“You’re Myr Anderson?”
“You seem surprised,” said the woman at the door. “You said I should meet you here, at your office, at one o’clock.”
“I am surprised,” I admitted, looking at my watch.
“Because I’m a woman?” she asked. “Or is it because of my age?”
“To be honest… both,” I said, guessing that the woman facing me in the peach pants suit was in her 90s.
“I appreciate your honesty, Dr. Clark. May I sit down?”
“Of course,” I answered, motioning her to a vacant chair—like all the furniture in my office, a relic. “Would you like some coffee?”
“I would rather have a martini,” she replied.
“Sorry, I can’t help you there,” I laughed, thinking it did not seem such a bad suggestion.
“So, let me come right to the point. The sample I sent you,” she said, pointing to the clear plastic bag on my desk containing a golf-ball size rock. “As I mentioned in my letter, there are four others.”
“Please, it’s Myr—short for Myrtle.”
“Myr,” I continued, “our analysis showed this sample you sent me is from the lunar surface.”
“I knew it would get your attention,” said the woman.
“It’s olivine basalt,” I said. “Now, my colleagues here at NASA know the precise location of all 842 pounds of lunar material collected during the Apollo missions. We also know this is not from any of the three Soviet Luna missions, nor the recent Chinese flight. And it is not a meteorite. So, the question is: where… ?”
“We got it from your monkey,” said Myr, finishing my sentence.
“Champ,” she said, as though I was familiar with the name. Opening her purse, she handed me several photos. The first image was that of a balding man I guessed to be in his 20s or 30s, next to a chimpanzee atop a bale of hay. The chimp had on a shiny flight suit. On one arm was an American flag. Directly above a NASA patch was another that read “CHAMP.”
Myr immediately sensed the expression of bewilderment that was on my face.
“My husband Earl—that’s him in the picture; he passed away this spring—figured Champ must’ve been a test monkey sent to the moon before man landed there, probably to see if it was safe. Champ came to us in February 1968, 17 months before Apollo 11.”
“What do you mean he came to you?”
Rather than answer my question, Myr motioned for me to look at the other photos. I quickly thumbed through them, stopping when I reached a picture of her late husband at the controls of a tractor. A Gemini space capsule hung by a chain that was attached to the tractor’s bucket hoist.
“It’s in our barn,” said Myr, who must have known what I was looking at. “The capsule, I mean.”
Trembling, I stood and asked, “Would you mind if I made a quick phone call?”
Minutes later, my colleague Dr. Jim Blackburn, was at my side. After studying the photos, he righted himself and asked, “Have you checked the database for a reference to Champ?”
“I was just about to do that,” I lied. Logging into my laptop, I entered the chimp’s name.
The following appeared on my computer screen: SECURITY ACCESS CODE REQUIRED.
I entered my personal security clearance code, and a file—rather, a series of PDFs–appeared. Atop the first one were these words: TOP SECRET. NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE.
After a few moments, Dr. Blackburn said, “Well?”
“Shh… I’m reading.”
“Don’t leave me in suspense, man—”
“According to this file, Champ was an astro chimp,” I said. “He was from a hominid research facility in California and trained to fly aboard Gemini 14…”
“Gemini 14—there was no Gemini 14!” Dr. Blackburn exclaimed. “The program ended with Gemini 12.”
“That’s what we were all led to believe, Jim,” I said. “But according to this, Champ became the first human creature to land. It happened February 11, 1968, using the Lunar Gemini protocol. The craft was fully automated. The chimp was trained to bring back five rocks.”
I had been with NASA long enough to know that Lunar Gemini was a plan developed in the early 1960s to use a Saturn C-3 rocket to deliver a modified Gemini spacecraft to the moon. The modifications consisted of four components: a lunar orbit insertion stage, a lunar descent stage, and ascent stage and the capsule itself.
But I thought it was just that—a plan. In my wildest imaginations, I could not have imagined it being real.
Dr. Blackburn, who had been reading the file over my shoulder, let out a whistle.
“No wonder we never heard about this,” he said. “They believed the capsule burned up during re-entry. It never appeared on radar, and there was no radio contact. Looks like we didn’t tell the press because we weren’t sure Lunar Gemini would work. That and it was so close to the Apollo 1 mishap.”
Turning to Myr, I said, “But the capsule wasn’t destroyed, was it?”
Myr shook her head.
“It came down in the lake behind our farm,” she said. “Earl fished it out with the tractor. It’s been in the barn ever since.”
“And you never told anyone—why?”
“Earl always said, ‘Finders keepers.’ He figured if the government—which he never trusted, by the way—cared, it would say something. Besides, he and Champ really hit it off. That monkey was smart as a whip. We were devastated when he died in 1982.”
“So, why did you decide to come clean now—and why come to me?” I asked.
Myr sighed. “Well, as I said, Earl passed, I had no other family, and I’m not getting any younger. I can’t be holding on to government property. And I’m told you’re the head man.”
There was silence as I considered the implications of the information I now possessed. As the head of NASA, it would be me who would have to call Washington.
How in the world am I going to explain this one? I asked myself.
The answer would have to wait.
I glanced at my watch, then stood and faced Myr.
“What do you say we find a place with a martini?” I asked.