When Dreams Become Reality

I said goodbye to my grandfather today.

No! Wait! He's not dead or anything!

Although for most of the next eighty years he will be as close to death as anyone has ever come and survived.

My parents and my brother and I took the maglev up to Cape York, and then the shuttle flight to Bukit Raya in Borneo. Yes, the Beanstalk.

It's my first time in space, since it's not exactly cheap, but this time the Eridani Project was picking up the tab. It's more of a public relations gesture than anything else, but I'm not about to complain!

The trip was fun, the maglev shooting us up the length of the Australian East coast in under five hours, then the 7X7 whisking us to Borneo at three times the speed of sound. The ride was so comfortable and quiet that I simply fell asleep and missed seeing anything of Borneo from the air, though I understand it was mostly cloudy anyway. There's a reason that rainforest is called, well, rainforest.

And then the Beanstalk! The ride itself was nothing exceptional, but the view! Silently climbing up through the clouds and bursting into the sunlight, seeing the whole world spread out below. Well, mostly just seeing clouds at first, but then mountains and jungle and cities and the ocean. And then sunset, a few minutes of brilliant pink and orange fire followed by total darkness.

And stars! The stars, brighter than I've ever seen them before, set against the perfect velvet blackness of space. No longer twinkling, since by this time we were already thousands of kilometres above the Earth. More stars than I could count, and the Milky Way, and...

I fell asleep again. As fast as the Beanstalk cars move, it's an awfully long trip up to Borneo Station. It's nearly 36,000 kilometres up... Less the three kilometres of Bukit Raya and the Beanstalk Tower. A regular transit takes eighteen hours in either direction, though I understand the emergency cars can travel twice that fast.

B-Station was both larger and more crowded than I'd expected. With over 5,000 people arriving to see off the Asimov, things were rather hectic, and we were stuck in line for nearly two hours before we could be assigned a (tiny!) room. Mind you, even the outer ring of B is only at 0.6 gravities, so standing in line wasn't as much of an ordeal as it might have been. (I only weigh 33 kilos! Ha ha! Take that, Melinda!)

Since the Beanstalk can only shift about 3,000 people a day with its present complement of cars, people had been arriving for the past several days, and there were several more cars to come after us. All the guided tours of the station were booked out, but I did get a chance to visit one of the public observatories, and look out at the Asimov.

It looked like a toy, really, because there's no sense of scale in space. It floats there, matching orbit with Borneo Station, but some kilometres distant. When I got hold of one of the small telescopes and took a closer look, though, it leapt out at me. Obviously, it can't be small, with 272 people on board, even if only a dozen or so will be awake at any one time during the trip. There - that's the port side docking bay, which serves two of the Asimov's four shuttles. Since each of the shuttles is over 90 metres long, and the docking bay takes up just a small fraction of the length of the ship...

That thing is big.

You can get the stats off the Net if you like. It's 760 metres from stem to stern, half again as long and three times the mass of either the Heinlein or the Clarke, and it carries as many crew as the previous two starships put together. And in there somewhere, in a small, cold room, is my grandfather.

He's been asleep, actually, for over a week now. We said our real goodbyes then, in his last visit to the surface. We had a picnic up at Barrenjoey, and later on my Uncle Harry popped in with his kids. And we all laughed and hugged and - I have to admit it - cried a little at the end.

And now he's a popsicle, among 243 popsicles. 29 crew are left awake for the launch, along with another 22 specialists who will be picked up by the C. J. Cherryh once the ship crosses the orbit of Mars.

The launch itself wasn't anything spectacular. A splash of champagne that could only be seen through the station's telescopes, brief flare of the attitude jets (they can't use the main fusion drive this close to the station), and the Asimov, drifting ever so slowly away into the night.

The real show won't come for six weeks, when the great light-sails are unfurled and the laser launch arrays orbiting near Venus begin boosting the ship on its way to the stars. And then he'll be gone.

Except... Three years and three months from now, he'll have his first waking period. For six weeks he'll be responsible for the ship's computer systems, and then he'll go back into hibernation, waiting for his next rotation among the small waking crew.

In three years time, the Asimov will already be 350 billion kilometres away, and it will take two weeks to send him a message from Earth, or for grandfather to send a message back.

It's a little jarring to realise that he's not really gone, that I will talk to him again. And one day I hope to even see him face to face, as we walk side by side along the shores of the ocean of Paradise, the planet we knew as Epsilon Eridani III.

Posted by: Trixie Misa at 10:26 PM


1 And there are still blogs this far into the future. I suppose it's all looking pretty bright then. Happy Australia Day for Jan 26th, 2014.

Posted by: Simon at January 26, 2004 05:39 PM (GWTmv)

2 Ummm, that should be Jan 26th, 2104. Are there still typos in the future?

Posted by: Simon at January 26, 2004 08:15 PM (UKqGy)

3 More than ever, I suspect.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at January 27, 2004 12:36 AM (jtW2s)

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