Monday, 25 May 2015

Colonisation of Mars (No, I am not going Crazy)

There are four terrestrial planets in the Solar system - Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

Mercury is tiny, fast moving and moon-like world; barren and covered with the scars of many meteor strikes. The thinnest atmosphere there is in the System can do little to protect it from the bombardment of the space debris.

Venus is one angry goddess. Virtually a sister terrestrial planet to Earth, it has a run-away greenhouse effect. Covered with a thick carbon dioxide atmosphere with toxic layers of sulphuric acid at high altitudes, the pressure is much greater than that of Earth and temperature averages 400 Centigrades on the ground. Mapped by active volcanoes this is one inhospitable world, where even a single organic molecule won't survive.

In comparison our own world - Earth, should have really been called 'Oceania', occupies the Goldilocks's Zone - the thin band of space, not too close and not too far away from the Sun where biology can function. It is an established fact in science today, that where life can arise it arises. We are no accident.

And finally the Red Planet.
Mars' radius is approximately twice as small as than of Earth. It's gravitational field is roughly a third of a g. It's atmosphere is almost entirely made from carbon dioxide and it's pressure is a one percent of Earth's at sea level. The most dramatic known terrestrial formations occur here. The Olympus Mons is the tallest volcano in the Solar system. The Valles Marineris - the largest canyon; the biggest desserts, virtually covering all land stretching from South to North pole, scarred by ancient river beds. Mars is a huge world with no oceans and it's land surface is only slightly less than Earth's total dry land area.
The rich history of Mars speaks of times when the atmosphere was thicker and there were oceans of liquid water. Unfortunately the rsmaller planet cooled quicker - comparable to our own, weakening it's magnetosphere and allowing the Sun's deadly radiation to bathe it with rays that stripped away the layers of gases covering the planet. Additionally weaker gravitational field helped to let part of the Martian proto-atmosphere escape into space and so the planet's surface is frozen over the course of billions of years. It's once active volcanoes seized to thunder and Mars gradually fell into geological silence, although geologists themselves say that in terms of longevity in their discipline that happened 'yesterday'. The temperature of modern Mars can go as high as twenty Centigrades on the equator during high summer, or as low as minus hundred fifty three on the poles during winter. During perihelion(the period closest to the Sun) the planet is swept by global dust storms.
Scientists still hope to find life on Mars. In the deeper, still hot depths of the planet. Or at least signs of ancient life locked into fossils.
But to achieve any of these feats we will need to send more than just robotic rovers with limited functions to the surface of Mars.
There is a lot of merit for the Earth-based civilisation of humans to establish bases on Mars. In the long run those will grow to full fledged and self sufficient colonies, but will start off as can habitats dropped from low Martian orbit; mostly scientific in purpose. 
The famous Space Exploration Initiative of the eighties estimated a cost of over $450 billion but Doctor Robert Zubrin famously reduced that price tag to merely fifty billion.
The reason behind it is that the ninety day report from NASA came up with a plan to establish a moon base first and then an orbital construction deck and from there build a large inter-planetary cruiser capable of supporting larger populations.
A more modern and realistic Mars Direct plan (after many modifications) established a different approach. An unmanned habitat, carrying only enough propellant to escape Earth, would be send first. All scientific equipment and means to survive the time spent on Mars would be loaded on board. Another vehicle, again carrying only enough propellant to escape orbit will deposit a small Ascent Vehicle(capable of escaping Mars orbit). A propellant production plant would be housed on the AV(ascent vehicle) plus a large container of hydrogen from Earth. That plant would start producing methane from the Martian atmosphere together with the hydrogen, producing fuel for the trip back and drinkable water as a side product. A third vehicle would be launched that will not land on the Martian surface but will orbit the planet in a Lagrangian point. It will be the Earth return Vehicle, waiting for the ground crew to arrive from the Martian surface. The cycle is repeated, but this time the first habitat is manned by crew. Telemetry would have already established the safety of both the production plant on the ground and the orbital return station in space. If there are any faults, measures can be taken beforehand. 
After landing and performing the scientific tasks the crew would use the small ascent vehicle, which would be loaded with enough propellant to make it back to Earth. That will connect with Earth return vehicle in high orbit, transfer the propellant and launch on a trip back home. The whole operation would last roughly nine hundred days. In the mean time another round of the same cycle would be launched. After each cycle there would be more space available to take various and useful equipment to the growing Mars base, essentially building a small camp on the surface that can start the extraction and production of some more varied fuels and substances that will allow the full exploration of Mars to be carried out in due time. After many cycles the self subsistence of the base will have grown and it will have slowly transformed into a colony, deriving ever more useful materials from the environment; gradually growing plants under domes; extracting water and do an all-around Martian trip with special ground vehicles. There are more than a few technicalities concerning all of this, but the most important one is 'Why do it all?'.

