The three most popular settings for stories submitted to Rocket Science were Earth, another (not always named) star system, and Mars. The International Space Station came sixth. Yet in the anthology itself, it is – with Mars and the Moon – second only to Earth as the most common setting. Which probably tells you more about the sort of fiction I wanted to publish in Rocket Science than it does the popularity of the ISS as a setting. But of the three set in LEO in the anthology, Gary Cuba’s is the only one that directly references the ISS in its title:
Ian very kindly asked me to provide a few words about myself and my story appearing in Rocket Science, ‘Why Barnaby Isn’t Aboard The ISS Today’. Keeping in line with my traditional spirit of literary perversity, I’ll instead relate a distant memory, dredged from the glory days of the U.S. Space Program.
It is 20 July 1969. Yes, I know that many of you were not even a gleam in your father’s eye back then, but I was a 22-year old college graduate who’d managed to score a decent entry-level engineering position at a major U.S. Aerospace/Defense company. Single, carefree, with a brand new fastback Plymouth Barracuda that sported a V8 318 cubic inch engine under the hood, and fifty dollars in my wallet. In short, the world was mine!
My close friend Neal had suggested we throw a moon-landing party. Now, at that age there are no bad reasons to throw a party, but this one seemed particularly good. A bunch of us guys and gals descended on his apartment, flipped on the TV to the continuous network feed covering this singularly historic event, and started doing what we all did best in those days: drinking beer and having a good old raucous time.
To cut to the chase, we watched and listened as the Lunar Module touched down on the moon, and heard those goosebump-inducing words, “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed”. We all whooped and hollered and chug-a-lugged our beers. Then more beers, as we awaited the first human step on the moon’s surface. Then more beers, as the hours wended on. When will Armstrong finally get out there and walk on the moon, damn it! Then, catastrophe struck.
We ran out of beer.
Neal jumped up and yelled “Beer run!” I accompanied him in his yellow ’62 Chevrolet Impala convertible and we set out to do our procurement duty. It took a little longer than we anticipated, being as it was a Sunday and the closest liquor stores were closed. When we returned, the other guests proclaimed: “You missed it! You missed it!”
Ah, well. There is probably some deeper meaning to this tale, but I’d be hard-pressed to identify it. Maybe it’s something about the fact that basic, lower-level human needs override all else? Or that we had better provide plenty of beer on our manned spacecraft in future? I dunno.
By the way, Neal still has that old yellow ’62 Chevy. It’s sitting in his barn as we speak.
And I’ll relate one other digressive item as a follow-up to this. The television camera used by the moon astronauts had been designed and built by my company (Westinghouse). Following the mission, it was delivered back to the Plant to undergo postmortem analysis. Since I knew the Tech who was charged with the disassembly, I got a piece of it from him – a tiny chunk of RTV silicone from a seal.
To be honest, I don’t know where that precious item is today. I probably threw it out during one of my occasional cleanup campaigns. Figures. Maybe I’ll run into it again someday, stuck away inside some dusty drawer or box.
Okay, all this has nothing to do with my Rocket Science story, which is about a gung-ho but not-very-bright ISS Mission Specialist. From its title, many will recognize the allusion to the old Irish folksong, ‘Why Paddy’s Not At Work Today’. I’d always wanted to translate that humorous (but sadly pathetic) vignette into a more modern setting. And so I did. I thank Ian for making me get all my “mushy” science and setting details correct, and for providing me with links to supplemental NASA online information to help do that. Rarely have I received such a helpful, sagacious, thoughtful edit. Here’s to you, sir! I’d wave off the flies, but there are none on you.
Since this post is threatening to get longer than the story itself, I’ll cap it off with the obligatory third-person puffin-stuff:
Gary Cuba lives with his wife and a teeming horde of freeloading domestic critters in South Carolina, USA. Now retired, he spent most of his career working in the commercial nuclear power industry, and holds several U.S. patents in that field. His short fiction has appeared in more than forty magazines and anthologies to date, including Jim Baen’s Universe, Flash Fiction Online, Universe Annex (Grantville Gazette), Abyss & Apex, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. See www.thefoggiestnotion.com to learn more about him and to find links to some of his other stories.