Gaia and the Steppingstones

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Quotes of the Day

Astronomers suspect that the Oort Cloud
could extend as far as three light-years
from our solar system.
That is more than halfway to the nearest stars,
the Centauri triple star system,
which is slightly more than four light-years from Earth.
If we assume that the Centauri star system
is also surrounded by a sphere of comets,
then there might be a continuous trail of comets
connecting it to Earth.
It may be possible to establish a series of refueling stations,
outposts, and relay locations on a grand interstellar highway.
Instead of leaping to the next star in one jump,
we might cultivate the more modest goal
of "comet hopping" to the Centauri system.
This thoroughfare could become a cosmic Route 66.
― Michio Kaku, The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality and Our Destiny Beyond Earth
Missions to near-Earth objects (NEOs)
are key destinations in NASA's new "Flexible Path" approach.
NEOs are also of interest for science,
for the hazards they pose,
and for their resources.
We emphasize the importance of ultra-low delta-v
from LEO to NEO rendezvous
as a target selection criterion,
as this choice can greatly increase the payload to the NEO.
Few such ultra-low delta-v NEOs are currently known;
only 65 of the 6699 known NEOs (March2010) have delta-v <4.5 km/s,
2/3 of typical LEO-NEO delta-v.
Even these are small and hard to recover.
Other criteria - short transit times,
long launch windows,
a robust abort capability, and
a safe environment for proximity operations -
will further limit the list of accessible objects.
Potentially there are at least an order of magnitude more
ultra-low delta v NEOs but,
to find them all on a short enough timescale (before 2025)
requires a dedicated survey in the optical or mid-IR,
optimally from a Venus-like orbit
because of the short synodic period for NEOs in that orbit,
plus long arc determination of their orbits.
―Martin Elvis et al, Ultra-Low Delta-v Objects and the Human Exploration of Asteroids, arXiv:1105.4152
We bring the new trees!
The new trees make life's next great leap.
The new trees take root on barren worlds.
And ... we grow new homes!
Bringing barren worlds to life,
Colonies where life's upward spiral supports all spacefaring creatures.
― Viventibus Mundos Ritual
I think I would rather save the city than be the glorious hero.
― You said this in the story, Civis and Anne, right here in the Metaphoriuminomicon

Contemplation for the Day

Let us imagine

You are sitting astride your elephant on the beach of a small tropical island at night. A shallow river extends in all directions, its waters rushing between and over rocks. Downstream a large island is on fire, flames consuming its whole surface and stretching skyward. You feel the warmth of that distant fire on your skin and your elephant feels it too and finds it soothing. The light of the fire illuminates the beach you are standing on and six other islands which you can see scattered about the rushing river.

The nearest one is just a bare battered rock significantly smaller than the island you are on. It is so near that you are pretty certain you could make a running jump and get to it. But it would be dangerous. The river water is cold and turbulent, and falling in and being swept away would be deadly. You dismiss the thought and go back to enjoying the fantastic view and the warmth of the distant fire. You turn to look at your own island which is a beautiful garden.

Among the green foliage and pretty flowers, you notice a blue-green woman standing, her arms crossed, looking displeased with you. You glance around to see if it might be someone else standing near you whom she is upset with, but you are alone on the beach. “Gaia, what is the matter?”

Gaia glances at the nearby rocky island, “Why are you satisfied to stay here?” she asks, “You could be out exploring.”

“But this is such a beautiful island? I want to explore it. I am happy just making it more beautiful.” You say, upset at the idea of trying to jump to the bare rocky island behind you.

“You have explored this island enough already!” Gaia exclaims, “You have been living here all of your life, since your childhood.”

“But I don’t know if I can make it to that rock. It would be such a giant leap!” you protest.

“You’re the one with the big brain, Little One;” Gaia laughs, “Figure out a way.”

You look at the rushing water and at the beach and think about how you could make the jump easier. “Maybe, if I put a rock in the water right near the beach and practiced jumping to that rock for a while, I might be able to gain confidence in my ability to jump.”

You find you can’t move any of the rocks that are big enough for your elephant to stand on, so you build a platform out of aluminum and place it in the water so that there is just a short gap between it and the beach. You jump onto the platform and back a few times. At first it is scary, with the water rushing by under you as you leap, so cold and fast. But with each jump you do gain confidence and it becomes easier.

You spend some time looking at the rocky island and it seems so hostile. You worry that once you get there, if you can’t get back, you will go hungry. You turn back to the garden on your island and find Gaia, “Gaia, I am pretty certain I can jump to that island, but I will need food when I get to that island and there isn’t any there. What if I can’t jump back. I will starve!” you complain.

Gaia laughs, “I think I can help you there, Little One," she says, and she leans forward and shakes her long hair with her hands held out under it. As she shakes her head, seeds and fruits and nuts rain down out of her hair into her hands. Thousands of different kinds, maybe millions, “Here, Little One, grow your own food when you get there.” She offers you the seeds.

