From the start, the Mapped Space Universe (MSU) was not going to be a space fantasy, where inconvenient science was ignored and man’s place in the universe was distorted by sentimentality and wishful thinking. The greatest technological question, of course, was the nature of interstellar travel, which to a civilization at our current level of development poses a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Consequently, much thought was invested in evaluating alternatives and selecting the most promising concept for a scientifically plausible form of interstellar travel.
Overlaying the desire for plausibility were the needs of the storytelling, which were to be met by simply showing how the universe and the science would look without much explanation. Mostly, brief descriptions were provided sufficient for those with the requisite knowledge to understand what was happening, while lengthy dissertations, which would slow the pace of a story, were generally avoided.
So, the following considers what is often no more than hinted at in the Mapped Space books in relation to interstellar travel. References are provided to the scientific papers and books that were particularly influential on my thinking, to give credit where it’s due and to provide links for those who would like to dive a little deeper. What follows is theoretical, not mathematical, and is at times speculative. For the math, follow the references.
We now briefly consider various hypothetical forms of interstellar travel, beginning with the least scientifically plausible and progressing to the most promising.
Jump to Lightspeed - "Not in this Universe"
The primary constraint with interstellar travel is that Special Relativity (SR) makes it clear that no object can be accelerated to the speed of light. This is not a suggestion or an obstacle that science will one day overcome, it is a fact of life. It may be dangerous to make such an assertion, but SR and its more obscure aspects are rather well understood these days.
Basically, achieving incremental acceleration from say 95% to 96% the speed of light (c) requires an enormous increase in energy. Each velocity increase requires increasing energy until ultimately, infinite energy is required to reach the speed of light. That's more energy than exists in the entire universe.
It is unlikely any civilization will discover how to generate infinite energy. Certainly, for all practical purposes if such a thing were even possible, human civilization is not likely to acquire it for a very long time.
Science Fiction often ignores this enormous interstellar road block, perhaps because its implacable severity is not really understood, or perhaps because it is simply inconvenient. Generally, scientists familiar with SR have largely discounted any possibility of accelerating a ship to a velocity faster than the speed of light (FTL).
"Dial it up" - Only if you don't mind being crushed to death
The other popular alternative in science fiction to going faster than light is wormholes. This is very unlikely to be a viable form of travel due to the forces at work within wormholes themselves, although it is more likely than accelerating beyond the speed of light.
Generally, there will be tremendous forces within a wormhole driving it to collapse. To offset these crushing forces, ‘exotic matter’ is required to line the inside of the wormhole. Exotic matter is a term used to describe a particle with properties that in some way violates the laws of physics. Such violations would include being repelled by gravity rather than being attracted by it, or having a negative mass or negative energy (Hayward 2009). The problems associated with exotic matter include how to obtain or synthesize such material, if it even exists; how to apply such matter to the inside of a wormhole; and how to control it once it is applied.
Next, consider the difficulty of creating a wormhole. Enormous energy would be required to create this phenomenon, perhaps comparable to the energy of a black hole. A means of navigating the forming wormhole’s exit point through higher dimensional spacetime to the destination point would be required, i.e. finding the desired exit point out of the sum total of all possible points in the universe (Thorne 1994). Additionally, while the formation process was underway, the flow of exotic matter into the growing wormhole and its subsequent distribution and control once inside would have to be managed. Meeting all of these requirements would be an extraordinary engineering achievement.
In my book In Earth’s Service, I suggested that wormhole travel would only be accessible to extremely advanced civilizations, while early space faring species would discover a less challenging means of interstellar travel long before they could access artificial wormhole technology. This is because the most accessible technology will have the least engineering complexity, the least energy requirements and require the fewest scientific breakthroughs.
So no lightspeed, no wormholes. What’s left?
"Did you see that?" - The genesis of interstellar travel in the
MAPPED SPACE Universe
To those of us longing to journey to the stars, the dead hand of science can be quite depressing, although for the first time in humankind’s history, we have a tenuous clue as to how we can save our dream.
