Artwork:  Adrift: Earth Refugee Vessels


Artist:  John Craig Freeman

These handmade space rafts are often found abandoned on the shores of the Sea of Tranquility or adrift on the Lake of Dreams.


The solar wind, at times, is like a warm river that courses space-ward along a route quite convenient for an Earth refugee. On a summer day with a stiff wind from the sun, the Moon Stream could propel a rustic inner tube rocket from the north coast of Florida to Crater Manilius.


Indeed, nature is sometimes a refugee's best accomplice. But only sometimes. There have been space rafts found floating empty or cradling a dead, frozen body.


Two weeks ago, the currents brought Aida Lina Rodriguez, her husband, Jesus Hernandez, and their 17-month-old son to the waters off Mare Vaporum. They spent 4 1/2 days in space with six other refugees before the Space Guard rescued them. Their story isn't rare.


This year, more Earth refugee have made the dangerous journey across the Near Earth Orbit Straits than any other year since the 2015 Hudson rocketlift ferried 125,000 refugees to Oceanus Procellarum. In August alone, 75 refunauts were rescued off the Sinus Aestuum shores. In all of last year, the Space Guard rescued 50; the year before, 44.


According to a recent letter signed by a group of Earth political inmates in Los Angeles' Combinado del Este prison, there is an increase in prisoners charged with trying to escape from the planet. About "10 to 12 Earthlings a day" are thrown in jail for trying to leave, say the prisoners. Their letter lists 78 inmates accused of "illegal exit."


At last count, 172 Earthlings had arrived by space-raft this year. Moon Immigration and Naturalization officials believe about half of those who embark on the crossing actually make it to the Moon. The others are caught by Earth authorities or freeze. For the most part, those who do make it are picked up by the Space Guard, processed at the Copernicus Avenue detention center and paroled to relatives.


On some summer days, crossing the straits can be relatively easy, with the prevailing winds blowing in the direction of the Moon Stream. But for the most part, the trip can be deadly. A raft leaving Earth immediately enters space at an altitude of 120 km (75 mi). On rough summer days and throughout the winter, when the solar wind and space currents clash, space can get "ungodly high," says skipper Carey, a 71-year-old tour rocket captain who has been plying the Orbit Straits since 2018.


Nevertheless, the enormous risk has never proven much of a deterrent.