Chapter 2

Making my way to the airlock, it's time for one of the last EVAs before I turn this station completely off. The mining robots will most likely be reused in one of the other unmanned stations in the solar system, perhaps even go towards these stations that will be built in the future. Inside the white room of the airlock, I changed into my EVA gear. I remember the first time I had to do an EVA despite all the training, I still took quite a while to figure out how to get changed into one of these suits with all kinds of details to take care of before one should step out of the airlock, any air bubbles could cause the pressure to escape from within the suit and you'll be dead in the cold space where no one can you scream.

I've never gotten used to the limited field of vision the helmet causes, it always feels like my peripheral vision is being blocked somewhere or limited. Pressing the button once again to exit the airlock, I slowly situated myself and floated out onto the exterior of the station where I would first close the airlock before attaching myself to the station. Similar to a hiking a mountain, you lock the harness to the various ladders on the station and climb around the station. The harness itself is extendable in case you lose grip or lose footing and can use the harness to pull yourself back towards the station. Not that it has been used very often, but it is good to know that it's there to protect you from floating off into space.

Checking all the pipes and the major plates is one of the most regular EVAs that we do on the station, since they are a part of the scheduled maintenance checks and other than that there usually isn't a reason for us to do EVAs. If it is something that can be fixed by a robot either we'll recall one of the mining robots or deploy a robot to do the EVAs for us. These robots can fix pretty much all the minor problems that tend to happen to mining stations. Not only can they fix the minor problems, sometimes they are even called upon to do the scheduled maintenance. Even though it is more ideal to have a human to do it just to be safe, there's actually no drawbacks on using them for those scheduled maintenance. Miyazami actually uses completely automated scheduled maintenance with their self-deploying robots. The only reason we don't do it here on Pioneer is because our captain and I both are somewhat still not trusting enough on these robots as much as we love them and on Earth we both own several of these things and play around with their code to have them do tasks for us all the time. Here in space where everything is crucial we cannot afford a single error. Kesser takes the approach of a mixed schedule where sometimes they'll have the robots do their maintenance and other times they'll use humans. Yue-tu I am not too sure about in terms of their scheduled maintenance, their captain is just way too mysterious for me to figure out. I think Alex is the only one on the station that keeps regular contact with the crew of Yue-tu and vice versa. Every other station keeps a good relationship with the rest, only Yue-tu seems to want none of that and instead enjoys its solitude.

Not to blame them, a lot of their governments are still pressuring them to keep a lot of the research and the information gathered on that station top secret. Despite the international relationships on Earth, a lot of those scientific discoveries made here in Space can be seen as government's attempt to do espionage and possible weapon research. I guess to the Russians and the Chinese, they still don't trust the rest of the Western society very much.
Having made sure that everything is going to be in working condition for the next one and a half years, I made my way back into the airlock, but not before taking another look into the skies that was filled with stars. Unlike from inside the station where the portholes only allows a glimpse of this, here in outer space I can see everything clearly. I can always remember how the first time I saw this, my breath was completely taken away. I remember thinking to myself that this is what I've been wanting to see all my life, the true majesty and mysteriousness of space. It made me want to explore it and leave this solar system and go out there into true space and experience all the different sights space has to offer. Space is truly large and we, truly too small to understand its size. It is accepted that anything beyond 30 light years, without any methods of faster than light travel, is not worth traveling to nor is it possible to reach. The reasoning is at current technologies, it is theoretically possible to reach 0.7C or 70% of the speed of light, however even at that speed a meaningful intergalactic travel should not exceed 70 years as first it is impossible for the crew members to live that long and secondly there are too many uncertain factors on Earth itself. One cannot make sure that what the government or the party that invested into the trip would be still interested 70 years in the future, not to mention any meaningful communication between the shuttle and Earth itself is going to be impossible. The fastest communication devices can only emit communications at the speed of light so if one was to travel beyond 30 light years, it would take 60 years for any meaningful conversation to take place between the two. That amount of time would nullify the very definition of meaningful conversation. I think right now they are focusing on finding a method to travel within 20 light years as that is deemed somewhat scientifically achievable and meaningful. Yet that distance is so minor compared to the size of the entire universe, it would not even allow us to leave our own galaxy, the milky way. Not to mention the super-clusters and the observable universe, these things are way too big and way too far for any humans to travel for now.