At the risk of ridicule, let me begin by stating that I have known interstellar travel was possible from the age of seventeen. It was then that I observed three brilliantly lit craft flying across the night sky over a small town in Australia. The sighting lasted no more than a minute or two and finished with the craft streaking away, curving up, out of the atmosphere under tremendous acceleration. I added a similar sighting at the very end of ‘The Mothership’ as a private homage to that observation. The sighting left me with the certainty that at least one interstellar civilization was observing Earth, and proved beyond any doubt that a practical means of interstellar travel did indeed exist.
After that one and only observation, I read everything I could on UFOs, focusing upon the nature of their technology, their origins and intent. It is a difficult topic to study because of a dearth of reliable information, a plethora of fakers and a good sprinkling of mystically inclined people to muddy the waters, so skepticism and a requirement for collaborating evidence is mandatory. In terms of this field of study, we should always keep in mind that what we are examining is nothing more than superior technology which obeys the laws of physics in an advanced way (Hill 1995). After all, a machine is just a machine, whether it is a steam engine or a starship.
From research spanning many years, one contact report stuck in my mind in relation to interstellar travel. I don’t remember the name of the contactee or the country in which it occurred, otherwise I would cite a reference, but I recall he may have been a peasant farmer with a modest education. This is important because it suggests his understanding of Newtonian physics would be limited or non-existent, indicating he probably lacked the education required to fabricate something of profound importance.
The contactee was told by his alien visitor that ‘your ships push themselves through space while ours pull themselves through space’. In a nutshell, the alien astronaut was saying, human spacecraft use reaction drives relying on Newton’s third law of motion, that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, while alien spacecraft do not.
So how does one pull a ship through space? Space is a vacuum. It’s empty. Did they lock an interstellar tractor beam on a distant star or planet and reel themselves in? That made no sense. It was a strangely incomprehensible comment that confounded me for many years, leaving me to wonder what is this pull technology that opens the door to the stars?
The solution, it turns out, is strangely counter intuitive in that all that is required to reach the stars is a little nudge in the right direction.
Pull to the stars - a nascent theory of interstellar travel
It seems possible the answer was discovered by astrophysicist Miguel Alcubierre, who wrote an interesting paper in the mid-1990s (Alcubierre 1994). His work was a kind of experiment, to determine if General Relativity could be used to modify local spacetime in a way that would permit velocities faster than the speed of light, as seen from an observer outside the modified spacetime’s reference frame.
His paper proposed simultaneously contracting spacetime in front of a spacecraft and expanding spacetime behind it, enabling the craft to exhibit a faster than light velocity as seen by an external observer. The contraction and expansion effects are localized around the spacecraft, which itself remains stationary in flat space, thus avoiding Special Relativity’s interstellar roadblock. In terms of time dilation, there are small dilation effects at the beginning and end of each interstellar voyage. For this concept to work, Alcubierre ignored energy constraints and required the use of exotic matter, although he argued that quantum field theory may provide an alternative to exotic matter (because it allows for negative energy densities in some circumstances).
The Alcubierre effect is illustrated below with an early rendering from his original paper.
A space mission using the Alcubierre effect would first involve moving a spacecraft into space using a sublight propulsion system. In the Mapped Space books, these are called maneuvering engines, which utilize a high energy electric-ion propulsion system. An ion drive is a reaction propulsion system (a push technology) that uses electricity to excite a gas to produce a very high velocity ion stream for thrust. Their primary purpose is to move or maneuver a ship to and from a position where the superluminal bubble can be activated.
