After what seemed like hours, Kate's family reached the check in booth. Her father handed the four tickets to the woman standing by the booth. She read their names back one at a time, along with a number.
"Matt Appleberry 45-3, Karen Appleberry 45-3, Kate Appleberry 45-4, Nathan Appleberry 45-4. You may change room assignments after boarding is completed. Please register all such changes with the crew in case of emergency." Then the woman handed Kate's father several small pieces of plastic card and waved the family out the door.
They passed through the door of the building and into the glare of the afternoon sun. "Wow," said Kate. "This must be the biggest parking lot in the whole world." The pavement stretched as far as she could see in either direction.
"It's called the Tarmac," Nate informed her, his blue eyes shining. Their parents led them across the vast distance to the waiting shuttle. At the shuttle a man checked the papers Matt Appleberry was holding and waved the family into the big metal cage next to the ship.
When they were all in, another man stepped into the cage with them and pressed a button. The cage began to rise into the sky next to the ship like a big elevator.
Kate held her teddy-bear tightly and assured him that he would not fall. At the top there was a round door in the side of the ship, inside were rows of chairs and a ladder leading up and down through a hole in the floor and ceiling. The man instructed them to go down one level and find empty chairs to strap into.
One by one, they climbed down the hole. The room below was the same as the one above, except that half of the chairs were already full of smiling people.
Karen Appleberry reached down and lifted Kate into one of the chairs, just like she used to when Kate was a baby. She tightened the buckles and said "I'll be sitting right beside you. It will feel as though we are being squashed when the ship takes off, but you'll be fine."
On the other side of her Nate was strapped into a chair and beyond him, their father buckled in. Someone behind her said "Now we just have to wait until the shuttle is full."
People talked about which compartment they had been assigned, what kinds of hobbies they expected to work on while on board, and generally how exciting it was to actually be on their way toward Mars.