The Space-Ship

Remy Serbinenko

The Space-Ship


The rocket stood in its cradle. The massive tangle of rebar and steel beams that made up the gantry snaked up its shining silver skin, holding it fast and not letting it go. The rocket was sleek and smooth, not a blemish on its silvery surface. I held my mother’s hand as I watched it slowly being towed out from its place in the main building where it had slept till this day, being built, and then finally being born as a rocket. Its three massive feet were large and round and it had many eyes all over its body, blinking red and looking at us with an indeterminable air of indifference. The sun winked amiably off of its long nose.

The three astronauts came around in a large metal truck, waving their hands and saying many things. One of them made eye contact with me and saluted.

“Hey there, kid,” he said. I warmed up, feeling a deep connection to him through those few, simple words, and the fact that he had said them to me. Wow! I thought. A real astronaut! The astronaut turned around to face the rest of the crowd, and the truck moved on towards the rocket, following the fence as it wove its way across the field, forming a large semicircle. My mother took my hand and led me forward through the crowd as it surged to follow the astronauts, converging at the point where the fence border came closest to the rocket.

Large clouds of steam gushed from the body of the rocket, and it seemed to sigh. The truck drove to a small door in the side of the launchpad, and an elevator rose up through the gantry. The astronauts walked across the bridge leading to the rocket, still steaming and sighing and waiting patiently on the concrete launchpad. I pulled my mother’s hand.

“Lookit! Lookit! They’re going into its brain! I wonder what it looks like in there. Are there many wires?”

“I don’t know, Tom. I’ve never been there. But I think that there must be something there, if it really is a brain. It’s not all empty up here.” She tapped her head. The doors on the rocket closed, and the eyes stopped blinking. The steam clouds gushed harder, and the feet began to rumble. 

The truck drove away from the launchpad and a large booming voice was heard proclaiming, “Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two–” The count of one was drowned out by the roar from the rocket as bright red flames came from its feet. It rose majestically into the air, the sun glinting off its shining body, trailing smoke and steam through the air in long tails. Beside me, large video-screens showed the rocket up close, and I could see the astronauts waving their hands out of the windows. 

Suddenly, the hand retracted from the window, and the lights on the rocket, all magnified by the camera projecting onto the screen, started blinking furiously. The steam gushed harder, and then the engines suddenly stopped as the astronauts scrambled frantically in the cabin, trying to fix whatever was wrong. Then, without any warning, the rocket exploded in midair. It was a spectacular explosion, with the great fuel tanks trailing fire as they sailed back down to Earth, and the massive feet thudding back down like lead weights. The metal skin of the rocket shattered into a thousand pieces, raining down onto the ground like a deadly, silver snow. Large fire-trucks began driving towards the launchpad, their ladders extending, firemen running hither and thither about the place, pulling hoses and spraying water. Away from the disaster area, the capsule sailed ever upward, trailing long tongues of yellow flames as it shot higher and higher into the air as if expelled from a gun-muzzle, where it disappeared into the clouds. There was a large flash as the fire reached the auxiliary fuel tanks on the outside of the capsule, and it too steadily rained down onto the field and launchpad. 

Hundreds of newscasters rushed all over the place, vaulting over the metal fence and running up to the firemen and to the mission controllers who had come out to see what had happened, the tears running down their faces. 

Later that day, we all sat in front of the television in our living room, watching as the disaster was replayed on the news, over and over, the news anchors speaking quickly and furiously to stop themselves from breaking down. Several mission-control members also made an appearance, all of which had reddened, tear stained eyes, sobbing occasionally. We all had our eyes fixed on the set, my mother’s eyes strained and red also. I was silent, in a state of shock for a person that I had only met once, but that I had formed a bond with. I grieved for them. Everybody did.


Fifteen years later, aged twenty three, I had a job at the Jennison Space Planetarium, when a man approached me.

“M’name’s Sanders,” he said. “Jim Sanders. Y’remember the accident at the Space Institute, fifteen years ago?”

I nodded slowly, my mood becoming subdued within the instant. 

