No one on the space colony had ever been to Earth, which had been abandoned long ago. Charlie had once been taught in school the reasons why Earth had been abandoned. He remembered rather dimly that the population of Earth dropped very low because of some kind of grave environmental problems, and because of some big war. He didn't recall the details clearly. Charlie remembered being told that once conditions on the surface of Earth got inhospitable to human life, the remnants of the human race got busy building big space colonies like the one he lived on now. Then eventually the only humans left were those living in space.
Charlie lived with his family on the huge space colony, where there were hydroponic farms which provided plenty of food. All water and wastes were efficiently recycled, which meant that the colony could support humans for many centuries.
Charlie had seen almost all of the orbiting space colony, but there was one part of it which no one on the colony had ever seen. It was a locked area that was known as the Forbidden Chamber. The door to the room was locked with a huge combination padlock, and no one knew the combination.
But Charlie was a very curious young man, and he longed to find out what was in the Forbidden Chamber. Charlie searched throughout the colony to find the sharpest and most powerful saw he could find. One day he went to the door of the Forbidden Chamber, and spent hour after hour sawing the huge padlock furiously. After four hours of sawing, the padlock finally broke.
With great excitement Charlie opened the door. Inside he saw a large room containing only one thing: a large space shuttle. On the opposite end of the room were the sliding doors of an airlock.
Charlie announced his discovery to his friends and family. An older man scolded Charlie for his unauthorized action.
Charlie led a group of people into the chamber.
“What do you think that machine is?” Charlie asked.
“I'm not sure,” said old Colin Carter. “But my guess is that's it's one of the spacecraft that brought people up from Earth to this space colony long ago.”
After investigations revealed that the space shuttle craft was undamaged, and still contained a half tank of rocket fuel, Charlie began to develop an audacious idea in his mind.
“By using this space shuttle craft, some of us could return to Earth,” said Charlie one day to his mother.
“Are you crazy?” said Mom. “With a ship that old, you'd probably burn up in the upper atmosphere. And why would you want to go back to Earth. It's uninhabitable.”
Charlie was at first discouraged, but he would not give up on his idea. Charlie began to use scientific instruments on the space colony to analyze the surface of the planet below. Based on readings of the surface temperature and atmosphere, Charlie concluded that Earth was probably now fully habitable by humans.
Charlie formed an organization to plan a return to Earth using the space shuttle craft he had discovered in the Forbidden Chamber. The group came up with a 50-page plan. Charlie argued that if the space shuttle returned to Earth with 8 females and 4 males, and if they took along the frozen sperm of 200 males, there would be enough genetic variation to restart the human race on Earth. It would be necessary for the females to have children from both artificial insemination and the available males. It would also be necessary to pack the space shuttle with some helpful robots, lots of tools, and some inflatable structures that could be used for shelter.
The Executive Committee of the space colony voted on the plan, and gave its approval. The space shuttle was loaded with the necessary supplies.
On the day of the space shuttle launch from the orbiting space colony, Charlie said goodbye to his mother. He knew there was no way he would ever see her again.
“We'll stay in touch by radio, Mom,” promised Charlie as his mother tearfully gave him one last hug.
Charlie and the other 11 passengers entered into the space shuttle. The airlock doors of the Forbidden Chamber opened. Charlie had read an old pilot's manual on how to fly the shuttle, but he knew that trying to fly it would be incredibly risky.
He gently gave the engine some power, and the shuttle slowly moved out away from the space colony. That was the easy part. The risky parts would be passing through the upper atmosphere, and trying to land the shuttle.
When the space shuttle passed through the upper atmosphere, the temperature on board rose to 120 degrees. Every one was terrified that they would be burned up before the shuttle even reached the ground. But somehow the heat shields of the shuttle held up.
Guiding the space shuttle towards the planet's surface, Charlie looked for a place to land. He knew that unless he found a level place to land, the craft would probably explode in flames upon landing.
Luckily as the shuttle approached the planet's surface, Charlie spotted a long, smooth plain, and successfully landed the craft. It was a very rocky landing, but no one was injured seriously. The shuttle craft was heavily damaged, but it didn't matter, as they never intended to use it again, except for shelter.
“One more moment of truth,” said Charlie, heading towards the shuttle door. “If it's too hot out there, or the atmosphere is messed up, we will have come all this way for nothing.”
Charlie opened the space shuttle door, and stepped on to the surface of Earth for the first time in his life.
It was a pleasant 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Charlie took a good whiff of the cleanest, healthiest, freshest air he had ever breathed.