I took a train to New York. A group of gentlemen who called themselves the Emergency Committee asked me to meet with them.
They wanted a starship.
On looking back to meet with them may have been a mistake.
meeting was held the afternoon of my arrival in a palatial tower off of
Central Park. I was led to a meeting room on the penthouse level by a
male African staff member. I set down my overnight bag as I led into
the room. The Emergency Committee was made up of elderly white-haired
gentlemen who were impeccably dressed for a bunch of groundhogs.
The apparent chairman of the committee spoke.
“Doctor Boatman, It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“It’s Mister Boatman, I only have a Masters in Astronautical Engineering.”
“Well yes, but I’m sure we can arrange for a doctorate for you.”
“I’ll pass.” I replied calmly. “An honorary degree isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.”
Already these gentlemen had earned my disdain.
The Chairman had not expected that, after a pause he spoke again.
“If you could please take a seat?”
The African staff member pulled out a chair for me at the table and I sat down.
“So what did you gentlemen wish to talk about?”
The Chairman replied.
“We want you to build a ship for us.”
“Okay,” I said, “get in line.”
The Chairman smiled and shook his head.
“No, Mister Boatman, you don’t understand, we want you to work exclusively for us.”
I didn’t have to think about the answer.
All the members of the committee were visibly stunned.
The Chairman raised his voice a bit to speak again.
“We will reward you very well!”
how will I enjoy this reward?” I replied. “Even if the Earth isn’t
hit by Niven Sixty-Nine it will likely be rendered uninhabitable as a
result of the effects of the passage. The consequence is that any
reward you could offer would be absolutely meaningless.”
The committee briefly stared at me in silence.
I broke the silence.
the ethical rules for emergencies apply here, my goal is to save the
largest number of rational and productive people as possible. The
Boatman Corporation will build Exodus class starships for as long
as possible for ourselves and for anyone who can raise the funds. We
will not exclusively serve the interests of the anointed few. Is that
The Chairman slightly nodded before his reply.
“Yes Mister Boatman, that is clear.”
I then clasped my hands and leaned forward before speaking.
“Now gentlemen, how many ships do you require or can fund?”
The Chairman replied.
“Mister Boatman, we do not believe that the published specifications for the Exodus
would fit our requirements. We require a single vessel that will carry
one hundred thousand live passengers to Alpha Centauri.”
I shook my head before responding.
"Gentlemen, you may as well bolt a propulsion system to a medium size Lagrange colony.”
Lagrange colonies were orbital habitats built at gravitationally stable
positions at 60 degrees ahead and behind the Moon in the same orbit.
if you could build a proper starship the life support for a live
passenger takes up far more mass than a hibernation system. Which in
turn requires more mass for structure, propellant and other systems.
The Exodus class is a reasonable design that can be mass produced
using currently available technology. Your requirement simply isn’t
doable under the present circumstances.”
The Chairman replied.
“Our requirement is based on an already published design.”
“Published when and where?”
The Chairman turned to the African staff member and spoke.
“Jackson, would you bring up the image of the Ark?”
his seat across the room the African staff member entered a command at
his work station. A vertical glass panel slid up from the surface of
the table before the committee. A holographic image of a fictional
interstellar vessel appeared within the panel. I immediately recognized
And I doubled over in laughter.
The Chairman didn’t understand.
It took a few moments for me to recover before replying.
Chairman, that is an image from a documentary produced before The
Reformation, and the design for ship is pure nonsense. We used to show
it at Cal Tech at Rocky Horror style parties.
The committee apparently didn’t understand. One of the less elderly members meekly spoke up.
“What is Rocky Horror?”
With laser-like precision I looked straight at the board member and replied.
“Sir, have you never heard of The Rocky Horror Picture Show?”
“No, should I?”
These gentlemen had now earned my contempt. But I answered the man in a clear and level tone of voice.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show
was a film released in 1975 by Fox Pictures. It’s based on a stage
production that was a campy nihilist parody of older horror films such
as the original Frankenstein. It obtained a cult following where
at midnight showings the members of the audience would shout back at
the screen and would also dress up as characters from the production.”
