Outer space, in the aftermath of a rocket explosion.
Hollis, Barkley, Captain, Woode, Stone, Stimson, Applegate and Lespere - Astronaut flung into space by his rocket exploding.
Boy - Wishes on the shooting star that is Hollis' body re-entering Earth's atmosphere.
Mother - Encourages her son to make that wish.
Hollis, who tries to cope with his very imminent death.
Hollis accepts his fate but wishes he could have one last influence in his death.
A boy makes a wish on what he thinks is a shooting star, which is Hollis.
The theme is the acceptance of death and how that relates to the way people lead their lives. On the one hand, a bleakly existentialist view is advanced by Hollis: in the end we all die alone and death renders everything before it pointless. While this may be philosophically sound - though that's also debatable - it doesn't have the emotional resonance of Lespere's assertion that one must live as fully as possible, in order to better accept death when the time comes. The fact that Lespere has led a morally reprehensible life - indulging in bigamy and gambling, for starters - is Bradbury's way of cautioning about the extremes of such an attitude. In the end, there is a sense of redemption in Hollis becoming a star upon which a little boy makes a wish.
A rocket explodes and its crew are dispersed through space in many directions. Stone asks Hollis how long they can talk by phone, who calculates an hour. Stone is heading to the moon, while Hollis is heading to Earth, where he knows he’ll burn upon entering its atmosphere. Stimson can’t stop talking of how it’s a long way down, unable to believe what happened. Hollis tries to talk him into calm but is antagonized by Applegate, who goads Hollis further by pointing out he can’t be stopped from saying what he likes. Soon after, two of the men began to scream; one of them came close to Hollis, who decides to put him out of his misery by breaking his glass faceplate. Applegate then calls out to Hollis; when the captain interferes, Applegate tells him to shut up. Applegate then tells Hollis it was he who had Hollis blackballed at the Rocket Company five years earlier. Hollis isn’t angry, not seeing any point in such matters now.
Lespere begins to talk, bragging of having a different wife on Mars, Venus, and Jupiter, all of whom treated him well. Hollis tells Lespere it didn’t matter, since it was all over; Lespere protests, insisting he’s lived a good life and had his turn. He refuses to become mean at the end, unlike Hollis; Hollis is shamed by this and realizes Lespere did indeed lead a fuller life than himself. A meteor tears off Hollis’ foot, but he manages to tighten the valve and save himself from that form of death. Applegate calls out to Hollis and confesses to lying about the blackball. Stone calls out that he’s been caught in a meteor swarm and is being sucked into its wake; he wishes Hollis goodbye. Applegate does the same, as all the voices fade. Hollis wishes he could do something, could be put to use in his final minutes as he burns down to Earth, and wonders if anyone sees him.
On a country road, a boy points out a falling star to his mother, who tells him to make a wish.
Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on Illustrated Man".
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