|It was the final stage of descent.
During the five months of the voyage, Ralph and Chuck had
double-checked and triple-checked and quadruple-checked
the trajectory and the navigation computers program
and contingency routines. It was up to the system now.
Ralph opened the curtains. All they could do was sit back
in their heavily padded and safety-belted chairs and
enjoy the ride.
From the window, they watched as the swirling clouds of gas enveloped the landing module. It went through the Venusian atmosphere falling faster than a stockbroker from a boardroom window just after a sharemarket crash. Dust and gaseous particles varying in size from specks to boulders buffeted the ship like so many runaway shopping trolleys hitting your parked car. Thankfully after the speedy destruction of the previous unmanned Venus probe, the scientists had worked overtime to give this ship some serious protection.
The ship slowed, but continued to shake slightly every time anything of any reasonable magnitude hit it. Ralph and Chuck kept gazing out the window, trying to make out any recognisable forms. But as soon as they thought they spotted anything, it was gone again in the mist.
As the ship descended, it got slower and slower. Eventually they were hardly moving, when there was a small thud. That is to say, not a huge thud, but a big enough thud to be noticeable.
This was it. The ship had landed on Venus. Most of the human race, watching on relayed live TV, gasped a collective sigh of relief. But not as big a sigh of relief as Ralph and Chuck. They had made it to Venus.
Back on Earth, the less caring of their relatives were watching intently, with the knowledge that now at least if the men met their doom without making it back, under the terms of their contracts their families would get half the mission fee as partial payment. They didn't know, of course, that NASA administration required the men to personally sign their timesheets before any cash was handed over.
Ralph and Chuck unfastened their safety belts and checked their instruments.
Chuck thumped the console.
Ralph reached for the radio. "The Penis has landed", he reported back to a snickering humanity. Then he turned on the in-ship camera, and humanity gasped again.
The first pictures of the rocket interior, and the swirling colourful gaseous atmosphere of Venus outside the window made their way back to Earth, and from there to just about every television on the planet.
Chuck took a deep breath. Hed practised this procedure scores, perhaps hundreds of times. Now it was time to do it for real. Another deep breath. There was only one chance at this. He was ready. He reached for the small red cylinder, and turned to face the camera, holding it up to the lens.
"Hi, Im Chuck Van Sturmberg. When Im exploring Venus, theres nothing better than a Coke. The essential equipment on any galactic mission. Coke."
It was done. The NASA bigwigs breathed a sigh of relief. The sponsor obligations were fulfilled. The mission could continue.
- The Year 2031
Copyrightę1998 Daniel Bowen