Man’s Ascent (written in 2030)
It is the end of the bad days...
That time of man’s ascent.
It is 30 years since Afghanistan,
20 years since Iraq,
32 years since the economic crisis...
Man’s destiny in space is sown
With the re ignition...
Of the Space Race.
Neil Armstrong (mission commander of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing)
That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.
It isthe year2030. Man’s struggle withManhas finallyended.The Iraq andAfghanistanWarshave
endedinguilt.ItisMan’s guilttowardshisownruthlessnessandfanatical ambitions.The leadersof
everynationfinallydecidedtoco-operate byratifyingThe IPFANC(The International Peace ForAll
Nations’Convention),whichdecreedthe terminationof nuclearweaponsandthe unconditional
peace betweenall nations. However,Man’srestlessnessforcompetitionanddominationstill exists.
Since the peace,Man has beenlookingtowardsthe stars...andthe endlesspossibilities thatexist
In the bleaknessanddarkvoidof space...noair...nowater...nolife...Itisaplace where almost
nothingexists.Yet,itsparkedMan’scuriosity...andhisambitionstorise above hispeers,andreach
for the stars...
Lookingat Earth from a distance of 5 millionkilometresaway,itlookedquite ordinary.Inarecent
surveybyNASA,mostnormal people justsaythatEarth was a dark blue marble withwhite clouds
hanginginthe atmosphere.Whenaskedaboutthe extraordinarylifeformsonEarth,most just
But it wasjustat thisexactpoint - 5 millionkilometresawayfromEarth,and60 millionkilometres
away fromMars ina straightline,twostreaksof lightzippedthroughthe timelesscarpetof space.
The ultra-brightblue lightsemittedbytwoengines,fromtwospaceships, travelledside-by-side like
...The Challengerandthe YellowStar...Onemade bythe Chinese...the otherbythe Americans...
Thisis the ultimate competitionforglory.Itssuccessorfailure will forevermarkMan’splace in this
universe.Theirobjective:be the firsttoreachMars.
Two mensat at the controlsof the ship.Bothwere intheirmid-twenties.Bothwere Americans.Both
wore orange flight-suits,withnohelmets.The olderof the twohada moustache,andwore a
turtleneckunderhissuit.The youngerone wasthin,withshortblackhair.Hiseyeswere brightblue
In frontof themwere the controls...rowsandrowsof buttonsandcontrolspannedoutbefore
“Oh, no,Henrythisflightsuitistootight aroundthe wrists! Thisisnot helpingthe flow of
haemoglobininmyarteries,”criedthe youngerman,takinghishandsoff the controlstoadjustthe
plasticstrapson the wrist.
“Hands on the controls! Youshouldknow betterthanthis!”orderedthe olderman.
Tomas quicklyputhishandsback where theyshouldbe.
“Do not letthe shipveeroff course!Thisisa matterof whetherthe USA reachesMars first!”
“Call me Henry,”the oldermaninterjected.He waslookingintentlytowardsthe darknessof space
outside the ship’swindshield. Wearemoving closer to Marsevery second.ButI hopethe Chinese
lose their enginesbeforewe reach there.
Eventhoughhe was not the captain,Tomas hada strange knackfor beingable toguesswhatwas in
people’sminds.Thiswasalsoanadditional plustohismathematical genius.Growingupona farmin
rural Utah, Tomaseducatedhimself inall subjectstodo withscience andmathematics.He wasa
true talent.Afterhe graduatedfromuniversitywhenhe wassixteenwithadoctorate in
“You know,Henry.It isonlythe Chinese.Whydoyouholda grudge againstthem?”Tomas asked,
tryingto sympathise withHenry.
“It’snot simplyamatter of race, Tomas.It is a matterof national pride.Since the peace treaty,the
Chinese hadbeenstockingupforthe Space Race. Since challengingAmericainwarfare orthe
economyisnotpermittedsince the Treaty,theyare lookingforwardtochallengingusin
exploration,”Henrygrittedhisteeth. He wasalwaysquite annoyedthatChinawasone stepbehind
the USA. “Those competitiveAsians...alwayswantgloryforthemselves...theywentto the Moon!
Tomas thoughtaboutthisfor a moment.“NoHenry,I believe the Chinese are explorersasmuchas
we are. Theyjustwantto be a part of this...”
“I cannot reasonwithyouTomas,but I hope youare right...”