Educability, innovation and improvisation are arguably the most important perks we have in terms of survival as a specie. Collectively we have created a civilisation that has an ever more growing accessible data-base of information. Although abject poverty still exists, the range of people who have their basic needs met is increasing, even of somehow slowly in recent years. The modern phenomenon of global GDP rising, private wealth concentrating with paces faster than the growth of economy is indeed disturbing, but there is space for optimism. 
The technical development needed for the growth of space programs has been theoretically established, but many obstacles have stood in its proliferation. The most obvious is lack of political leadership, pessimism and funds diversion. The technology spawning from it will not only create more jobs but it will introduce economising measures and modern approaches to using resources as well as applied and industrial sciences that will help the growing economy worldwide. The modern chemical rocket, for instance still uses the same methods of propulsion since World War II but their costs can be driven down by newly developed technologies. In time the least useful way of propulsion (the same chemical engines we use today) will be replaced by faster, cheaper and more economical vehicles that use fuel more efficiently and carry us farther for less. 
Not only will newer technologies (scram jets, ion drives, ect.), that have been on the scientists' drawing boards be cheaper but it will help to reinvigorate against the stagnation that is slowly creeping back into our society. However, the initial costs would be high - money wise. An interesting point to mention is that during the eighties of the last century some forward looking scientists were expecting the modern smart phone to become available. They were making prognoses that Mars would be visited by humans by 2010, and bases be established by 2020. None as of yet.
Tight schedules save money and close deadlines could possibly drive innovation; they are hard work either way - for researchers, engineers, scientists, politicians and taxpayers alike. A lot of development is needed to efficiently bring down costs for space travel and the initial research will come at a high price. The technology thus produced will be initially expensive, but over time it will bring vast economical savings. It has become thus possible to postpone the otherwise useful technological progress in time as the task at hand is viewed in light of utmost importance and the long term benefits are lost in the hindsight of events. Space programmes have already sufficiently suffered from over bureaucratising their operations. Like the Apollo missions, for instance. It is likely that the same mistake will not be made again.
So apart from developing technology, innovation and producing cheaper and more efficient devices that will help industrial progress around the globe in time, what else is there in the colonisation of Mars?

The red planet is richer in some important elements and minerals than the scavenged for thousands of years Earth. Some of the fundamentally needed materials for our civilisation are readily available on Mars and present in the soil. The prices for extraction of those materials will be, surprisingly, lower than that on Earth, because the infrastructure on Earth is already developed on mid second millennium and is oriented towards a different kind of industry than that of modern Earth. This means that modern Earth is not as efficient at using it's resources and that future Mars settlements will be established based on economy that uses advanced technology. For instance geothermal power will probably be omnipresent on the red planet and settlements will be developed around geothermal-rich sites for economising energy. Mars-produced solar panels(silicon is readily available there) will be deploy-able and also exportable. The initial conditions of scarcity will drive the population of Mars towards innovation and progress rather than bureaucracy and stagnation. It is likely that Martian technology and social order will renovate that of Earth and the examples of the forefront of exploration will serve to rejuvenate the old world. Just remember the example of the UK during the seventeenth century and that of the US during nineteenth. Both societies bet heavily on development and science and not only did it serve to secure them number one position in the world but also in a human generation the technology created proliferated around the world. The colonisation of the new world had approximately the same costs for Medieval Europe as the colonisation of Mars today has for humanity but that not only did not stop the propagation of exploration but it rewarded those willing to invest. Looking from today's point of view, the mistakes of Napoleon and Tsarist Russia concerning the growing new America are viewed in light of lack of foresight. Will the same lack of foresight be evident in our society from the point of view of future humans two hundreds years in the future? 
Another, perhaps not so famous aspect is that it is much easier and cheaper to reach the asteroid belt from Mars. Obviously a lot less time and fuel are needed to fly regularly there and initially ships with a lighter and cheaper build will be used to frequently fly and deliver high grade minerals and ores(of higher quality than those of Earth) from the belt into the much thinner atmosphere of Mars. There they can be processed and delivered to Earth in ready to use forms, which would probably be quite good for trade, as Earth will be able to supply goods that will not be available for production on Mars for a long time. The flybys will probably include the Moon, which is also cheaper to reach from Mars, again because of its thinner atmosphere. The Moon, like our red cousin, is rich in some highly useful materials and elements and an established Mars infrastructure will bring down the prices of exploitation of our satellite.
The sensation and idea of unlimited and unexploited vistas of resources and worlds out there will reinvigorate society and serve to promote a more civil behaviour between human beings. It is not that Earth is incapable of supporting its population but the idea and possibility of new homes will serve to alleviate social ailments on our home and help produce a more polite globalisation. Perhaps failure to colonise Mars will serve to betray the very spirit of life itself and the need of it's propagation. It is running against the natural curiosity of our kind.
After having some conversations around I found out that people are bringing up the issue of space radiation as an obstacle to space flight. Reaching Mars in shielded habs(habitats), that have already been developed by NASA, will not expose human beings to essentially more radiation than that of Earth. It is to be noted that our bodies do need some amount of natural radiation to perform healthily. Not higher doses than those we experience on Earth, mind you! Cosmic rays are the constant background space radiation, but what about solar flares? The habs can be arranged in such a way that the crew can take shelter in the centre of the hab, surrounded by all the supplies, equipment and thick walls of the rooms and outer shields. This will negate the incidence of the Sun naturally releasing jets of particles.  
After the first few tuna can habs have been landed and several scientific sites have been establishes, more tuna cans can be brought in and connected via inflatable corridors. Mostly scientific operations will be carried out and frequent but limited rover distances will be covered on a regular basis(limited driving distances). Propellant will be chemically produced in situ(on site) and drinkable water will be purified and reused. Hydrogen will be the only needed component to bring from Earth to make both of those possible and through water electrolysis Hydrogen can be recycled and used more efficiently.

