It’s March, 2172 AD, twenty one years after the discovery of Hyperspace and seven years after Consolidated Aerospace’s first successful test of a prototype jump drive.
It is a historic day: Three new spaceships orbit Mars just a few kilometers from the orbital shipyard. They are not pretty, but they represent mankind’s crowning achievement, the most advanced vessels ever built – and will keep that title for at least two years. They are jump-capable autonomous drones, each equipped and programmed to travel to one of the three systems within 7.7 light-years of Earth, to map them, to gather data on any planetary bodies found, and then to automatically return to the Sol system.
They are our first vanguard, our robotic messengers, and mankind is on the verge of becoming an interstellar civilization.
Their trips will take the better part of a year to complete, but without the jump drive such voyages would be entirely unfeasible:
- Probe 1 – nickname “Hope”: Destination Proxima Centauri, Scheduled return January 2173
- Probe 2 – nickname “Dream”: Destination Alpha Centauri, Scheduled return February 2173
- Probe 3 – nickname “Vision”: Destination Barnard’s Star, Scheduled return June 2173
All of mankind is eagerly awaiting their return; data these probes gather will determine not only what system the Magellan will explore in further detail when she is completed in ’74, but also very likely where mankind establishes its first outpost outside the solar system.
The probes are towed out of orbit by tugboat one after the other, to conserve their precious fuel. Once each tugboats has placed its payload at a safe distance and has itself retreated, the probe is given a remote command. The on-board simulated intelligence takes control of the vessel, radios one final status report back to the command and control station in Mars orbit, and then enters Hyperspace.
All three departures are picture-perfect to the extent an entry into hyperspace can ever be interesting to watch. What will the probes find in the three systems?
Time will tell.