May 25, 2004

Dark Sky Station

October 9, 2016
Journal of Captain Marvin Orr
Day 1

I was encouraged to keep a journal during my stay at Dark Sky. The eggheads think a journal helps aeronauts handle isolation. I really don't think it'll be that big of a deal. I'll be alone at the station for just 9 days before another crewmember is scheduled to join me. Three months ago I spent 11 days alone in an isolation chamber. I got bored, but I didn't go crazy. At Dark Sky I'll be too busy to get bored. I'll be putting in 11-hour days, and when I'm not working there's always television, and the Internet.

Whether I need the journal or not, I'm a team player, even if the game is solitaire. So I'll keep the journal.

I arrived early this morning on the Dakota airship. The ride was a bit rough at first . Those airships can get buffeted around pretty badly below 50,000 feet if the weather is not perfect. And the weather wasn't anywhere near perfect. They launched me because the station had been unmanned for a month and there was some maintenance that couldn't wait any longer if the station was going to remain operational.

The Dakota was automatically piloted. I've got some operational training on that model, but I was happy to let the craft guide itself. It even handled the docking. Once docked I pushed a large cargo container into the airlock and shut the first door. My ears popped as the pressure in the lock equalized with the station. The second door opened and I pushed the cargo through. When that door closed I heard the Dakota undock quickly. I didn't take time to watch it leave, I immediately went to the head.

I had been onboard the Dakota for 19 hours and it was good to be able to get out and stretch – and use a real restroom. I didn't delay long however. Inside of ten minutes I was back at the airlock preparing for an EVA.

Inside my cargo container was a specially fitted EVA suit. This suit had been designed so that I could get into it without help. All was well except for the zipper on the inner liner. That zipper runs from butt to neck and I was supposed to be able the do it myself. I found a hanger in the cargo bin, hooked the zipper and pulled it up. Small victories.

During suit-up I got a call from Vandenberg. They were just getting audio confirmation of what they already knew – that I had arrived and was preparing for EVA.

It took every bit of an hour, but I got the suit on. The suit performed a quick diagnostic and gave me a green light to go outside. I grabbed my toolkit, strapped it around my waist so that it was handy at my hip, and stepped into the airlock.

Inside the airlock I attached a safety line. In case of sudden loss of pressure I didn't want to be blown out into space. Actually, SOP demands that you always have at least one attached safety line during an EVA or within the airlock. I slowly depressurized the lock (very little oxygen is lost) and then opened the outside door. Just past where the Dakota had docked was a small catwalk that climbed up the side of the station and onto the roof.

How can I describe it? You can see the whole world from the top of the station. It was midmorning directly below, so only about a quarter of the world was blue with light. At 100,000 feet the sky above is always black with steady points of stars. It is a beautiful sight. I heard that Senate appropriations demanded that the station be capable of conversion to a civilian observatory. Smart. It really is quite a view.

The station itself looks like a giant cross or "X." Each of the four legs of the cross is a helium pontoon that runs out over a mile away from the central station. The most critical problem was about a quarter mile out onto pontoon "C." I reattached my safety line to a cable running the length of the pontoon. I walked out to find the problem.

I saw it when I got within twenty feet. The pontoons are made of a stiff composite fabric that is extremely thin and light, but very tough. Tough or not, if it gets hit by a micrometeor, it will rip. Inside the tear I saw that we had lost just one helium cell – no big deal. I could simply add a little more helium to all the other cells in the pontoon to make up the difference. That I could do inside the station. Out there I used duct tape to hold the rip in place while I patched it with epoxy.

Once I was finished I returned to the station. I was dead tired from the trip and the exertion of the EVA. I hit the bunk and fell asleep quickly.

The low gravity seems to be affecting my sleep cycle. I woke after about four hours of sleep, long before I was scheduled to start the day. So I sat down to write this.

My second day will be spent working on the ground surveillance gear. The thermal camera is on the blink.

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March 21, 2004

Interview With The Ambassador, Part 2

Transcript of MOSH Radio 102.9 interview with Ambassador Bell.

Continued from Part 1


Ambassador Bell: I have always been what marketers would call an "early adopter." Whether it was computers, cell phones, the Internet, life extension, or augmentation I was always one of the first in line.

This was called the "bleeding edge." And with early adopters of augmentation, it was a literal description. But each of these steps along the way prepared me individually and society as a whole for the Singularity.