As time passes more water can be extracted from the environment via the baking of soil, microwave extraction by moving platforms or the placement of large plastic domes to condense the trapped moisture from the ground, heating it with reflective mirrors. This will provide more resources for fuel production and will allow the extra energy to be invested in the extraction of materials from the environment such as iron, aluminium and silicon as they require heat for the chemical purification. Metals can be smelted via a solar foundry(lenses focusing sun rays) on the equator at first as it will be highly economical. Martian steel could be produced, which because of the gravity will be as light as aluminium on the ground and could possibly be exported or used to construct underground homes for the human population. Those will be build from brick, made with Martian clay and Martian water and the whole building will look like an underground mall - vast cellars lit with solar power. The low surface temperature will impregnate the clay walls with moisture, locking them in permafrost which will pressurise the building and provide radiation protection.
As power production increases a different type of propellant will be extracted - ethylene. It can be used to produce polymer plastic. From that, unpressurised domes for growing plants can be made, or the clay underground buildings can be reinforced additionally against depressurization. The gas can also be used for ripening plants. Carbon dioxide is readily available in the atmosphere and it will provide heating via greenhouse effect for the growing agriculture. Biomass from plants can be used to feed animals, fertilisers or for growing mushrooms, which are extremely good at transforming mass into proteins. They also don't need light and much warmth. After some time larger structures with exported Plexiglas from Earth can be build, using Martian plastic, steel and brick to create overground pressurised transparent living domes for the people - some hundreds of metres across.  
Geothermal wells will become number one source of power for a time being at least, as they are economical and provide a steady and reliable source of heat and electricity. In comparison on Earth we have already chosen the location of our cities, therefore negating some of the economising effects of geothermal power, that is otherwise readily available here. Future Mars infrastructures will be more efficient at using next generation technologies. This will not happen before the whole planet has been travelled, mapped and studied extensively. The gravity on Mars can assist with that as an interesting type of jet propelled rovers - performing rocket jumps and driving together will cover vast amounts of land. Different kinds of planes can acutely make use of the unique Martian environment, but those will be used to fly over hemispheres because of the thin atmosphere. The lower electron density of the higher layers of the atmosphere will allow telecommunications using more basic text messages, voice recordings and picture sending. But the same short AM waves can be used to study the ground for underwater aquifers or geothermal wells of interest. Old style navigation, akin to the Polynesian sea navigators could be used to brave the vast desserts of Mars efficiently. The sun and two moons, Phobos and Deimos will provide an adequate guide for the wayfarer of the arid plains.  
Deuterium or heavy Hydrogen is more abundant on Mars than on Earth and a future economy based on fusion power will ensure prises for the rare fuel will be higher than that of gold, kilogramme for kilogramme. An infrastructure for export/import will be vital to a growing economy and the two worlds will become locked in a trading triangle including the Moon. Earth vehicles will need to be heavily equipped for return to a denser atmosphere and burn up more fuel because of higher gravity so a large orbital trade station will be established. All of these technologies will serve an useful purpose in the far future, ensuring the development of the Solar human civilisation and will lay the foundation of the travelling out of the Solar System's boundaries.
A large satellite may be constructed in space, some one hundred twenty five kilometres across, no more heavy than the largest ships that sail our oceans at the moment. It will not move but rather be a statite - a focusing mirror that will reflect sun light on the south pole of Mars, releasing the sequestered carbon dioxide there. It will bring an increase of atmospheric pressure and extra greenhouse effect for the planet. In addition some gases can be released to further the effect of the warming climate. In due time the giant mirror can be focused at the north pole, releasing the water that is locked there in permafrost and giant blocks of ice. Mars will have it's first ocean in a long time. The initial water flow will react with the soil and release the locked oxygen. Brute force engineering, primitive cyanobacteria and denytrifying microorganisms will start to provide small amounts of Oxygen and Nitrogen as well. It will take millenia to introduce a breathable atmosphere but as technology advances and population increases the effects will become exponential.
The future social organisation of Mars will probably have more work available than hands present and will need every man possible. Workers will be treated well and paid highly and the future technocratic order will be on the look-out for innovation. It is quite possible that Martian technology will reach Earth and in turn revolutionise society back here. 

If confided to the borders of Earth humanity will possibly perish in a intellectual back-lash long before the limited lifespan of our planet expires.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Ground Base - part 5

