". . . Ladies and Gentlemen, our guest of honor
tonightHenry B. Congreve." The toastmaster completed his introduction and
stepped aside to allow th stocky, white-haired figure in black tie and dinner jacket to
move to the podium. Enthusiastic applause arose from the three hundred guests gathered in
the Hilton complex on the western outskirts of Washington, D.C. The lights around the room
dimmed, fading the audience into white shirtfronts, glittering throats and fingers, and
masklike faces. A pair of spotlights picked out the speaker as he waited for the applause
to subside. In the shadows next to him, the toastmaster returned to his chair.
After sixty-eight years of tussling with life, Congreves
bulldog frame still stood upright, his shoulders jutting squarely below his close-cropped
head. The lines of his roughly chiseled face were still firm and solid, and his eyes
twinkled good-humoredly as he surveyed the room. It seemed strange to many of those
present that a man so vital, one with so much still within him, should be about to deliver
his retirement address.
Few of the younger astronauts, scientists, engineers, and North
American Space Development Organization executives could remember NASDO without Congreve
as its president. For all of them, things would never be quite the same again.
"Thank you, Matt." Congreves voice rumbled in a
gravelly baritone from the speakers all around. He glanced from side to side to take in
the whole of his audience. "I, ahI almost didnt make it here at
all." He paused, and the last whispers of conversation died away. "A sign in the
hall outside says that the fossil display is in twelve-oh-three upstairs." The
American Archeological Society was holding its annual convention in the Hilton complex
that week. Congreve shrugged. "I figured that had to be where I was supposed to go.
Luckily I bumped into Matt on the way, and he got me back on the right track." A
ripple of laughter wavered in the darkness, punctuated by a few shouts of protest from
some of the tables. He waited for silence, then continued in a less flippant voice.
"The first thing I have to do is thank everybody here, and all the NASDO people who
couldnt be with us tonight, for inviting me. Also, of course, I have to express my
sincere appreciation for this, and even more my appreciation for the sentiments that it
signifies. Thank youall of you." As he spoke, he gestured toward the
eighteen-inch-long, silver and bronze replica of the as yet unnamed, untried SP3 starprobe
standing on its teak base before Congreves place at the main table.
His voice became more serious as he continued. "I dont
want to go off into a lot of personal anecdotes and reminiscences. That kind of thing is
customary on an occasion such as this, but it would be trivial, and I wouldnt want
my last speech as president of NASDO to be marked by trivia. The times do not permit such
luxury. Instead, I want to talk about matters that are of global significance and which
affect every individual alive on this planet, and indeed the generations yet to be
bornassuming there will be future generations." He paused. "I want to talk
about survivalthe survival of the human species."
Although the room was already quiet, the silence seemed to intensify
with these words. Here and there in the audience, faces turned to glance curiously at one
another. Clearly, this was not to be just another retirement speech. Congreve went on.
"We have already come once to the brink of a third world war and hung precariously
over the edge. Today, in 2015, twenty-three years have passed since U.S. and Soviet forces
clashed in Baluchistan with tactical nuclear weapons, and although the rapid spread of a
fusion-based economy at last promises to solve the energy problems that brought about that
confrontation, the jealousies, mistrusts, and suspicions which brought us to the point of
war then and which have persistently plagued our race throughout its history are as much
in evidence as ever.
"Today the sustenance that our industries crave is not oil, but
minerals. Fifty years from now our understanding of controlled-fusion processes will
probably have eliminated that source of shortages too, but in the meantime shorter-sighted
political considerations are recreating the climate of tension and rivalry that hinged
around the oil issue at the close of the last century. Obviously, South Africas
importance in this context is shaping the current pattern of power maneuvering, and the
probable flashpoint for another East-West collision will again be the Iran-Pakistan border
region, which our strategists expect the Soviets to contest to gain access to the Indian
Ocean in preparation for the support of a war of so-called black African liberation
against the South."
Congreve paused, swept his eyes from one side of the room to the
other, and raised his hands in resignation. "It seems that as individuals we can only
stand by as helpless observers and watch the events that are sweeping us onward
collectively. The situation is complicated further by the emergence and rapid economic and
military growth of the Chinese-Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere, which threatens to confront
Moscow with an unassailable power bloc should it come to align with ourselves and the
Europeans. More than a few Kremlin analysts must see their least risky gamble as a final
resolution with the West now, before such an alliance has time to consolidate. In other
words, it would not be untrue to say that the future of the human race has never been at
greater risk than it is at this moment."
Congreve pushed himself back from the podium with his arms and
straightened. When he resumed speaking, his tone had lightened slightly. "In the area
that concerns all of us here in our day-to-day lives, the accelerating pace of the space
program has brought a lot of excitement in the last two decades. Some inspiring
achievements have helped offset the less encouraging news from other quarters: We have
established permanent bases on the Moon and Mars; colonies are being built in space; a
manned mission has reached the moons of Jupiter; and robots are out exploring the farthest
reaches of the Solar System and beyond. But" he extended his arms in an
animated sigh "these operations have been national, not international. Despite
the hopes and the words of years gone by, militarization has followed everywhere close on
the heels of exploration, and we are led to the inescapable conclusion that a war, if it
comes, would soon spread beyond the confines of the surface and jeopardize our species
everywhere. We must face up to the fact that the danger now threatening us in the years
ahead is nothing less than that."
