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The Ghatak Interestellar Expedition

The Blast Off – October 4, 2057

From an observation gallery Dr. Mehboob Ghatak watches as a spacecraft goes through its final countdown. Dr. Madeline Van Bay sits next to him. Dr. Dmitri Popkov is next to Dr. Van Bay. Dr. Raoul Lambert and his spouse, Dr. Victoria Harries, hold hands and exchange loving glances.

Inside the spacecraft Raoul and Victoria, and the rest of the crew dispassionately sit at their consoles and carry out the countdown procedures. The countdown goes to zero and the rocket leaps from the launchpad.

The expedition members come into a large reception room. Space Agency members and contractors applaud as the expedition members enter the room. There is a large buffet table and large screens on the wall. The screens show the spacecraft in flight and has a mission clock at the bottom of the screens.

A Space Agency newscaster faces the ceiling camera:

Here I am at the celebration for the launch of the TRAVELER, the first spacecraft on an interstellar mission. The craft will take the Ghatak Expedition to Gliese 163c. This is a fitting mission for the 100th Anniversary of space flight. Here is Dr. Ghatak, the leader of the expedition. Dr. Ghatak can you say a few words about what you’re feeling right now?

“Yes, I’m really waiting for the docking and when TRAVELER starts its main powerplant. That’s when the mission really begins. I’d like to thank all the Space Agency members and contractors who made this mission possible.”

“Thank you Dr. Ghatak.”

The crew work at their consoles as they guide the capsule to dock inside the TRAVELER. Dr. Van Bay announces; “Dock completion confirmed.” The crew’s console screens switch to displaying the TRAVELER’S systems.

The Space Agency members and contractors are watching the screens. The screens show the TRAVELER.

The Space Agency newscaster faces the ceiling camera:

You will be hearing noise as the TRAVELER’S main powerplant spools up. There is no sound in space of course but to enhance the viewing effect we are digitizing the electromagnetic waves into sound.

The screens show the TRAVELER’S main powerplant spooling up and firing. There is the accompanying computer-generated sound. Everyone in the reception room lets out a loud cheer.

The crew are at their consoles. Dr. Popkov announces, “We are out of effective two-way communication range.”

The Return – May 2, 2514

The crew is at their work consoles. Dr. Popkov reports, “The last decipherable transmission we detected was from the year 2072. We have received no response for our request for orbiting coordinates.”

Dr. Van Bay, “The satellite traffic around Earth is very light compared to the traffic when we departed.”

Dr. Ghatak, “That is disturbing.”

Dr. Harris, “I’m picking up indicators of a large amount of human activity.”

Dr. Lambert, “That’s encouraging. Why aren’t we being acknowledged?”

Dr. Ghatak, “Recommendations?”

Dr. Van Bay, “Park TRAVELER in a clear orbit.”

Dr. Popkov, “Land at closest suitable site to lift-off point.”

Dr. Ghatak, “Both recommendations accepted.”

The crew puts the TRAVELER in an orbit around the Earth. The crew departs the TRAVELER in the capsule. Dr. Van Bay transmits their actions and intentions.

The capsule sets down in a meadow.

A saucer shaped ground vehicle rushes to the capsule.

As the crew exits the capsule a young man emerges from the vehicle. The young man shouts a greeting and beacons the crew to come to the vehicle.

As the crew entered the vehicle the young man introduces himself as Mark.

The vehicle has couch seating and the roof has numerous videos of people who are waiting for the symposium.

When the expedition members are settled Mark orders the vehicle to “domicile”. Mark gives the introduction:

Welcome back to Earth Dr. Ghatak and your expedition. Above you can see people interested in your expedition. To get started Dr. Ghatak can you gives us some of the background on your expedition?

Dr. Ghatak:

Yes, in 2040 the INTERSTELLAR project began. The technology existed to build an interstellar spacecraft. A crewless mission had many advantages. It didn’t have the prestige of sending people. There was also the issue of if a drone mission would react to unexpected circumstances as we would want. Sending humans presented numerous problems. It would have involved a multigenerational craft and have problems such as life support, sustenance, and gravitational issues once the ship reached its destination. Technology had recently provided a solution. The memories of those chosen for the expedition would be downloaded to machine facsimiles. This meant we didn’t need life support or sustenance. There wouldn’t be the issue of losing muscle mass. It also solved a myriad of other problems.

“Thank you Dr. Ghatak. To answer a question. In the 21st century there was a formalized education system. That involved a series of educational advancements. When someone achieved the highest education advance in a field, they were awarded the honorarium ‘Doctor’. It was considered impolite not to address such people as ‘Doctor’. In keeping with that tradition, Dr. Van Bay, why was it decided to make you anatomically correct?”