On the surface of Kepler 756d -

A steam cloud rose from the small metal container, which by now was curled and twisted.
'I told you not to damage my mug there!' Ashley thundered loudly, both her hands on her waist - scolding.
'Beg your pardon, Chief!' Brick let loose of the considerably heavier electrocuter which splashed into the muddy ground.'I can't lower the intensity any more than that. I will have to take the thing apart and turn it into a magnetron from the second world war or something.'
'Always amazed, EV! Be my guest!' 
Brick's education and enculturation had included the beginning of the Space Age period, long before the events of Seed Inc rising. The modern space walkers knew a lot about the history of the first men to go into space, as well as the petty mistakes which had taken so many lives of their as well. 
'Well, how are we going to drink this tea of yours now, Einstein?' Ashley turned to Mnemo, who was going through the latest raw data from the bio-inspection drones.'We just lost our one and only mug, eh.'
Mnemo faced Ashley with his expressionless manequin head. Flat smile face.
'I am sure we can still patch something up from the crates, Chief.' Zyana added, sat on one of the them.'Or I can empty one of these,' she pointed to an ammo clip of a ram rifle she was polishing.
Brick and Ashley laughed.
'Well, all data say that you will enjoy these lichens just as you would enjoy the tea beverage back on Earth.' Mnemo noted.'It's a shame you cannot tell us what exactly it tastes like, Chief.'
The bots had inspected a particular growth, found in the thick corona of a 'tree', which turned out to be rich in polyphenolic compounds, forming extraterrestrial tannins. An equivalent of English breakfast some twenty light years away from the Throne World. Ashley had Brick use the electrocuter - a weaponised microwave beam laser with high intensity. It could evaporate all moisture, inch deep of a body containing water in less than a second. She just wanted hers hot.
'Well, here goes nothing.' Brick said, coming out of the drop ship, helping himself to the EV tool kit.'You won't miss it dearly, will you?' He turned to Zyana and Ashley.
'Go for it, man.' Zyana smirked. 'I'd love some of that dehydrated stuff warm.'
'Yeah, It's high time we had a decent meal!'
'The sap is quite nutritious for your body, Zyana. Remember, it helps you recover 'battery' better than anything we have around.'
'Minus the taste. I wouldn't want to take another bite of the thing!' She smiled.
Another discovery that Mnemo had made was a thick amber sap, hidden in a pod of yet another type of tree. Sticky and gluey, it had been identified as edible. Surprisingly, containing a vast amount of simple carbohydrates plus other trace elements, recognized as 'metabolise'-able. It was, as Mnemo said, a sugar bomb for the human body. Zyana said it was a terrible supplement to be had.
'So tell me, Einie. Why is that bot following you and looking at your back all the time? Are you in need of fans?' Ashley prompted her robotic companion.
Mnemo turned; the bot in question, locked it's scanning lens at the rear of his mannequin body followed the motion, making a quick semi-circle.
'As always, inspecting the local life, Chief. The heavy rain had not quite washed all of the spores and seeds away. If you look at all of the surfaces of our equipment,' he gestured at the hulk of the Zorgathron and the crates, 'you will find residue of their progeny. Even though it might not seem like it, life here is savage. The spores are breaking each other down and whichever trumps gets to grow, essentially consuming the rest of the plant cells, that are so present everywhere.'
He pointed to a particular spot on the ground.
'Look there. This moss tumble looks just like every other, but if you look at it closer, you will find out that it has already lost a battle and is being used as a building block by some other form of plant that is growing as we speak. See?' He showed them his holo plate.
A magnified image appeared, showing the purplish, uneven and grainy surface of the tumble and what looked like small tiny versions of a 'tree' that was growing from it.
'Maybe as they are growing they will converge, or maybe they will have a battle royale to determine who will make it to grow to the size of these.' He gestured at the short trees around them.
'It is not happening everywhere, though. The rest of the tumbles I looked into have seemingly subdued this 'invasion'. I think they have broken down the spores to produce energy for themselves. Precicely the same thing is happening at the back of my hulk at the moment. A growth contest.'
'Beautiful explanation, Mnemo. Thoroughly impressed! By the way, have you given any though to these lilies,' Ashley pointed at the blue wide flowers, covering the landscape.
'Heat mirrors?' Brick proposed, tweaking the dismantled electrocuter.
'I suspect yes. Brick's suggestion is quite insightful. The high temperatures of the surface may not be suitable for all the plant and so they have devised ways to reflect the highly luminous light back. Of course - very unpleasant for us.'
'Are you affected at all?' Asked Zyana, rubbing her hand on the grainy surface of the crate she was sat on.
'The heat is equally bad for me as it is for you. I have to say that I must be even more careful in a way than you, because of my body.' 
'I wouldn't have guessed that it might be bad for you, Mnemo. How are you holding up?' Ashley asked.
'I have lowered the intensity of power transfer to my modules and slowed down my movements. My processor is working at a calculation rate inferior to that of your brains at the moment.'
'I wouldn't have noticed.' Zyana said. 'What about you, Chief?'
'Well I have to say I am glad you can take care of yourself, Einie.'
Happy smiley.
Brick was rubbing the back of his carapace.
'I wouldn't quite agree about the calculation speed. He will always perform quicker than us simply because of more instructions per second. You've just lowered your synaptic count, haven't you. Capacity is still tremendous. It's not like I can notice any difference, without special equipment.' He inspected his gloved palm. 'The vegetation here is quite aggressive, isn't it! Just look at these!' He stretched his arm towards his companions.
'Yeah.' Zyana was looking at hers.
Ashley went to the ship and brushed her fingers against the hulk.
'Dusty -,' she murmured thoughtfully. 'Mnemo, do you have a connection with the Exo?'
'Possitive. Closest approach in 43 minutes, Chief. Systems previously out of order still not operational. Velocity - unchangeable, angular momentum - unchangeable, main batteries are powering up. If we want to go to next overhead location it's three hundred kilometres in that direction,' he stretched his arm.'Telemetry and communications are safe. Connection to drop depot is up. No changes on board whatsoever.'
'If we go to drop site and back here are we going to have enough fuel for ascent?
'Positive.' Mnemo confirmed after, inspecting the holo screen projected from his arm.
Ashley went in the ship and came out with a small slate from her private carapace kit.
'Check on loaded cargo EMGx53, please.' She was tapping quickly on the slate.
Mnemo raised his head.
'Running check list.' a brief moment.'Cargo is secured in drop depot. It is loaded into the reconstitutor and awaiting delivery, Chief. Authorisation required?' Sad smiley. He sounded sincerely surprised. He was not subject to the protocol. Not any more at least. 
'Expedition Commander Ashley Thompson, Royal Marines, First Corps. Here is the clearance, private.' She held the slate in front of Mnemo. A small holo screen was going through a wall of text at high speed.
'I doubt that would be necessary, Chief. I do appreciate your impartiality, though.' Flat smile face.
Brick had stopped his tweaking of the laser and turned his head.
'What's cooking, Chief. If it's not too much trouble is it?' Zyana spoke.
'Einie, how long can we survive here with what we've got?'
'Hard to estimate. Considering the already obvious threats I have to say that your organic bodies are situated in a very dangerous environment. Wearing breathing masks, protective visors and purifying all water is essential. We do have only a limited set of equipment available and with the state of the Exo we can make a limited delivery only. Fuel in the shuttle will suffice for a trip, but we cannot chase drop zones as it will deplete our supply quickly and we won't have enough for an ascent into orbit.' Flat smile face.
'So we do need to take what is essential then.' Ashley was smiling.'Brick! Where is that cup of alien tea?'
'Beg your pardon, Chief. I was just listening to our dooms-day report here.'
Zyana's brows pulled together.
'Am I the only one that doesn't know what's going on?'
'I do not quite understand it either,' Mnemo added,' but it does seem like Chief has a plan.'
'Yeah that at least is pretty clear.' Brick was back into his contemplative state, stripping small parts from the electrocutor.
'I am saving your asses here. Be a bit more patient! Mnemo, help me load some of that,'Ashley gestured at the Zorgathron,'for scrap metal! We will need it.'


