This section deals with the first events.
Viewers familiar with this subject may pass on to the next section.
Please select PASS or CONTINUE.
The search for extra-terrestrial life began during the last century. Electronic telescopes searched for signs of intelligent life on a wide range of frequencies without success. The strange thing about this search was that it was not accompanied by an equivalent series of transmissions on those same frequencies at the same time. No signals indicating the presence of intelligent life were discovered until 28 years ago. There were a few false alarms, notably in the case of Jocelyn Bell (later Bell-Burnell) who discovered pulsars. She called the signals she received "Little Green Men" until it was proved that they were produced naturally by spinning dense binary stars.
The various SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) projects were all faced with the same problem: They did not know where to concentrate their searches and what frequencies to use. Even if they knew, it would have been impossible for them to detect the signals using an Earth-based observatory. The so-called Mission 90 was the first to get results. The spacecraft was launched into an orbit around the Sun at 90 dgrees to the orbital plane of the Earth.
The Mission 90 researchers reasoned that there was very little point in searching throughout the universe or even the galaxy. They assumed that the signals arriving from distant star systems would usually be too weak to identify. Even if they were identifiable, they would be very old and out of date. If a reply signal was sent, the reply would take so long to arrive that the civilisation that sent the original signal might well have disappeared. In addition, they would have to try to compute where the original source would be when the return signal would arrive. They therefore concentrated their search on the nearest known planetary systems.
The Mission 90 spacecraft hat the advantage that it could aim its antenna and its telescope at a fixed point in the sky for weeks on end without interruption. The hope was that sooner or later an identifiable signal would be received from a beamed transmission that swept past the spacecraft. Mission 90 had been running for three years before the now famous Undepoldus signal was detected. It was a type of data transmission that lasted for 30 milliseconds. The signal was quite unintelligible. No sense could be made of it but some of its features marked it as being of intelligent origin. It consisted of pulses between 0.24 and 0.25 microseconds long and patterns could be detected. The signal strength profile was consistent with a narrow beam passing by the spacecraft. The news media published representations of the signal and one newspaper offered a prize for the best and most original interpretation of the signal.
The units are microseconds. This part is 1/37.5 part of the signal received. It is this part that was responsible for the name Undepoldus. A newspaper group organised a competition for the best interpretation of the signal. Thousands of entries were received but a large number of them gave the same answer. It was noticed that the pulses were in pairs that could be interpreted as start and stop tones. The result was something that looked a bit like Morse code. It was then a case of trying to work out where letters began and ended. The people with the same answer had used processors to search for likely looking words. Of many pronounceable words found, the longest was UNDEPOLDUS. This result was welcomed by the editor of the newspaper because his name was John Oldus. He had a son called Peter. The prize was awarded to the entrant who offered:
This made as much sense out of the signal as anything else offered. There was a lot of speculation about the purpose of the signal and why it was received for such a brief time. The Mission 90 spacecraft was near aphelion at the time the signal was received. There were no other spacecraft in line with the antenna that was pointed at Alpha Centauri.
As the Mission 90 spacecraft continued its orbit, frequent attempts were made to detect more signals from the same source. The spacecraft detected significant radio noise and rare bright flashes from the Alpha Centauri region throughout its orbit but never received another comparable signal.
The signal proved that there was intelligent life near Alpha Centauri but that was all. A new spacecraft was built and launched that continually sent signals in the direction of Alpha Centauri in the hope that a replay would be received within nine or ten years.
The next development came from the Spacers League. They announced that four people out of 152 volunteers had been selected as the first live crew to go outside the solar system. Nothing was said about when they would go or what spacecraft would be used. At first, this announcement was treated as a stunt to gain favourable publicity for the Spacers League. Then a report was received that an unlogged spacecraft had been tracked by Lagrange 5 radar. The identification was for a spacecraft that was thought to be orbiting Mars at the time. When Lagrange 5 called Phobos to check, Phobos reported that an identical spacecraft had left about a week earlier. The Spacers League claimed that it was impossible for a spacecraft to get from Mars to Earth in a week. The identification code must have been the result of a malfunction in another spacecraft's transponder.
Despite the denials, rumours about the existence of a super fast spacecraft became widespread. They were automatically linked to the news that Spacers would crew a spacecraft that would go further out than Pluto. Television and video news programmes often featured pundits who speculated about the rumours. Accepted wisdom predominated. The arguments about mass of spacecraft related to mass of fuel were used to prove that the super fast spacecraft was a myth like the Yeti or the Loch Ness Monster.
