…it’s where you’re at! (one)

The diligence had been done decades prior to the collapse of cord reactor technology. The number crunchers had done their work and the programme was abandoned as being financially non-viable. Understandable given the massive need to curtail government spending during the period. However, in the wake of said collapse, the Frontier programme was re-visited, re-costed and eventually pitched to the Governmental Committee for the resolution of the energy crisis.

Originally envisioned as an exploration and research mission the basic parameters of Frontier were, at least in layman’s terms, quite simple: The mission vehicle would be subject to a large and extended burn to achieve inter-orbital escape velocity before a calculated gravity assist would propel the spacecraft on a highly parabolic orbital trajectory to the very edge of our solar system to confirm and investigate the theoretical asteroid belt.

Obviously, the mathematics, technology and engineering involved were anything but simple. Space flight outside the confines of inter-orbital space had not and still has not been extensively researched. Not before or since has any manned vessel intentionally left the area of (relatively speaking) safe space in and around our twin planets.

The post Relic Pact mission outline introduced additional parameters to the primary mission. Primarily the use of heavy orbit to surface ordinance (akin to the torpedoes used in our darker history) to blast material away from the surface of any encountered objects before collecting any debris with a specially designed salvage scoop.

Hence the primary mission objective became the collection and return of outer solar system materials for science, research and cost analysis as to whether the asteroid belt was an economically viable source of raw materials.

The mission outline was described at the time as being ‘Fanciful’ and ‘Ludicrous’ by the Chair for the Governmental Committee for the energy crisis and the Director of Operations for the Relic Pact Space Agencies Research and Development division respectively.

However, public unrest and political pressure from the Relic Pacts detractors forced the Governments hand and the mission was greenlighted by Emperor Orin and announced publicly in his famous “Ruin versus Reward” speech at UltaSamp University.

Buoyed by general optimism and soaring approval ratings Emperor Orin personally oversaw and signed off on the project, but with a massively condensed programme. His intent was for mission launch to be no later than five years from the date of his announcement. R&D time was cut severely but the general consensus was the mission timeframe was still viable.

The Relic Pact requisitioned five ASOS class destroyers from the fledgling RP Navy. These ships were handed over to the Horst & Piera shipyards at UltraSamp for stripping and retro-fitting. Some of the worlds most highly regarded scientists, technicians and engineers oversaw the fit out as the ships were stripped of unnecessary equipment to decrease their tonnage for the burn and, of course, increase their cargo capacity for the anticipated spoils.

All five ships passed both dry dock and inter-orbital testing and all five flights were green lighted. Frontier 1 was an unmanned test mission and dummy run. Its main goals were the testing of the flight systems, burn calculations and flight plan. I assume Frontier 1 is still out there somewhere. By all accounts the test ratified the mathematics and the other four flights commenced their pre-launch countdowns.

Frontier 5 was the first flight to launch but on a slower trajectory than its sister flights. It should have been overtaken by Frontier’s 2, 3 and 4 within a month of its launch. The fates of Frontier 2 and 4 are well documented and the theories on what happened to Frontier 3 have been speculated on to the nth degree. I will say no more on them here.

As is well known, Frontier 5 returned to inter-orbital space 4 years after its launch. Its cargo holds… empty. During hundreds of hours of debriefings the crew confirmed repeatedly that there was nothing of interest in the region previously believed to be the asteroid belt.

The mission was initially labeled a heroic failure. But it was not long before people forgot or omitted the heroic part. The finger pointing and inquiries continued for years after the mission’s unsatisfactory end and still rumble on to this day. I suspect that the lack of outcry from the general public stemmed from a general belief that the whole thing had been a long shot. That nobody seriously believed the ship would return with a hold full of precious materials.

However the question was still asked, mainly by the investors and creditors: How could we have used so many resources to achieve nothing?

I disagree with the notion that nothing was achieved. This photograph is from the Frontier 5 mission archives. It was taken, I believe accidentally, by the ships forward gun camera around 3 days after the ship had passed the apogee of its orbit, as the crew took bearings to make any necessary course corrections for the return flight.

Effectively just as Frontier 5 had turned the corner and begun its journey home.

It shows quite clearly our sun. Our tiny red sun hanging in absolute blackness. It also shows our tiny homes. If you squint you can see to the right and slightly up from the sun are our two tiny twin planets. Slightly blue and central is our natural home Kokoni. To its right, greyer in colour our mysterious sister Sako. Locked together in an eternal waltz around our local star.

And that is it. There is nothing else but cold blackness.

If the sum total of the Frontier 5 mission is this photograph, then I believe the mission was worth it.

This photograph tells us all we need to know.

There is no answer out there in the stars. There is, in fact,  nothing out there in the stars. If there is an answer and I believe there is, then it is here in this photograph somewhere.

Because there is nowhere else that an answer can possibly be.


Excerpt from the first draft of a lecture prepared by Prof. Mary Bartlett

UltraSamp University on the 50th anniversary of the return of Frontier 5