A few months ago a small spacecraft landed in the remote mountains of Colorado, leaving two people behind. One was from Earth; the other was a human teacher from a future world. This is the story of their journey through time and space—uncovering the past, present, and future of human thought and scientific achievement. It is a journey that explores a new perspective on human science and spirituality--one that might hold the key to solving some of the Earth's most pressing problems.
Letter from Tomorrow
by JC Clarke
April 23, 2030
The first day.
After weeks of delays, launch came as a welcome relief. I have long since severed all ties to this planet. I don’t fear what is to come. I’m ready.
My only companion on this journey will be the navigating computer ISO 6. It’s really more his mission than mine. I’ve already turned control of the ship over to him. It is only his incredible computational and observational abilities that will allow us to avoid space debris and other random interstellar objects; at this speed striking an object as small as a grain of sand could exert enough force to damage or destroy our interstellar dust shields and potentially even destroy our craft. But beyond these complicated navigational tasks, he will also monitor my vital signs during hibernation and wake me up once a month for food and exercise. Traveling at speeds averaging 215 million kilometers per hour, or approximately one-fifth the speed of light, we should reach our destination in about two hundred and thirty-five years.
I will enter hibernation as soon as the results of my OSC tests are complete. I will be unconscious and my metabolism will be artificially slowed. With these precautions I should be able to survive the trip and reach the solar system circling the star 18 Scorpii before I die of old age.
I have decided to keep this journal separate from my pilot’s log. It will be a personal record of my travels. In it I can record thoughts and feelings that I would not feel comfortable sending back to the scientists on Earth.
April 26, 2030
Time is moving very quickly. I have found ISO to be a reliable pilot, even though he’s not much of a conversationalist. All systems are normal, and tonight I will enter hibernation for the first time. I feel some apprehension, but I’ve practiced the steps so many times back on Earth I feel like I could do it in my sleep.
It took a lot of convincing to get them to put a human being on board this flight. Originally the plan was for ISO to make the trip alone. But this is just too incredible an opportunity to pass up. I could well be the first human to make contact with extraterrestrial life. If all goes as planned, it will definitely be worth the trouble.
I wish that it was possible for another human to make the journey with me, but my life support systems are already stretched to the limit. If there is not a habitable planet circling 18 Scorpii and I have to return home without replenishing my supplies, it is doubtful that I will survive.
May 16, 2031
It seems strange to write the date. ISO is set on Eastern Standard Time. It just seems so arbitrary when you’re out here floating in an endless night. Because of the rate at which we’re moving, ISO’s clock is already slightly out of synch with the clocks on Earth anyway. I’ve been awake and out of hibernation for a total of only about ninety-six hours and yet just over a year has gone by on Earth. I often sit and wonder what has gone on back there. I can send messages to Earth, but they won’t get there for months. We’re too far away and moving too quickly to receive any messages in return.
April 25, 2150
This is the halfway point, and we’re still way ahead of schedule. We’re getting close enough now to get some pretty clear pictures of our destination. Just as we’d hoped, the fourth planet in the 18 Scorpii solar system shines in a pale blue-green. Only slightly larger than Earth, it is our best hope of finding life in this solar system.
We have been following the path of a very strong radio signal that was first detected by SETI in December of the year 2016. Scientists were able to determine that it emanated from the star 18 Scorpii, which is a very dim (sixth magnitude) star in the constellation Scorpio. It’s only visible to the naked human eye in the very best of conditions; most people in most places on Earth would need a telescope or high-powered binoculars to see it. Based on its consistent source and modulation this radio signal was quickly identified by SETI scientists as a potential extra-terrestrial transmission. When it was discovered that the signal contained a complicated code sequence, scientists became convinced that it was certainly not a natural phenomenon and that it was most definitely a message from another world. I only wish we could decipher the code and interpret the message. But I suppose that’s too much to ask, even of a supercomputer like ISO.
March 2, 2230
Next month we will have been underway for two hundred years. Two hundred years. It looks so strange when I write it like that. To tell you the truth I don’t know what to think anymore. I’m beginning to feel very small, and very alone.
I wake up in a daze and eat that awful slop they packed for me, going through my exercises automatically, knowing that I have to move in order to avoid complete muscle atrophy. I’ve stopped sending messages back to Earth, it just seems so pointless now. It’s strange, sometimes I feel like I should be able to just open the door and step outside. But when I look out my tiny window all I see are stars. And space. Emptiness.
