Author : Bob Newbell
It’s rotating. It doesn’t look like it, but instruments show that it is. Right now it takes around 24 hours to complete one rotation. Since it’s just over two miles in diameter at its center, the amount of centrifugal “gravity” being generated right now is negligible. That’ll change. The drivers will keep slowly increasing the spin until it’s rotating once every two minutes. That will make the pseudo-gravity 0.45 g. It’ll take most of a year to get it spinning that fast. No matter. I’m in no hurry.
Even now, with the thing less than complete, it’s a work of art. Nearly ten miles long and perfectly rounded at both ends, it’s hard to believe it used to be three gigantic asteroids.
I make way stations. And while there’s an unfathomable amount of engineering that goes into them, anyone who says it isn’t art is a liar or a fool. You can’t totally rely on the equations to tell you what the proper land-to-water ratio should be. The hull specs that will block hard radiation while still greedily gathering up ordinary light to illuminate the interior? Your AI will get you pretty close, but there’s always a small gap between theory and practice. And it takes instinct to bridge that gap.
It’s surprising how many people think we’ve always used way stations in interstellar travel. We haven’t. During the first hundred and fifty years of extrasolar travel, various methods were attempted to get across the gulf between the stars. Suspended animation. Multi-generation ships. Near-light speed schemes. Not one explorer made it to his destination alive.
What can go wrong on a space mission within Earth’s solar system? A technical failure. Psychiatric issues. Medical emergencies. Radiation contamination of food or water or living space. Now extend that mission from tens of millions or a billion miles to one that has to cover multiple trillions of miles. The law of averages wins. Something going catastrophically wrong becomes all but certain.
The first way station halfway between Earth’s system and the Alpha Centauri system was small and fairly unimpressive by modern standards. The crew on the first attempt to reach Proxima Centauri after the station came online barely made it. They spent four months there effecting repairs to their ship and relaxing in an environment that at least approximated being outdoors on Earth. Now there are six stations equidistant between Sol and Proxima. It takes most of 10 years to make the trip, but you have a month or two every 18 months of the journey at one of the stations. You’re not trapped in the same spaceship for a decade. You’re never more than 18 months away from a giant O’Neill cylinder with forests and lakes and deserts.
Barnard’s Star, Wolf 359, Epsilon Eridani: They all have a string of way stations reaching back to Sol. And no two way stations are alike. You might explore a jungle on one station and participate in a snowball fight on the next one.
I’ve been working on this station for most of 20 years. A siliceous asteroid, a carbonaceous asteroid, and a metallic asteroid. Bolt them together and fling them out of the asteroid belt and command nanotech machines like a conductor directing a symphony as you travel out between the stars. Twenty years and now the first way station between Sol and Procyon is almost ready. I’ve modeled the beach and sea on Destin, Florida. White sand and emerald water. And an artificial sun illuminated by concentrated starlight. You need that on an 88 trillion mile journey.