By Josh Dimakakos
Earth looks so tangible from up here. It gives you a kind of perspective on things. Like, that the whole universe is just empty space waiting for nothing, and we as humans occupy so little of it. I don’t enjoy these thoughts too much; they make me uncomfortable. The airlock closes behind me, signifying the start of my first spacewalk. This is it, the moment I’ve been training for for years.
I’m gliding towards the damaged site now. The sleek space station which looks so cutting-edge in those “artist’s renditions” is now becoming appallingly filthy. There’s a lot of stuff in this empty space that doesn’t like our space station; it wants to keep us out of space and back on Earth. Bits of dust and particles from planets and comets and meteors long gone clog up operational parts and make them break, and then we get a little warning signal on the main computer, and then a person like me has to come out into the vast empty space and fix it. The station is stained with this stuff, in big blobs from the lack of gravity. Back on Earth, streaks form around your car when it gets in the mud, and the dirt hits the wheel wells and the bottom bits more than the rest because the dirt is on the ground. Here, the dirt is everywhere, travelling in every direction at every speed. It lends a sort of all-encompassing filth to the station – there’s no pattern here. It doesn’t matter if it’s a meaningless ceramic plate or a 372-million-dollar communications array, ‘cause the filth sticks to it all the same.
I’m strapped into a foot bed on an arm that is also covered in the filth, though it’s still functional. Unlike the 372-million-dollar communication array. I remove my screwdriver from the belt that holds my tools. The problem here is that we had one of those ceramic plates to protect a bundle of wires from the space filth, but that plate was hit by an unusually large piece of space filth and fell off. Out of necessity, I’ve got a solution.
Two hours ago, when the warning came up on the screen and got our hearts racing a bit too fast, Commander Cheong got us all to stop what we were doing and work on a solution. When something falls off the station, we don’t just have replacements. That would be very costly, and the station has no extra storage space as is. So Cheong looked at me and she asked, “what are our options?”
There are two options: the first is that we take a plate from somewhere less important. That may sound like a terrible idea, but the station is surprisingly resilient in some places. Whoever designed the joints attaching the gym to the living quarters must be absolutely mad, some kind of engineering freak. That’s where I suggest we remove the plate from, but there is one other option. The other option is to just leave it. Sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it?
Well, here’s what I had to say. That 372-million-dollar communication array isn’t the only one. There’s an even more expensive one on the far side of the station. It’s our main communication array. Sure, the Americans might be a bit angry that we ruined all their expensive space equipment, but if we go with option A, there’s always a potential for a breach in the hull. I told her that might not be good.
She tells me we’re going with option A. She reminds me that that communications array cost 372 million dollars. I say that that’s a lot of money. She tells me that there’s a shuttle coming in five days, and that we can request a new ceramic plate then. Those ceramic plates only cost eight thousand dollars apiece.
I succumbed to her logic. And here I am, with a ceramic plate savagely pried off of the joint between the gym and the living quarters, hoping that I’ll be able to sleep tonight with the knowledge that a breach could happen at any second.