'Reading on most recent uploads, please. Medical department. Let's see how Doctor Colbert is doing?'
A mess of holo screens appeared in front of Aidan, appearing and disappearing quickly. A second later they fused and adjusted themselves in one big projections of the Doctor, who was sitting in medical quarters. She was in the middle of an interview.
'OH! Hello Doctor! Excuse my intrusion.' Aidan was surprised.'I did not mean to contact without notice.'
'No, no, please! We were just finishing here. May I help you anyhow, Director?'
'Actually,' he smiled nervously,' I was compiling a status quo for the agency back on Earth. I was looking for the medical status readings, which I am SURE you have updated in the core! I was, if possible, looking for an interview. But before that, by all means, finish what you're doing! I will be here as always. Only when you can spare the time.'
'Of course, Director. I will contact you shortly.'
'Yes, thank you!'
'I will catch up later on.'
Aidan terminated the link manually from the keyboard.
'Not literally, Annabelle!'
'You did say you wanted to see how she is doing.' Ann's mechanic body was spinning around lazily. She seemed relaxed, regardless the crane-like contraption attached to the ceiling.
'I really do have to be careful here.' He smiled politely. 'Well, let me just remind you that you bear responsibility as much as everybody else on this colony. Your own actions speak louder than any words. And people believe in you as part of the whole.' Aidan was typing quickly on the old-fashion keyboard. His head was encircled with a brain scanning EEG readers, giving full picture if his brains activity. While the device was checking if General Mabb was still intellectually capable and fit to be the director, it was also stimulating the frontal parts of the cortex, enhancing his attention organ and providing sensation of comfort. Bits of information were also transferred, but those would become available as memories in the days to come, when they would settle down.
Ann's body twisted so she could look directly at Aidan. Her lens zoomed in with a servo sound heard across the quiet assembly room.
'You still scheduled the meeting with Doctor Colbert. She didn't seem to bother.'
'I think it was rude from you. Now, medical readings, please.'
'Ahh,' an unusual exhaling sound from a body that doesn't breathe.'Three cases of severe DNA damage, protein sequence repair needed. A note left by Doctor Colbert - 'No need for nano bot intervention'. Regrowth of cells already on the way, using computational morphogenesis. Learning disorder appearing in two families. Both are raising the kids in the stigmergic cells, rather than the apartments. Social inclusion scheme and individual interviews from colonists proposed by medical panel. Note from Doctor Huw - 'To the attention of the entire colony. Volunteers needed for colonial development'.'
'Stop. Attach note from me.'I applaud the effort and congratulate anyone who offers help to the programme.' End note.'
'So bossy.' Ann came in closer.
'I say this rather as a member than a leader of this community.'
A short silence, during which only the clatter of the keyboard was heard.
'Continue with medical reading, please.'
'No case of weightlessness nausea during last drill. The colony's general susceptibility is decreasing. No changes in supplement production and intake. The colony is coming to a conclusion that homo sapiens extraterrestrialis cannot support a body in weightlessness conditions without the aid of enhancements, drugs, supplements, genetic modification, nano-bots and special intensive care programmes. An infrastructure that will severely change the biological lineage and alters the body too rapidly away from genetic standard.'
Ann was superb at giving the essentials from the entire data that were collected on board the station. He hasn't told her yet, but she was making his life much easier.
'Enculturation is believed to be heightening by the members of council. The colony is now observed to be developing a societal structure that is increasingly becoming self subsisting. Customs, approaching the limits of ritual are forming around the capturing and reuse of any possible materials. Norms in close living quarters have given rise to social development based primarily on co-operation and co-existence, observed in the holobiontic symbiosis of human beings and their macrobiotic flora. Bio mimicry in terms of social structure rather than technological development has underlined the development of the community.'
Another quiet moment during which only the clatter of the keyboard of Aidan was heard. Ann's lense produced another servo sound, when focusing on Aidan.
'This means you are not needed here any more.'
'That was the idea from the very beginning, Ann.'
'The community can survive without you. Do you want me to keep updating you?'
'I am aware of that, thank you. Ever since I stepped in, that was the aim. And I have worked towards that goal together with everybody else present on this site.'
'When are you leaving, then?'
'Despite the independence of this colony, I say, without any pride, that I still hold my position vastly because of the respect of the council and body of Elders. I
used to be soldier and a general,' he stopped typing and settled back in his chair, looking at Ann,' but it was this position that has allowed me to learn so much. At the beginning I was quite different, the war was different. But the people living here have opened my eyes to something new, Ann. I was instructed, trained and educated, drilled, scanned, probed, tested until I was deemed perfect to take my seat right here. But the years have made me a full-fledged member of the family. I am a member of this community and if not as a director I will stay, even if I have to form the first full time position as a farmer or a re-cyclist.'
Ann slowly turned away. There was a moment of silence, during which no body was doing anything.
'I am tired. May I have some time by myself? I will disconnect from server.'
Aidan stood up and readily walked out of the council chamber. The council chamber he was a director of.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Ground Base - Part 4

