Per Ardua Ad Astra
Chapter 19: Shake-down Cruise
Copyright© 2013 by normist
Our plans for a cruise to Epsilon Eridani were put on hold until suits could be provided for planetary exploration that would give us protection from exoplanetary pathogens. For now we decided to do a practice cruise around the Earth itself.
I had been summoned to Washington to address the Advisory Committee that had been formed at my suggestion. An initial open meeting had decided that an annual conference open to all would suffice for most, but that a committee of sixteen should meet monthly.
It was the inaugural meeting of this committee that I had been invited to address. I opened the meeting by welcoming the attendees and told them that in future I would be unable to attend all their meetings. However, I softened the effect of this by promising that the results of their discussions would be examined carefully by the Space Service and that in turn we would supply them with results of our explorations.
Note that I didn't say all our results. I felt that there could easily be some information that needed to be kept under wraps. It was to be quite a while, but eventually I would be proved right. After the usual extended discussion, the committee concluded that the principle goal of any expedition should be the search for habitable planets. That was more or less the conclusion I had already reached.
The next day I visited the White House to discuss what should be the next step for the Space Service. I felt that it was too early to say. Until we had some experience with the Voyager, we would not know what other factors would influence future design. Again the emphasis was given to possible colonization.
"Admiral," asked the President "how do you see the future of exoplanet colonization?"
"It seems to me that we need a Voyager class vessel to remain on a planet long enough to assess the possibility of colonization. The initial surveys could be carried out by a much smaller scout vessel. The implication is that one of these smaller vessels needs to be matched by several of the Voyager class."
"How many do you think?"
"I imagine it could be in the ratio of about four to one or even six to one. Maybe even more."
"And what do you see happening then?"
After a planet has been assessed as being suitable for colonization, a much larger ship still needs to be used to carry the potential colonists. It would be used as a base for the colonists until they could stand on their own resources. There would need to be a fourth class of vessel; a small fast mail carrier with perhaps some cargo carrying capacity. I think that should be enough ideas to be going on with."
"Do you think we should open recruitment to other nationals? How about the recruitment of colonists? Should they include other nationals?"
"Eventually," I replied, "we shall have to. I hope that by then the need for secrecy will be past. In the meantime, I think we should be able to keep the details of the drive under wraps. It isn't as though its existence is the secret. As I see it, the bottleneck could well be the recruitment of suitable personnel for crews and the scientific groups, or would it be cost of building a space fleet?"
"How much," asked the President, "do you think the Voyager cost?"
"Well, Its about the size of a small aircraft carrier, so I suppose its cost must be in the region of billions of dollars."
"You would be pleasantly surprised. It cost less than a hundred million. I think that your fleet is a distinct possibility. It will all depend on what you find with Voyager. We must look into providing you with such a scout vessel."
That more or less put an end to our discussions. I decided to return to the Space Base via Magnolia so that I could see James Burton and keep in touch with what he was doing. He had mentioned that he had made considerable progress in small drives for the proposed message drones.
He had reduced the size of the drive to a cube about twelve inches on a side. In a six foot long drone that left plenty of room for the control system, for messages and even for some specimens.
There were two control problems. The first was the practical problem of retrieving the drone. The second was the security problem in that only the recipient should be able to retrieve the drone.
The first problem was solved by controlling the drive so that the drone goes into an orbit around the destination star, half an astronomical unit in radius. That avoided the problem of the drone ending up on the opposite side of the star from the recipient.