A spacecraft that gets around the solar system in double quick time could remain apparently invisible for years if nobody was looking for it. However, when thousands of people are looking for it and linking their observations on the net, the Solar System is not a very easy place to hide in. Processors were linked to assemble information about all spacecraft movements from Titan to Mercury. Regular and scheduled journeys could be eliminated from the search quite quickly. The radio bands were searched for identification signals and controller's logs were surreptitiously copied. Confirmed observations only 18 days apart at Ganymede and Phobos showed that there were two identical spacecraft or one that moved like no other. As these observations were published the Spacers reluctantly admitted that these reports were true. The super fast spacecraft did exist. It was a prototype. The Spacers reinforced their security systems to try to prevent more leakage of information about the spacecraft. As a result only a few details about it were ever made public. It transpired that it had a crew of nine that ran the ship on a three shift system. This caused great consternation among the pundits who then tried to work out the spacecraft's size and mass from the sparse data available. They failed.
The next announcement by the Spacers was dramatic. At a specially arranged news conference Captain Chebychev announced that a crew of four were in a spacecraft headed for Alpha Centauri. The spacecraft was then more than three light days away.
Captain Chebychev said that the names of the crew were:
|Science Officer||Lieutenant Commander||Marita Andersson|
|Mission Pilot||Commander||Steve Burchnall|
|Engineer||Chief Lieutenant Commander||Carlene Wilson|
He then provided short biographies of the members of the crew.
The Captain, Rosanne Umberto, (27) was awarded the Spacer's Gold Medal for her rescue work on the Titan airship project and a bar to her gold medal for her sterling work during the Marswheel incident. Rosanne Umberto was solely responsible for saving the lives of 51 Spacers in the two accidents. She is the youngest person ever to have a medal dedicated to her honour. The Umberto medal is now awarded to any Spacer who has saved the life of another.
Rosanne Umberto had no competition when she applied to be the Captain of the Alpha Centauri mission. When other would-be captains heard that she had volunteered, they all withdrew their applications. Rosanne was born in Padua, Italy and was educated at Princeton University and The Spacer's College. She has a science degree in Processor Technology. At the Spacer's college she was a member of the free fall gymnastics team.
The Science Officer, Lieutenant Commander Marita Andersson, (26) was the youngest person to become Professor of Planetary Science at Lund University. Marita was born in Linköping, Sweden and was educated at Uppsala and Oslo before studying at The Spacer's College. Marita is also a fine athlete. As a Spacer, she won a silver medal for discus in the Olympics. She is also the tallest Spacer.at 213 centimetres. Marita gained a notorious reputation for the way she dealt with offending students. She would pick the offender up with one hand and continue lecturing as if the offender wasn't there. None offended her twice and none complained. Marita's favourite prank with new students was to ask one to carry her bag for her. It contained the three shot putt balls she used for juggling. Marita organised many of the student entertainments at The Spacer's College and performed as a ventriloquist with Carlene Wilson as her dummy.
The Mission Pilot, Commander Steve Burchnall, (29) was the chief pilot of the prototype spacecraft that was used to prove the reliability and economy of the propulsion system used for the Alpha Centauri spacecraft. Steve pioneered the technique for hot docking. Steve was also the most nominated male Spacer among female Spacers as the ideal travelling companion. Steve was born in Huntingdon, England, and educated at Birmingham University, England and The Spacer's College. He married Alice Clark, a fellow student at Birmingham and was widowed when she was killed in a climbing accident. As a result of the counselling he received, he became a counsellor himself. His sympathetic nature and his way with words has made him a favourite among all Spacers. His attractiveness to female Spacers is legendary.
The engineer, Chief Lieutenant Carlene Wilson, (28) assisted the designer of the fast propulsion system, Creighton Fox, in the development if his revolutionary ideas. Carlene is a propulsion system designer in her own right. She designed the propulsion systems used for the Jovian Collector and the Martian Lifter. Carlene's hobby is sailing light yachts. She has won many races. She is also Steve's backup as a pilot. Carlene was born in Hamilton, Ohio, USA. She studied at Cincinnati and Indianapolis before going to the Spacer's College. Carlene is at 143 centimetres one of the shortest Spacers. She and Marita Andersson organised most of the entertainments while they were at the Spacer's College. It was after Marita picked her up to talk to her face to face that they began their double act as ventriloquist and dummy. Carly designed and built her own small sailplane when at Cincinnati. At The Spacer's College Marita often hand launched her for short fun flights.
The crew are now in enforced hibernation. The spacecraft is now under the control of a processor called George. The Alpha Centauri mission is now informally called the Undepoldus Mission or U.M. for short.
It is estimated that the journey to Alpha Centauri will take between 9 and 10 years. The crew are expected to age only 2 years during this time. This is because of relativity effects and the hibernation. George has been programmed to return the spacecraft to the Solar System if the crew become incapacitated.
After Captain Chebychev had made his opening statement, the newsmen were at first at a loss to think of suitable questions to ask. The Spacer's League had a reputation for secrecy and somewhat unconventional behaviour when on Earth.
The next section deals with Spacer history. Viewers familiar with this subject may pass on to the following section. Please select PASS or CONTINUE.