Commander Loveless; First Man on Mars

Six months ago I met my good friend of 35 years, writer Stephen Loveless, for our usual weekly coffee and a chat. It was just before I went away on holiday for a couple of weeks. I didn’t know then that would be the last time I’d ever see him or even speak with him. While I was away he fell ill. He discovered he had cancer of the a esophagous and last week he died. The nature of his condition was such that we only ever exchanged a handful of texts in the months before his death.

I have heard so many stories from Stephen about his past lives, some of them incredible, almost impossible to believe, but invariably he could back them up with photos and the souvenirs he’d kept. But I also knew, because that’s how Steve was, that the handful he’d shared with me were just the tip of a massive iceberg hidden in the dark. Some of the things I learned about him were so surprising that when he told me he led a secret NASA mission to Mars, for a split second I almost believed him.

Here’s three of his tales, all true (I think). Yes there’s more, but three is a magic number.

We were sitting in his house, I think preparing for a radio interview about some project or another, when he mentioned the eerie stillness of the Greenland icefields; how there is nothing for miles, nothing for the wind to blow through, so there’s no sound. When you’re out there all alone all you can hear is your own breathing, the thump of your heart and the blood pulsing through your veins. He’s a writer, so maybe you’d think this was based on some research he’d read, a documentary or his imagination at work, but no, he’d done it! He’d been there. He’d spent time with the Inuit; I saw the photos and, while I’m sure many other people may have been there, what you need to know about Stephen is I’d known him for ten years at this point! I asked him why he’d never mentioned it before and he said, in his classic throwaway style “it’s never come up in conversation before”…

I’d been talking about taking a possible trip to China. Steve says, ” I think I’m probably still barred from entering China because of my links with the Tibetan Secret Service”. Now, I’m pretty sure the secret service bit is a joke, but his being banned from China bit is more than plausible because of his long standing involvement in the Free Tibet campaign… And then I see the photos of him hanging out with the Dalai Lama. Not once, but on at least two separate occasions, possibly three or more… And in his possessions I find a rare bottle of 50 year old whisky, gifted to him, and bottled to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Everest. The Steve I knew was no drinker… Hmmmnn.

It’s Christmas. Steve has come to my flat for our regular Wednesday movie night. We liked to watch low budget 1950s B movies and serials. That night we also stand at my window to watch out for the International Space Station, scheduled to pass over the Northampton Racecourse that evening. On this mission, the one with Tim Peake in the crew, the mission commander is Steve’s friend, the Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. He tells me he’s given Yuri a box of liqueur chocolates and a Santa hat for the trip – bought from a Northampton Poundland store in Gold Street. I believe him, but he’s also got the thank you text to prove it. But of course I also know that Steve has been helping Yuri’s wife, Ekaterina, with her Hollywood movie proposal – and it’s set on the international space station!

No one would know from his outward appearance of the adventures this man has had, both in real life and his vivid writer’s imagination. I feel privileged to have known Steve, and I know he would prefer the world to believe he’s passed on from this mortal realm, but you don’t fool me Steve, I know this is a ruse to hide your top secret return to Mars.

Ad Astra, Commander Loveless.

It’s one small step for a man…

Barry Hale

Baikonur Cosmodrome

stardate 14.2.19

Photo credit: (NASA photo/Aubrey Gemignani)