2091 Tree of Life

A bonsai in a transparent flower pot from the Yue Liang Gong moon base.

The oldest and only surviving plant of the station.

The plant was the mascot of the hydroponics department. It came to the moon station in 2045 as a seedling with the private luggage of a taikonaut. For several years the plant grew without the mission management knowing. The hydroponics staff diverted fertilizers and minerals from the crop plants and over time they extracted some topsoil from composted plant remains. The crew pruned the bonsai to keep it small and hidden by the crops. But in 2055 it had to be moved from the hydroponic container to a larger container. The station crew 3d printed a flower pot made of transparent plastic. This process caught the attention of mission control. An investigation of the matter brought the bonsai to light.

At that time, in the early days of space travel, resource consumption was meticulously monitored. From the point of view of the mission management, the bonsai was an irregular experiment conducted by the crew on their own. Resources used by this experiment were lacking in the overall planning. In addition, the mission management could not tolerate unauthorized activities of the crew. They demanded that the biomaterial be returned to the station cycle. The hydroponics employee in charge of recycling the bonsai resisted the order. Instead of composting the plant, he hid it behind a console casing. Another year passed with an improvised lamp and a low condensation driven water supply. Then the plant was rediscovered.

In order to forestall the now renewed threat of composting, the station crew unanimously submitted a petition to save "Fusang, their tree of life". The petition text was ironic and entertaining. The style was so different from the usual rational and concise mission protocols that some ground station staff thought it was a particularly creative test message and did not think it would fall under the usual secrecy. Somehow the petition got into the public net, where it was taken seriously by some people. The text went viral. Within a few days, a "Save Fusang" movement emerged in social media. The psychological department of mission control finally supported recognizing the bonsai officially as an experiment and thus saved it from composting.

Another ten years later, the Yue Liang Gong base has grown considerably. It has a permanent crew of 20 and is preparing to double its capacity. Nuclear-powered plasma tractors of the Chinese space program shuttle between earth and moon orbit. Each new rocket brings hundreds of tons of material to the moon base.

Then in the early 70s, the economy collapses. Even major earth powers lack the funds for space programs. Transports to the moon are suspended. Ten of the 24 Taikonauts leave Yue Liang Gong Station 2071 as scheduled. But there is no replacement personnel. Stays are stretched out to bridge the difficult times. However, the situation on earth is getting worse and worse. In the following year eight taikonauts return to earth orbit using the station's rescue capsules. There is no transport capacity to evacuate the remaining six. They are preparing to stay on for a long time. The six, the so called "Lianggong Six", benefit from the greatly expanded life support and the enormous size of the station, which was built for 40 people. Hydroponics produces enough food for twenty. Surpluses are freeze-dried and stored. This is simple on the moon with vacuum easily accessible and temperatures of minus 150 degrees Celsius in eternal shadow.

The supply situation is good. But maintenance of the station is a problem. The station is too big for six people. Out of 40 planned taikonauts at full capacity, 25 were supposed to work in station engineering and life support. The technology of the moon station is complex. Basically, it is a space station like the old ISS. It lies on the lunar surface, but the technology is the same. And it is equally demanding.

Without scientific operations, they only need half of the technical staff. Twelve engineers can keep the station up and running easily. At a minimum, eight technicians would be enough if they have the right combination of skills. But of the remaining six, only four are technical. And after an accident during an outdoor activity in 2078, only three are still operational. That's not enough. They cannot solve all technical problems. Maintenance cycles are stretched. More and more failures remain unrepaired. And the material ages. It is not replaced by new equipment as has been planned. Especially the moon dust causes problems. Cleaning equipment and space suits requires a lot of personnel and resources. This is no longer possible. So, every outdoor activity turns into a risk. Some modules start leaking air. Some due to micrometeorites. Others break because of the omnipresent moon dust, which settles in bearings and seals. Some modules must be isolated and disconnected. The station fragments. There are technical areas that can only be reached from outside. This poses an additional obstacle to maintenance work.

Then in 2088, the fusion reactor fails. The cooling facility of the cyclotron converter breaks down. It had not been inspected for years. The superconducting coil quenches, it loses its superconductivity and residual currents melt the coil. The reactor switches off automatically. Before the shutdown, fast alpha particles hit surrounding devices and walls. The area is slightly radioactive. No comparison with radiation levels of fission reactors. But the damage cannot be repaired by means of the station and with the available know-how. The solar collectors still provide power, yet much less. Also, the solar modules are old and dusty. They generate only a fraction of their original output.

Many facilities and station modules including the hydroponics food production must be shut down. The bonsai Fusang, the small tree of life, is moved over to the last active habitat module. In the year 2090 the situation becomes untenable. Food supplies are running out, the oxygen level falls, and outdoor activities are no longer possible. The station sends distress calls. But the six taikonauts are the last humans on the moon. No one can help.

There are still people holding out in earth orbit. They are also cut off from earth. But they have more people, more skills, and more technical capabilities – and no moon dust. Years ago modules of several nations met at the Indian space station if their orbital parameters allowed a synchronization of orbits. For 20 years they have survived in the so-called "Dher", the garbage heap. The Dher organizes a rescue operation for the Lianggong Six. An improvised rescue capsule reaches the Yue Liang Gong moon base in 2091. Three of the last four Taikonauts can be rescued. They reach the Dher in earth orbit after a dramatic journey.

Eighteen years later, the first taikonauts of the new space program of the Zhu Republic enter the Yue Liang Gong base. In the entrance to the habitat module they find Fusang. The small bonsai stands with its plastic pot in the middle of the open air lock, shock frozen and preserved for eternity.

In the year 2115, the new Zhu Moon base is established close to the old Yue Liang Gong Station. In the beginning it is a small venture, occupied by only five taikonauts and Fusang, who is carefully thawed and revived.