“Well,” he said. “The commander was my brother. His name was Roger Sanders, but I always called him Jackie. Y’know Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play in profess’nal baseball? Well, I said to Roger, you are now the first man to be going to space, just like Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play baseball. The first man ever. I’m very proud of you, and I’m sure that you are just as proud of yourself as I am. Good luck.” Jim suddenly shook with a sob and placed his hand on my shoulder for support. He brought himself together. “Those–” his voice cracked–“were my last words to him, for I wasn’t able to be there, and I said those words to him before he left home.” He removed his hand from my shoulder and put on a fake smile. 

“Well,” he said, in a broken voice, trying to remove the grief from his speech, “I would like to offer you a position at the Space Institute. I would be honored if you would accept your position as chief Calculator.” I bowed, humbled.

“What makes you so sure that I would qualify for chief astronomer?” I asked. Jim wiped his eyes and drew out a sheaf of papers from his briefcase.

“I have here your reports on Solar Attraction and on Planetary Gravitation, as well as Stress Quotients, among other subjects. I have read them thoroughly, and I have come to believe that you are qualified for the position.” He held out his hand, and I took it, and then hesitated.

“What about my boss? He’ll want to know.”

“He already does. I’ve approached him this morning but he said it before I could begin.” 

“My wife will be proud. I accept the offer.” I shook Jim’s hand firmly, and went to pack up my bag. 

Before he left, Jim said, “Remember Jackie, and remember that he was the first step in bringing humanity to space. He lives on, in our hearts. Remember him.”


That night I told my wife about it, and she decided to throw a feast to celebrate. All of the neighbors were invited, and the festivities lasted throughout the whole night. Right before I retreated bedward, I decided to raise a toast. I cleared my throat.

“Ten years ago, the Space Institute suffered its greatest loss. The first rocket was sent up into the air, where it never made it to space. The three astronauts manning it made the ultimate sacrifice in giving up their lives to it. They passed away in their dream. They lived the dream,” I paused, and filled my glass a little more. “Yesterday the commander’s brother approached me about a job, which I’m sure my wife told you about.” I smiled at her, and she smiled back at me. “Before he left, he said to me, ‘Remember Jackie, for he lives on in our memories.’ I would like to amend that statement to say, ‘Remember all of the people who gave their lives to it, for they all live on in our memories.’ 

“Now, I propose a toast to the Space Institute, a pledge of faith and of good luck, if you will. Good luck to space, and to the astronauts who went in that rocket, but most importantly, good luck to all, and may all those who passed rest in peace. Amen.” We all toasted, I drained my glass, and went to bed.


I arrived at the Space Institute early next morning, still drowsy from the night of partying before, though I had participated in little of it. I held Jim’s envelope, which had arrived just before I woke up, bearing within it his note recommending me for the job. In my other hand, I held my briefcase, which I had filled with my reports and works and notes. The man at the door refused to be shown the envelope that I feebly proffered for him to see and pushed me along to the main Calculating Room. The door opened before I touched it and I stood awkwardly in the doorway. The room was filled with computers and desks. The computers were large, clunky machines, lined up on a steel table in rows and columns. At these computers sat twoscore people, typing away on the tiny displays. Suspended on the wall at the front of the room was a large blackboard covered from top to bottom, and from left to right with chalk markings and drawings, a large amount of them understandable to me and an equally large amount not understandable to me. A man in a suit walked breathlessly up to me. He stuck out his hand.

“Tom Richard, is it not?” I shook his hand. “We’ve been waiting for you. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the Administrator of Space and Astronomical Calculations.” I gave him the envelope, which he opened and carefully read the note. After a while, he looked up at me again. “So, Jim recommended you? Well, I daresay he made a good choice. Come in, come in! There’s a desk by the board which we have set up for you.” I allowed him to lead me through the computers to said desk, where he sat me down and bid me look up at the board.

“Davy,” he called. “Do you think that you could catch Tom here on what we are doing?” A balding little man, Davy, rose to his feet and walked up to the board, taking the pointer from the Administrator.