NASA used this technology in its 2007 ‘Dawn’ Mission to Vesta and Ceres, intending to achieve 2,100 days of continuous, low power thrust from just 425 kilograms of xenon propellant (Dawn Mission). While this is a phenomenal technological achievement, ion propulsion remains incapable of putting a payload into orbit. Only chemical rockets have the capacity to achieve escape velocity, relegating ion propulsion to cargo transport and robotic science missions for the foreseeable future. The problem is only miniscule quantities of electricity are available to power the ionization process. However, once mankind develops a capability to generate huge quantities of electricity in space, ion propulsion might become more effective. In the Mapped Space Universe, it is assumed there is sufficient energy available to achieve the required level of ionization to render all forms of (highly inefficient) chemical propulsion obsolete.
Once in space, the starship decelerates to zero velocity, then activates its superluminal drive, traversing interstellar distance in an arbitrarily short time. The spacecraft itself has no velocity and its local spacetime remains flat as it is carried inside the superluminal bubble to its destination.
This technique takes advantage of cosmic inflation. Inflation was a very brief period of rapid expansion of the universe that occurred shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. During that period, spacetime expanded at a rate faster than the speed of light. We know this because the universe is isotropic i.e. it appears to be the same in every direction when observed on a large enough scale, a phenomenon called the Cosmological Principle. The Cosmic Microwave Background, the thermal radiation left over after the Big Bang, is also uniformly distributed across the universe. This suggests that at one time, all parts of the universe were in close contact with each other. For that to be true, and for the universe to have the size it currently has, it had to expand superluminally. It is this FTL inflationary attribute of spacetime that the Alcubierre metric seeks to utilize.
If the technical difficulties of this form of interstellar propulsion could be overcome, Special Relativity would not prevent a starship traversing interstellar distances at apparent superluminal velocity. Energy would be a significant requirement as spacetime is ‘stiff’ and the energy required to distort it would be immense, but not infinite.
In the Mapped Space Universe, the superluminal bubble utilizes an improved Alcubierre Metric, as do almost all other civilizations in the MSU, although with widely different levels of effectiveness.
Upon completion of the starship’s voyage, the spacetime distortion field is switched off, then the ship continues to its destination using its Newtonian reaction engines. When it nears a planet, it then maneuvers to land, which in the MSU is done using electric-ion thrusters. These are a similar technology to the large maneuvering engines, but much smaller and mounted on gimbal bearings for limited thrust vectoring.
A more recent illustration of the Alcubierre concept is shown below:
There are many unresolved issues with the Alcubierre metric, not least of which is how do we generate this effect on spacetime? We know, for example, that gravity can affect the curvature of spacetime, so perhaps this may provide a line of future research. Einstein’s field equations tell us we need very high quantities of energy to curve spacetime, which indicates enormous advances in energy generation technology are required for this form of interstellar travel to become viable, but then any form of interstellar travel is going to require such advances. NASA has experimented with lasers to determine if spacetime can be distorted, but without success, partly because the sensitivity of existing technology is insufficient to detect tiny warpings of spacetime (Lee and Cleaver 2014).
In respect to the problems in Alcubierre’s work, White 2003 reworked Alcubierre’s metric into a form that could be used to identify what was responsible for the expansion and contraction of spacetime. White and Davis 2006 used this additional work to discover that the spacetime contraction and expansion was a secondary effect caused by what they called a spacetime expansion boost. This is a field that acts upon an initial spacecraft velocity by multiplying it many times to a much higher velocity, from the perspective of both an external observer and someone inside the bubble. Under this concept, the spacecraft would apply a small acceleration toward its destination (the little nudge), then activate the boost field, multiplying that initial velocity many times. Apparent superluminal velocity is determined by the available energy for the boost, so an early civilization may achieve a boost of a hundred or thousand times the initial sublight velocity, while a more advanced civilization with greater energy resources might achieve a boost orders of magnitude greater.
This finding suggested that our universe has more than the 3 + 1 known dimensions (i.e. more dimensions than height, width, depth, time). Under their improved model, they proposed that negative pressure could serve as an alternative to Alcubierre’s negative energy requirement, negating the need for exotic matter. This was in the hope of finding a way of making Alcubierre’s concept a viable form of interstellar travel in higher dimensional spacetime. NASA’s inconclusive laser experiment grew from this theoretical work.