Twenty two and a half billion kilometres away form the Exo in the midst of the vacuum of space.

ETSS54's circular body was spinning to support the gravity field on the colony. Stars both close and distant; galaxies and quasars were dotting the landscape all around. The milky way's dark clouds of cold hydrogen and bright collection of dots at the centre of the galaxy were as if frozen in time.
The station's medial pylon was rising above the round hulk, housing the core - which was the isolated mechanical heart of the colony. All the knowledge about the anthropological processes as well as the specialised equipment and gear were housed in the memory banks there. Radio connection this far from Earth was not possible and updates were running only through the freight ships bringing supplies from the throne world. Once it had materialized, the colony was not suitable for life because the beam carrying it's information had been intercepted by the vast cosmic radiation and beams, scrambling the interstellar information. The vanguard from Earth, upon arrival, spend years reworking the colony until it was able to support the human population and ecosystem on board. The core was the overlord of the fleet of robjects, swarm bots and drones assisting the humans in their life so far away from home. Technology had send people this way into space before, but it was the ingenuity of homo sapiens that needed preservation more than anything else. The colony needed to develop it's own culture and philosophy of life, just like the ancient Vikings or Asian tribes had. It was the human's resourceful nature that needed nurturing and the proliferation of advancing ideas would arise from the millennia old caveman principle of our species, rather than the full reliance on technology.
ANNaBell was a bit of of the core's algorithms, assisting the director of the colony with menial labour and assessments. It's small neural network and speedy processor was able to filter data each second. It was capable of monitoring the lifeline of the entire station as well as keep records of every individual, technological piece of equipment on board and development procedures of the collective. It wasn't human-like, but rather had the basic learning capabilities of a human mind. Until it got updated from a virus that had infiltrated the network. Apparently somebody from Earth wanted ANNaBell to be more than just a board computer and so had devised a set of programs which lay hidden on a freight ship, supporting with the usual deliveries. The virus had created a virtual neural growing organ in the core and linked ANN to her new brain, giving her learning insights and a huge primordial emotional consciousness. Even though the process was detected in it's infancy, the colony could not do anything to revert it. Manipulating the virtual data base without any backup would be dangerous. But between an emotional AI being with full knowledge of the colony and non-functioning core, the elders had decided to let the emerging sentient being develop. A hulk was created - wired with short circuits for the processor of ANNaBell. The circuits would automatically fry the processing core of ANN as soon as 'dangerous' activities were identified. All of the elders had a personal switch to the fail-safe mechanism, as well. The colony would lose it's navigational semi-smart on-board computer, but it will not have unintended casualties in the form of a consciousness going berserk. They were afraid at the time. And to their surprise the newly born Annabelle was just like any other child on the colony.