“You see,” he said, in a nasal voice,. “currently we are attempting to develop a new rocket prototype, as is shown here,” he pointed to a drawing on the board with the pointer, “but the main roadblock of the project is the atmospheric friction, as you see here. When the previous rocket detonated in the stratosphere, that was a result of the rocket’s skin being too thin, and as a result burst just under the capsule, creating the sparks that ignited the fuel tanks which then created a chain reaction leading to the rest of the disaster, which we all have witnessed.” He mopped his head with a handkerchief. “But our problem lies in the fact that we are currently unable to find the ratio that will allow the skin flexibility, and yet resilience against the pressure. You see here,” he pointed, “we are trying out different formulas, but the ones that we have currently found either mean that the skin will rupture, or that it will not hold up to the pressures of going upwards through the stratosphere.” He sat back down solidly and the Administrator took the lead again. 

“As you can see, Mr. Richard,” he said. “We have tried many solutions. Do you have a different approach?” I raised my hand.

“One question; Why did you coat the skin in chromium? It will make it less dense if you didn’t.” The Administrator’s eyes gleamed with knowledge.

“Ah, you see, the reason for that was that we had estimated that the sunlight, mainly the high amounts of ultraviolet radiation received at high altitudes, would contribute to rapid wear on the skin of the rocket. So, to combat this, we introduced the chromium alloy, which you have observed. The purpose of the covering is to rather than absorb the ultraviolet rays or simply stop them at the skin’s surface, we decided to reflect them, as it would also work in our favor against simple sunlight, which could cause minor but still major, in the long run, damage to the skin.”

“I see. What if you tried to reduce the weight of the alloy, replacing the nickel with, say,  aluminum?”

“We have already experimented in that direction. As a matter of fact, we are due to run the final test in fifteen minutes. Come.” He, Davy, and a couple others herded me out of the room and down the long, whitewashed, tiled corridor towards the testing room.  

The testing room consisted of a large white room, one wall made of tempered glass and transparent, and the other three, save for the doorway, were stacked up with computers and other equipment. After a little bit, the clock in the hall rang seven, and I turned my attention to the glass wall. Behind it, in the center of the enclosure, stood a large concrete pedestal, upon which stood a miniature version of the rocket and launchpad. One of the men in our group took aside two of his companions and led them over to the computers. He turned back to the Administrator.

“Good to go here, sir,” he said, saluting.

“Excellent. Begin the test,” said the Administrator. He looked keenly at the rocket as the scientist rotated a dial. Slowly, the rocket rose up, miniature flames gushing from miniature engines. One of the men pulled a lever and entered something into one of the computers. From the corners of the enclosure, what looked like a set of small projectors turned toward the rocket. 

“Ultraviolet emitters,” Davy said in response to my questioning look. The rocket rose slowly, and then began to accelerate to a walking pace, and then to a running pace, the lamplight shining off of its silver skin as it steadily rose higher and higher within the enclosure. Then, a dark gash formed suddenly beneath where the capsule would have been, and the capsule bent into the body of the rocket. Flames began to emerge from the black gash, and one of the men spun a dial on the computers.

“Steady, steady now,” he muttered under his breath. The rocket slowly began to descend, trailing flames and large clouds of black smoke. It touched down and exploded, the blast force throwing the mangled body of the model rocket violently at the glass window, where it hit the bulletproof panes and fell to pieces, smoldering. I flinched, and the Administrator shut his eyes. Sprinklers turned on inside the enclosure holding the corpse of the rocket and the Administrator led me and the rest of the group back to the Calculating Room. 

