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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

One Giant Leap

‘How long have we got?’ asked Buzz.

Sally looked at her watch. ‘About three hours,’ she replied. ‘I put Mars One into orbit around the red planet at sixteen hundred hours. We’re due to touch down in about two, and your Mars walk, the first steps by a human on the Martian surface, is scheduled for an hour after that.’

Buzz looked at John’s face on the monitor. Behind John’s head could be seen the banks of consoles at mission control in Houston. ‘Hell, John,’ said Buzz in a tone of frustration, ‘Sally, I and the rest of the crew have been on our way to Mars for the past seven months. Why couldn’t there have been a decision by now?’

‘We’ve agreed all the phrases,’ John replied. ‘There’s just last minute wrangling about the order in which you should say them. Don’t forget that the first words spoken by a person on Mars will go down in history.’

‘It was easy for Neil Armstrong,’ Sally commented. ‘The “One Giant Leap” speech only had to be historic and memorable. Now that so much of this mission has been funded by corporate sponsors who demand advertising, it’s become ridiculously complicated.’

‘Coca Cola have backed down on wanting your first words to be “Planetary landings taste better with Coca Cola”,’ said John.

‘What persuaded them?’ asked Sally.

‘McDonald’s argued that, as Mars One has been redesigned in the shape of a coke bottle, Coca Cola already have more than their fair share of advertising – albeit that the word “Google” is painted on one side of the spaceship and “Amazon” on the other. McDonald’s want Buzz to step onto the surface, look towards the Martian horizon and say “I could sure use a Big Mac”.’

Buzz put his hand into his overall pocket and withdrew a chocolate bar.

Sally reflected that the sweet manufacturers must have contributed a sizeable amount of sponsorship to have the official confectionary of the mission declared as the Mars bar.’

As the conversation between Buzz and John continued, Sally glanced out through a portal. She was immediately transfixed by the beauty and majesty of the Martian landscape that was moving past below her as Mars One orbited the planet. Her thoughts finally returned to the practicalities of the mission and she glanced at her watch once more. ‘I have to prepare to land this ship,’ she said as she stood up and began to walk towards the flight deck. ‘It seems to me that you’ve all got about two hours to finalise the script for Buzz.’

‘Likewise, I need to prepare for the walk on the planet’s surface,’ Buzz said to John, reaching for the switch to end the transmission. ‘Contact me when the speech is ready.’

Around three hours later, Buzz stood by the exit hatch. ‘I can’t wait any longer,’ he said to John via the headset in his spacesuit helmet. ‘What do you want me to say?’

There was silence for perhaps a minute. Finally he heard John’s breathless voice in his headset. ‘OK Buzz,’ said John, ‘we’ve just got agreement. Start by saying that you got to Mars with the speed and comfort of a Nike trainer. Go on to say that the funding for the trip has been organised with competence and professionalism every bit as good as that of the HSBC Bank, itself. Then you can move on to say how you look forward to taking photographs on the Martian surface which will be as excellent as those you take on your iPad.’ John continued detailing the agreed phrases for each of the major mission sponsors until he reached the end of his list. ‘Good luck,’ he added in conclusion.

Buzz stepped from the spacecraft onto the top rung of the ladder and began to descend.

Eight rungs later, he reached the bottom of the ladder and took his final step backwards onto the Martian surface.

He turned around and looked out across the Martian landscape. He had seen this view hundreds of times in photographs and during simulations but nothing had prepared him for the real thing. He was certainly on the red planet, but there were more shades of red before him than there were shades of green in the forests he so loved back in California. It was beautiful. In that moment, it felt more beautiful than anything he had ever seen, and he was overcome with emotion.

‘Are you OK?’ Buzz heard John’s voice in his headset. The communication system had been set so that Buzz could hear all relevant radio messages. The millions of people on Earth, however, who were awaiting his historic comments could only hear the words that Buzz would say. ‘Start talking,’ instructed John, urgently.

‘I thought for a moment there that this was the most beautiful scene I had ever witnessed,’ said Buzz.

‘What the fuck are you saying,’ shouted John. ‘What about Nike?’

‘Then I realised that, despite its wild, desolate splendour, it doesn’t come close to so many of the diverse locations on Earth.’

‘Jesus, Buzz,’ John continued with an increasing tone of desperation, ‘if you don’t get back on message now, mission control is going to be filled with corporate lawyers, baying for blood.’

‘I guess that we get so familiar with what we have on Earth that we kind of take it for granted.’

‘We don’t have any sponsorship from organisations promoting ecology,’ screamed John in disbelief.

‘We also spend so much of our time fighting with each other or trying to close the next deal that we lose sight of the big picture.’

‘Terminate the broadcast, Sally.’ Buzz heard John speaking to the pilot of Mars One. ‘We can’t end it from Earth because there are too many receivers all over the world picking up what Buzz is saying.’

‘No need to terminate the broadcast,’ Buzz heard Sally reply. ‘It sounds just fine to me.’

‘Up here,’ Buzz continued to address planet Earth, ‘you can’t miss that big picture.’

Buzz could hear John sobbing. ‘For Christ sake, Buzz, just mention the fucking McMars Burger and McMartian Meal Deal.’

‘If we just looked up at the stars more often,’ Buzz carried on as if he had not heard John’s plea, ‘we might come to see our own individual lives in perspective and catch a glimpse of what humankind could together achieve. I hope this mission can mark the beginning of seeing ourselves, our Earth and our universe in a new way.’

The sole purpose of the initial Martian walk had been to say the all-important first words and so, feeling he had nothing more to say, Buzz turned and began to climb the ladder back to the hatch of the spacecraft. As he did so he noted almost complete silence from his headset. There were just the distant sounds of John’s inconsolable sobs, interspersed with his muted cries of ‘no, no’ and ‘how could he do this’.

Buzz heard nothing more until he opened the inner door of the airlock to be met by the crew of Mars One. All were smiling, but nothing could be said for a full two minutes due to the sound of their applause, deafening in the confines of this small area of the ship.

The standing ovation was only brought to an end by John’s face appearing on a nearby monitor and the sound of his voice over the speaker.

‘It’s OK,’ shouted John with evident relief.

‘What’s OK?’ Buzz asked.

‘It seems that millions of people all over the world were moved by what you said. People are hugging each other, cheering and dancing in the streets. The NASA lawyers say that it would be commercial suicide for any sponsor to sue for breach of an advertising contract in the face of that weight of international public opinion.’

Sally smiled. ‘Well done, Buzz,’ she said. ‘It sounds like what you did, might, after all, have been a giant leap for Mankind.’