Close by,inthe cockpitof the othershipwere twomenboth intheirmid-twenties.Bothwere
Chinese.Theywore redandyellowflightsuits,withthe symbolof the Chineseflagonbothof them.
The older,muchmore seriouslookingman, wascalledCaptainKyle Zhu.He isthe leaderof this
mission.Zhuusedtobe a bricklayerworkinginrural China,until the CSA (Chinese Space Agency)
conductedthe NRECE (Neuron ReflexesandEmotionalControl Exam) on200 000 trial participantsto
choose pilotsforthe CSA.Kyle’sreflexesandemotional control weresuperb...
Sittingbeside Kyle wasadare devil calledChen Sakharov.Half-Russian,half-Chinese,Chenwasone
of the bestpilotsinChina.He wasformerlyatest-pilotforRussia’sjetfighters.The jobwasvery
But for now,nothingwasreallyhappening.The shipwasonauto-pilot,andbothof the pilotswere
havinglunchthroughtube-like containers.There wasatinyhole atthe topof the cylindrical
structureswhere the pastes were squeezedout.Soa meal inspace for the Chinese waslike eating
“How do youfindthe taste of Chinese space food,Chen?”Kyle lookedathisco-pilot.Asthe captain,
Kyle knewbestthathe shouldknowmore about hiscrew first.
“Not as tastyas thisship,captain”,repliedthe test-pilot. “The Chinese Governmentmusthave
thoughta great deal aboutthismission...Lookatthis – a nuclear-fusionspace-warpingengine,
“It’sall part of the plan,”musedCaptainZhu.He turnedonthe intercominhisflightsuit.“Flight
Chenlookeduncomfortablyathiscaptain. Ihopethis flight engineerguy gotthis right. We cannot
fail on this mission.It is theGovernment’stop priority.
The intercomon Kyle’sspacesuitcame alive.“Hellocrew.Thisisyourflightengineerspeaking.Since
our departure fromEarth,I have beentryingto repaira faultinour space-foldingengines, which
manyoverlookedasbeingaminorproblem.Hence,Iamannouncingthatour missionisa go,and we
are readyto launch.”
“Thank you,Harvey,”Kyle repliedthroughthe intercom, tryingtonotletexcitementoverrunhim.
He spoke toChen,“It isMan’s firstjourneytoMars, andI am a part of thisprivilege.Alright,co-pilot,
Americansare still gettingready.”
“Well we are not waitingforthem,”Kyle replied.TurningtoChen,he spoke the wordsfromthe
book,2001: A SpaceOdyssey“
“Ignite the space-warpingengines!Let’sgive the Americansasurprise!!!”
“AlrightJames,howisthe hyperdrive forthe space-warpingenginesgoing?”CaptainHenryMiles
spoke intothe intercomstrappedontohisflightsuit.Itwaslinkedtothe maintenance officerof the
Challenger,James.A chemical andmechanical engineerfromStanford,Jameswasavery intelligent
but quietperson.He hadprovenhismetal time andtime againinspace-missionstothe ISS
(InternationalSpace Station).Now,he wasworkinginthe engine compartment,adjustingthe
temperature andnuclearenergycontrolsonthe wallsof the gangwayleadingtothe nuclearspace-
Checkingthe controlsforthe final time,Jamesgave the control panel afinal lovingpat,andmoved
towardsthe cockpit.As he floatedtowardsthe compartmentwhere HenryandTomaswere seated
at the controls,he spoke quicklyintohisintercom, “CaptainMiles,Ihave checkedthe energylevel
producedinthe fusion.Ihave alsomade sure that the temperature isabove the safety
requirements.Levelsof uraniumare stable.”
In the cockpit,Henryand Tomas smiledateach other.Theywere clearlypleasedwiththe progress.
Of the two,CaptainMileswasthe most excited.
“Okay,Tomas. Nowthatwe are readyto jumpintohyper-space,how are the Chinese goingwith
Tomas ran a heat-signature scanof the surroundings.The Chinese shipwas60 metresaway.
However,fromthe scan,it wasnot lookingbeneficial forthe Americans.
The co-pilotreplied,“Frommyanalysis,Ibelieve thatthe Chinese are alsoswitchingtotheirspace-
warpingengines.They are gettingreadytolaunch!!”
Those Asiansare like flies!Theyneverstopdothey?”