In the diagram below, a plot of the spacetime expansion boost that causes the contraction and expansion of spacetime is shown. The near vertical sides are the ‘boost gradient’ while the flat top section represents what is inside the superluminal bubble. The starship sits on the flat part (i.e. in the local inertial frame) as it is carried through space without violating Special Relativity.
When I first read Alcubierre’s original paper some years ago, it occurred to me that contracting spacetime in front of a spacecraft could be construed as pulling a ship through space. If the pilot of a starship using such a method of interstellar travel tried to explain this concept to a poorly educated peasant farmer, he might use such a description. One could argue that the craft is riding a wave of expanding spacetime behind the ship, in which case it would be a kind of push propulsion. The fact that the contraction and expansion occur simultaneously suggests it’s probably a bit of both, push and pull. The point is, it is not a Newtonian reaction drive, a push, and perhaps this is what that enigmatic alien was really saying. Humans use Newtonian physics, ET prefers Einstein.
At this early stage, this concept remains potentially plausible, although centuries of research and development will be required to turn concept into reality. At least it is a starting point, something we have not had before. After all, Leonardo da Vinci had many revolutionary ideas that were not realized for five hundred years and none of his ideas were as challenging as interstellar travel. For mankind, another five hundred years might not be too long a wait for the stars.
Because Alcubierre’s idea has the potential of becoming a practical means of interstellar travel, I adopted it for the Mapped Space Universe. The question then became, how do I show this kind of travel? What would it actually look like to the pilot? What are its strengths and weaknesses, it’s constraints? Again, the answers were not what I expected.
Bursting the bubble - The fragility of interstellar travel in the MAPPED SPACE Universe (and in reality?)
It turns out that the extreme quantum level distortions in the superluminal bubble surrounding a spacecraft are so severe that no signal can pass through the bubble wall. This means a spacecraft would be flying blind through interstellar space. There would be no radar, no radio, no visual observations of the surrounding stars to navigate by, which means the ship would have to calculate a real time simulation of its progress based on extremely accurate navigational information. Getting such information is actually a very difficult proposition.
This is because when one considers the total matter-energy content of the universe, we find much of it is undetectable. Non-baryonic dark matter surrounds visible galaxies and is something about which we know very little, other than it interacts with the physical universe gravitationally. There is also a lot of normal (i.e. baryonic) matter inside the galaxy that is nonluminous (much of which is gas). Nonluminous simply means it does not radiate electromagnetic energy, making it very difficult to detect, especially at a distance.
Now consider the pie chart below, which shows that only (approximately) 0.5% of the matter-energy of the universe is luminous, and therefore detectable. This comprises all the stars, planets, comets etc that we can see.
Dark energy (the force driving the expansion of the universe) appears to pose no threat to navigation (that we know of) while non-baryonic dark matter lying beyond the galaxy is unlikely to be a concern to early interstellar civilizations, because it is so far away. Of the remaining ordinary matter (atoms), almost 90% (i.e. 4.4% / 4.9%) is nonluminous. Much of this is gas, while the remainder includes any solid matter not radiating some form of electromagnetic energy, including comets, asteroids, dwarf planets, etc down to small chunks of rock and ice.
There are ways of detecting large nonluminous objects, such as by their gravitational effects or by occultation (i.e. when a dark object passes in front of a luminous object), however, it is not feasible to map even a tiny proportion of nonluminous baryonic matter in the galaxy using these techniques. By contrast, small quantities of such matter are virtually impossible to detect at even short distances, once they are far from a star.
With this in mind, we may conclude that zooming between the stars at many times the speed of light - with your eyes closed - is a very hazardous undertaking.
A galaxy full of undetectable objects, populated by thousands of interstellar civilizations with potentially millions of starships underway is a recipe for recurring disaster. Because of the vast distances, the odds of a single ship hitting a chunk of drifting rock or ice are very low, but millions of starships travelling at superluminal velocities changes the odds considerably. When those ships approach a star system, the odds increase significantly, because stars tend to be surrounded by billions of bits of matter left over from the time when they formed.