However, I am glad that they are even considering intergalactic travel despite the fact that it would require so much and there is not even a promise of any return to the investment. I know for a fact that they are holding a competition on Earth for the first country to come up with a viable plan, design and the whole nine yards to travel to Alpha Centauri. The award is funding for the entire project and continued funding until the trip is completed. It'll be the first meaningful inter-stellar travel if someone wins the prize. It is what have kept me entertained at times here on the mining station. I always check my mail for the latest news and updates for that competition. From the looks of things, it is getting near the final stages of the competition. Several countries are ready to submit their final plan and who would be involved. From what I've read, the proposed travel time is up to 14 years but no more than 15 years, it would constitute as meaningful inter-stellar travel for mankind.

Many countries have thought about doing an unmanned project first before actually doing a manned project, but seeing how this is probably the first and last chance a project like will be funded they eventually all went with a manned mission. But self-deploying robots would be included as they would be left on the Centaur system to continue scientific research on various planets. It'll be the first time human have stepped foot outside the solar system, despite the fact that Voyager I and II have already completed the task of leaving of the solar system. I think it is good that so many countries are excited about an internationally funded competition to reach for the stars.

The plan I am rooting for the most, is of course, proposed by NASA. It involves a ship that would travel at 0.7C and would use the gravitational well of the Solar system to slingshot itself towards that speed and towards Alpha Centauri. This is where a lot of the plans diverge, some plans call for the ship being able to reach 0.7C before leaving the planet, some argue that since Alpha Centauri is far away enough it doesn't matter where the ship speeds up towards 0.7C and should save as much fuel as possible before reaching Pluto or Charon and then refuel there before throttle up towards the target speed. NASA's plan is to send the ship towards the Moon first, where it would refuel and head towards the gas giants where it hopes to use the power of the engines as well as the gravitational pull of the gas giants to gain some speed before it goes off towards Alpha Centauri, minimizing the amount of time spent in the solar system and spending more time on the trip. Upon arriving to Alpha Centauri, different nations also have different ideas and plans on how to slow down from 0.7C to a speed where it is safe to deploy a robot before having the ship make its way back towards the solar system. NASA's plan thinks that an orbit around the system before entering and catching the ships on some of the system's gravitational pull would help slow the ship down naturally. Whereas other nations have suggested plans such as using the powerful engines to help slowing the ship down as well as using several orbits around the system to allow the ship to act like a comet and be caught in the gravitational pull of the system and then leaving with similar methods as a planet or a comet. These plans are all very viable, but I think NASA has the point that the trip should minimize the amount of times the ship have to orbit around a system at such high speeds as well as just generally minimizing the amount of time the ship would spend orbiting systems because that would mean a longer trip. We all know that traveling in space for an extended period of time is damaging to the human body so NASA's plan calls for as quick of a trip as possible so that the astronauts would not have to spend as much time in space where they'll be exposed to all kinds of radiation.

Seeing how the Centauri is a binary star system, the way to enter a system like this is also argued by the different nations. Some feel like it is better to focus on one of the two stars to orbit around before entering the system whereas others feel like the ship should do a figure eight between the two stars. NASA thinks that due to the speed at which the ship would be reaching the system, doing either of those methods would be too dangerous as despite the amount of space between objects in space is rather large, having to dodge something within the system at those speeds is impossible since at that speed due to the searchlight effect, there would not be enough time for the object's light to travel to the eyes of the astronauts. Not to mention, most of them are going to see a bar of black in front of their visions. It is way too dangerous, and since their speed is going to be enough, it will be safer to just do an orbit around the entire binary star system rather than focusing on one of the stars or doing a figure eight. Another worry is the possible effects of Lorentez transformation on the ability for astronauts to correctly judge the distance and size of objects, so NASA suggests to do away with human judgments when it comes to the majority of the trip. This, most countries agree with, they all realize that at those speeds due to the limitations of human judgment and human perception relying on human judgment would not end well. So a good system that can correctly recognize and calculate all the possible positions of objects near the ship and in the system would be vital for this mission, not to mention it would also have to be able to adjust for the same things as the humans would have to adjust to. For instance the speed of which information can be reached and sent to and from the detector and the object, NASA thus suggests a prediction system based on three factors. One of them is data retrieved from the Space telescopes, another is the ability for the detector to send and receive more and more information about the system as it gets closer and closer to the system, lastly is the ability to do caustic prediction on random possible objects that either the information is too slow to travel to the detector or too fast for the detector to react in real time. Of course, no one really knows what will happen at that speeds when it comes to the ability to predict and to avoid disaster. Thus, the crew would be minimal and based on volunteers. I have sent in my application to be a volunteer for the project, Captain Alex agreed to me doing so and as a part of the application I decided to stay up here in order to train myself better for the mission since what better training for space travel can there be than actually staying in space?