Tomas interjected,“Thiswillbe close,Captain,butitwill be oververysoon.Once we jumpinto
hyper-space,itwillonlytake 20 secondstoreach the atmosphere of Mars. Afterwe emerge,we
have to safelynavigate throughitsatmosphere.Nottoofast,nottooslowly. One false move andwe
will burnoutin the descent.”
At thismoment,Jamescame backwiththe progressreport.“Everything’sstable,Captain.Let’sgeta
move on!Oh no,the Chinese hadalreadyleft!!!!”
“Thisis not lookinggood.Alright,Tomas,let’smake the jump!Strapin,James!”
Afterrunninga fewsafety diagnostics,the pilotsturnedoff theirnormal space-thrustingengines.
Henryand Tomas lookedtoeachother,and grippedthe flightcontrol withtheirhandswhichwill
ignite the space-warpingengines.Tomaswithhisright,andHenrywithhisleft.
“To the Race,Henry.”
Theypulledthe control backtogether...
“Alright,we are reachingthe pointof extraction.Prepare the jumpoutof hyperspace,andthe
transitiontothe ship’snormal space-thrusters.Chen,pleasebrake hardwithme onmy mark.
Prepare forimpactpeople,”CaptainKyle Zhuspoke intothe ship’scommentarymicrophone - justto
make sure flightengineerXucanhear himinthe engine compartment.
Both pilotsgrippedthe controls.The Yellow Star hastwoof them – one foreach pilottocontrol each
thruster. Since eachengine isindependentandverysophisticated,the bestspaceshipproducedby
Man hasto be controlledbytwopilots. Eventhen,the space-thrusterscanbe dangerousinthe
handsof the unskilledandfearful...butnottoday...
“Prepare to brake...”CaptainZhumuttered. “NOW!”
At that veryinstant,the planetof Mars appearedtoosuddenlythatitsimage filledalmosttwothirds
of the windshieldinamatterof microseconds. The experience waslike havingaball thrownat your
face,and seeingituntil itwasonlya fewcentimetresfromyourface. Atthat veryinstant,bothmen
pulledbackontheircontrolsina highlysynchronisedmanner,justasthe space-warpingengines
transferredtothe normal space-thrustersonthe ship.
The YellowStardroppedlike astone towardsthe atmosphere of Mars. Theywere only80 kilometres
towardsthe exosphere of Mars...andtheywere headingforthe atmosphere waytooquickly.The
brakesseemedtobe uselessinstoppingthe momentum the Space-warpingengineshadgiven
...until theirvelocitystartedtodrop...from300km/hto 250 km/h...220km/h...140km/h...
Afterreachingthe atmosphere of Mars,theywere still goingtooquickly!!!!!Almost20km/h!!!!!
Since the escape velocityof Marsis 5 km/h,the spaceshipwill breakapartandburn inthe descent.
The onlyway to escape a verypainful deathwastodropto the escape velocity.
“Oh no!It lookslike we cannotmake it.We are alreadyburning!!! We onlyhave a few hundred
metrestodrop below5-"flightengineerCSUspoke throughthe microphone. He wasclearlyscared.
“Is beatingthe Americansworththis?What’sthe pointof thismissionanyway?”
Both Kyle andChenhadto blockout Xu’smoans.While tryingtomaintainhisgripon the shaking
controls,Chentriedtopeerthroughthe thickorange carbon dioxide gasinMars’ atmosphere.“Oh
no,Kyle,thisisnotgood. There isa jetstreamin the middle atmosphere –a bigone,at least
24km/h, whichwill blowusoff course towardsthe surface...it,canmake the craft verydifficultto
However,Kyle sawthisasan opportunity.Withbeadsof sweatdrippingfromhisforeheadontohis
carbon fibre controls,he rapidlyoutlinedhisplans toChen, “Thatmightjustbe whatwe needto
slowusdown.At thisrate,we are goingat 6.4km/h...andourcraft is heatingup...butwe canuse the
drag of the jetstreamto slowusdownbefore ourhull burnsto smithereens...let’sflyheadlonginto
“Copy,Captain,"repliedChen,takingadeepbreath. There wasnosense of nervousnessinhis
eyes...nowhe hasa plan...
“Affirmative,Captain. Sorryaboutthe stupidremarks,”flightengineerCSUspoke.
Lookingat hisvelocitygauge dropping,Kyle Zhu readiedhimselfforthe impossibletaskbefore them.