To clarify the magnitude of the navigational hazards for high velocity craft close to a star system, the NASA image below is provided to illustrate the hypothetical, spherical structure of trans-Neptunian objects orbiting the Sun. This structure is typical of main sequence star systems.
The tiny blue rectangle in the center represents the size of our planetary system out to the Kuiper Belt. This is itself surrounded by the spherical Oort Cloud, most of which we can’t see. The outer Solar System might extend out as far as 1.5-2.0 light years from the Sun, almost halfway to Alpha Centauri. This means just getting out of the Solar System at superluminal velocity will be a navigational challenge. This challenge will increase as the volume of interstellar flights in and out of the Solar System increases, because more flights means more opportunities for collision.
For stars much larger than the Sun, of which there are very many, their gravitational extent into interstellar space is much greater, often overlapping the gravitational peripheries of nearby stars. As such, the extent of their Oort Clouds will be much greater than for our Solar System, and will spread their Oort Cloud debris deep into interstellar space. For stars in gravitational relationship, such as binaries, both star’s respective Oort Clouds will be interacting and constantly perturbing each other, increasing the unpredictability of the navigational situation. More than half of all Sun-like stars are in gravitational relationship with at least one other star while for massive stars, as many as 80% may have companions, making it quite an unpredictable mess out there for starship navigation.
Below are two more images to help visualize the situation. On the left is a clearer graphic of the structure of the Oort Cloud, and on the right is my favorite, a view from perhaps 5 light years from the Sun. Of course, while I like the idea of seeing the Solar System from the perspective of a starship captain, the reality is that all those billions of dots making up the Oort Cloud are invisible. Here they are shown as points of light. If they glowed in the dark, they could be detected, but they are hiding in the cold dark depths of interstellar space. This is the invisible obstacle course that must be flown through each time we visit a new star system.
Because Oort Cloud matter is adrift up to several light years from Sun-like stars (further for larger stars), stopping a ship before entering the system in order to detect such objects with an active sensor (e.g. radar) is not particularly feasible. This is because the radar signal travels at the speed of light, so a return signal could take months or years to receive. Multiple signals, over time, are required to determine orbital paths. For a ship to spend months or years searching for a way in and out of a star system is at best problematic, and at worst, impractical. Every star would require a detailed survey to enable safe navigation, and ongoing monitoring of the gravitational effects of passing objects that would perturb known orbits. It suggests all star systems must be constantly monitored in some way to provide starships with up to date navigational data. This is a daunting task when one considers there are between 100 and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.
In regards to the treatment of nonluminous matter in the MSU, I made the assumption that gas would be a negligible navigational hazard because of its very low particle density per unit of volume. Considering the large quantity of nonluminous gas in the galaxy, if this assumption were incorrect, the navigational problems would be enormously magnified.
One might argue some form of shield could protect a ship from small impacts, but the nature of the superluminal bubble prevents (or at best disrupts) electromagnetic energy passing through it, and one can assume a hypothetical shield would be specifically designed to prevent energy passing through it. Therefore, the existence of one would negate the operation of the other. For this reason, in the MSU, the superluminal bubble and the shield never operate simultaneously.
Let us now consider the effect of a collision with a body of nonluminous, baryonic matter. A parallel in science to this interaction might be when matter is drawn into a black hole. The black hole’s great mass generates enormous gravity which steeply curves spacetime. As stars and planets are drawn into this extremely curved spacetime, they are torn apart by the tidal forces, i.e. the difference between the higher gravity on the near side and the lower gravity on the far side literally tears the object apart. Frictional interactions generate enormous heat, resulting in a luminous accretion disk orbiting the black hole prior to the matter being consumed. All this takes time. A superluminal bubble, generating extreme curvature in spacetime may well have the capacity to tear nonluminous matter apart, however, the velocity of the impact would be so high that there would be no time for the matter to disperse. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume a significant energy release would occur upon impact with catastrophic consequences.
