We know that over the course of two centuries, the environmental consequences of runaway industrial development and uncontrolled patterns of consumption caused Earth to became unlivable and irreparable. But for some reason, governments and people, long at war with one another over resources, finally and suddenly acted in concert to preserve humanity. No one knows why this happened for sure. Maybe there was some greater and imminent disaster. A rogue planet? Gray goo or some other runaway technology? Further catastrophic changes in the Earth's environment? Sudden, deadly changes in solar output? Mounting evidence suggesting Earth was in the path of the death beam of a hypernova?
There had to be something to provoke the change. And a Second Great Leap Forward was required. Humanity had not gotten far into space. Technologies used to create the island communities and orbital refuges of the very wealthy and privileged suddenly became part of the material basis for the design and construction of long-range, intergenerational starfaring vessels. These elite technologies were combined in new creative ways with technologies designed to create a sustainable eco-commons for humanity, such as the Arcosanti Project and Fuller Design Science.
Fleets and fleets of generation ships were constructed in near Earth orbit. Whole populations were moved off world and onto the space arks. Worlds within worlds took flight. When the fleets of The First Diaspora left the Sol System, the vessels had many different designs. Some had Buckminster domes outside the main hull as autonomous habitats for the human supercargo and diverse biota; these designs were often cribbed from the few remaining off-planet biological reserves which had been preserved in final, desperate acts of violent resistance to the corporations' and Earth governments' disinterest and abuse of the environment. Other designs sheltered crew, supercargo, and biota within the main hull of the vessel.
The generation ships were designed to be self-repairing and were typically festooned with redundant backup systems, repair modules, failsafe technologies (such as reserve crew in hybernation), and evacuation systems. They were built to last.
While a few of the great vessels had mutinies while still near home, and turned back to the poisoned Earth, many more experienced a myriad of challenges and disasters in the extrasolar Deep. More on that next time.
The Sol System at the time of The First Diaspora:
- Technology 0: Exploring the system
- Environment -1: Survivable world (but the trajectory is toward E -2)
- Resources -2: Needs imports (environmental decline and excessive global consumption)
- Most of us will not survive
- Now that it is too late, let's work together
- The Diaspora Project is our last, best hope