Theirchancesof survival:lessthan10%.He triedto summonhiscommandingvoice,one lasttime,
“Prepare the flapsandstabilizerstoslow usdown...Prepare forimpactinSIX...”
ChenSakharov turnedonall of the ship’sstabilizers.
He grippedhisflightcontrolsfordearlife,knowingthe jetstreams will be hardonthe hydraulics...
The crew eachofferedaprayerfor humanity...
Witha loudHOOMPH!!!The YellowStarflew straightintothe jetstream!!!
Afterthe shipemergedfromthe jumpintohyperspace,itwastime tobe REALLY careful.
HenryMilesspoke intohisship’sintercom.“Thisisgoinggood,people.Slowlynow...we are making
Tomas made a rough calculationinhishead.“Jeez...weare solucky...we justcame outof
hyperspace justsoonenoughtomake a descentinabout20 minutes...”
Now,Henryrealizedsomething.He spoke intohisintercom, “Ohno!!!...the Chinese...HeyJames!!!
Where are theynow?”
There wasno replyfora fewseconds.“Uh,Captain,somethingveryunusual happened.Ihave
locatedthe Yellow Staronmy radar 52 secondsago...God...itseemedthattheyare flyingWAYtoo
“But the matter isthis...ataboutthe same time youwanteditsprogressreport,the Yellow Starjust
veeredoff course!!!...Imeantheywere headingstraighttowardsthe surface of Mars,but they
“It’sthe jetstreams,James,”Tomasinterjected. “Ireadaboutthemina physicstextbook...my
gosh....itlookslike theymighthave all perishedintheirdescent. The chancesforsurvival are less
than 10%...about6 actually...”
“Yes,Tomas,” repliedJames,obviouslyfrustratedathow hisfellowcrew memberstrytoadd their
commentsinhisprogressreport.“Look,Captain.Howeveryoudon’tlike the Chinese,itisnot
importantnow.Whateverhappens,itlookslike Americanswill be the firsttolandonMars. Not
Withthat, CaptainHenryMileswasreassuredof an Americanvictoryoverthe Chinese. Therewill be
nothing to stop us.We will be thefirst to land on Mars!!! Asthe pilotsmannedtheircontrol forthe
smoothflighttowardsMars,theythoughtof manythings...Itwas50 yearsago whenMan first
landedonthe Moon...50 years!!!...beforeMancould reconciliate hisdifferences,andtake the next
The orange,almostserene,gassyatmosphere of Marslaybefore them.The descentwaswell-timed
and slow...butsteady.The brightcloudsof Mars’atmosphere gave the softtints of yellow and
white...itwasalmostaperfectdescentuntil the cloudpartedtoreveal somethingthe Americans
“Oh, GOD!!!Jesus...”CaptainHenryMilesgroaned.Hisexpressionof victorysuddenlyturnedinto
one of rage and desperation...because hoveringafew hundredmetresbelowthemwasthe battered
“Oh God, the Chinese have gothere first!”Tomasshoutedthroughhisintercom.“Ithoughttheir
shipwasblastedoff course duringtheirdescent!!!”
Henrylookedlike he justswallowedaninsect.He wasclearlynotpleased.“Itoldyou!Theyare
cheaters!The windactuallycarriedthemintheirdescent!!!The stormhasnotblownthem
offcourse...itactuallyhelpedthemsave theirmiserable lives!”
“Okay Captain,Iguesswe shouldnotgettoo angry withourselves!!!”
The spaceshipslowlydescendedthroughthe orange cloudsof dust.Tomasmannedthe controls,
makingsure the velocitywaskeptstable.There wasnopointtomake a runfor it.The Chinese had
alreadywon. Theirshipstoodhoveringafew hundredmetres. However,somethingaboutthe wayit
“Hey Captain,lookatthat”, Tomas pointedatthe hoveringship.
Henryliftedhiseyesfromself-blame,andlookedthroughthe windshield,atthe small yellow and
redcraft undercloudsof orange dust.“What are the Chinese upto?”
The Chinese spaceshipseemedtohave stoppedmid-way.Itjuststayedthere!