You take them but are still worried, “That island is so rocky and so bare, I worry that nothing will grow there.”

Gaia laughs again, “You’re the one with the big brain, Little One,” She laughs again, “You will figure it out.”

So, you look at the rocky island and at your little platform and you think to yourself, “Maybe if I practice growing plants from seed on my platform, I will be able to grow them on the island when I get there. So, you jump again to your platform and try growing seeds there. At first your seeds all die. But you keep trying and soon you grow a few spindly plants, but they provide less food than the seeds would have given you if you had just eaten them. Then, as you learn the art of gardening on your small barren platform, you grow better plants and soon you can feed yourself on the platform without returning to the beach and the island. You reach into the DNA of the little seeds and tweak it and the plants grow better still. Now you feel ready.

You return to Gaia and say, “I am ready now Gaia. If I don’t return, take care...”

She laughs, “Take care, Little One, I hope your travels go well.”

You pack up as many seeds as you can and ride your elephant up to the top of the beach. You give a cry and charge down the beach and leap out onto your platform, using it as a jumping off point, and leap again out over the churning waters. As you land on the rocky island you stumble but the landing sticks and you come to a stop among the grey and white rocks. The heat from the burning island is more intense probably because the bare rocks absorb the heat and store it before re-radiating up into your elephant’s underbelly. You immediately set about planting your seeds and growing your plants. Soon they are growing. It is more difficult than it was on your little platform but you tweak their DNA some more and you learn to make soil from the rock dust and ice that you find on the island and soon you are eating a healthy diet of crops.

After a while, you notice that there is a woman lying among the rocks. Here skin is grey and white and matches the rocks, camouflaging her very well so that you are not surprised that you didn’t notice her before. You go to her, “Are you alright?” you ask.

“I am good, Little One,” she replies, “now that you are here.” You notice a tiny fringe of green hair on her head.

“Who are you?” you ask,

“My name is Selene, Little One.” She says, “I am the Goddess of this little island and I am very glad you are making a garden here. Please make it bigger!”

So, in order to please this new Goddess, you begin building greenhouses and planting them with crops. You keep building them bigger and planting greater and greater varieties of crops and you see the fringe of green hair on Selene’s head thicken and her body begins to have green tinges. She seems happier and happier everyday and that makes you happy too.

Soon you are growing more crops than you can feed yourself just to have the seed to plant in new and bigger green houses. You start feeding livestock your excess crops and find that the manure from your livestock lets you grow more and greater varieties of crops in the green houses you already have. Selene looks really happy, but one day she comes to you and says, “Can you make your greenhouses wilder? I want life on my island to be free, to interact in as many ways as possible, I want the chaos of a truly complex garden.”

So, you build larger greenhouses still and plant them by almost randomly spreading seed and almost randomly letting animals free in them. You keep working at it and after a while almost the whole island is covered in greenhouses and is blooming with wild planted gardens. You find that the gardens supply enough food for you and you almost stop growing crops.

Then one day as you rest with your elephant by a cool pond in one of the wildest greenhouses, you notice that Selene is standing in the garden and she has turned so green that she is almost perfectly camouflaged among the leaves. She even has a big pregnant belly like Gaia. But she is no longer looking happy. She is watching you with her arms crossed.

You go to her and ask, “What is the matter, Selene?”

She replies, “Why are you satisfied to stay here?” She points to a distant stone upriver, “You could be out exploring.”

The familiarity of the complaint keeps you from even considering responding. You look at the distant rock and know that with your current skill, you could never leap to it. So, you build a new aluminum platform and practice leaping to it again. You keep placing it further out and find that you can leap further and further the more you practice. Sometimes you are leaping so far that you are in the air for so long that you learn to build a little stainless-steel platform to bring with you and on it you grow plants to eat while you are leaping.

Soon you know that you will have no trouble leaping to that distant tiny rock. You go to Selene and she gives you seeds from her greenhouses and you say goodbye and she says, “Take care, Little One, I hope your travels go well.”

You leap to the little rock and find that it is significantly further from the burring island and so it is colder. But you build greenhouses which trap the warmth from the burning island and heat up and then you begin growing crops there. This time is easier because you know how and because you already have seeds that are good at growing in greenhouses on rocky islands. There isn’t much room here so you learn to grow more in less space, and you don’t let the green houses go wild because you need every bit of food you can get just to feed yourself from them.

After a while, you notice that there is a woman lying among the rocks. Here skin is grey and black and matches the rocks, camouflaging her very well so that you are not surprised you didn’t notice her before. You go to her, “Are you alright?” you ask.

“I am good, Little One,” she replies, “now that you are here.” You notice a tiny fringe of green hair on her head.

“Who are you?” you ask.

“My name is 1999 AO10 but you can call me Aoten, Little One.” She says, “I am the Goddess of this little island and I am very glad you are making a garden here. Please make it bigger!”

“But there is so little space here.” You say sadly,” I won’t be able to grow much more.” You see the disappointment on her face and so you say, “But I will try.”