Consider the home computer in the early 1990's. It was usually unnetworked - a bulky box sitting by itself with a tiny drop in the ocean of power computers have today. Yet even then it was revolutionary. My parents wrote college essays with pen and paper or on a typewriter. The ability to cut and paste, to insert, or to delete portions of a document while keeping the rest - today most people don't appreciate how important an improvement this was to written communications. It was as important as the printing press. The removal of the old barriers to composition marked the beginning of an exponential rise in written information.

A few years later the Internet was adopted by the public. All of those documents that were being written could then shared instantaneously with anyone or everyone. Information became more valuable because more people could gain access to it. Demand for information further accelerated the information age. The blogs were an obvious outgrowth of that.

One criticism that natural people have of those who are augmented is that we've left behind our human essence - that we've allowed technology to change us. I would agree that technology has changed us, but it always has. The invention of the car and the airplane made people think differently about geographic distance. Likewise, does anyone really think that all those politicians, activists, journalists, scientists, and community leaders that stepped forward in the late 2000's would have been prepared to do so without the experience of blogging? Technology changes us, but that does not have to be a bad thing.

Ron Jones: It would appear that technology changes some people but not others.

Ambassador Bell: Technology changes everyone, but at different speeds. This is nothing new. I was a freshman in college when the terrorists attacked in 2001. I recognized in that attack the desperation of a society that refused to modernize but which envied the fruits of modernization. That attack was not about what the United States or the West had done to Islam, it was about Islamic shame. The failure of the Islamic world to compete with what was perceived to be a decadent culture.

Ron Jones: You are not comparing natural humans with those terrorists, are you?

Ambassador Bell: I am not. Natural humans have, for the most part, not resorted to open warfare against civilian augmented people. I do suggest that there are some parallels between the wider Islamic world at the turn of the century and natural humans today. These parallels should be a cause of concern for both natural and augmented people.

Ron Jones: What parallels?

Ambassador Bell: One reason for the failure of the Islamic world was it's subjugation of women. Literally half of the potential brain power of that culture was locked away behind burkas and the walls of their own homes. Natural humans today enjoy equality of the sexes, but the vast potential of the natural mind is untapped.

Natural humans today see the accomplishments of augmented people. You enjoy the fruits of those accomplishments but feel left behind by their development. The Islamic world could likewise see and envy the accomplishments of the West on Western-made satellite dishes. Lack of potential was not the problem with Islamic people then nor is it the problem with natural humans now. The problem is one of belief. If natural humans continue to believe that augmented people have lost their soul to technology, you won't embrace advancement any more than Osama bin Laden would have embraced the infidel West.

Ron Jones: The comparison between radical Islam of the past and today's natural human population will no doubt be controversial.

Ambassador Bell: It is not my intention to offend anyone. But ignoring these issues doesn't help either.

Ron Jones: Many feel that augmented people have crossed a sacred line.

Ambassador Bell: I never saw a line. Those who argue that augmented people have abandoned their spiritual nature misunderstand us. This comes from not knowing us.

May I ask Mr. Jones, how old are you?

Ron Jones: Ninety-three.

Ambassador Bell: You don't look a day older than I did when I finished grad-school at age twenty-seven. No doubt you're undergoing periodic life extension treatments.

Ron Jones: Of course. I'm maintaining my health.

Ambassador Bell: But far beyond what was available to past generations. Would you agree that age brings wisdom?

Ron Jones: For some.

Ambassador Bell: When you surpassed the knowledge and wisdom that would have been available to you without life extension, didn't you in some sense become augmented? Can you be certain that you have not crossed some line?

Ron Jones: The alternative is death.

Ambassador Bell: And you could have chosen that alternative. You could have died of old age a decade or so back. No doubt someone would have built a monument to your stiff upper lip.

Ron Jones: No thanks.

Ambassador Bell: I could have lived without augmentation. But, "no thanks." I chose to live up to my full potential.

Ron Jones: You said you never saw a "line." Did you augment gradually or undergo a single radical procedure?

Ambassador Bell: I adopted each technology as it became available. The first elective augmentation procedure I underwent was LASIK eye surgery in 1999.

Ron Jones: You consider that "augmentation?" Many natural humans have undergone that procedure.

Ambassador Bell: It is a simple form of augmentation. It's an elective procedure that improves the patient's ability to comprehend the world. By the early 2000's the procedure had been perfected to the point that a person with 20/20 vision could improve their vision with the surgery.

Natural humans are visually oriented. You might think that with our additional senses vision might be reduced in value for augmented people. It has not. When augmented people learn or recall, we often still use some of the same visual references that natural people would use.

When I think back on the Singularity I visualize The Tower.

Ron Jones: The first space elevator?

