Early Interstellar Colonists

Colony Ship - midsize
Image from Anders Sandberg
Early Colony Ship

For a civilization to leave the comfort and security of its homeworld and embark on the exploration and colonisation of space is an act of evolutionary heroism and majesty equalled only by the event of the first aquatic life crawling out of the ocean and colonising dry land.
— Peer Dorsey Cabot, A History of Civilization

Without the vision and sacrifices of the hardy and courageous colonists, humankind would never have left the safety of Earth. Leaving aside the early government and corporate projects during the 1st century a.t. (21st century c.e.), which were very cost intensive and only involved very few individuals, six main phases of deep space can be discerned:
  1. the Interplanetary Age,
  2. the Nanotech Window also called The Solsys Golden Age,
  3. the mostly early First Federation period of private initiative,
  4. the Middle to Late First Federation period of megacorp colonisation,
  5. the Age of Expansion,
  6. and the post-Expansion Age Adventurers.
Each of these was characterised by distinct sociopolitical and technological circumstances.

The Interplanetary Age

By the start of the 2nd century a.t. advances in molecular manufacturing make possible the construction of ultra-strong ultra-light building materials, and hence the colonization of space becomes economically viable for the first time in human history. The Interplanetary Age had begun. Explorers, adventurers, idealists, utopians, and eccentrics of all kinds vied with desperate proles hoping to break out of the poverty cycle on Earth. The many private ventures of this time are almost all doomed from the start, due to inadequate technology, poor financing, ill planning, unrealistic goals, and other problems. Poorly conceived governmental policies in regards to deep space ventures early on also fuel the debacle, as many of nations and government agencies encourage various forms of homesteading and entrepreneurship to give them a strategic claim on the solar system and orbital space by pointing out that they nationals have settled there. This encouraged much of the wrong kind of deep space ventures with its resulting hodge-podge of willy-nilly tax breaks and investment incentives. Not a few organizations, companies, and individuals went bankrupt at this time in pursuit of imagined get mega-rich land claim schemes. The different people and organizations involved are as diverse as they could possibly be. From wild-eyed lone wolf prospectors to fiercely devout religious cults to serious high risk entrepreneurial arms of major Earth-based corporations, to other less easily classified groups, all varieties of organizations were represented. Comparisons were made with the colonization of the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries c.e., and of the wild west in the 19th c.e., but only a lucky few found what they were seeking, and the vast majority of successes were in Solsys. Interstellar ventures were another matter entirely.

The First Interstellar Colonies

The first Interstellar Colonies were prohibitively expensive, and funded by the Interplanetary superpowers and huge multinational corporations. Nevertheless it was through these expeditions that the nearest star-systems were colonised.

During the Solsys Era Interstellar colonisation was always preceded by unmanned probes. The following procedure was generally followed right up until the Technocalypse shut everything down:

(1)Space-borne distributed telescopes examined every system in the neighborhood of Sol, and selected a few promising candidates with ample resources and (if possible) a terrestrial planet or two.

(2) Automated probes were launched to the system in question, reaching perhaps 0.1 to 0.2 c. These were fly-bys accelerated by laser or microwave beam. They would radio back findings during the brief period they were close enough to the system to get useful observations. By the 130's a.t. (late 22nd century c.e.) the probes were equipped with passive magnetoplasma braking systems, which allowed them to actually enter the system and send back more detailed information.

(3) If things looked promising, larger, much more sophisticated probes and von Neumann replicators were sent to the system and set up the basic infrastructure and supplies for the initial colony. The first colony selected this way was Tau Ceti, which was the only nearby system to have a Sol-type solar system and easily terraformable planets. Later, Alpha Centauri, Wolf 359, Lalande 21185, Sirius, e Eridani, and e Indi, and a number of others were selected as well. Although closer to Earth these did not have as hospitable a solar system.

(4) Following this, a still larger, still much more expensive manned mission (equivalent to the several centuries earlier entire Apollo Lunar mission and/or the planned Mars mission in terms of relative expense) is sent to further consolidate the system. The crew were genetically tweaked for long space missions and extended cryonic suspension, as the vessel itself could not at this early technological stage be reasonably expected to exceed 0.1, even with boostbeam technology and amat-fusion propulsion. Only a few fortunate souls were qualified enough to justify the expense, and had the psychological and gengineered characteristics so they could go through such a prolonged and claustrophobic existence without mental imbalance

This is the way colonization proceeded from the late 2nd century (with the first unmanned probe) through to the mid 5th century AT. Up until this period, the idea of colonization from a single ship, without previous robot scouts, scientific and corporate teams, terraforming projects and so on was not feasible, as there were too many inherent risks. The Nanotech Window changed all that. Governments baulked, but corporation and hinterlander factions decided to take advantage of the situation. The age of the Backyarder had begun.