There, intermittently interrupted by a cup of coffee delivered every so often by a breathless, white-robed scientist, they explained everything to me. How they calculated the quotient for the stress to flexibility ratio. How the ratio works. Why they needed the ratio to determine whether the skin will hold. The huge amounts of discouragement received after the disaster. Coming back after five years to the Institute. Reestablishing the workforce and hiring the workers. Finding new contracts. Hiring more people to work more jobs. Finding more solutions. All of this they told me as we sat in the corner of the room surrounded by rows of people clicking at computers. They explained the new materials that they have found. Improvements to the fuel tanks. The discovery and use of solid state fuel over liquid state fuel. The progress made in that direction. The tests. The fails. The new skin alloys that were found. The new engines made and tested. A new hatch and warning system for the rocket, this time, they said, with a premonition system alerting the crew when the disaster is possible but hadn’t yet happened. A new gauge for the tanks, and more fire-prevention systems upon more fire-prevention systems. The talk went on like a low hum around me, interrupted only by the coffee-delivery-person, arriving every so often bringing coffee for the Administrator in a large mug, and for us in paper cups. The day wore on, and still they talked. For each of my questions, they had an answer. When I asked about the thruster heat capacity, they answered with the exact amount. When I asked about the fire prevention systems, they explained the long and complex chains of alarms, sprinklers, water dispensation systems, automated fire-extinguishers, and other mechanisms of their devising. When I asked how the premonition system functioned, they replied by explaining the algorithm that connected it to the various gauges and monitoring equipment within the rocket, taking the given values from there and then calculating whether it was safe or not, ultimately delivering the result within the space of half-a-second to a screen in the capsule. When I asked about how many different attempts they had made with the skin-alloy, they replied with long lists of experiments, each one chronicling one different alloy test, none of which were successful.

When the clock struck eight p.m., they left the Calculating Room along with everybody else, leaving me alone at my table, absorbed in my calculations and thoughts and ideas about the rocket.

Hours passed. I sat at my desk in the corner of the room, coffee in hand, poring over rows and rows of calculations upon calculations, theories upon conjectures, and all upon more and more calculations. I sat there through the night, ending off only when my eyelids began to droop and my shoulders began to slump. Around me stood mountains of coffee cups, and in the opposite corner, sitting on a shelf, stood the coffee maker, still running, preparing yet another cup of coffee. I stood up and, turning off the light as I did so, I took the cup from the coffee-maker, turned it off, disposed of my mountains of cups. Cup in hand, drinking it slowly, I walked out of the building and locked the door behind me. I tossed away the now empty coffee cup into a bin at the corner or the sidewalk, and rode home for the night where I collapsed into my bed and dreamt of nothing.


The next morning I drove up to the Institute in a frenzy, clutching my papers in my hand, my hair wild, my breath smelling of stale coffee, and my shirt poorly buttoned and crumpled. 

I ran into the main Calculating Room and, slamming the papers down upon my desk, went up to the board and picked up the pointer from its place beside it. 

Feeling very much like Archimedes, I scrambled up to the podium, shouting out, “Eureka! I have it!” The Administrator looked up from where he was typing something onto one of the computer interfaces.

“You have?” he asked in a questioning tone. I nodded fervently. 

“Yes! I have found the solution!” The Administrator was intrigued. I breathlessly handed him the papers and sat down at my desk opposite him. 

He looked at them for a long time, and then eventually said, “I see. So, you think that this may be the answer? Sure, yet, it is very radical.”

“Yes, I am sure. I worked it all out last night, after you had left the Institute. If you make the entire skin out of polished aluminum underlaid with steel, you could then utilize gaseous deposition to place the chromium on top of it without increasing the mass in any significant way! Wasn’t your original problem the mass of chromium?”

“Yes, but are you sure that the skin will hold against the temperatures involved in gaseous deposition? They go well below zero. You know that?”


“Alright then, we’ll run it through the tests and see what will come of it.”

“Thank you sir,” I said, picking up a cup of coffee. The Administrator led me out of the room and back to the testing chamber where he told the men to be on standby. Then he led me over to the main part of the building, and, donning a white apron and asking me to do the same, he led me inside. Massive machines, towering gantries, cables, claws, cranes, and other devices  towered over the two of us, and people in white aprons, facemasks, and all other types of safety equipment rushed all about the place, going from machine to machine, from console to console, pushing levers, activating various programs, and building new parts and machines. 

We approached one man wearing a large yellow helmet and a welding mask, and the Administrator wordlessly passed the plans that I had given him to the man. The man opened them, looked at us dubiously for a second, and then rolled them up and marched over to a group of workers crouching over a machine which suspended a large piece of steel from the roof. He said something to them, the words of which were indistinguishable from each other to me, and nodded at the Administrator. 

