The Future Is Full Of Stars

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. — Sir Edmund Hillary

Submitted: March 26, 2017

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Submitted: March 26, 2017

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You never know what you are going to get when you bend through time to a distant star.  The amount of energy required doesn’t allow the luxury of sending unmanned probes.  When you bend time, you have to make the most of the trip.  

 

Sometimes there is nothing but uninhabitable planets.  That is bad news for the people in the ship.  

 

The massive launch stations that orbit the Moon each require 20 years to build.  

 

It takes anywhere from a few months to several years to store up the energy required to initiate a launch.  Electricity from the endless kilometers of solar panels covering the Moon’s surface is channeled into banks of lasers.  Computers constantly adjust the lasers to keep the beams aimed at the collection ports on the launch stations.  

 

It takes the coordinated efforts of almost two thousand scientists, engineers and technicians, all highly trained, to accomplish the tasks associated with a launch.

 

No matter the destination, bend trips have one thing in common.  They are all one way.

 

As soon as a ship emerges from bend time, it is programmed to aim its beacon towards Earth and start sending “we made it” messages.  Unfortunately, these messages only travel at 186,000 miles per second.  The speed of light.  The first bend ship went to Gliese-501, 20 light years away.  As expected, It took 20 years for their first message to reach Earth.

 

The ships have plasma engines capable of sustaining a velocity of 120,000 miles per hour.  They carry enough fuel for a year of flight.  And each has a ramscoop capable of gathering the sparse but omnipresent hydrogen molecules that exist in outer space.  The engines fuse hydrogen into helium, releasing massive amounts of energy.  The ship is pushed forward as the helium is ejected from the rear.  

 

In theory, when a crew finds no habitable planets or moons, they could program their ship to fly back to Earth.

 

In theory only.  At 20 light years away, Gliese is the closest star we’ve sent a bend ship to.  That crew was relieved to find planet F a bit cold but reasonably hospitable.  They named it Aquamarine after the blue-tinged vegetation covering the large continent near the equator.

 

Had Aquamarine not worked out, at 120,000 mph, it would take their ship 114,000 years to fly back to Earth.

 

The farthest we’ve bent a ship is 490 light years.  To a star called Kepler-186.  Of all the known planets, back when the bend program started, Kepler-186E was considered the most likely to be habitable.  If they made it through the bend, we will not get their first message for another 407 years. 

 

Long before then, my ship will have been launched.  I’m on the next mission.  To Equus-7, a star 120 light years away.  Equus Voyager has been in the charging bay for just over a year and is a few hours away from full power.  Launch is tomorrow morning.

 

The crew is excited and honored to be part of this mission.  Equus-7 has two planets and two moons that may be habitable.  One of the planets is slightly smaller than Earth.  Possibly with salt water oceans, an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, and continents covered with green vegetation.  If that is true, it could be the most Earth-like planet we’ve found so far.  

 

Or, the results from the simulation models could be completely wrong.

 

Our telescopes can directly detect light and other types of energy radiating from distant stars.  By contrast, planets only emit trace amounts of energy.  Not enough to register on our equipment from so far away.  

 

What we think we know about the planets is based on indirect measurements.  We can tell how much of the star’s light is blocked when a planet passes between it and our telescope.  This gives us a good estimate of the planet’s size.

 

Distinguishing between a dead, airless rock and a living planet with liquid water and an oxygen atmosphere is not a simple task at astronomical distances.  The scientists make their best guesses based on the information they have gathered.  The people who board the ships know the risk.  They are staking their lives on the gamble that there will be somewhere to live on the other end.

 

If not, they will spend the rest of their lives in a ship crammed with a thousand people.  They won’t starve or run out of air or water.  The recyclers and replicators take care of that.  But the crew will suffer severe psychological issues.  The computer models estimate it will take less than three months for this situation to degrade into murderous anarchy.

 

The bend program has always been controversial.  The people who think it is a bad idea point to the risks.  In the 112 years since the program started, there have been 466 launches.  Of those, we know the outcome of 213.  The rest were sent far enough away that we still have years, decades, or centuries before we expect to receive their first we-made-it message.

 

Out of the 213, we heard nothing from 57.  It is presumed those launches malfunctioned.  The scientists can only speculate about what happens when a bend goes wrong.  We will never know.

 

For 24 of the ships, the elation of surviving the launch was slowly replaced with misery, when the crew realized they had been sent to a dead solar system.  None of the planets or moons were suitable for human habitation.  In each case, things went bad inside the ship, quickly.

 

The other 132 are the lucky ones.  Those crews will spend the rest of their lives trying to establish a beachhead, on a distant planet, filled with unknowns.  They only get one chance to build a sustainable future.  

 

Many have already suffered disasters and the colonies they are trying to establish will probably not survive.  Others are barely hanging on.  

But, a few dozen are prospering.  The people in charge are constantly evaluating.  The ultimate goal is for one or more colonies to reach a point where sending more ships is justified.  To ensure the long term survival of a colony, they will need diversity.  At least 10 thousand genetically unique human beings.  Ten ships.  Sending enough people to one colony will be expensive.

 

The people who think we are crazy ask why we feel the need to risk our lives traveling to the stars.  There is no longer any population pressure on Earth.  Humans are busy colonizing the Moon, Mars, and a number of the moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn.  A project is underway to make the dense, corrosive atmosphere of Venus hospitable to life.  The human race will not run out of space in this solar system any time soon.  

 

Huge cargo ships carry technology and food from Earth to these colonies.  When they return the ships are filled with minerals and metals that have long been consumed on Earth but are plentiful elsewhere.  Earth’s first trillionaires made their nut on Martian titanium mines. 

 

That doesn’t matter to people like us.  We do not seek riches or comfort.  

 

Why do we risk our lives on some distant, unforeseen destination?  Because we can.  Because some people are never satisfied with what is known.  As long as there is something to find, we have to keep looking.

 

Will our ship emerge in one piece at Equus-7?  Will we find a place to live?  We will know soon enough.  Wish us luck!


© Copyright 2017 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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