Joe Ingles walked through the halls of the SpaceX launch facility with an expression of awe on his face. “How’d you know I wanted to tour this place, mate?” he whispered to his companion, trying to keep his voice low out of respect for the tour guide.
Donovan Mitchell shrugged his shoulders. “Well, for starters, every time I had to sit next to you on the plane you were either watching the SpaceX livestreams or you were reading news articles about them. It was either that or homeopathic hair-restoration schemes.”
Ignoring the jab at his baldness, Joe replied, “Still, you didn’t have to fly me down all the way down to Texas, mate.” He was about to say more, but the tour group had just walked into a large, high-ceilinged hangar-type building where various rockets and ships were in varying stages of completion. This was the part of the tour that he was most looking forward to, and he wanted to hear what the tour guide had to say. Donovan tried to restart their conversation but was quickly shushed by his teammate, who was listening with rapt attention.
“Here’s the next version of our Starlink internet satellite, almost ready to join its brothers in orbit,” the tour guide, a perky 18-year-old girl who must have been fresh out of high school, was saying. “It looks impressive, but there’s not much to it, just some standard internet hardware and a lot of sensors. Our goal is to get thousands of these into space in the next few years.”
Donovan was looking just as bored as Joe was looking excited, but even his eyebrows had to raise when the group walked over next to a complete-looking rocket and the guide announced, “And we just sent out a press release this morning saying that today will mark our first attempt to send a man to Mars, in the very same rocket you’re standing next to!”
Joe couldn’t believe what he was hearing. They were going to launch a rocket that same day, with astronauts inside it, and he was going to be there to see the whole thing. He thought he might die of happiness right then and there, and that feeling only intensified when Elon Musk himself emerged from a side room with a group of what must have been members of the national media, waved at the tour group, and began to personally inspect the rocket while talking in a low voice to the accompanying reporters.
“Mars?” Donovan asked. “Like the planet Mars? Out in space?”
“Yeah mate, the Mars in space,” Joe replied. “We’ve never sent anyone there before, so you picked a real good day to treat me to this tour.”
“It was only fifteen bucks each,” Donovan demurred. “Thanks for being my vet.”
The two were about to share more teammate bonding time when Elon Musk himself began to speak to the group. Even Donovan knew who Elon was, and that he should shut up when Elon was talking.
“Today marks a bold expansion of mankind’s role in the universe,” Elon said as he stood proudly in front of his rocket. “No longer is humanity confined to the constraining spherical prison of earth. He will soon, truly, be an extraterrestrial species!”
“We’re gonna be aliens?” Donovan whispered, but his comment was ignored as Elon kept talking.
“After we put out a call for the best, the brightest, the fittest, the strongest, to apply for this unbelievable journey, we received thousands upon thousands of applicants. It was touching to see so many successful people willing to give all of it up in order to extend man’s reach beyond our own planet. But in the end, we could only choose one, and that man is standing right here with us.”
Joe and Donovan looked around eagerly, trying to figure out which man among them was the one who had been chosen to make the first manned voyage to Mars. Joe wondered if it might be Elon himself; that seemed like the kind of thing Elon was egotistical enough to do.
When Elon walked over to Joe and put a hand on his shoulder, a gesture which Joe had trouble comprehending at first. Then, he remembered: as a joke, he had put his own name into the applicant pool for the Mars journey. It had been years ago, and he had totally forgotten about the contest. Nobody from SpaceX had ever contacted him further about it.
“Joe Ingles was willing to walk away from his lucrative career as an NBA basketball player for the betterment of humanity,” Elon said to the group, who all began to clap, except for Donovan, who looked confused. “His combination of intelligence, physical ability, charisma, and celebrity was unrivaled by any other applicant. There is truly no better ambassador for humankind.” More clapping ensued.
“I haven’t had any astronaut training, mate,” Joe tried to tell Elon in a low voice, but Elon didn’t hear. He was too busy trying to position them for a photo op.
“Shake my hand for the cameras Joe, come on, there you go,” Elon said, forcefully grabbing the Australian’s hand and smiling at the photographers while flashbulbs went off. “You’re supposed to be charismatic! That’s why we picked you! Now let’s get you ready for takeoff.”