The following was written as part of a challenge, you might say, posted up on one of the Yahoo groups: imagine you are in charge of the board of inquiry into the loss of the Jupiter 2! What do you say? Where do you even begin? After some thought, I contributed this.
Preliminary Report of the Presidential Commission on the Jupiter 2 Incident.
This Commission has deduced five main possibilities:
1) Equipment failure (see Note below)
2) Natural catastrophe/Act of God
Natural hazards are a plague not only of space travel, but all of human experience. The possibility of a meteor strike was first realized as long ago as the Apollo 13 mission, and such a danger has always been a concern, despite the fact that the odds against such an event are literally astronomical. However, such an event would be virtually impossible to demonstrate from our situation. Even within our solar system, a ship will leave debris which may stay within the orbits of the planets and be discovered, but such an incident in interstellar space would throw debris for millions of miles in all directions, beyond any reasonable hope of discovery. This Commission may ultimately report this finding, but only as a default or fallback position; in other words, a complete lack of any evidence for anything else.
3) Action of crew, of two possible varieties: a) simple human error, accidentally resulting in catastrophic damage or b) aberrant crew behavior resulting in catastrophic damage (in layman’s terms, someone slipped his moorings and did something to wreck the ship or cause crew death or incapacity). Both of these suggest some other extraordinary situation, as the ship’s crew would ordinarily be in suspended animation in the so-called “freezing tubes,” with only command crew awakened if the ship’s critical systems failed.
4) Sabotage or other deliberate act resulting in catastrophic damage.
This may be broken down into a number of possible combinations.
First, whodunit? Possibilities may be defined as some foreign power or its agent, a domestic enemy, broadly speaking, or a domestic enemy harbored within Alpha Control and/or the broader Jupiter 2 project. Note that the second two do not preclude also being encompassed by the first, nor may we entirely rule out the possibility that one of the actual crew members was co-opted by such an enemy. Finally, the possibility of an extraterrestrial enemy must not be excluded from the idea of “foreign power.”
Second, how? Again, a number of possibilities present. First, some sort of mechanism incorporated into the design of the ship itself, which would most likely have been self-triggering when some external set of conditions obtained, such as some time or distance traveled. Something as simple as substandard wiring in an emergency system, for example, which would burn out under heavy usage, that is, right in an emergency when it would be needed most, must not be overlooked either. However, the possibility of a manual trigger must not be ruled out, some radio or laser signal sent from Earth. Such a signaling mechanism would be relatively simple, easily concealable, and easily destroyed. Second, a similar destructive device, but concealed onboard the ship after construction.
[NOTE: An exhaustive review of Colony Ship Jupiter 2‘s design and construction history is already underway. Engineers will be alert for both design flaws and designed-in sabotage devices, as well as identifying areas of the ship where a sabotage device might have been concealed post-construction, and vulnerable areas where such a device may have done the most damage. If we can decide where a saboteur would have most likely planted a device, security records will tell us who had access to those areas. Also, final telemetry data is being analyzed for any clue as to what the ship’s systems may have been doing in their final moments before disaster struck.]
Third, the possibility that any of the noted enemy powers may have been able to infiltrate an actual human agent aboard Jupiter 2 prior to liftoff, armed either with some destructive device or the knowledge necessary to cause irreparable damage to the ship and/or crew with no extraordinary devices. The nature of such an agent seems to present two further possibilities: that he is part of a highly sophisticated conspiracy which was able to not only place him aboard Jupiter 2, but has the ability to rescue him from somewhere in deep space (implying their own advanced spaceflight capability), or some sort of zealot, possibly acting entirely alone, who undertook his task as a suicide mission and perished along with his victims.
5) However slender a possibility it is, we also must not rule out the chance that the Robinson Expedition is still alive but have simply lost all communication capability. That is a puzzle our engineers will also review. Given the heavy redundancy network, backup systems, and self-repair capability built into Jupiter 2‘s major systems, it is difficult to imagine a scenario which would result in the complete loss of communication capability but leave vital life-support and propulsion systems functioning.
Finally, to touch on the slenderest of slender possibilities, sheer distance may have made communication with Jupiter 2 impossible. Our theoretical physicist describes a number of hypothetical scenarios by which an ordinary spacecraft could achieve trans-lightspeed movement and travel unfathomable distances in a relatively brief time (days or weeks). Given the sophistication of our communication technology, that means the ship would have been flung at least into the next quadrant of our galaxy, a proposition all but inconceivable.
In summation, Mr. President, this Commission is well aware of the terrible burden on its shoulders. The eyes of the entire world will be upon us, and possibly even eyes of other worlds. We know we have enemies who wish us ill; if this Commission finds that it must implicate them, they may accuse us of provocation: we would be accusing them of what is essentially an act of war. If we do not implicate them, they will laugh at us and accuse of overreaching our abilities — with all that that implies for our status on the world stage. And one can hardly conceive of having to announce to the Earth that not only are we not alone in this universe, but that some unknown beings from the stars have already raised their hands against us and shed our blood.
I cannot predict how long it may be before this Commission has a final word. Until that day, Mr. President, all we can do is to repeat what the world already knows. Therefore, the preliminary report of this Commission is only this, that Colony Ship Jupiter 2 and her crew are missing and presumed lost, in space.