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Hawking's Nightmare

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moon and star, illustration

Credit: Helen Field

Yuri Shekhov was outside the lunar habitat in his space suit, preparing to watch the supply shuttle from Earth fire its retro rockets and land. The sun glinted off the windows of the boxy crew module, attached to its strange collection of spherical pressurized fuel tanks, rocket nozzles, and articulated cushioned footpads, as it hovered suspended atop its rocket exhaust, carefully lowering itself onto the landing pad. In the airless lunar environment, the shuttle did not need to obey any aerodynamic forms or compensate for more than lunar gravity.

Shekhov had talked with the pilot, who reported a nominal status during the shuttle's orbit and braking maneuvers just above the east edge of the lunar hemisphere that was visible from Earth. It looked to be a flawless landing near his optical-beacon habitat, located at 98 degrees east longitude, eight degrees around to the lunar far side in the crater named for American rocketry genius James H. Wyld. The pilot had deftly avoided the structure behind him that itself embodied the purpose of the billion-dollar lunar base—a giant 45-meter telescope financed and built by wealthy Russian fracking tycoon Oleg Volkov. The telescope pointed approximately 45 degrees southward, toward the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, and its planetary consort, Prox Cen b. A nuclear power plant buried 20 feet below the lunar surface nearby supplied a two-megawatt laser that pulsed with infrared light, round the clock, directed by the telescope with milli-arc-second accuracy, toward the exoplanet four light years away. It also supplied enough direct heat to make the human quarters as comfortable as a Caribbean villa in tourist season.


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