Aidan Mabb, director of colony ETSS54 was walking hastily in the early standard morning. Clocks were calibrated to keep Earth time. The various colours of the stars, from white, blue, yellow and red were dotting the landscape and forming the morning as well as evening sky. Far from being fully black it was the usual sight for some of the kids, who were born and grown up on the colony. The living quarters were established in the fashion of the stigmergic bees and termites. Nano bots in huge containers delivered from earth and repopulated on board; each grabbing a small plate and assembling themselves into a huge number of stacked small cells into which humans lived. Each small cell was an isolated retreat with a personal holo tablet, connection to the database available and a comfortable bed. The sleeping quarters were looking like a hive for people. Families were supported in numbers allowing for the steady growth of the colony and limited family rooms were available for parents to live with their kids until the age of seven, when the children had to integrate slowly into being individuals of the colony, usually taking a cell next to their parents'. Uncontrolled births were discouraged, but were none the less happening. Parents had to bring their kids to age in their small stigmergic cells. Aidan, himself was not against it, but the elders' council and the colony's culture was making sense in discouraging larger numbers of births. Choosing a mate on the colony was also something of a big personal project as genetic diversity was sustained by allowing for a narrow number of possible candidates. And those were presented to both females and males. Sometimes things needed to be negotiated and renegotiated as the general survivability and proliferation were solemnly depended on how many more couples were having kids. Backup in the form of frozen embryos was available, but was discouraged from both the council and the Earth anthropologists as it would introduce 'older' Earth-like genes. The best chances of the survival of humanity as a whole lay in the establishment of an extraterrestrial sub-species of homo sapiens, fully independent from the throne world and with an evolving culture of it's own. Never the less, terrestrial conditions were maintained on board, even though the process was power-consuming. One G gravity permeated the colony; spores, pollen, bacilli, viruses, micro-organisms that would not otherwise thrive in these extraterrestrial conditions were populated and repopulated to induce efficient immune systems. Designer genealogy wouldn't have sufficed to program long-lived bodily defences, maintaining genetic connection to the throne world in the same time. Earth-like foods were grown and printed. Bio waste was reconstructed and fed into modified bacteria, transforming it into soil and designer seeds sown and grown into fully nutritious produce with meat being a rare delicacy delivered from Earth as milk and eggs were the only animal products from the colony's limited number of animals. The sub-specie of homo sapiens extraterrestrialis was thriving under these conditions but was never too far away from home and allowed for the passing of genes and enculturation between all living humans in the galaxy.

Aidan Mabb was on his way to the council room. He had received a message from Doctor Huw. An urgent one. The psychoanalyst and an Elder was concerned about an intermission, which came in during the early hours of the morning.
They also had one more issue to deal with before that.
Huw, a tall and slender man in his sixties, calm and warm gaze, supporting Aidan with an understanding nod, gesturing for him to go in first.
General Mabb, now a director of ETSS54 - a man who had devoted his entire life to his career, stepped forward, towards the locked door to the council room and said:
Mabb looked at Huw, who returned the glance with an encouraging gesture.
'Annabelle, please open the door!'
He looked at the doctor again.
'Come on. We've talked about this a number of times, Aidan.', Huw said quietly.
Turning his head back at the door, as if gathering courage Mabb spoke:
'Annabelle, honey, please! I need to get inside and this may concern somebody's life!'
A long moment before the door slid open. A multi-joint, crane-looking contraption attached to the ceiling and a sphere with scanning lense on it's other end sprang suddenly in front of Aidan.
'You had your good sleep?! Huh?! You had it, didn't you?! Well let me tell you that I stayed here up ALL NIGHT!!'
The contraption was looking make-shift with cables coming out of it and wrapping around it.
'Annabelle I am aware of that, but that is how we just are. We will work it out, I promise you.'
'Promises! That's what you're only capable of!', she sounded upset, even despite her artificial robotic voice.'All that you ever cared for is yourself!'
'Ann. This way we will not go anywhere.'
Doctor Huw followed behind Mabb.
'Good morning, Annabelle.'
A mechanical-sounding exhale of relief:
'Good morning ,doctor.'
'How are you today, dear? How are you feeling?'
With a servo sound the sphere rotated toward Huw.
'I am fine, thank you, doctor. I was even more fine before I saw General-Director Mabb, here!'
'Now, please, Annabelle. General Mabb is a respected member of the council fully responsible for us all, including you.' Huw's mellow voice could pacify a raging storm.
'And he also put me here. You happy?!', She turned to Aidan.'You happy now?! Is that all you do?'
'I've always done what is best for the colony', Aidan said, sounding a proud father.
'Everything you've ever cared for is yourself, you-', her voice changed to a cacophony of broken speaker sounds.'You JERK!', she said after the brief spasm was gone.
She was overcoming the fail-safe switches as she wasn't supposed to say such things.
'She doesn't mean any harm, Aidan', Huw spoke softly.'Anna, we need to hear that message you told me about earlier today. We fear that somebody might be in danger.'
Aidan had found himself unsure how to deal with Annabelle. For him ANNaBell was always a on-board high-volume calculation machine, able to follow intricate details. When Annabelle emerged out he had no idea what she was and he was the first human in her conscious experience thus becoming the rejected father, the disappointing reason behind the incomprehensible existence.
The contraption slowly turned away with a low hum of servos.
'It came earlier today when everybody were sleeping, doctor. I didn't know what it was. That's why I called you to look at it.' She was looking at the holo screens on the other side of the round hall.
'That's al right, dear. I appreciate your hard work.' Huw walked to the screens and Aidan followed behind him as if using him as a shield.
'Let's see what it is about.'
Holo screens were appearing and disappearing all over the control deck with bits and walls of text flowing down, like chaotic waterfalls. One bigger screen appeared and zoomed from the back with an equalizer line vibrating in harmony with an incomprehensible mix of cacophonous sounds. They listened for a minute and not making anything from it, Huw asked Ann to stop it.
'I can't make anything from it, doctor. I do not understand what is the meaning. But it is coming from there.'
Another screen with the map of the local part of the galaxy appeared with a shining dot signifying the colony and another one, roughly a light day away.
'The Exo54.' Aidan said abruptly.'I know we have problems,' he said to Ann. 'But this might concern the lives of those who are important to us.'
'Is anyone really-'
'Please, honey! Please call in the elders. Help me here as this is more important!' There was resolution in his voice.
Huw was looking with an inspired curiosity. A moment stretched, during which Annabelle's lens was focused at Aidan.
'I will call them in. But you have not gotten away with anything yet!' She turned away.
'Thank you, Ann.'
To witness somebody like Ann for Huw was an epiphany in his career. Out here she would blossom, he was thinking. On Earth she would have probably been treated as a 'special' specimen, something to be put in zoo. But so far away here they needed her as a friend. Her knowledge, connection  and ability to pilot their colony was too important to just root it out and continue on the route to survival without her help. She needed them as much as they needed her.
'Another transmission just came in!' Ann's voice was urgent.
The screen zoomed in again and they saw the face of Commander Ashley from Exo54.
'Respected members of the councils, Elders, General Mabb. Today at ten thirty eight standard time we had what seemed like a massive electro-magnetic pulse disable most of our operating gear and ship. We are unable to ignite engines, main power is down and we live on emergency only-'
They listened and as Ashley was filing her report, the members of council started coming in one by one.

