All of Earth bands together. After great expense, much effort and many years, no less than 40 lives lost, the grand project was complete. The grandest. There now existed 10 spaceships that could traverse the galaxy, possibly beyond.
Not a stairway to heaven but a flight through the heavens.
There was no greater work, no greater passion, no greater focus. Humanity’s representatives were about to personally explore distant worlds, make first contact.
Each craft was able to hold a single man. The planet’s ten most capable were chosen. None so chosen ever considered turning down the honor — despite knowing they would never again see their homeworld, never again know the touch of a human, taste the Earth’s air, or feel the Sun.
In succession, and with the entirety of humanity watching, the 10 craft were launched.
One exploded instantly, killing the man aboard.
Another crashed into a space rock the size of Old Russia, killing its solitary occupant.
Earth then lost contact with the remaining.
One never awoke from cold statis. His ship will drift beyond the Milky Way before every bit of him has fully decomposed.
One landed on a strange new world, populated with strange, intelligent beings, which treated the Earthling as a sort of planetary pet. They did not know, nor could they understand, that he went mad in under two decade’s time.
The fifth craft landed upon an eerily Earth-like planet with a remarkably similar evolutionary history. Only, the beings that were most like-human were scarcely a meter high. The man told them of his homeworld, its history, then quickly used his size and strength to become their ruler. He killed many, raped many, and profoundly altered the course of the planet’s future. Four thousand years later, his body lay in state, and he is still considered their God.
The sixth landed on a horrific planet, hell-like, and the man was cruelly tortured to death, brought back to life, tortured to death, brought back to life, no less than twelve times. Bored, the aliens decided they would build a craft to go to Earth and torture and kill them all.
After waking too early, the seventh found himself in near-infinite emptiness. On the 14th anniversary of his launch, he took his life.
Eighth man landed on a world the craft’s sensors informed him contained sentient human-like life. After five years of searching, he stumbled down a rocky cliff, breaking his back. He lay there for ten of that planet’s days before succumbing to death. His carcas was found by a small band of the planet’s two thousand Neanderthal-like creatures, who buried it with great reverence.
Those who lived on the planet the ninth man landed upon were shocked, amazed — also frightened. Not daring to take a chance, they killed him as he disembarked from his craft.
We lost track of the tenth.