The viewing room in the Mission Support Center is a huge circular auditorium. Up to now there has been plenty of room, but tonight it is filled to overflowing. Folks in the back of the room are so excited that they do not even realize they are jumping from one foot to the other. They have been standing for the past two hours, ever since the crew moved into the landing stack to take her down.
The spacecraft is just around the limb of the moon over the far side. Abruptly, mission control picks up a relay through the Lunar Transfer Vehicle as it orbits just ahead of the landing stack.
"Hey Earth! We're back with ya through the LTV," the mission commander says. His voice is startlingly clear through the radio link. "Coming down right in the groove. You should be getting some video of Lobachevsky Crater right about . . . now!"
The main viewing screen springs to life. A huge crater dominates the lunar landscape. In the black sky above the crater are the words: LIVE FROM THE MOON. Other monitors flash scenes from around the world. You realize that billions of people from all corners of the earth are sharing the experience with you. They crowd into mission support centers like the one you are in, and into theaters, malls, parks, auditoriums, and classrooms. You can spare just enough of your attention to marvel at so many human minds directed toward this one goal: the return of human beings to the moon for the first time in nearly forty years.
And this time, we're going back to stay.
"Here we go," the commander says. "Hetz Crater. That's the one in the middle of the chain. We'll get back out here to explore that area next year."
A skinny red-haired girl quietly slips onto the step beside your seat. You don't even notice her until she nudges your elbow and whispers, "How long?"
She couldn't be more than twelve, just about ready to start thinking seriously about puberty. From the stains and worn spots, you get the feeling that her Moonbase Artemis T-shirt is her favorite garment.
"About ten minutes. Watch the TGO display. That's 'time to go'." Your own whisper sounds too loud in the hushed room. Nobody is talking. Their eyes never wander from the big monitors hanging overhead.
When you look toward the girl next to you, you notice she is not the only person sneaking a seat in the aisles of the auditorium. You shoot a nervous glance toward the fire marshall, worried that he'll be shooing people to the back of the room to keep the aisles clear, but even he is unable to spare any thoughts for the crowd.
On the monitors, the vast, dark plains of Mare Marginis unfold before you.
"Wave at Mr. Goddard as we fly past, folks!" The commander is referring to Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry. Images of Goddard and his early gasoline-powered rockets flash onto the information screens. A large crater on the northern rim of Mare Marginis honors his memory.
You are one of the Veterans, one of the few who have been with the project since the beginning. Perhaps later you will feel guilty about having a front row seat while all those people have to stand, but for now, there is only the moon. Your hard work and diligence earned you this seat.
The dark basaltic plains of Mare Marginis slip out of view, to be replaced by rolling hills.
"There's Cannon Crater, right on time," the commander says. "We're going to roll for the final approach. Hey, there's a great view from the inside cameras now. Take a look through the porthole!"
It looks like a short boot; dark soil surrounded by the silver gray of the surrounding hills. Mare Anguus, and Angus Bay. The goal. Home. Beyond, the ragged rim of Mare Crisium. The dark terminator cuts across the shining, sable carpet of the Sea of Crises, hiding her secrets for days to come. It is just past sunrise at Angus Bay. In the sky above, Mother Earth. You are seeing yourself, from a viewpoint a quarter million miles away.
The commander stops his chatty narrative. He is feeding information to the pilot. "Looks like we're headed right for the central peak of that crater there. Veer just a bit to the right. Yeah, head for the rim. OK, bring her down. Fifty feet. Hey, there's some dust, just like Buzz said there'd be!
"OK, Earth, we picked our spot and we're hovering at twenty feet to yaw into position."
As the spacecraft turns, the porthole camera sweeps the landscape. It comes to rest showing a path of dark, smooth terrain leading out into the vast reaches of Mare Crisium. Soon people will be following that path, seeking out the treasures lurking in the soil of the dusty plain.
"Spot on," the commander says. "Earth is perfectly centered in the frame. Let her down. Ten feet . . . five . . . contact light!
"Earth, Angus Bay here! Artemis has landed."
You strain to hear what clever bon mot he will have to say about the return to the moon, but his voice is drowned out by a fusillade of champagne corks. No worry, you will hear it again and again on the news and in the documentaries.
A fellow comes by with a rack of glasses and bottles to fill them -- champagne and soda pop, both festooned with the labels of Proud Sponsors of the Artemis Project. When you reach for a glass, you realize your hand is still captive in both of the red-haired girl's hands. The realization hits her at the same time and she snatches her hands away. You smile, and lift your glass to her in a toast: a toast to new beginnings.
It has begun. This time, for keeps.