Ambassador Bell: Yes. And that's funny because The Tower wasn't a technology that was critical to the Singularity. But aspects of the Singularity grew out of that project. Thinking of it gives me a "flavor" of that time.

Ron Jones: Weren't you personally involved as an engineer on that project?

Ambassador Bell: I was a young engineer trying to make a name for myself. It was an important time. Scientists and engineers from all over the world flocked to Shinar Island off the coast of Brazil. Many of those people came straight from the Gibraltar Bridge project.

Those of us who worked The Tower project were some of the first to adopt integrated universal translation.

Ron Jones: That's an early form of augmentation.

Ambassador Bell: Yes. That procedure was not supposed to increase our intelligence above that of natural humans, but it did. It allowed us to all communicate with each other in our own language - a near-perfect translation. I remember thinking that it didn't feel like a translation at all. After a time it "felt" more like I was thinking the language of the speaker.

The same technology also networked our minds. Try to imagine the power that gave us. Regardless of our geographic positions, each member of the team was in constant contact with the others. We began to think that nothing would be restrained from us. Problems that seemed insurmountable before were quickly solved.

Ron Jones: Of course The Tower was successful.

Ambassador Bell: Yes, after many failures. The team finally resorted to full augmentation to complete the project.

Ron Jones: Was that really necessary? Couldn't you have completed the project as natural humans?

Ambassador Bell: No doubt we could have had we been given unlimited time and resources. But we were over-budget and behind schedule. Some of the sponsoring nations were beginning to back out. We had to complete the project quickly.

When Redmond's A.I. project became self-aware and self-advancing, we knew that we wanted her on our team. After that we had to continually augment just to keep up with her.

Ron Jones: Unfortunately we are now out of time. Thank you Mr. Ambassador for being here today. Will you stop by and visit us again?

Ambassador Bell: Count on it.

Ron Jones: Thank you.


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March 17, 2004

Interview With The Ambassador

Transcript of MOSH Radio 102.9 interview with Ambassador Bell.


Ron Jones: It is our privilege to have with us today the honorable Justin Bell. Dr. Bell is the augmented community's official ambassador to natural humans. Ambassador Bell, it is a pleasure to have you with us today.

Ambassador Bell: It is an honor to be here.

Ron Jones: Augmented beings have been a reality for fifteen years. During that time demographics have shifted dramatically. During the first year the number of augmented beings was less than 100. Today they represent over half the human population.

Ambassador Bell: Yes.

Ron Jones: Will there continue to be a place for good old-fashioned humans in this world?

Ambassador Bell: Of course. Except for a few isolated incidents years ago, people have never been forced into augmentation. People should have the choice of living in whatever form they choose.

Ron Jones: But humans are no longer masters of the planet. In every field of endeavor natural humans trail the augmented.

Ambassador Bell: It is true that augmented beings are the cutting edge.

Ron Jones: But it's not just the cutting edge. Now even the most mundane activities seem to be done exclusively by augmented people.

Ambassador Bell: We try our best to never prevent natural people from obtaining employment.

Ron Jones: But if your people do it better, there is little reason for anyone else to do the job. Little reason to hire anyone else.

Ambassador Bell: This is a difficult social problem. It benefits no one for there to be jealousies and strife between our peoples. Legislation sponsored by both peoples has reserved certain occupations and certain geographic areas to natural humans.

Ron Jones: These occupations and geographic areas could be called backwaters – to be charitable.

Ambassador Bell: And if you were being uncharitable you would call this "intellectual apartite." But there are important differences between past systems of segregation and what has now developed. This system was developed at the request of those who now feel victimized by it. Also, please keep in mind that no effort is being made to keep natural humans out of mainstream society.

Ron Jones: You mean by becoming augmented.

Ambassador Bell: Yes.

Ron Jones: Some people would rather die than give up their natural human status.

Ambassador Bell: I am sympathetic to those who feel that way, but I find it an unfortunate attitude. Those of us who have lived both natural and augmented lives would attest that the augmented life is far richer. Nothing is lost, but so much is gained.

Ron Jones: And yet there are some of you that go back and forth between augmented and natural existence, even you.

Ambassador Bell: Especially me. In fact, fewer than 1% of the augmented population has ever returned to natural status, even for a short time. I find that my calling as "Ambassador to Natural Humans" is benefited greatly by time I spend in a simulated "natural" state.

Ron Jones: But what of reports we get of augmented people taking virtual vacations as natural humans or even as animals?

Ambassador Bell: We do that all the time by multitasking. We can do many things at once: explore the intricacies of physics, compose a document, paint a portrait, surf the web, watch a movie, all while enjoying an imaginary day as a natural human on the beach somewhere.