Dr. Van Bay:

Should we encounter a sentient life form they could see what humans look like. That’s why they included our, so called imperfections.

“Thank you, Dr. Van Bay. Dr. Popkov, how were you and the others selected for the expedition?”

Dr. Popkov:

As you might expect, there were thousands of people who wanted to go. Candidates who met certain criteria; a doctorate in an appropriate field, an aptitude for learning space travel related fields, and other such criteria, were then further evaluated. The selection was based on overall qualification and diversity considerations.

“Thank you, Dr. Popkov. Dr. Lambert, the question we’ve all been waiting for, did you reach Gliese 163c and what did you find when you got there?”

Dr. Lambert:

At Gliese 163c, and on the voyage there and back, we found too many wonders to recount in this forum. The first order of business will be to download all this data.

“Thank you, Dr. Lambert. We will have to see if we can rig something together to perform this download.”

“There isn’t a ready capability?”

“The interfaces have changed a lot over 500 years. We have a query in to find a solution.”

“Dr. Harries, did you find life?”

Dr. Harries:

Yes, we found life. The life was comparable with the Paleoproterozoic Era.

“Interesting, did you bring back any samples?”

“None of the samples lasted more than 8 generations. We were unable to preserve physical examples of the DNA. We have all the information stored electronically of course.”

“Thank you Dr. Harries. I’ll now go to some of the questions submitted by participants.”

The vehicle stops at a large house in a wooded area. Mark takes the doctors inside the luxurious house.

Mark:

You probably have some questions. Another interested person, Heath, will be here in a couple of hours. He has been interested in 21st century history for a long time. In the meantime, I ordered a historical tutorial of the last 500 years. Play tutorial.

The History Lesson

The tutorial mostly shows information about; politics, conflicts, entertainment, and catastrophes. There was very little information about science and almost all of it was about medical developments.

Heath arrives and greets Mark and the expedition members.

Heath, “Mehboob –-“

Dr. Ghatak, “That’s Dr. Ghatak.”

Heath, “Alright, Dr. Ghatak, note, honorariums haven’t been used in 400 years. It’s best you get used to it. What is your first question?”

“How many other interstellar missions were there?”

“Yours was the first and the last. As you know throughout the history of space exploration there were those who viewed space exploration as frivolous. The bill for your expedition brought the matter to a head and space exploration was completely defunded by 2072. Dr. Van Bay, your first question?”

“There were space exploration supporters. It seems defunding would have been a major political event, yes?

“No, almost all space exploration advocates gave exploration a low priority. Funding just went to more popular efforts. Space exploration died with a whimper. Dr. Popkov, your question?”

“Call me Dmitri. I may as well get used to it. How does the society get along without a formalized education system?”

“Computers have far exceeded human capacity for knowledge. Robots are far more capable in any task than humans. We live a life of leisure. We do and learn what we want when we want. Mark and I currently have an interest in space exploration history. That’s how we learned of your arrival. Dr. Lambert, question?”

“Had the tutorial been made to teach of the years where there was space exploration?”

“If it were a general history tutorial. It probably wouldn’t gain a mention. That’s speculation on my part. It would be a curious exercise to generate a tutorial for that period. Dr. Harries?”

“What about our biographies, after the launch?”

“Do you all want to know your biographies?”

They all voice approval.

Dr. Harries and Dr. Lambert divorced in 2060. Despite not having any children it was considered a messy divorce. Dr. Harries became a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. You’re no doubt more familiar with the institution than I. Dr. Lambert made two detailed reports, one report was about the expedition. The report received few hits. The other report was about evolutionary biology. That report received a credible number of hits for the topic. Dr. Van Bay had a long-standing dispute with Dr. Ghatak about credit for the expedition. There was a court case where Dr. Van Bay sued to get the expedition’s name changed to the Ghatak-Van Bay Expedition. She lost the case. They each made opinionated documentaries about their roles in the expedition. Dmitri went back to research in evolutionary biology. He married and had a son. There are no living descendants for any of you.

The Aftermath – May 4, 2514

The expedition members are in their domicile. It’s a modest dwelling with spartan furnishings. Dr. Ghatak sums up the situation. “All our findings, a 500-year effort, and only a handful of people show any interest.”

Dr. Van Bay – “We existed for a purpose. Now we have no purpose for existence.”

Dr. Lambert – “I would propose that is the case of everyone in this and future centuries.”

Dr. Harries – “I concur.”

Dmitri – “We have more than ample time to find a reason for our existence.”

Dmitri steps closer to Madeline and Mehboob. Dr. Raoul and Dr. Victoria hold each other’s hands.

THE END

© 2020 Robert Sacchi