"Why does the moon keep following me?" I began to ask with great curiosity
"Ah, that's just an illusion you see!” my father began to explain, “the moon is so big and so far away, compared to you, it doesn't ever seem to move, which only makes it look like it's following you". Of course, for a child my age the concept of far-away was an hour’s walk to grandmother’s, who lived outside the city. I turned my back and began to power walk, looking briefly behind, hoping to stealthily escape its sinister omnipresence. It was still there.
My brisk walk turned to a jog, to a full panther sprint. Until my stubby legs and tiny lungs could bear it no longer. I let myself collapse on face first on the soft summer grass, believing I escaped for good. But there it remained, shining smugly at my defeated, huffing face. I groaned and growled, annoyed by the stalker I couldn’t seem to rid. I puffed my chest out and bellowed from the depths of my lungs with my last salvaged breaths. "Someday, I'm going to run away from you so fast and so far, you won't be able to keep up, and I'll lose you for good! JUST YOU WATCH ME MOON!"
Now, on this day my promise fulfilled, I felt helpless watching my childhood stalker shrink smaller and smaller, getting dimmer and dimmer. I watched it through the window of my metal cage- the only thing that separated myself from a void of endless emptiness. "I see no god up here", said the first man who dared to venture out to space. Gazing up from earth, the great beyond of space seemed to thrive with light and beauty. But gazing down at earth from the beyond, all I could see was a lonely planet drifting in the emptiness. It was only now I could begin to comprehend the weight of his words.
"Captain!", I hear one of my crewmen call to me, "how are you feeling about being the first human to step foot on another planet?" I turn back to respond but pause as my I spot the image on the wall behind her. A poster of the Milky Way, a map of our galaxy. Yet nowhere among the cluster of millions of tiny dotted stars was there ever any hope of spotting our own planet. I think back to those haunting words said by my hero- “one small step for man”. Never could I have imagined how small, how infinitesimal that step still is for man, compared to the vastness of our universe, if we weren’t even a faint dot on a canvas.
Eight minutes. That's how long it takes for light to reach the sun from the earth. I look back down at our launch site. Eight hours, that's how long we'd been travelling. But still hadn't even gone far enough to leave the sight of our home. They told us our ship was 'revolutionary in speed' the 'fastest mankind could ever dream of travelling'. They used their fancy exciting words and numbers like 'Mach 50' and 'fifty thousand miles per hour'. But all I could understand was that by comparison, we were merely tadpoles out of our pond, swimming the seven oceans to get to land again. Swimming in this dark, deep and desolate ocean of black. How insignificant are we if this is the peak of our potential?
My eyes cross paths with a familiar patch of yellow among the blue and okgreen on the surface. I think back to that gruelling, painstaking survival exercise I went through a few years ago. Abandoned in the middle of a desert, forced to find my way back to the safe arms of civilisation, or left to be swallowed alive by the hunger of the sand. Skin on fire from the heat, muscles on fire from the exhaustion, the blisters biting away like piranhas in my boots. Days of dragging my soulless corpse through the never-ending terrain. Mile after mile after mile after mile. The pain now meaningless with the pathetic effort at covering such a small distance. As that same "never ending" hell back then, now no bigger than the palm of my hand, then my thumb, until even my fingernail seemed to tower over it.
I look back at the sapphire skies that envelope over the earth like a blanket of wool. I reminisce my days as young pilot, soaring at hypersonic speeds and storming through the air like a lightning bolt, marvelling at the thrill of punching holes through clouds. The invincibility of being in the air, untouchable, looking down at the tiny skyscrapers and ant-like humans like a guardian angel; godlike. But the same view from space was a sense of vulnerability like no other. Feeling smaller than the mountains that stood out like groves on a tree stump.
The dangers of the air were made bearable at the thought that even if I were to crash and burn, I could still return back down, down to the soil from where I grew. But here, I could go as far downwards as I wished, or even in any direction for that matter. But if it wasn’t the right way, I’d be condemned to drift forever in the void. The thought of crashing down from the sky was a warm and hopeful comfort, compared to the thought of drifting in nothingness for eternity.
“Captain! Are you seeing this? Have you ever seen anything so spectacular?” My existential dread was brought to a sudden halt by the sight of a billion lights illuminating the darkness. City by city, in canon with the approaching nightfall, eradicating the darkness that could never befall it. I hear gasps of amazement and cries of euphoria from my crew as they too witness the shine of a billion fragments of diamond and gold scattered across the surface. A rush of people down below ready to embrace the adventures of the night.
“One giant leap for mankind”. The first light bulb was probably too dim to even form a faint shadow, and could so much last a mere few minutes before burning out. Yet now we light up continents for years, night after night. Waves of hope serge through my veins as I realise the future that could be. Perhaps we are slow, perhaps we are small. But we are the first, and it's only a matter of time before the empty black void of space is diminished by light of humankind, just as we eradicated the darkness from the earth long ago. Indeed all it takes is one small step from man, for mankind to then make giant leaps, to make light of the infinite darkness.
I turned to face my crew, who each carried with them the dedication and ambitions of all seven billion back home. I gestured to them a nod of assurance, and in unison they nodded back. "Any thoughts on your first words on another planet Captain?" I was asked again. I thought back to the words of the great men whose footsteps I follows. “I see no god up here” said the man who first dared to venture out. “One small step”, said the man who dared to explore the uncharted realms beyond the ground.
I looked back at the remnants of the omnipresent, celestial being who I once swore to escape from, who first inspired me to take the leap to the great beyond. Who once towered over the stars in the night sky, now no bigger than a pinhole. I gave one final farewell glance to the tiny blue spec in the distance I once called home. Then, piercingly I darted my eyes to each one of my crew, glimmering a heroic. I puffed out my chest and strode towards the poster of our spiralling galaxy, carefully navigating my finger to the centre of spiral called Orion’s arm.
"Today, we mark our greatest landmark, and put Earth on the map”, said I, the one who begins the odyssey to map out our galaxy.