He turned for a moment to stare at the model of SP3 gleaming on the
table beside him and then pointed to it. "Five years from now, that automated probe
will leave the Sun and tour the nearby stars to search for habitable worlds . . . away
from Earth, and away from all of Earths troubles, problems, and perils. Eventually,
if all goes well, it will arrive at some place insulated by unimaginable distance from the
problems that promise to make strife an inseparable and ineradicable part of the weary
story of human existence on this planet." Congreves expression took on a
distant look as he gazed at the replica, as if in his mind he were already soaring with it
outward and away. "It will be a new place," he said in a faraway voice. "A
new, fresh, vibrant world, unscarred by Mans struggle to elevate himself from the
beasts, a place that presents what might be the only opportunity for our race to preserve
an extension of itself where it would survive, and if necessary begin again, but this time
with the lessons of the past to guide it."
An undercurrent of murmuring rippled quickly around the hall.
Congreve nodded, indicating his anticipation of the objections he knew would come. He
raised a hand for attention and gradually the noise abated.
"No, I am not saying that SP3 could be modified from a robot
craft to carry a human crew. The design could not feasibly be modified at this late stage.
Too many things would have to be thought out again from the beginning, and such a task
would require decades. And yet, nothing comparable to SP3 is anywhere near as advanced a
stage of design at the present time, let alone near being constructed. The opportunity is
unique and cannot, surely, be allowed to pass by. But at the same time we cannot afford
the delay that would be needed to take advantage of that opportunity. Is there a solution
to this dilemma?" He looked around as if inviting responses. None came.
"We have been studying this problem for some time now, and we
believe there is a solution. It would not be feasible to send a contingent of adult
humans, either as a function
ing community or in some suspended state, with the ship; it is in
too advanced a stage of construction to change its primary design parameters. But then,
why send adult humans at all?" He spread his arms. "After all, the
objective is simply to establish an extension of our race where it would be safe from any
calamity that might befall us here, and such a location would be found only at the end of
the voyage. The people would not be required either during the voyage or in the survey
phase, since machines are perfectly capable of handling everything connected with those
operations. People become relevant only when those phases have been successfully
completed. Therefore we can avoid all the difficulties inherent in the idea of sending
people along by dispensing with the conventional notions of interstellar travel and
adopting a totally new approach: by having the ship create the people after it gets
Congreve paused again, but this time not so much as a whisper
disturbed the silence.
His voice warmed to his theme, and his manner became more urgent and
persuasive. "Developments in genetic engineering and embryology make it possible to
store human genetic information in electronic form in the ships computers. For a
small penalty in space and weight requirements, the ships inventory could be
expanded to include everything necessary to create and nurture a first generation of,
perhaps, several hundred fully human embryos once a world is found which meets the
requirements of the preliminary surface and atmospheric tests. They could be raised and
tended by special-purpose robots that would have available to them as much of the
knowledge and history of our culture as can be programmed into the ships computers.
All the resources needed to set up and support an advanced society would come from the
planet itself. Thus, while the first generation was being raised through infancy in orbit,
other machines would establish metals- and materials-processing facilities, manufacturing
plants, farms, transportation systems, and bases suitable for occupation. Within a few
generations a thriving colony could be expected to establish itself, and regardless of
what happens here the human race would have survived. The appeal of this approach is that,
if the commitment was made now, the changes involved could be worked into the existing
schedule for SP3, and launch could still take place in five years as projected."
By this time life was flowing slowly back into his listeners.
Although many of them were still too astonished by his proposal to react visibly, heads
were nodding, and the murmurs running around the room seemed positive. Congreve nodded and
smiled faintly as if savoring the thought of having kept the best part until last.
"The second thing I have to announce tonight is that such a
commitment has now been made. As I mentioned a moment ago, this subject has been under
study for a considerable period of time. I can now inform you that, three days ago, the
President of the United States and the Chairman of the Eastern Co-Prosperity Sphere signed
an agreement for the project which I have briefly outlined to be pursued on a joint basis,
effective immediately. The activities of the various national and private research
institutions and other organizations that will be involved in the venture will be
coordinated with those of the North American Space Development Organization and with those
of our Chinese and Japanese partners under a project designation of Starhaven."
Congreves face split into a broad smile. "My third
announcement is that tonight does not mark my retirement from professional life after all.
I have accepted an invitation from the President to take charge of the Starhaven project
on behalf of the United States as the senior member nation, and I am relinquishing my
position with NASDO purely in order to give undivided attention to my new
responsibilities. For those who might believe that Ive given them some hard times in
the past, I have to say with insincere apologies that Im going to be around for some
time longer yet, and that before this project is through the times are going to get a lot
Several people at the back stood up and started clapping. The
applause spread and turned into a standing ovation. Congreve grinned unabashedly to
acknowledge the enthusiasm, stood for a while as the applause continued, and then grasped
the sides of the podium again.
"We had our first formal meeting with the Chinese yesterday,
and weve already made our first official decision." He glanced at the replica
of the star-robot probe again. "SP3 now has a name. It has been named after a goddess
of Chinese mythology whom we have adopted as a fitting patroness: Kuan-yinthe
goddess who brings children. Let us hope that she watches over her children well in
the years to come."