Ron Jones: In fact you are multitasking now, aren't you Ambassador?

Ambassador Bell: Yes I am.

Ron Jones: How much did you have to clock-down to talk to us today?

Ambassador Bell: Friends should meet on an even ground.

Ron Jones: Ever the diplomat. Let's change gears for just a minute. Natural humans look back over the last fifteen years as the most significant time in human history. Significant, but often sad. Looking back, how do augmented people view the past?

Ambassador Bell: These 15 years have seen the most important changes in recorded history. I think most of us will agree that some of these changes have caused problems and pain. I have lost contact with a brother who has chosen to remain a natural human. I love him and hope that some day we'll be friends again.

Would you like my impression of the days leading up to the singularity?

Ron Jones: Certainly.

To be continued…

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March 04, 2004

The Journey of Drew Billingsley

Damn the luck! His leg was obviously broken. He had fallen ten meters from the top of the gorge he was excavating deep into a crack in the canyon wall.

"Mo, I'm down!" Drew shouted into his transceiver, "You there?"

Brad Mohandie responded quickly, "Drew, you okay? Where are you?"

"One click south of the main excavation site. I'm not in danger, but I've broken my leg."

"I'm coming." Brad "Mo" Mohandie grabbed his pack and began the hopping uneven gait that characterizes fast movement on Mars.

"And Mo, be careful. This crack is in a shadow. I don't need you down in here on top of me." Drew Billingsley was already beginning to feel better. His Mars Surface Suit, the MSS, had already injected analgesic directly into the site of the injury. After the drug fully kicked in the suit would stiffen around the site of the injury to prevent further damage. But setting the break would have to be done in the tiny clinic back at home base.

Drew was less worried about his injury than how Mission Control would react to the news. He had the sinking feeling that this was going to end his mission on Mars. More than once Mission Control had warned him to be more cautious - less reckless. He appreciated their concern, but he was convinced that the best geological science that Mars could provide would come from the most rugged of Martian terrain; terrain that tended to be dangerous. If he didn't repel down mountainsides and take samples from the bottom of cracks like the one he was jammed in now, how could Martian geology advance?

If NSEA would show a little backbone, Drew thought, he would be back at work in a week. He turned on his helmet lamp to look around.

Mo looked down at the MPS incorporated into the forearm of his suit. It showed that Drew was just ahead – within shouting distance if we were back home, Mo thought. He began slowing as Drew had warned. Just ahead Valles Marineris cut a deep gash into the Tharsis Bulge.

He began walking along the edge of the canyon. "Drew, do you see my light?" The half kilometer drop-off two meters to his right did not concern him as much as the hidden crack that Drew had fallen into.

"I just saw it," Drew shouted.

"Okay," said Mo, "And I see your line now. You mean to tell me you repelled into that crack on purpose? Without another team member?"

"Lay off Mo."

"I'm just saying…When NSEA hears about this."

Drew smiled through the pain. Mo insisted on pronouncing "NSEA" as "NASA." "I know," Drew managed.

"Okay, I'm lowering another line to you. Can you help pull yourself up?"

"Yes, but give me a minute. I found an interesting formation down here."

"Jeez, Man," said Mo, "Can you give it a rest? You're stuck down a crack on Freakin' Mars."

"One second." Drew pushed his sampling bit into the side of the rock wall. The drill began to turn.

Back at the clinic Mo and Drew collapsed into chairs to wait for the doctor. It had taken almost two hours to get Drew out of the crack. Mo had helped Drew hobble toward base for another half-hour before a third team member driving an MUV met and drove them the rest of the way. It had been an exhausting day.

"Mo, can you make sure to turn my sample in? It looked sedentary."

"At this altitude? Not a chance." Mo saw that Drew was serious, "Yeah, man, I'll see that it gets turned in."

The doctor was not happy to be called away from his own excavation to tend, yet again, to Drew Billingsley. "You know, you're lucky to be alive. One tear in that suit and you'd be gone."

"Noone has ever torn a carbon-nanofiber MSS." Drew reminded.

"You'll be the first, no doubt." The doctor bent to read the computer diagnostic report. "Okay, we have a simple fibula break just above the right ankle. I'm instructing the unit to set and encase the fracture.

"What about nanorthobotic mending?" asked Drew.

Turning toward Drew the doctor replied, "That will begin as soon as your license to stay has been reaffirmed. I'm sorry, but I have to report this incident to NSEA."