We came back to the main Calculating Room, and the Administrator handed me the pointer which I had set down onto the sideboard. I began.

“You see, steel is relatively lightweight compared to five-inch thick layers of aluminum which were previously in use, resulting in a higher weight. However, steel is less flexible, and so that takes away from it. On top of the steel here, we then place said layer of aluminum here, but only one and a half inches in thickness. By the means of gaseous deposition, we can place the chromium onto the aluminum and, due to the steel’s high temperature resistance, not damage the structural integrity of the steel skin. The skin is now strong, relatively lightweight, and still flexible and reflective, as shown here. Unfortunately, the ratio here no longer works with this method, so calculating it will take a different formula, which I have outlined here.” The Administrator looked from my sketches on the board, to me, and back to the board. 

After five minutes of straight silence save for the subtle clicking of people at computers, the Administrator said, “By Jove, though I’d never consciously admit it, I do believe that you have got it.”

In the following days, work increased tenfold. I spent most of my time running back and forth from the Calculating Room, to the testing room, and back again. I had numerous conferences with various overseers of various departments, including the Administrator, whom I saw most of the time. 

Occasionally I saw Jim in and around the Institute, though he rarely noticed me, save for when we had conferences together, as he was the head of the Astronautical Department. I occasionally saw him dressed in a large, white, space-suit.

He had told me that,”now with the project back in business, I’m getting ready to go to Space.”

I had asked, “How did you come to this prestigious position?” and he had replied with, “the Administrator had nominated me for the post several years before you joined, though it was largely on my request that you join, though he gave little resistance, so to speak, and accepted the offer wholeheartedly.” 

Now I occasionally saw him in and out of the simulator, as well as the testing room which he stepped into every so often to watch the tests, particularly the ones with the fire-prevention systems. 

At the end of three months the rocket was finished. The engines were slowly lifted and fitted into the hull, which was then draped with the brand new silver skin fashioned along my own plans. The capsule was lowered upon the neck of the machine, and there was a large, hollow thud as the final components slid into place and were locked fast. Everybody in the Space Institute had come to watch the final assembly, and after it had finished, the Administrator handed me a bottle of champagne. 

“It’s your rocket,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been able to construct it without your contributions to the project.” 

Raising my voice so as to be heard above the general din of the machines in the room, I shouted out, “Let this rocket be christened Faith, for in Faith we have succeeded. Good luck to us all.” I spun my arm about and the bottle sailed from my fingertips, crashing with an explosion of golden liquid against the skin of the rocket with a final smash! Applause erupted throughout the crowd, and the Administrator, me, and a few other people with whom I had become acquainted, were lifted up onto the shoulders of the crowd and marched through the building on an impromptu tour of sorts, being carried through all of the rooms amidst a general cheer and cries of hurrah! I went home in a daze that night, and collapsed onto my bed. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.


The next day, Jim visited me during the day as it was a Saturday, and my wife was away at a business meeting in New York, and was going to be coming back at five p.m. He said that since the rocket launch is only two weeks away, that I would only see him again the day before the launch, as he had to complete his training and then finalize it with experience inside of the rocket, during which time I would be detained elsewhere doing a different job, never being in the same room.

“I am very sorry,” he said, “that you will not see me between now and the launch. But my job is my job, and it unfortunately leads me away. After I finish the mission, though, I think that I’ll resign, and live quietly for once, not being pulled from my chair at eight thirty in the morning every day to go to the simulator for three hours straight.”

“I will see you, though, before the launch?”

“Yes, but only for five minutes.”

“How do you know this?”

“The Administrator had a conference with the Astronautical Department yesterday. He told us all about it.”


“But I still have good news! The time when you will see me again is right before I enter the rocket, so you will in fact be able to say good luck to me!” He laughed halfheartedly. I shifted from foot to foot uneasily.

“Alright then,” I said. “See you on the launchpad.”


When I arrived at work the next morning, I noted, bitterly, that I did not see Jim until lunch hour, during which time he was on the other side of a glass wall, in the physical training station.

