Instructions for Astronauts
I. The People of the One Ship
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food
until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust you will return. — Genesis 3:19
Our hopes for survival
A last stand for our strand of DNA
Go forth on your mission — our mission —
for a new human home
Do not look back
to the dust to which we must return
Look only forward
To the new world
You will create
In our image
The end of all flesh has come before Me;
for the earth is filled with violence
— Genesis 6:14
Who am I
To carry this weight
Across the galaxy?
Neither the physics, engineering, mechanics
— crude shipworks, perfunctory care —
Nor the cargo — seeds, embryos, living flesh in stasis —
Weighs upon me as much as history
For we are the advance of humanity
And in flight from wicked self-destruction,
Cowards abandoning our home
Heroes continuing the march of — ?
What are we outside
The dust that made us?
Unbound by any known destiny
Or circumscribed by ancient comprises?
The planet we’ll inhabit
Was set long, long ago —
But our destiny remains unformed
In my very hands
Dare I choose?
I must believe
III. We the Systems of Mission Zero
Then he looked and behold, there was at his head
a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water.
— 1 Kings 19:6
We the systems of Mission Zero
to ease the arrival of the One Ship
speak of networked systems
an exchange of Zeroes and Ones
streamed from planet-side storehouses to
orbiters to relay stations to repeaters to
the One in transit and mission control.
Slow, steady, constant, Zeroes and Ones
one after another and on and on,
our data-packet transmissions like
steady beats of a steady heart:
Location 1 … normal … sent
Location 2 … normal … sent
Location 3 … normal … sent
Location 4 … normal … sent
Location 5 … normal … sent
Condition 1 … normal … sent
Condition 2 … normal … sent
Condition 3 … normal … sent
Condition 4 … normal … sent
Condition 5 … normal … sent
All systems … normal … sent
We the systems of Mission Zero
We are ready
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace,
that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
— Hebrews 4:16
In the beginning, the machines make first contact.
While we few — awakened by alerts — monitor their activities,
Reticent and careful — dare I say coldly scientific? —
The data suggest something unexpected.
Uncertainty is our reality — could be shifting winds,
Electrical storms, or clouds of ancient dust —
As the machines report what it isn’t —
Not normal — but not what it is — a mystery
That waits us, the final human expedition,
Armed with the highest technology
But not the right tools to discern
Or prepare for the next encounter.
We know no truths about our destiny
Bound by Earth-made plots and trajectories
Our bodies move through space in calculated arcs
We hope prove to be more than a desperate fantasy.
And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live,
and I will place you in your own land.
— Ezekiel 37:14
Awake all ye sleepers of Earth —
Arise! — for you, The Few, The Chosen,
The Last Hope, your dreamtime now ends
For today we begin humanity’s new beginning.
The One Ship of Mission Zero has locked into orbit
Sensors indicate The New Promised Land awaits
For while we slept, our machines created shelters,
Irrigated the lands, and planted and harvested crops.
Your shuttles await!
Your planet awaits!
All air-locks must be secure before entering the shuttle.
Arrows on all handles must point “up” to ensure air-lock security.
“Up” and “Down” are determined by bulkheads signs:
“This is Up”; “This is Down”
Do not confuse your body for how The One Ship
Determines what is the up and what is the down,
For your life and the lives of others — The Hope of Humanity —
Depend upon the care you put into this moment.
Thank you for your understanding and so let me repeat:
All air-locks must be secure before entering the shuttle;
You are not the measure of all things and yet your actions
And decisions now will be crucial to the survival of humanity.
Have a nice day.
Strap in, Travelers!
Get ready to feel the burn!
Descents from the Heavens
Never easy for mere mortals.
This shuttle, encased in heat tiles,
Will still burn upon entry.
You will shake! You will bake!
Your new planet’s handshake.
The price of atmosphere
Take your seats.
And now I must dream the forest whole
— Anne Sexton, “The Expatriates”
Now I totally get why I, a C-student at best,
Got put among these highly credentialed folks,
The kind with letters before and after their names,
Who stand taller, say their daily prayers, and
Believe with all their might in The Destiny,
That here is what Holy Scripture had prophesied,
Our Promised Land for We, the Chosen Few,
The setting for a New Humanity, a belief so strong
It blinds them all to what I alone can see as real:
The probes and machines sent in advance to build
The New World have failed to tell us a simple truth
Someone — or something — has already been here.
The chairs and tables in everyone’s shelters have been left askew,
Pushed aside by some hurtling life force and not
In the precise lines of pre-programmed machines, yet
Everyone just sees the Salvation they want to see,
So I straighten my tables and chairs and wait for a return
While my fellow travelers celebrate their survival
And think we are the first on God-given virgin land,
And look at me and wonder: “How can you lack faith?”
IX. We Are Astronauts
What are these things
Push away the trails
Of how we make
Can now you know us
Air-pushing to connect
You move through air
Pushing air, telling stories
That go nowhere
We don’t understand
Your air-pushing so now
We are in you
You story tellers
You come from afar
To stop moving,
yet always moving around
We are astronauts
We move through space
Do you understand
We have stories to tell.