Chapter 1: On a Worldly Stage
Copyright© 2016 by Vincent Berg
Eric Morgan clutched his harness, his breath falling silent as the final countdown began. The hair on his hands stood on end and the tension was a palpable essence. He was equally amazed at what was about to occur and terrified at what it entailed.
A senior NASA pilot, Eric was aboard a much-heralded test of a new technology which promised to revolutionize space flight. It could also change human destiny forever. He stood to travel farther in a few seconds than every other earthling combined since they climbed from the primordial ooze. Instead of traveling miles above the Earth to the now defunct Space Station, hundreds of thousands to the Moon, or millions to the nearby planets, this would throw him light years into the unknown, without any forward momentum. Best of all, without tons of fuel, there was no chance of his ship blowing up under him.
The technology to accomplish this, the Interstellar Spatial Displacement Device (ISSDD), is a fancy term for teleportation. It's not as sexy as it appears in the movies, requiring a huge infrastructure. Yet it would transport him from a stationary position inside an enclosed NASA laboratory ten light-years from where he now sat.
While the researchers felt confident that it worked, they encountered problems during testing. They could send things from one end of a lab to another, but faced complications they hadn't anticipated. There was the obvious problem with moving two things into the same space, but there were 'displacement' issues too. In short, transmitting something to a stationary target caused it to fall into the object as gravity affected it before it completely materialized. This also determined how air molecules shifted on both ends of the teleportation. For the return trip, the capsule was programmed with a complex algorithm, accounting for the Earth's rotation, elevated twelve feet in the air. That allowed it to materialize completely before falling to the landing pads beneath. The only solution to the displacement factor on the outward journey was to utilize areas with few stray elements.
Open space was the simple fix, but there were tremendous amounts of random junk within Earth's solar system. The gravity of the sun and the surrounding planets attracted passing comets. That meant there were numerous miniscule objects traveling through the otherwise empty vacuum of space. Transporting into another object would have unpleasant effects.
That's why they chose an area clear of potential obstructions; a particularly dark region where they'd never detected any celestial bodies. The hope was, while only there for a few minutes, they could determine where the universe's missing mass was hidden. Since the estimated mass of visible objects didn't account for the acceleration of the universe, scientists realized there were huge amounts of unobserved matter. There were several theories concerning 'dark matter' and 'dark energy', but being unable to detect, it has always been difficult to observe.
They speculated that the gravity which attracts objects to large bodies—such as stars—also disrupts dark matter. Seeking an area with no such dynamic, they were sending Eric's ship to a region with no detectable physical objects. He stood to witness entities never before observed. What he learned would influence future research into the nature of both time and space.
However, the biggest issue wasn't technical or theoretical, it was practical. Without any earth-breaking projects in decades, NASA had steadily lost the interest and enthusiasm of the public, and more precisely, the legislators they relied on for funding. With the Space Station abandoned and Congress questioning the negligible benefits of manned missions to the other planets, NASA depended on this solitary initial flight to reinvigorate the public's interest.
The idea was intriguing. They could transport a fully staffed crew near a foreign solar system and set up facilities for the future. They'd record all the details not otherwise possible, and return to plan the next stage of the endeavor. There were still numerous issues with getting someone close enough to land on a planet. Yet the concept of jumping from one observatory position to another whet the most hardened skeptic's enthusiasm.
The problem with space travel is that our fastest rockets can only travel a fraction of the speed of light. With any meaningful destination hundreds of light years distant, it would take hundreds to thousands of years to travel there. What's more, the resources required to maintain a sustainable crew were unrealistic. They'd have to recycle everything they consumed. They'd need to create a complete viable ecosystem which could survive for at least a hundred years with no room to expand. The idea you could do so without complications, when putting a few people in orbit in a closed container compromised their physical and mental health, was preposterous.
Making space travel into a series of jumps, from one safe location to another where we could build facilities to allow us to undertake the next stage, was encouraging. Especially if we can do so for a fraction of the cost of flying a manned voyage to Mars.
To generate the enthusiasm needed to get the necessary funding, this solitary trip had become a media circus. Live video cameras were mounted around the ISSDD capsule. They'd record his disappearing and reappearance. To commemorate the event, part of the mission was to flash a light bright enough to reach the Earth in another ten years. That would prove, in a visceral way, the massive distances they'd crossed in the blink of an eye.