Departure

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"What?" Arsames said indignantly. "The Secretary-General of the Association of Lagrangian States," Miriam Hemming replied, "will visit the Lunar Radio-Observatory." "But only after he has paid a visit to the Grimaldi resort?" the radio-astronomer asked. "Yes, but I don't know why he has chosen this particular sequence, sir, so don't ask me." "I won't blame you, miss, you're just the messenger but I am really surprised by this news."

"So I am. But anyway we have no time to waste as we'll leave withing an hour from now." "Yes, but if I have understood you correctly, we'll be back here before that secretary-general will arrive at the observatory." The female engineer nodded. "Did he know about our mission?" the other asked. "Hard to tell," she replied, "but I would guess so. After all, the Lagrangians do pay a substantial portion of this very expedition."

At that moment Charlotte Sobaka and Martin Poulet stepped into his office. The latter said:

"Everything is ready for our mission, we only have to leave." "Thank you," Arsames said. The expedition would occupy his mind for the next ten days and hence he would have little time to think about the politics involving the Moon. But as soon as he had this thought, the radio-astronomer realized that this very mission itself had a strong political aspect. Nevertheless he decided to ignore that side of the mission and to only look at the scientific part of it.

"Is there anything that would prevent us from pursuing this expedition to the Saha crater?" Arsames asked the other people present in his office. All three of them shook their heads and Miriam Hemming added:

"Anything is arranged to ensure that during your absence the observatory will continue to operate as usual." "Who's in charge?" "Peter Church is, sir." "Good, he's a competent fellow. I assume he's informed of all the administrative stuff." "Of course, he's," Hemming said a little bit irritated.

"Well," Arsames said, "in that case, I suggest that we say good bye to those who will remain here and to proceed to the rover." The other expedition members nodded in agreement.

Since everyone present on the base was, of course, aware of this expedition saying farewell was a short event. Only the radio-astronomer had a little chat with Peter Church, which was mostly a formality to ensure that the other knew his duties in Arsames' absence. As head of the LRO crew, he was ultimately responsible for its proper operation - even if he were away from the base.

Half an hour later all four members of the Saha expedition had taken their seats in the Moon rover. Before they could actually leave, their driver Martin Poulet was going through a final checklist. Once he had finished this, he said:

"We'll drive in installments of about two hours each and after each installment we'll take a break of thirty minutes. Though it would be tempting to leave the rover during this break, we'll not do that. As we have to traverse nearly a quarter of the Moon's circumference or close to five thousand kilometers, we're on a tight time schedule.

"Unfortunately, there are still no roads on the Moon and hence we can only travel very slow. Any distraction will cause an unnecessary delay and though we have some fuel redundancy, it's still limited and more importantly intended for our exploration of the Saha crater. That is our prime mission and if we observe anything of interest on the way toward our destination we'll take notice of it and mark it for a future mission."

None of the crew members made an objection. Arsames gave a little nod and Martin Poulet started the rover, while he used the radio to inform the base mission control room that they were departing. After receiving a "free to go" clearance, the rover slowly moved into the airlock. It took nearly twenty minutes before the rover could actually the base of the Lunar Radio-Observatory.

The radio-astronomer knew that there were regular field trips in the direct neighbourhood of the Daedalus crater. Charlotte Sobaka, for instance, had been on a dozen trips since she had arrived on the Moon and as the LRO chief selenologist she had conducted a lot of research during those expeditions. Probably, Arsames thought, there was no one who knew more about the crater than she.

While they were driving away from the Moon base the radio-astronomer carefully looked at the surroundings. As a scientist he could not fail to notice that the area was highly mountainous. Martin Poulet had to carefully drive around all kind of obstacles.

Navigation was, of course, one of the biggest challenges on this expedition. There were no road signs and contrary to Earth the Moon was not surrounded by an extensive network of navigation satellites, as this would be far too expensive. Instead the crew had to rely upon the stars to find their way and in the days before their departure Martin Poulet had showed him what the night sky looked like from the far side.

"The main benefit," the driver had said, "is that we have no clouds here. Hence we can always see the stars, so we have no chance to get lost. The rover also has a locally stored database of start maps, corrected for location and time."

Long before Arsames had left the Blue Planet for the Moon, the radio-astronomer had been informed on the rules regarding off base expeditions. According to chapter B section IV of the protocol an expedition had to be aborted if any crew member would have a serious medical condition and the crew had to return to the LRO immediately. Safety went above all, so he had been told. However, the scientist suspected this rule was established not out of empathy with the expedition members - who had voluntarily gone to the Moon after all - but primarily out of fear of a public backlash.

Though manned interplanetary spaceflight had become an integral part of human civilization by the 2080s, still a large portion of the Terrestrial population was at best lukewarm in regard of space exploration. And the majority of Earth's residents considered as a eccentric hobby of the Spacer community and was also inclined to believe that they should be responsible for any further space research.

With such a sentiment Terrestrial authorities had real hardship to ensure public support for the continued contribution of Earth to the LRO. This was not in the least place due to the fact that the Blue planet's decades long period of slow economic growth had put strains on government budgets all around the globe.

So any major incident involving humans on the Moon would undoubtedly result in loud calls for pulling out of the whole project. In fact a growing number of populist politicians were voicing the opinion that the development of the Moon should either be left to private investors or to the Lagrangian colonists.

Of course, Arsames did not agree with those people but he could do very little to convince of the scientific necessity of a second radio-observatory on the Moon. The LRO could only cover a small portion of the universe at any time - a second observatory would increase astronomy's capacity to study the cosmos.

While Martin Poulet carefully drove the rover through the mountainous terrain, Arsames founds some comfort for his depressing thoughts by watching the desolate but beautiful panorama of the Far Side of the Moon.

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