Panic attack. That’s what the station medic had called the crippling fear Elspeth had been experiencing at random intervals every day for the last month. The walls, once familiar and safe, closed in around her. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. Her chest felt like someone was standing on it.
Elspeth was part of the great experiment. Humans had reached into space and created a colony above the Earth. Her parents were two of the elite cadre that had been recruited to live there. Elspeth was one of the children born there.
At twenty-eight, she had never set foot off the station. She’d never stood on Earth, though she had seen plenty of video of it. The thought of standing on dirt or grass made her skin crawl. She was a spacer, through and through.
Elspeth should have been able to handle this better. She had a PhD in astrophysics. She was studying ways to move humans out of this solar system. Now that it had been proven they could live in space indefinitely, it was the next logical step.
Except the new government back on Earth had decided funding for the station was a waste of resources. The spacers could feed themselves just fine, but materials for repairs, textiles, and other goods had to come from Earth. The well had run dry.
After months of fighting it, the decision had come down. The entire populace of the station would be relocated to Earth.
Elspeth understood that she could continue her work on the planet’s surface. She had already received offers from half a dozen companies and three universities. But that meant living on a world, rather than on the station. No matter how much she thought about it, she couldn’t reconcile herself to the idea.
She waited until the last ship came to ferry the spacers to Earth, then watched the lights go out on the only home she had ever known. Panic hit so hard and so fast, the medic had to sedate her for the trip down.
Years later, as she stood, barefoot in the grass she grew on her apartment balcony, she wondered what she had been so afraid of. She still experienced anxiety in wide-open spaces, but most of the time they were easy to avoid.
Coming to Earth, Elspeth had gained access to resources that would never have been available to her on the station. And now she was ready to go back up there—into space. Her parents had pioneered living on a space station. Elspeth would lead humans into a new future on Earth’s first generation ship.
Humans tend to be afraid of the vacuum of space. Most of us, I suspect, would find the protection offered by surrounding metal little comfort. What most of us don’t know is that, although Earth’s atmosphere extends something like 300 miles out, most of it is confined to a ten-mile area above us. Our thermosphere ends at sixty-two miles. A very thin envelope protects us and provides us with breathable air.
It makes me cringe when I think of how little regard we have shown our world. Humans continue to greedily use up Earth’s resources and pollute her waters and air. In reality, at least for now, we have nowhere else to go. Let’s hope that we smarten up before we make our home uninhabitable.
I hadn’t meant to be so preachy here. That wasn’t the point of this story. Getting back to the original premise of people being afraid of the vacuum of space, I started thinking about how someone who had lived their entire life in space would feel about living on a planet’s surface.
I’m sure there would be those who would be excited at the prospect. I think it equally likely that some would be terrified. It’s all about what’s familiar, and what, for each of us, constitutes the unknown.
I think there’s a lot to consider here. Let’s talk in the comments!