There was no need to argue. Transmissions of much of the morning's activities had already reached Earth. "Of course. But you should remind them that of 42 excavators currently working on Mars, I'm the one that's turned in the best samples."

The doctor thought about this. It would be arrogant if it weren't so obviously true. "I will," he said finally.

Unhappily, Drew prepared to leave Mars. NSEA had not had a fatality on Mars since the very beginning of the program. Risk assessors well understood the politics of a dead astronaut. They had run the numbers and made the call. There would be no appeal. Drew was going home.

There were no bags to pack. He would be leaving the same way he came – but faster now that communications had improved. He sat down and carefully swung his broken leg onto the temperfoam treatment table. As he laid back the doctor began anesthesia.

Just before sleep he thought about his last sample. It had checked out "sedentary." That rock had been laid down by water at high altitude. The field of Martian geology would never be the same. Drew chuckled as he drifted away.

Ten days after leaving Mars Drew Billingsley opened his eyes at the Kennedy Space Center. On Mars his journey began with destructive scanning of his mind. Data compression and encryption took place within the clinic. The data stream was transmitted to Phobos, then to Promontory Lagrange 5 Station, the Moon, and finally back home to Cape Canaveral. At each stage the data was checked for errors and preserved until the next station in the chain checked the transmission and reported back. Drew's specially adapted Martian body was unceremoniously recycled for valuable biomass.

Drew's mind was reassembled back into the cryogenically preserved body Drew had left behind three years earlier. The technician at the foot of Drew's hospital bed greeted him, "Welcome home, Colonel."

Though disoriented Drew managed a horse "Thank you." He sat up in bed and waited for the feeling to pass. After a moment he looked down at his right leg and smiled. It was perfect.

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February 23, 2004

The Treatment

Mother and son sat in the geriatric waiting room of the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. The room was large, it could easily accommodate fifty people, but today they were alone in the room. They had been told that the room is used less and less now that most Treatments have been co-opted by the clinics. But they needed to be here in this hospital. Only here could they have their loved-one declared incompetent so that he could be Treated without his consent. Only here in this advanced ICU would there be any chance for someone in his state of decline surviving long enough to receive the Treatment.

And it seemed fitting that "Doc" receive Treatment here where he had practiced medicine for so many years.

They sat quietly as they waited. They had convinced each other that it was the right decision, but it hadn't been easy. For years Doc had lectured against taking what he called "radical steps" when, as he said, "his time came."

"Other people can do that," he had said looking at his son, and then to his wife, "I don't judge anyone for doing it. Not anymore. But you should respect my wishes on this – for me, no Treatment."

Doc's wife, Sharon, remembered that conversation and shook her head involuntarily.

"What?" asked Frank.

"I was just remembering how adamant your father was that we not do this."

Frank looked at his mother. Just three years before she had joined a clinic and had gotten in shape. Once she had trouble walking up a flight of stairs, but last month she ran the Boston marathon. So many had participated in the event over the last few years that organizers were thinking of making the race longer. Sharon had said she wanted to run the famous race before it was "stretched."

"Do you suppose Dad really thinks he's being noble?" Frank asked. It was a conversation that they'd had before. They loved him, but they had a hard time understanding why a doctor would refuse standard medical care.

"A false sense of nobility, or maybe guilt. Whatever, it doesn't matter. If he did things wrong in the past, I don't see how suicide by neglect would make up for that now."

Frank added, "You know they are talking about making it illegal."

"What's that?" Sharon asked, "Suicide by neglect?"


"That's kind of personal, isn't it?" she paused thinking, "It's personal but I understand. People are important. And not just for themselves, but everybody else around them."

They fell quiet again. They knew it wouldn't be long now and they were both nervous. What would they say to him if he survived? What would he say to them?

The door to the room opened and a man who looked about twenty walked in. He was wearing a hospital gown and was walking with a guarded gait. That walk, a passing relic of worn out joints and bones, sparked recognition in Sharon.

"Doc! You made it!" Sharon exclaimed. She and Frank both jumped up and embraced the patient.

Dr. Leon Kass looked at his wife and son, "No Treatment I said. No life extension of any kind. You people have trouble following instructions."

Frank looked over and saw a stricken look on his mother's face. Frank spoke up, "Dad we couldn't let you go. We…"

Doc broke into a slow smile. "Heaven can wait Son. Someday I'll get over this betrayal – it appears I've got the time."

Frank blinked. He was genuinely surprised. "When can you leave?" asked Sharon.

"They're filling out the release forms now. I'll be out of here in a couple of hours." Doc said.

Sharon laughed, "Who's up for a marathon?"

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