I replayed Toomie's last words for the seventeenth time and they still made no sense.
"They're just babies."
What had she meant?
The argument with her brother had been ugly. She'd called him greedy and a selfish little prick, then even said he'd murdered their parents to gain access to the 55 Cancri mining rights. All of that may have been important, but instead of screaming for help or begging Kofi to stop, she'd used her final breath to say, "They're just babies."
I replayed my recording of her final minutes again as I watched Kofi wrap his sister's rapidly cooling body in clinch wrap. When he finished, he strapped her to the control cabin's bulkhead.
"What did she mean when she said they were only babies?" I asked Kofi.
He ignored me and turned his attention to prepping Indian Summer for the gate translation.
"This wasn't your fault," I said. "I think we can prove that if you surrender. You signed the waiver, but you're only eighteen and your brain is still growing. There have been problems in past cases. My implantation into your head might have caused serious damage."
"Shut up," he muttered. "Or I'll kill you too."
It was a valid threat. He could do it with a mere code word. From my home on a jellified substrate positioned between his brain and skull, I had nearly a thousand hard connections interfacing with his cerebral cortex, yet I'd been powerless to stop him when he'd reached for Toomie's throat.
And he could wipe me from his head with impunity. I had no rights and he would suffer no consequences, but I did have options. I hadn't had enough time to save Toomie, but I might be able to stop him from leaving the system. I ordered my nano assemblers to finish building the last millimeter of garrote wire to encircle his spinal cord.
He'd been furious when he killed her—I knew that because I'd monitored his biochemistry the entire time—but it had not been a crime of passion. Not the kind that blossomed from blind rage. He'd rigged Indian Summer to be a radio black hole before bringing her aboard. We had been unable to transmit or connect to any network from his ship. She'd been trapped as effectively as I.
It’s time for the space human exploration advocacy community to get its act together. A change in U.S. Presidents, as will happen this year, almost always leads to a change in American space policy and plans. Whoever is elected this year will set the policy the country will be living with on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11: July 20, 2019. With that reality in mind, those of us who wish for mankind to make additional "giant leaps" can no longer afford the perpetual bickering amongst ourselves that has characterized the pro-space advocacy community since about the time Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. It is time for those of us who desire to see humans expand throughout the solar system (and then beyond) to come together, compromise, and unite behind a plan to get us again started down that path. The situation is complicated further by the very vocal disagreement between the “private” versus “public” space development communities; another distraction we cannot afford.
No human has been beyond Earth orbit since 1972 when astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt finished their exploration of (a small part of) the Moon and departed for home. We’ve sent plenty of people into space since then, but they have all been sent to Low Earth Orbit and, as beautiful as it is, LEO is less than 500 miles from home. This is a travesty.
Within the major space agencies of the world, including NASA, The European Space Agency (ESA), Russia, China, and Japan, it is assumed that humans will once again travel beyond LEO and venture to the Moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond. New Space companies, like SpaceX, make no secret that their eyes are first set on near-Earth space but their real goals lie much farther away. Elon Musk has said that he personally wants to walk on Mars.
In addition to the general goal of sending people back into deep space, there is an emerging consensus that such missions are affordable and a priority for the world’s leading space powers. The Europeans are talking about a “come back to the Moon” effort that would lead to a permanently-inhabited base there by 2030. NASA has its sights set on sending people to Mars by the 2030s, with an interim asteroid visit in the '20s. China, like Europe, says it will send people to the Moon in the 2020s or 2030s. Russia, not be left behind, is reportedly developing its own plans for lunar exploration. If all the plans turn into reality, then we’ll need a robust traffic control system to keep up with all the rockets coming and going from Planet Earth. Alas, many if not all of these plans are likely just optimistic dreams. Building Moonbases and rockets to carry people to and from Mars requires money and a time commitment that is far longer than the typical election cycle.
Doing what Americans often do, let’s for the moment ignore the rest of the world and think about American space priorities, public and private. If we all agree that we should be sending people beyond LEO, then where should we go? With public opinion widely supportive of space exploration, surely we can get behind a plan to send people to [X]. (Fill in your favorite destination here.) And therein lies the problem. The American space advocacy community cannot seem to agree and unite behind a single next destination. Instead, multiple groups are out there, pushing their own competing visions, while our real progress toward deep space remains largely in “neutral.” For a partial list of space advocacy organizations and what I perceive as their destination goal, see Table 1.