You look at the island and think, what if I used the rock to make metal and build platforms stretching out into the river. Then I could build greenhouses on them and have way more space to grow gardens. So, you do this and soon, although the space on Aoten’s little island is still much less than it was on Selene’s you have room for wild greenhouses and not just crop greenhouses. Aoten looks happier and happier. Her skin turns green and her hair grows long until it is longer than her body. And she gets a big pregnant belly like Selene and Gaia. And then one day she doesn’t look happy anymore.

“What is the matter?” you ask.

She replies, “Why are you satisfied to stay here?” She points to a distant reddish island upriver, “You could be out exploring.”

You look out over the river and see that the burning island and Gaia’s and Selene’s islands have gotten further away. They are just pale blue dots on the horizon. And Aoten’s Island has gotten colder yet. But this reddish island, which was so far away when you looked out from Gaia’s beach, is now quite close by comparison. So, you load up with seeds and prepare your elephant and make the leap and land on it without much difficulty.

The new red island is colder still than Aoten’s island and you find that, although, in many ways, it is much easier to grow plants on this island, there are different difficulties. You must develop new techniques to turn its red rock dust into fertile soil. But there is a lot a space and a lot more materials to build green houses with. And soon you have all the food you could want and are building wild greenhouses.

After a while, you notice that there is a woman lying among the rocks. Here skin is red and matches the rocks, camouflaging her very well so that you are not surprised you didn’t notice her before. You go to her, “Are you alright?” you ask.

“I am good, Little One,” she replies, “now that you are here.” You notice a tiny fringe of green hair on her head.

“Who are you?” you ask,

“My name is Ares, Little One.” She says, “I am the Goddess of this island and I am very glad you are making a garden here. Please make it bigger and wilder and free it from these greenhouses. Wilderness wants to be free.”

It takes a lot of tweaking DNA; in fact, you must write whole sections of DNA from scratch, but you find that you can create plants that can grow on this island without greenhouses. The plants you develop almost grow their own greenhouses. Soon your new plants are spreading across the surface of the island all on their own. You are no longer forced to build green houses for them. Ares is happier and greener, and you are pleased with your work.

But as with the previous goddesses, again there comes a time when Ares is no longer happy and she says, “Why are you satisfied to stay here?” She points to a distant dark island upriver, “You could be out exploring.”

And so, you leap from island to island, growing wild gardens and pleasing local goddesses and exploring. You find islands which are smaller and larger, rockier and icier, and every goddess has a different name, Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, Hygiea, and Euphrosyne

You come to a gigantic island of tall cliffs and orange fogs and you don’t dare venture onto it. But there are many smaller but still substantial islands around it and on those islands, you meet goddesses named, Europa and Ganymede and Io and Calisto and many more and you garden their islands and please them.

As you venture further and further upriver, the burning island gets further away, and it gets colder and darker. But on you go. Leaping and gardening and learning. Your plants now grow their own greenhouses and don’t need your help at all, even on the most barren of rocky islands. You carry with you breeds of little animal who search each island and find and process and bring various fertilizers to the plants. On small islands, the plants even grow their own platforms, stretching out over the river, to create the space they need to be truly wild.

You meet a Goddess named Titan and on her foggy island you teach plants to grow in ponds of cold oil, a skill they do not need on any other island you visit.

You lose track of how long it has been since you left Gaia, but you never tire of it. Every island is a new challenge, every goddess so pleased by your efforts, every time you learn a new way of growing your plants, it is a delight. Have you been working for years, centuries, decades, eons? It doesn’t matter. You just want to keep at it.

There comes a time when you land on a new reddish icy island and find your plants are already there. You are confused. The already green, already pregnant goddess approaches you and demands, “Who are you and what right do you have to come trespassing on my island?”

“These are my plants,” you cry, “and I have come to tend them. Who are you?”

“I am Sedna, goddess of this island,” the goddess replies, “and these are my plants and I can tend them myself, thank you. They arrived here all on their own some time ago and have sent many seeds upstream by means I do not understand. Soon every goddess on the river will have their own plants. We don’t need you to come and tend our gardens.”

It takes you a while to convince her that you can be useful if she allows you to stay a while but after that your life is different. She is right. Your plants have learned to spread from island to island all by themselves and as you jump from island to island you are only exploring and not needed as a gardener anymore. Now you are truly far from the burning island and it is very cold. But the greenhouses of the plants have grown thick translucent insulation and so are very warm.

You find it wonderful to explore this stark cold land and you carry with you, samples of DNA from all the new varieties you meet and trade some of the samples for the right to stay awhile when goddesses will not welcome you otherwise.

There comes a time when you notice that you have come to a place where the river barely flows toward the burning island. The burning island is far behind you, a tiny pinprick of light. But in the other direction the river also flows downstream toward another burning island, a smaller reddish one and you head towards it jumping from island to island, trading, exploring and wondering at the variety of life that precedes you.

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