During those few torturous hours when I’m awake all I can think about is getting some sleep. Even when I’m awake I live in a dream state. Sometimes I’ll hear myself talking to someone, and then suddenly realize that I’m alone. My voice sounds strange as it echoes through the empty bowels of the ship. It reverberates with a cold metallic hollow sound that doesn’t seem quite human.
I took a nap during my wake time just now and had a dream about Laura. I dated her for a few years back in college. The really weird part is that after two hundred years she has to be long dead of old age and yet thanks to my hibernation I have aged less than three years.
I don’t see how I can believe ISO when he tells me we’ve been underway for two hundred years. Two centuries. I’ve been awake for less than two years of that time, since one third of my non-hibernation periods are spent in natural sleep. Still, I feel much older than I did when I left. Much older, and much more tired. For the first time I’m beginning to doubt if I’m up to this.
November 3, 2232
I’ve been out of hibernation for seventy-two straight hours now—three times as long as I should at this point in the journey. I know that this is a very risky drain on my life-support systems, but the thought of putting that needle in my arm and climbing back into that reeking Hydrogen sulfide chamber makes me sick. I just can’t bring myself to do it anymore.
I have spent the majority of my time pacing the ten-foot cell that I’m imprisoned in. Outside my window is an endless void. The stars shine steadily, mocking me. Every time I wake up it’s the same, nothing ever changes. We’re just floating through space.
How do I know ISO is functioning properly? What if we’re off course? I have checked and rechecked our navigation figures and we appear to be heading in the right direction, but without any sort of recognizable reference points, how can I know for sure?
I have resumed sending my monthly reports back to Earth, but how do I know that there’s anyone there to receive them? I never imagined that it was possible to feel so utterly alone. I would give anything to see the sun, or talk to a human being again. According to my calculations we are still thirty-one years away from our destination. I am trapped here. I have no choice but to go on.
August 25, 2243
I just had a dream that I was on the most beautiful planet in the galaxy. I was standing in a lush green forest listening to the birds sing and hearing the rustle of the wind in the trees. I could feel the warm sun on my back, and I felt so alive. Waking up in this cold dark place was almost more than I could bear, but the dream did give me some hope. It reminded me of the reason for this mission.
I can only pray that when I arrive at 18 Scorpii there is a habitable planet there. If not, I will have to turn around and go home. If that happens, I don’t think I can take it. I need to see the sun. I need to get out of here.
February 10, 2250
ISO has picked up a second radio signal, one that wasn’t there before. We are still unable to interpret the message, but it is similar in frequency to the first signal, and is coming from the exact same location—the fourth planet of the 18 Scorpii solar system. I am no longer afraid. I know that this message was sent to us. Whoever or whatever is living on the planet must know that we’re coming. I can’t sit still I’m so excited. I keep looking out the window to see if I can catch a glimpse of the planet, even though I know it’s still two light years away. For the first time I feel like our goal is in reach. If it weren’t for the Hydrogen sulfide in the metabolic chamber I know I’d never be able to sleep. I am standing at the threshold of a whole new world.
October 18, 2258
We are within two years of our destination. I gathered a new batch of pictures today, and they are incredible. The planet’s surface is approximately eighty percent water. The land is very green, which indicates that photosynthesis is taking place. There should be plenty of breathable oxygen there.
We continue to receive both radio signals, along with several other much fainter signals that ISO has detected. Without a doubt there is some form of intelligent life on this planet, which means that this mission was not in vain.
October 4, 2260
We have finally arrived. We have been in orbit around the planet for three days now, and we have confirmed that there is intelligent life on the surface. We can now detect radio signals on many frequencies. At night we have been able to locate several clusters of light on the surface that must be cities of some kind. They are small when compared to the megalopolises we have on Earth, but it is definitely a good sign. I’m still not sure what level of technology these beings have achieved. I am planning to land just outside the largest of the cities, in a nearby forest. I feel like a child on Christmas morning. I’ve waited my whole life for this.
October 5, 2260
We’ve landed safely. Initial testing confirms that the atmosphere is breathable. There are high levels of oxygen and relatively small amounts of carbon dioxide. From my vantage point inside the ship I can see hundreds of species of plants that no human being has ever seen before. We appear to have landed in a rain forest. It’s midsummer and a light steam is rising from the rich soil beneath a canopy of deep green. I saw a flying animal and ISO managed to capture an image of it—it looks almost more like a bat than a bird; it does not appear to have any feathers. Yet I have also seen insects around the ship that appear to be just like those found on Earth. It would appear on first examination that life on this planet is surprisingly similar to that of the Earth considering that we’re more than forty-five light years away.