Jamessuddenlyspokeintohisintercom.“Heypeople,itappearsthe Chineseare tryingtosenda
Henrylookedlike he wasabouttofall off hisseat. They are so close to victory.Whatare they
doing??!! Breakinghistrainof thought,he spoke quicklytoTomas,“Okay,let’shearwhattheyhave
“Okay Captain,itlookslike the Americansare readytotalk.We are indirectcontact. But we better
tell the ASAP,otherwise,theywillswitchoff!!”
CaptainZhu peeredthroughthe orange clouds,andsaw the Americanshipdescendingfromthe
heavens.Itseemed tobe freefallingontoitsbase.Itmoved evermorecloser...
Zhu hitthe “talk” buttonon the ship’sgammaray transmissionconsole. Itconsisted of amicrophone
withrowsof buttons. Kyle shoutedintothe microphone.“Challenger,thisisthe captainof the
YellowStar.I wantto talkto CaptainHenryMilles!”
He lookedexpectantlydownatthe microphone,waitingforMilestorespond.ThenanAmerican
voice came up, “CaptainChu,thisisthe Challenger.Thankyouforplayingfairandsquare.Now,let’s
have a race to the surface.ItisbetweenChinaandAmericanow.There will be noquartersgiven!!!”
CaptainZhu lookedamusinglyathisfellowastronauts.The aggressionthe Americansshowedwas
clearlyquite amusing.Clearinghisvoice,Kylespoke intothe microphone,“CaptainHenryMiles.On
behalf of the People’sRepublicof China,Ibringwordfromour President.Us,Chinese,intendto
become partnerswithAmericainthe Space Race.We donot intendtobeatyou to Mars. We didthis
simplytoshowour commitmenttothe progress.Show let’smake historybylandingonMars
There wassilence onboardthe Challenger.NeitherHenrynorTomasspoke.NordidJamesthrough
hisintercom.Theyall heardthe conversation. Butthis,this wasnonormal conversation. AmI
hearing whatI amreally hearing? thoughtTomas. Are these the Chinese? Oneof the mostambitious
nationson Earth? The one who challenged theUSA in economicdomination?Theonewho thought
western culture wasalien???!!
CaptainZhu’svoice came overthe microphone onthe console.“Are youthere,Challenger?Please
Breakinghistrainof thought,CaptainMilesreplied,“Listen,Yellow Star.Idon’tknow whatyouare
tryingto do.But your suggestionsare verysuspicious.”
“Alright,Challenger,”the microphone replied.“Toshow our alliance,we will letyoulandfirst,if that
suitsyou.But we are honestinourneedforyour alliance.We have spentover3 billiondollars
developingthisship,andwe have flownover50 millionkilometresforyouguys.Thisrace isfor both
nations.A symbol formutual rivalrybetweenallies.”
Tomas couldnotstop himself anymore. Itistime!!! He lookedtowardsCaptainHenryMiles,waiting
for permissiontospeak.Milesshookhishead,andlookedatTomasuncomfortably. Itisthe only way
forus to reconciliate ourdifferences.Distrustcan getus nowhere.
Bendingdowntowardsthe intercom,Tomasspoke,“ThisisChallenger.Enough,boys.We have just
wasted8 minutesand27 secondstalkingabove the surface of Mars. We all have a commongoal
The dry, rocky surface of Mars stretchedoutinall directions.Since itsdiscoverythousandsof years
ago, mostscientistsbelievedthatthe surface of Mars hadnot changedfor millionsof years.With
rediron oxide dustcoatedontoitssurface,Mars appearedtobe a barrenplanet– devoidof life and
useful potential.However,humancuriosityhadchangedthattoday,and,withoutadoubt,it isone
of the firstgiantleapsMan musttake to explore the universe....
The two crafts descendedside-bysidefromthe orange clouds.Itisday time,andthe brightyellow
tintsof the suncould be seenthroughthe loweratmosphere.The AmericanandChinese crafts
However,evenif theywere noangels,theywere the firstterrestrial beingstolandaspace craft on
It was onlyhalf a centuryagosince humanshad setfooton the Moon. Now,free of all itsobstacles,
Man’s journeyintospace wascomplete withthe inventionof space-warpingengines.Itwashuman
nature to explore andtounderstandthose thatseemmysterioustohim.The landingonMars
signalledone idea:humansof all racescouldfinallyrelinquishtheirdifferences,andactas true allies
witha commongoal.The Landingon Mars was not only the start of the new Space Race. It marked
the start of humanity’strustandrespectinitsdiversitywhichhadalwaysbeenlargelyignoreduntil