The gentlemen of the board were apparently surprised to hear this. I summed up.
“Screenings of the picture show continue to this day at least once a year in places such as London, New York and Minneapolis.”
The Chairman spoke up.
“I don’t understand, what does this have to do with our project?”
I calmly replied.
“Gentlemen, the documentary Evacuate Earth
was routinely mocked by the Astronautics Department at Cal Tech as it
clearly had serious flaws. For example, there is absolutely no way that
a big picture window at the bow of a sublight starship can remain
unbroken. Furthermore the design of the habitat section is a complete
waste of mass. And there is absolutely no way that a separate rotating
habitat could be made to work with a non-rotating drive section.”
“But the Lagrange colonies have separate living and docking sections!”
because they don’t accelerate and can import more air as needed.” I
replied. As is the rotating seal between the two sections isn’t
perfect. There’s always a very tiny amount of leakage. And you won’t
be able to resupply your air until you reach the destination.”
as a result of this factor the Lagrange colonies will eventually be
abandoned as their primary purpose has been fulfilled. As proposed by
Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill back in 1974 the colonies served as manufacturing
centers for solar power satellites orbiting the Earth. The facilities
then served to build ships to go to the other planets. Now that we
could build our own ships at Ganymede and other places in the Solar
System the Lagrange colonies had fallen to the economically wayside.
I continued to speak.
“And you weren’t seriously thinking of using the Orion nuclear fission pulse drive to propel your starship?”
The Chairman was clearly taken aback.
“Why not?” He said.
simply isn’t enough refined fissionable material in existence to
manufacture the nuclear charges to make it work, even with tritium
boosting. I wrote my masters thesis on a design for an Orion drive
starship and I had to limit the number of people carried to ten
thousand. The journey would be made under very cramped conditions
aboard the ship. And it would have to use some reactor grade plutonium
as fuel for the propellant charges.”
The Chairman was clearly puzzled.
“I don’t understand, what is reactor grade plutonium?”
And some people wonder why I’m well paid for my work.
I answered in my college lecturer voice.
is produced in two isotopes, Plutonium-239 and Plutonium-240. The
weapons grade material has a low amount of Plutonium-240, which is less
stable and thus unsuitable for making weapons. Weapons grade fuel is
produced by irradiating the basic uranium for as short a time as
possible, roughly a year. Reactor grade material is the result of long
term irradiation in normal power plant reactors and results in the
generation of a higher percentage of Plutonium-240. The fuel with the
highest fraction of Plutonium-240 was produced in the reactors of
warships such as aircraft carriers and submarines. In this case the
fuel rods were often kept in place for the entire operating life of the
Or that was the case for the last generation of nuclear
fission powered ships. The earlier generation of nuclear fission
powered warships had to be partially dismantled in order to refuel them.
I now had the complete attention of the committee.
old United States did develop an alloy of Plutonium and Uranium-238 to
fuel their nuclear weapons, so that does help stretch the fuel supply a
bit. And the use of tritium boosting for the charges also reduces the
amount of plutonium fuel for each charge. Which in turn stretches the
amount of fuel that’s usable. But you will have to bring a means to
generate more tritium with you.”
“Why?” Said another committee member.
tritium has a half life of twelve and a half years. If you attempt to
bring the entire supply for the journey the tritium component of the
braking charges would have decayed to uselessness before you arrived at
your destination. You have to generate new tritium onboard your ship in
order to boost your braking charges.”
I scanned the committee again before summing up.
“Fortunately the Inertial Confinement Fusion Drive on the Daedalus and Exodus does work and is far more effective at propelling a ship.”
The committee was speechless.
“In any case,” I said, “when you gentlemen come to your senses we can work out a deal. Until then, I have ships to build.”
stood up and went to collect my overnight bag. The African staff
member appeared to be clearly frightened of something as he rushed to
open the door of the room for me. On exiting the building I made a
decision and summoned a taxicab.
“Grand Central Station, please.”
Instead of going to the hotel I decided to return directly to Pasadena. Upon arrival I was met at the station by Susan.