Apollo 19: Part III!

Apollo 19: Part III. December 14, 1973. Pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center. Suiting up went well…Robin didn’t find herself nearly as agitated as she had imagined by the process. Zaryov and Fuller mostly sat quietly…Jack, Robin figured, was fuming with rage. Zaryov was intriguing her, though. He sat in his recliner, suit on, hooked up to prebreathing apparatus, Snoopy cap on his head…that head, gr

aying majestically at the temples, bowed. Lips moving. She couldn’t make out what he was saying…but he was repeating the same phrase over and over, it seemed.

At risk of interrupting him, in silent wonderment, she tapped him on the shoulder, near the Apollo 19 patch…the hand of God touching the Moon, in homage to the Sistine Chapel, on a black field, with two stars: one white, one red. Her touch woke him, like God (or perhaps Adam) waking the Moon.

“Hm. Did I miss something, Robin? I am sorry.” Zaryov was always so polite, Robin thought…Jack hated it, but the guy had class. The one thing Jack had always lacked.

“Nah. I just…were you praying?”

A slight “snerk” could be heard from Jack’s chair, where he sat poring over a flight plan…maybe he’d calmed down a bit, Robin decided.

“Jack, shut up. We know you’re Catholic and hate Commies and all but it is really time for you to get your head out of your tight little butt…Commander.” Robin sighed.

Zaryov smiled. If only he could find a woman with such fire. “I will speak, for there can be no bugs here. I am a Russian Orthodox…a dangerous and deadly belief in the Soviet military. I am also a hesychast, a mystic, for lack of a better term. I was praying our most common prayer…a kind of mantra, if you wish to call it that, to set my mind at ease and ready me for the mission.”

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” Robin’s voice was a near whisper…this guy was something else.

Jack Fuller’s jaw dropped…attempting to pick it up off the floor wearing an Apollo spacesuit was a complex task, involving a lot of sputtering, a red face, and a conspicuous lack of apology for misjudging a fellow human.

Robin looked at Jack. “Yeah. He’s not a bad guy, our Alex!” She patted Zaryov on the shoulder. “You go back to that…we only got a few more minutes here before CM ingress. Then – we go to space!”

Jack looked at her eyes, lit up like suns, adorning an elated grin…where had he lost that sense of wonder?

* * * *

A few hours later, the final preflight checks had been completed. Dressed in white, on their backs, looking skyward, atop a gigantic rocket, lay one Orthodox mystic, one lapsed Catholic, and one young woman in love with life and space. The countdown rang out its final ten seconds, with one of the largest crowds in Apollo history watching. It seems that the addition of Zaryov to the crew had brought back a degree of public interest in Apollo…Jack, Robin and Alexei were keenly aware that they could not mess this chance up, or future space cooperation between America and the USSR would be ruined, as might in fact be further lunar missions. 20 was already on notice…despite this, as the rocket began to rise in a peacock’s plume of sunlight and fire into the Florida skies, Robin was sure – absolutely sure – that she’d find something on her survey worth another order of Saturn V boosters. Apollo would rise again.

“Snap out of it, Conley.” Jack seemed less irritable. “What’s that alarm?”

He was fully aware what it was…he wanted her to stop dreaming and focus. “Holy crap.” Robin did indeed focus, visions of Robin Conley, Lunar Base Commander, shattering before her eyes into a rather urgent scenario.

“Ahhh…Cape, Conley here. We have a rather bad pogo effect…number five engine is about to cut out.” Crap crap crap and other words…if they lost number five, they’d be all right…if they lost more, they’d have to abort. Jack was probably going to abort anyway, just to cheat Zaryov…if they could just make it to first stage cutoff, they’d be all right…

“Constitution, we confirm your pogo.” The Cape people were bustling, looking at solutions. They’d faced similar issues on Apollo 13 with utter aplomb…would it work so well this time?

“Confirmation is easier when your teeth are rattling,” grunted Zaryov.

“Roger, Zaryov. First stage cutoff in ten seconds – do not abort. Repeat…you can make it.” The Cape was barely audible over the shaking of the booster. Jack glowered. Robin wanted to pump her fist, but she couldn’t lift it…dang G forces. Pogo created unusually strong acceleration effects – the whole concept was that the Saturn V had a unique ability to vibrate like a tuning fork at certain “frequencies” of engine burn. The effects of various shock waves clashing with each other caused this vibration…it was called pogo because the vibration was along the rocket’s long axis. It had happened to various degrees on many Apollo missions, but Jack reckoned no previous crew had had it this bad.

The crew gritted their teeth, silently counting down until first stage cutoff…Zaryov thought a prayer towards the Uncreated. Suddenly, blessedly, the pogo stopped….the three were jerked forth in their seats as the S-IC first stage popped loose and fell away towards God’s green earth.

“Whoa.” Robin was, as usual, first to speak.

Zaryov was next. “You were not kidding about the Saturn V, Jack. I did not expect such an ordeal, though.”

Jack remained silent. He wouldn’t be able to talk anyway, as he was being forced back into his seat again…the second stage had kicked in, and they continued their climb towards orbit…

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