The Apollo flight to the moon had been a shining success for astronauts Gary Parson, Mary Capelletti and Jonah Oobledorf. Mary and Jonah had landed in the Ramses Highlands, leaving Gary aboard the ship. The two had spent eight hours collecting samples, returned
to the ship and begun the 238,900 mile return voyage to the earth. Everything had gone perfectly, like clockwork, and the three were cheerful as the capsule sped homeward. This was the second trip for Oobledorf and the first for the other two.
The launch had been televised along with several segments of the
Journey and the problems of the Apollo 13 mission had long been worked out and eliminated. They expected the three days flight home to be uneventful. There were no problems until the last day when they were making the final preparations for re-entry. Mary went through the protocol and at step sixteen, relaxing the prototroxine valves which consisted of pushing a button and opening all six valves, there was a loud clank and a noticeable jarring motion in the capsule. She turned towards the captain who looked at her intently.
“What was that,” Jonah asked?
“I don’t know,” said Mary with a concerned look. “I just opened the prototroxine valves and then the noise and the sound.”
Jonah and Mary looked at the computer and all the monitors. No major problems recorded to the power sources, the oxygen level, CO2 absorption, heat shield. All appeared functioning well.
Then Gary spoke up. “The prototroxine valves….only four of them opened.” The three astronauts looked at the monitors and then at one another.
Jonah turned on his microphone and spoke to Mission Control those words which no pilot had needed since the Apollo 13 mission. Those words no one wanted to hear.
“Mission Control, this is Apollo…Jonah here. Houston…We have a problem!”
There was silence for a split second only and then followed a rush of questions and answers, with the final report concluding:
“Looks okay for re-entry Jonah. You’ll have some control problems and will land in the Pacific eight hundred miles from the scheduled touchdown location. There may be some problems with retrieval and we recommend that you keep your space suits and portable oxygen containers on until you are picked up after splashdown. We repeat though, there is no danger and the landing should be without any problems. You will have to open the hatch and get out of the capsule as soon as possible after you land because of the damaged prototroxine valves which may cause gradual flooding and sinking of the capsule. If you’re out in a couple minutes there will be no problem. You’ll be entering blackout in 240 seconds.”
The three astronauts glanced at each other and Mary smiled as she reattached her helmet to the space suit and hooked up the portable oxygen.
Jonah smiled back. “Just a tiny glitch in an otherwise perfect mission.”
All three touched fingertips and then strapped themselves into their seats for the final conclusion of the mission. Then they could see the fiery re-entry flames ricocheting off the heat shield passing the windows of the capsule as they sped toward the earth. Finally, they experienced a sharp jolt as the parachutes deployed and they felt themselves floating down towards the blue waters of the Pacific.
What hadn’t been anticipated was landing in a half mile wide collection of krill, the tiny crustaceans often found in massive schools of over a million, on which whales feed. The capsule came down in the center of the massive school of krill, gently plopping into the water and then righting itself. Per their instructions, the astronauts in their spacesuits and helmets with oxygen tanks attached, opened the hatch and expelled themselves into the warm ocean water. They had attached flotation devices to keep them afloat and they bobbed up and down amidst the tiny sea crustaceans.
Suddenly there was a tremendous tidal wave near them and to their surprise they were confronted by the large open maw of a huge Pacific Blue whale gathering in krill by the millions. The monstrous mammal pushed forward like a giant vacuum gathering in the crustaceans, nearly colliding with Parson and Capeletti, but Oobledorf was directly in line with the giant mouth and in a split second found himself engulfed along with a million tiny creatures into the mouth of the beast.
When the mouth closed, the whale dove deep into the ocean and the two astronauts on the surface gasped as they saw their friend disappear into the whale and then into the ocean. Within five minutes they were surrounded by seaplanes dropping frogmen into the water around them. Once safely in the rafts they told the story of what they had seen. Jonah had been swallowed by a whale.
Immediately mission control asked, “Was he wearing his suit and oxygen?”
“Yes, replied the two in one voice.”
“Then there may be a possibility of his being alive and able to survive inside the whale until the creature is found. He should be able to communicate to us with his suit phone and we are trying to contact him as we speak.”
“Are we on open television?” asked mission control. “Yes,” was the immediate reply. “There’s nothing to be done now. We can’t shut it down.”
Meanwhile, Jonah, who had been briefly unconscious with the events awoke and initially did not know what had occurred. Then he recalled the whale’s mouth and couldn’t believe that he was actually inside the beast and breathing with his oxygen. He immediately turned on the telephone and was able to speak with Mission Control.
“Mission Control, this is Jonah. Believe it or not I’m alive inside this whale. What can be done to get me out?”
“Mission Control here. We read you loud and clear Jonah. We are tracking the whale. Have to be careful it doesn’t sound and go deep, though your suit should protect you. You have six to seven hours of oxygen left and two ships are closing in on you. One of them has a harpoon type gun and as soon as we locate the whale we’ll kill it and take it aboard.”
“Roger,” replied Jonah. Composed and acting the way he had been trained for any eventuality, he replied, “I know you guys are trained for any problems, and this is a whale of a problem!”
Mission Control, didn’t know quite how to respond to that humor but merely said, “Good man Jonah. They got you out in the Bible; we’ll get you out now!”
The reality of the situation was that the men at Mission Control had no idea how they were going to get him out as they looked from one to the other. Ideas were bantered around as the two ships converged in the center of the krill looking for the whale. It was gone!
Inside the whale, Jonah realized that there was nothing in the
books about retrieval of an astronaut from a whale and he nodded to himself recognizing that all the astronauts knew they might not survive their mission and lived with that possibility. Time passed, first one hour, then a second. He glanced at the oxygen tank and realized he had only four hours left. If he was going to get out he’d have to figure out something by himself. The whale was moving deeper into the ocean and he felt the effects of the pressure on him even in the suit. Then the whale apparently started rising to the surface and Jonah felt a tremendous urge to pass flatus and relieve the abdominal pressure. He did so into his suit and then it came to him. He edged towards the front the huge mouth, opened the release valve on the oxygen tank and the compressed air exploded out of the tank into the beast’s huge mouth. The whale had reached the surface and feeling the pressure, opened its mouth and an explosive “burp” emanated forcing Jonah and a million little crustaceans into the air. The whale snapped its flukes and dove into the sea. Jonah landed on the surface, flotation device intact and quickly removed his helmet since there was no oxygen left in the tank. He held the phone attachment to his lips and called out:
“Jonah here. Whale there. Pick me up!”
“We see you Jonah. On the Way. Over and Out!”
And over international television, the world heard,
“I owe it all to a fart and a burp! Apollo…signing off.”