenda,” responded Robert. “Nice talking to you. I’m scared. The loneliness in space is unimaginable. I can’t believe this is really happening. It’s taking all my training to convince myself that I really exist. Tell the others what I’m feeling, will you?”
“It’s already done,” responded Brenda. “The entire world is hearing your every word.”
“I see it’s Tuesday, six hundred hours. I hope they’re planning on having some sandwiches in the helicopter,” said Robert. “Water is not a problem. There is a supply inside the helmet. Can you tell me exactly where I am?” “You’re at 266,348 feet,” responded Brenda. “You’re moving downward at 38 feet per second. All instruments tracking you indicate you’re right on target.” “That’s great,” replied Robert. “Can’t wait to see the chopper. Tell the others I went through a meteor storm just now.”
Alarmed, Brenda said, “Meteor storm?”
“Tiny pellets, several thousand, like little grains of salt. The EMU handled them well. I deflected many of them with my glove. Some hit the visor but there is no apparent damage. This is something we might need to worry about if anyone ever has to repeat what I’m doing.”
“You’re now twenty miles up,” Brenda reported later. “Reports are coming from sky watchers with telescopes. They’re telling of having seen an object that looks like a man in white clothing shooting across the sky in a seated position.” “Maybe they saw me installing the second oxygen tank,” commented Robert.
Good news was reported when Robert stated that fourteen hours into his return to earth, his position and supplies were exactly as he had initially calculated they should be. Now, all that was needed was to make a successful rendezvous with the helicopter.
Exactly as planned, a helicopter was circling a spot over Danville at 19,000 feet. The pilots, Jay Keller and Jerry Jones, were scanning the sky for the first sight of Robert’s arrival. Suddenly he was seen several hundred meters ahead of the aircraft and above them by the same distance. The pilots raced to his location. Soon the helicopter and Robert were traveling side by side with only a few meters between them. Jay brought the ship closer and closer to Robert, and, in an extraordinary maneuver, had Robert drift into the open door. He reported that Robert had a smile on his face. Over half of the earth’s population relaxed. Robert had been the first astronaut to have ever returned to earth in a space suit!