Excerpt: The First Man in Space

Now a voice comes over the radio again. It's fainter than before.

"Ivanov," it says. Looks like one of the guys from Mission Control wants to speak with me.

"Yes," I reply, my voice cracking, "I can hear you. Talk to me."

"Look, I don't have much time and I'm not supposed to tell you this, but you won't be coming home. Yes, the guys in engineering have been working on a solution, but there isn't one. I'm sorry, Comrade Ivanov. You were a good guy and I didn't want to have to say goodbye to you, but it looks like I've got to. Take care and hold tight."

"K-1 to mission control, thank you." My voice sounds like it belongs to a child. This is all that I can say. One of the men at Mission Control, an accomplice to my accidental murder, has taken pity on me. He brought me honesty even though he shouldn't have. I recall Laika the dog. She was sent up before me, before they knew how to get space travelers back down. No one cared that she was trapped up there forever. To this man, I am more important than that. Even when they airbrush me out of all the pictures of the cosmonaut team and blame my death on a training accident, someone will think about me.

"Dima," the voice says, "what's it like up there?"

"Well, there are a lot of stars," I reply, "and it's pretty dark."

"I know that," the voice says, "tell me something new."

"There's no way to describe it. It's like nothing on Earth. I feel so far away. I am so far away. I feel like I'm floating in a pool of water, but I feel cold rather than wet." I ramble a bit. Simple words are insufficient.

Still, I am relieved to have someone to talk to. Among machines and emptiness, there is finally humanity. Droplets as spherical as planets float past my face and slam into the glass of my helmet. I'm crying. I never cry.

I receive no reply from the man at mission control. I am too far out of range. All alone. Few will know where I am and how I got there. I'm doomed to float away forever. I want to go home and be a hero. I want to apologize to my mother. A panic has seized me once again. No, I will go back. I look at the little spinning globe sticking out of my cockpit in order to figure out my position. I'm over the United States and I think of the Americans.