The Sagan Project

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
-- Carl Sagan, 1934-1996

 

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The Project logo.  (image copyright John M. Dollan)

A Brief History
The Sagan Project was the first grand endeavor proposed and initiated by the Exploration Society.  When the Extrasolar Planetary Mapping Array had hinted at the possibility of other Earthlike worlds in the solar neighborhood back in the early 2000's, the scientific community was ecstatic.  But other projects soon came to dominate the minds and resources of the various space-faring nations, and all new extrasolar planet research was largely abandoned.  But the dream of confirming other life-bearing planets remained.

When the Exploration Society was founded in 2065, a small cadre of astronomers soon after gathered, and began talking of other worlds and distant suns.  Their talk was largely filled with dreams of traveling to those stars, while their actions centered on detailed studies of those solar systems mapped by the still functional ExoMAP.  By the late 2070's, their research began to compelling show that Earth-sized worlds were quite common, and that many of them had a greater than 80% chance of supporting life.  Admittedly, these odds were skewed towards the astronomers' opinions on the matter, but nonetheless others in the society began to get excited by the prospect.  In 2083 an unnamed program was begun, consisting of Society engineers, planetologists, astronomers, and others.  They discussed, planned, and even designed the vehicles which would take mankind to the stars, albeit in proxy.

The problem was, none of these probes could make the journey in any sort of reasonable time, or for reasonable costs.  Fusion power was what was needed for a swift, cheap, and reliable jog between the stars.  Unfortunately, although fusion power had been produced back in 2053, it was neither cheap nor reliable.  The unnamed project to travel to the stars had reached a dead end.  The Society busied itself with other projects and programs, and for a time the planets once again began to receive only cursory interest.

In the early 2090's, however, fusion exploded upon the Solar System.  Largely pioneered by Sky Power Unlimited, the research into fusion power had finally paid off, and ships driven by fusion reactors began to make their appearances in 2095.  By 2102, the Society itself had developed their own version, based of of the SPU design, and had improved upon it.  Fusion was indeed cheap and reliable.  And many decided that it could be fast, too.  Far too fast to be of safe use by Humans.  But not too fast for unmanned probes.  The extrasolar planet probe think tank was revitalized, and promptly named the Sagan Project in a fit of unbridled optimism.  The cost was enormous, the investors and contributors were nervous, but the returns promised to change the way Mankind thought about the universe at large.  And so it was that the first of the Sagan probes rolled off of the Lunar assembly line in 2110, and by 2112 she had been tested and checked and was launched towards Alpha Centauri.  Other probes followed, one after another.  The construction costs began to fall as the kinks were worked out and the process was made more efficient.  It was probe fury in the Solar System, and for a brief time it seemed that no one, not even the jumpy investors, could get enough.

But people are impatient, and they want results now.  When it was clear that, even with fusion power and probes traveling at 0.49c, there would be a waiting time before information started flowing back in, the funding began to dry up.  By 2115 production was stopped on the Sagan probes, but not before 1.347 of them had been built and launched towards specific stars.  The astronomers were content;  after all, in the old days of the late 20th century, people had to wait years just to examine Jupiter or Saturn.  It would be a mere five years until the first bits of data began to return from the first targets.

Indeed, in 2125 receiving stations on the Farside began to pick up the faint, lonely, echoing signals from the first probe, sent to Alpha Centauri.  It had actually arrived in that system a little over four years earlier, but the speed of light would not be broken for mere scientific impatience.  Four years would have to pass before the data could be received.  But when it was, there was jubilant pandemonium in the halls of academia.  The probe had performed almost flawlessly, passing through the system and dropping off its many components.  What was returned was confirmation of an Earthlike planet about both stars of the system, as well as an entire family of other worlds.  Life had been discovered;  animal life, to be sure, but many were confident that, in time, intelligence would be found.

It was not.  Not by the probes, anyway.  They were not designed for that detailed of a search.  Only brief forays were allowed thanks to their limited design of the time.  But they were an engineering marvel, and an achievement that did indeed rock the inhabited Solar System.  And, in time, they would lead the way for the next greatest step in Human daring and ingenuity:  the colonization of worlds beyond the Sun.

 

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Contents John M. and Margo L. Dollan 2003-2004
Other usages cited at Usage Permission Page
This Page first uploaded  January 22, 2004
Most recent update for this page January 22, 2004