In the spirit of not ignoring plausible science, it is difficult to see a solution for preventing impacts with undetected nonluminous matter that would be available to early interstellar civilizations. In the MSU, it is assumed that mature civilizations eventually developed a means of detecting and charting the location and motion of nonluminous matter in order to make interstellar travel safe, while such means are considered beyond the limited resources and technology of early space faring civilizations.
"Full speed ahead" - Starship engineering in the MSU
After considering all of the above, the choices for plausible interstellar and interplanetary flight were extremely limited. This is, no doubt, a function of our current knowledge, but it resulted in a nondiscretionary conclusion as to what an early human interstellar civilization would be using. In effect, ships would be equipped with three forms of propulsion based on two technologies:
Firstly, is the star drive, which would use a spacetime distortion field to create a superluminal bubble around the ship enabling movement across interstellar distances in arbitrarily short time frames while respecting General and Special Relativity. This is an evolutionary descendant of Alcubierre’s original idea. It is assumed a technological solution is found for the negative energy/pressure requirement, rather than resorting to exotic matter.
Secondly, maneuvering engines using high energy electric ion propulsion are used to traverse interplanetary space. These reaction engines are capable of boosting a ship to moderate sublight velocity, but are generally used only for planetary approach and departure.
Thirdly, small thrusters using miniature electric ion engines are used for minute course adjustments in space and for low velocity in atmosphere flight and landing. They use the same technology as the maneuvering engines, but are much smaller and mounted on gimbaled bearings to allow them to swivel across a small arc. They are not powerful enough for sustained interplanetary flight on their own.
Which brings us to our final point, a consideration of superluminal velocity itself.
"How fast?" - Practicable velocities for galactic civilization
What is meant by practicable velocity? It is that velocity which permits interstellar journeys to be completed within a reasonable time frame, relative to the piloting species lifespan. If we attempted to reach our nearest star with our existing technology, it would take at least ten thousand years. That is clearly not practicable. Even when mankind first develops interstellar flight, it still might take several years to reach Alpha Centauri, assuming we could build a ship capable of achieving an apparent velocity of approximately twice the speed of light. While this would be an incredible achievement, it is doubtful manned flights could reach much further than the very nearest stars, as such voyages would involve round trips of at least five to ten years.
To put this in perspective, when Europeans first colonized North America, it took approximately 3 months to cross the Atlantic, a voyage which became commonplace. When the British, as a result of the American Revolution, turned to settling Australia, it took 18 months for their ships to reach Sydney, a much more difficult proposition. This was pushing the limits of the technology of the day, resulting in a 3 year round trip. Sea travel had been in use in Europe for thousands of years, but the technology for long oceanic voyages had been out of reach for millennia, negating the possibility of early, oceanic expansion. The same gradual growth in capability is likely to be repeated in regards to interstellar travel.
Robotic probes travelling at twice the speed of light might range out to perhaps 50 light years (a volume of space containing approximately 2,000 stars), but such long, one way voyages for colonists are unlikely to be feasible. This is partly because of the difficulties of sustaining the human body on such a voyage, but also because no such voyage could be undertaken unless it was certain the destination was habitable. And if the galaxy is crowded, there may be no unoccupied habitable planets within reach, or if there are, we may not be allowed to colonize them. Such factors are reflected in the Mapped Space Universe by mankind often being forced to colonize the least habitable or least desirable worlds, because all the good ones are already taken. As ever, never overlook the implications of the 13.8 billion year age of the universe, the single most important factor in our consideration of mankind’s future among the stars.
So, even when humankind develops interstellar travel, our reach will be extremely limited. This is one of the reasons why the Sirius Kade books are set 2,500 years in the future, to allow time for human interstellar technology to advance. The other reason was to allow for the political factors to evolve.
