Martin O'Hearn

A Science Fiction Short-Short Story

by Martin O’Hearn

Astronaut's bootprint on the Moon

Lunar surface, early Seventies:

A blast of flame drove the lunar excursion module’s ascent stage up into the starry black sky and toward its rendezvous with the orbiting command module. The men of the last expedition—the last for a while—were heading home.

Here and there upon the surface, in sites separated by thousands of untouched square kilometers, lay the relics of the explorers. Over in Mare Tranquilitatis an American flag defied the dictates of gravity and vacuum with the aid of a crosspiece holding it outstretched. Nearby squatted the abandoned descent stage of the very first expedition's LEM. With a plaque on its side commemorating the achievement, the boxlike rocket made its own utilitarian memorial, unweathered astride the lunar pumice.

Even the boot-sole footprints of those first wayfarers, impressions so ephemeral if made back home, would survive as millennia-spanning monuments in this airless wasteland.

Back here at the site of the final expedition—the final one for now—stood another memorial.

This round of landings had been planned to continue beyond the one just finished. But the space agency had cut back in the face of growing public indifference and active opposition. It had other projects and a limited budget. The impetus behind that landing back in July of ’69 had been as much political as scientific, but what matter? It had accomplished its end. Sooner or later, more bootprints would dot the pumice.

So for now, the last expedition’s memorial plaque acknowledged an upcoming pause in the explorations. A few high-flown sentences to that effect were followed by a simple list of every human who'd walked Earth’s satellite:

20 July 1969
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin
5 February 1971
Al Shepard, Ed Mitchell
31 July 1971
Dave Scott, Jim Irwin
20 April 1972
John Young, Charley Duke
11 December 1972
Gene Cernan, Jack Schmitt
20 July 2469
Jane Vecchi, Mark McCue
12 January 2470
Anastasia Ostroff, Bet Goldman
2 February 2471
Jeph Magnuson, Hal Wong

The bootprints around this base were crisp. The tracks over at Tranquility were blemished from centuries’ micrometeorite impacts. But all the prints would endure until the next expedition’s arrival.

Footprints last a long time on the Moon.

Copyright © 2011 Martin O’Hearn