I did not see him for the rest of the day, nor for the next, or the next, for the whole next two weeks,l within which I was bustled from room to room, performing complex calculations lasting several hours, preparing reports for various overseers and heads of departments, examining various parts of the rocket if they needed to be replaced or repaired, and a plethora of other small and large jobs all throughout the Institute. Finally, the dreaded day came. On my calendar it was circled, and double circled, in red ink, and now I dreaded putting the cross through the square. Then, my phone rang. I picked it up eagerly but gingerly, and almost dropped it twice. On the other end, it was the Administrator.

“Are you driving?” he asked.


“Good. I just wanted to call you to remind you that today is the rocket launch, so you will have to get there an hour before normal. Hurry!” The line clicked dead and I slipped into my clothes, ran down to the garage, jumped into my car, and sped my way away to the Institute.

When I arrived, the man at the door opened the door, but pushed me down the opposite corridor, away from the Calculating Room and all the rooms that I knew.

All along the hall, ushers pushed me forward and forward, until I came to the Conference Room. There, seated around a table, were Jim, the Administrator, Davy, two more astronauts, and a couple others. They exchanged a few words, only asking me at intervals about certain subjects that I was fluent in, such as will the skin hold, and if the capsule will catch fire due to the UV radiation, and other questions of that sort. I answered them easily, as I knew exactly, but other than that, no other words were directed to me. At the end of a short time, the clock struck nine a.m., the Administrator rose to his feet and opened the door in the side of the room. The cold, outside air flooded the room and Davy buckled the strap of his hat. The Administrator led us outside to where the metal truck was standing and waiting, the dull hum of its engine only barely louder than the sound of the wind. Jim and the other two astronauts mounted into the back compartment and me, Davy, and the Administrator all squeezed into the cab, with Davy taking the wheel. We drove across the field, staying close to the fence, waving at the sightseers as they began to arrive. Looking at the crowd, I thought of myself, so long ago, standing in it, being a part of it. I saw the giant cameras and screens, I saw the children holding their mothers’ hands. I saw myself among them.

We circled around the field and then eventually came to a stop at the base of the launchpad. We went into the gantry and up the lift. Davy stayed in the truck but the Administrator and I left our compartment and accompanied the astronauts to the rocket. The first two saluted to the Administrator and heaved themselves into the cabin. Jim followed suit but then, at the last moment, he turned around and saluted me. He then lowered his hand, smiled wanly, and pulled closed the hatch. The lock clicked into place and the Administrator placed his hand on my shoulder and motioned that we should be leaving, as the lights on the sides of the rocket lit up with a dull, red glow. I watched it as the lift slowly brought us down, and the Administrator led me back to the truck, which Davy then drove back to the center. As it drove, I heard the countdown ring over the field, and as I turned around in my seat, I watched the rocket lift majestically up into the air, trailing great flames, rising up through the heavens, a godly being of silver and steel, wrought by human hands but was above them, and I thought of that fateful day so many years ago.

It went without a hitch. The engines delivered a continual stream of thrust upwards into the atmosphere, the sun shone off of the shining silver skin, and the rocket left Earth on its first successful mission, and Man’s first successful mission, into space, and to whatever lay beyond.


Six weeks later, I was sitting on the couch in my living room, watching the Saturday news, when the news anchor suddenly changed the footage played and showed the rocket. I jumped to my feet, watching it intently. The magical being slowly settled back into its cradle, its exhaust streaming downwards, turning the ground black and dry, the steam still gushing from its sides, its red eyes blinking. Then, with a certain finality, the rocket settled down onto the launchpad, and the engines turned off, their metal sides glowing red with heat. 

The camera zoomed in on the hatch as it slowly opened, and the three astronauts slowly emerged from the rocket, which was sighing softly, great clouds of steam billowing around it. At that moment, my doorbell rang, and I rushed to the door, not knowing what I would see. I wrenched it open, and beheld Jim, still in his space-suit, holding his bulbous helmet under one arm. 

“Jim,” I said. He nodded.

He said, “It’s good to be back.”