Sirius Kade’s ship, the Silver Lining, has a maximum velocity of 0.154 light years per hour (3.7 lyrs / day), which equates to 1,350 times the speed of light (i.e. 1350c). While this is a tremendous velocity for us today, in the MSU it is relatively slow and reflects the early nature of human interstellar flight. You might think 2,500 years from now is not early, however, compared to civilizations that have had interstellar capabilities for hundreds of thousands to millions of years, it is but a moment in time.
The Silver Lining operates at the edge of Human Space, 800 to 1,000 light years from Earth. It would take 7 to 9 months for this ship to return to Earth, three times what it took to cross the Atlantic during the age of sail and half the time for 18th century ships to reach Sydney. To human civilization in the MSU, 1,000 light years from Earth is a distant, remote frontier. Yet, the humanity of Mapped Space have access to barely half a percent of the galaxy. The image below shows the location of the Sun and the Orion Arm within the galaxy. Imagine only half a percent of this expanse being reachable to mankind.
European Space Agency
In terms of practicality, ships capable of 1,350c are viable for a civilization occupying a sphere of space 2,000 light years across (the extent of Human Civilization in the MSU). However, such a velocity is impractical for participating in galactic civilization. It would take the Silver Lining 88 years to traverse the Milky Way or 176 years for a round trip with no stops, i.e. assuming a galactic diameter of 120,000 lyrs. That is if Kade had the required navigational data to undertake such a voyage, which he does not. It’s like trying to be a member of the United Nations, but only having the ability to circle the Earth once every 176 years. That is clearly impractical.
So even though mankind in the Mapped Space Universe is eager to join the galactic community, as an early interstellar civilization, it lacks the technology to be an effective member, or even to attend distant meetings. Such a limitation is something the Human Race will one day face. If a galactic civilization does exist, becoming an early interstellar species will not be enough to be a full and active member.
Consider again one of the longest colonization voyages in our history, the 18 month sail from London to Sydney. For humans to achieve, on a galactic scale, a similar colonization and trade capability as we had on a planetary level in the late 18th century, we will need to develop ships capable of travelling 80,000 times the speed of light, i.e. the velocity needed to cross the galaxy one way in 18 months. To acquire such a capability could take many centuries, even millennia to achieve.
By contrast, in the book ‘In Earth’s Service’, the ultra advanced Tau Cetins are able to traverse 65,000 light years in a few days, which equates to a velocity of almost 12 million times the speed of light. Consider the possibility that mature civilizations in the Milky Way may well be crossing the galaxy at such velocities right now. The Tau Cetins represent a civilization in the full bloom of galactic citizenship and participation, utilizing a level of technology that is most definitely practicable on a galactic scale, but it took them a very long time to get there.
How long, I wonder, will it take mankind to achieve such heights? Ten thousand years? A million? This contrast is sewn into the fabric of the Mapped Space Universe, exploring the great differences between a new interstellar civilization – which humankind is yet to become – and an ancient civilization which reached the stars millions of years ago. Considering the great age of the universe, whether we like it or not, there may well be many such civilizations in our galaxy at that level of development.
And then, of course, there is the possibility of intergalactic civilizations, who may well be traversing the universe at billions of times the speed of light. Such a civilization paid the Mapped Space Universe a brief visit at the end of The Mothership. Of them, we need not concern ourselves, for we are unlikely to interact with such giants any time soon.
In the Mapped Space Universe, a racially and technologically diverse galactic civilization exists, as it may well do in our real world Milky Way today. The numbers above show, however, that simply leaving the Solar System, may not of itself be enough for membership. Even if it was offered, we wouldn’t be able to participate. We may, however, find our near neighbors are fully fledged members of a pan-galactic community, which will tell us much about their age and capability.
I hope you found this little insight into the Mapped Space Universe interesting. The MSU is an attempt, however flawed, to vision a plausible future in space without undermining the fun of star spanning space opera.