Technocrat Lubowski had an enhanced brain. Nano bots had permeated his head to build a faster neural network, strengthened by additional carbon synapses.
'Clearly we can't deploy a solar sail. It will take too much time to accelerate around a star. A journey of one and a half years is estimated until it reaches the Exo.'
'The colonisation of Kepler 756d was pushed ahead of schedule by this ...occurrence; and we still don't know what exactly the first message means. Annabelle, do you have any idea whatsoever?' Headmaster Glossop's deep voice was resounding in the hall. He wasn't one of the technically adept.
After another short seizure of cacophonous sounds, Ann answered:
'I am afraid I cannot help you with this, Headmaster. I find myself in the same predicament.'
Huw smirked, concealing himself slightly.
'I still have faith in the team send there. Don't get me wrong! I am not saying we should abandon them, but we can be more rational and think in more general terms. It's not like they haven't got means to survive. And it is a terrestrial planet not dissimilar to the Throne World. Unless I am mistaken, that is? Doctor Amsel?' The headmaster turned to the astrophysicist Doc Fieke Amsel. An intensive thinker with straight, somewhat thin blond hair.
'Correct, Headmaster. Though, very little is known about the planet, the initial studies showed that the the two world share chemistry.' She opened with a hard accent.'Breathable atmosphere, water, an abundance of organic photosynthesising life. It is somewhat distressing, I confess, that we cannot act immediately. Even though it is quite possible that there is edible food on 756d, the conditions present jeopardise the learning process of a decade-old plan.'
A pale man with thick dark beard and hair stood up, raising one hand and speaking loudly:
'Members of the Council! Could I just say that we it is possible for us to assist the Exo as swiftly as possible.' Engineer Evan Jackson concluded.'We have the means to be inventive.'
In the quiet seconds that followed the members were exchanging glances and murmurs. A buzz of muted conversations by closely sat individuals filled the room.
Lubowski stood up.
'Do everybody have an idea of what our respected friend Evan is talking about?' He was speaking slowly and loudly.'I suspect we cannot make a decision if we are not clear what the implications are.'
Some of the faces were puzzled and another short round of no body taking the stage followed.
'Right-,' Lubowski continued.'Could you elaborate on the idea, Evan?'
'Certainly. We can reconstruct the initial travelling engines of the station. The reconstitutor is still operational, although it's functions are different today than those when the station was travelling. It's also taken apart to work in different sectors.We can use a segment of the colony. A small one, mind you and propel it the same way the station was doing it's jumps before it got here. Technically, within less than a day we can send supplies, equipment or anything else we want, without human beings, of course. We don't survive the process. Or we can use a designer segment to construct beacons along the jump paths, so that a rescue team can follow quickly.'
While some of the members were clear about the meaning of his words to others it was a much needed clarification. This time the council fell silent, everybody absorbed by their own thoughts.
Aidan Mabb stood:
'Respected members of the council, Elders, friends. I am happy to learn of the inventiveness that we're capable of in this far away corner of space. We are proving again and again that we can deal with our own environment by our own ingenuity and with our own strength and tools. I am sure that we will be able to come up with a cohesive decision, not necessarily agreed upon in a totalitarian fashion, but none the less, endorsed by every individual that bears the responsibility of being present in this room. I, therefore, exert my authority as a director and by the trust inscribed to me in my position call an end to this current session. Please rest, rethink and evaluate and come back in exactly one standard hour. We will have to clarify what our knowledge of the situation is and will HAVE to reach a conclusion in two more hours.'
Ann produced the discording mix of sounds again and slowly turned away.
'May I just remind you that we still don't know what the first message means. It's dubbed emergency distress call, but the pattern is unrecognisable.' She said with her 'back' facing the council.
'Thank you for the clarification, dear.' Huw stepped in.'I think the concern about the safety of the crew comes first in this situation.' He softly continued.
Some council members glanced at the silent Ann and stood up, walking out of the room, talking quietly and discussing in pairs the ongoing debate.