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Voyage from Yesteryear
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". . . Ladies and Gentlemen, our guest of honor tonight—Henry 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, Congreve’s 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." Congreve’s 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, ah—I almost didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 you—all 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 Congreve’s place at the main table.

His voice became more serious as he continued. "I don’t 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 wouldn’t 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 born—assuming there will be future generations." He paused. "I want to talk about survival—the 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 Africa’s 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 Earth’s 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." Congreve’s 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 Man’s 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 there!"

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 ship’s computers. For a small penalty in space and weight requirements, the ship’s 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 ship’s 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."

Congreve’s 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 I’ve given them some hard times in the past, I have to say with insincere apologies that I’m going to be around for some time longer yet, and that before this project is through the times are going to get a lot harder."

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 we’ve 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-yin—the goddess who brings children. Let us hope that she watches over her children well in the years to come."

 
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