So far we have not been contacted by intelligent life of any kind. It will take ISO some time to confirm that the environmental conditions are sufficient to support me, but I already know what the results will be. In less than an hour I will leave the ship and explore the nearby areas. My only regret is that there is no one here to share this with. I want to tell everyone. We are not alone.
October 6, 2260
This planet is amazing. The forest is full of the most fascinating plants and animals I have ever seen. I had my first real encounter with extraterrestrial life today. There are large animals that appear to be similar to our apes living in the tops of the trees. They are covered with a thin coat of gray or black fur, are about the size of a chimpanzee, and sit upon thick, almost immobile legs—on the ground they move by swinging on their long arms like crutches. They have two elbows that both seem to be able to bend freely in all directions, dividing their arms into three long sections, instead of only two. They have long thin fingers at the end of their arms and have an amazing reach—the arms of the largest are over six feet from shoulder to finger tips. When they sit, they often fold their arms across their chest, tucking their secondary forearms neatly beneath their crossed arms. They are not afraid of me, and I have been able to get very close to them. Normally they move quite slowly, but they are capable of moving through the trees at amazing speeds if startled.
I still have not encountered the beings that sent the radio signal to Earth, they have not shown themselves to me. In the meantime I am exploring the area around the ship and having the time of my life. The number and variety of unknown plants and animals in this forest is incredible. Life seems to hold on tenaciously to every available niche and crevice. I could easily spend a thousand years exploring just this one forest.
October 7, 2260
The second day of my exploration. The swingmonkeys, as I have come to call them, have taken an interest in my ship. This morning when I woke up there were several of them sitting in the nearby trees, casually eating leaves and following my every movement.
I decided to make a thorough search of the area around my camp. This was when I discovered my first proof of advanced technology. As I made my way through the thick foliage I came across a road. The material that it was constructed from was unfamiliar to me. It was light gray in color but much more solid than cement. In fact, I was unable to remove even a tiny sample of the material, and damaged my rock hammer trying. All at once several vehicles flew by in a blur of color and light; they must have been moving close to one hundred and fifty miles an hour. They didn’t seem to notice me, or at any rate didn’t stop. Tomorrow I will hike toward the city. Perhaps then I will finally meet someone.
October 8, 2260
I set out toward the city as soon as the sun came up. A large gray swingmonkey with a bushy white beard—Grandpa, as I have come to call him—followed me for a long time, swinging slowly and deliberately from branch to branch through the thick forest with his long, flexible arms. At some point we must have crossed into another male’s territory. The second individual—a big gray fellow with dark black markings on his back and an imposing growl—suddenly swung into view from the twisted branch of a nearby tree. It looked as though Grandpa was going to swing straight into him, but at the last second he gathered his momentum with his powerful arms and with a deft twist of his flexible second elbow he changed his trajectory and fairly flew to a branch that was nearly thirty feet away. The unimpressed rival stood on his perch atop a thick branch and bellowed triumphantly as we moved away from him.
I marveled at the wonder of nature. What an amazing advantage the swingmonkeys have gained in the top of the thick forest canopy with their incredible reach and flexibility. Their motions while making their way through the jungle are so fluid that they sometimes appear to be swimming through the air. Gentle yet unpredictable omnivores, their evolutionary path, though taking place hundreds of light years away, has not been all that different from the great apes found on Earth. To see animals that are apparently so closely related and yet so many light years apart is a surprise—perhaps the appearance of life is not nearly so random a process as we have previously imagined.
I was sitting next to a small stream watching several bright fish dart back and forth through the crystal clear water when I saw her. She seemed to appear out of nowhere, and when I looked up she was watching me. I was surprised to see that she looked human. She had long straight brown hair, big brown eyes, and a bright smile that revealed a straight row of bright white teeth. I had been planning for this moment my entire life, and yet I found myself completely speechless. Calmness radiated from her like sunshine, and at once I felt entirely at ease.
She never spoke a word. Her message came to me as a soft voice almost whispering inside my head. “Welcome to Eowelmn. We’ve been expecting you.”
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"The Blue Marble" Copyright 2006, NASA