The Nanotech Window: The Solsys Golden Age

From the mid 5th century onwards advanced assembler technology filtered down to the masses, distributed by pirate hackers and enthusiasts, often at great personal risk. Serious government crackdowns were already in force, but even so Government and Corporate efforts fail to keep things under control, and unemployed proles or unaligned would-be technocrats got their hands on the free nano-assemblers. After some years of trial and error and dissemination of information they were competent enough (at least, the more intelligent and persistent were competent enough) to be growing starships "practically in their back yards" to quote the famous Interactive that appeared in Novartis-Time Media. These became known, misleadingly, as the "Backyarders". In fact there were no more than a handful of instances where anyone made a viable ship in their quarter-acre suburban plot, but nevertheless the name stuck. Using cheap nanotech a large number of utopian ethnocentric or natiocentric baselines, as well as a smaller number of tweak, cyborg, and splice communities and some AIs have set off exploring the universe beyond the Earth, and a smaller but still significant number ventured beyond the solar system in slower generation ships.

Most of these ships did not go very fast, and some were of practically unworkable design and functionality, no matter how good they looked in theory. The amat corporations still retained the monopoly on anti-matter, and were unwilling to just give away their precious resource without asking concessions that were too big for most colonists to pay (25%, 49 or even 51% ownership of any new worlds settled was a common condition at this time, especially among some the more ruthless "robber baron" amats). The aspiring colonists, being oppressed and disenfranchised for so many generations on Earth, didn't want to repeat that situation in the new world. As for the other viable fuel, He-3, the Genetekkers retained their monopoly because of their territorial claim on Jupiter. Many baselines were fearful of and very reluctant to deal with tweak "googels" as they call them.

Advanced boostbeam technology allowed a number of these colony ships to reach slightly more than 0.1c, but few colony vessels were able to acquire enough amat or He-3 to decelerate from such a speed even with the assistance of magbrakes. True relativistic travel was still a pipedream.

The result was a great tragedy - large numbers of colonists died due to immature cryotechnology, or, upon reaching the destination, were confined to cramped habitats on inhospitable worlds. The most successful were those who were sponsored by the interplanetary corporations and the Genetekkers; a number of important colonies, the most successful being Nova Terra and Penglai, were founded in this manner.

In 565 AT the Technocalypse put an end to this brief but intense period of human colonization of space. Many ships were still on route, but for a period of eighty years, few missions were launched. After the Great Expulsion the rogue transapient known as GAIA chose to assist with a great diaspora to the nearby stars, but by 720 AT this too had ceased. The Dark Ages were now at their deepest.

The Early First Federation Age - the Private Adventurers

With the re-emergence of interplanetary civilisation, technological improvements led to the second wave of private deep space explorers leaving the solar system, during the great economic and technological boom of the early First Federation period. Even though these colonists were at least as diverse as the two preceding waves, they boasted a much higher survival rate than their predecessors, mostly due to their improved technology and much better financing and organisation.

Colonists - midsized
Image from Kevin Williams

Here once again the plans and goals ran the same gamut from suicidal to inspired, much like the interplanetary and nanotech waves, and often with the same expected results. However, the technology was more advanced, resulting in smaller groups and a greater chance of success, at least for those who had sufficient foresight and preparation.

Many of these adventurers were highly self-tweaked and cyborgised. Often the most prolific expeditions turn out to be not a high end corporate supported project, but small families, co-ops, franchises, or sohos with only moderate financing and equipment, who invested most heavily in their own bodies and on-person equipment, rather than their spacecraft. The more dedicated underwent rigorous physical overhauls to become cyborgs, around 65% bh (biological human) was common. Many of the inorganic enhancements were not visible under normal circumstances. However, they allowed the explorers the capacity to survive naked in space for hours at a time if necessary. The colonists were also be heavily supplemented with intelligence and memory boosting implants and communications.

To prevent the many fatalities which marred the first and second waves of deep space explorers, the early Federation financed beamrider stations throughout the Inner Sphere. However, these beamroutes remained under the control of the Beamrider Network, which was becoming increasingly independent.

A great wealth of intriguing stories was generated by all these expeditions. But the bulk seem to come from the interstellar space expeditions. Not one, but thousands of mostly solitary adventurers or small groups decided to make their way to other star systems. Many of these bionts were never seen or heard from again, swallowed up by the infinite depths of space and time. Some made the wise decision to turn back before it was too late. And the rest of the second wave founded worlds and made history.

One legacy of the third wave is the accidental colonization of at least a handful of worlds by stranded explorers, worlds which otherwise might not have ever been chosen as long term habitations.

The lure of adventure was great. The great telescopes were detecting hospitable worlds (and not so hospitable ones) in star systems near and far; they were detecting signs of life and possibly even intelligence on some of them. Star clusters and stellar nurseries promised resource-rich destinations, and strange worlds with no known analogs were detected further afield. Long-range missions to some of these worlds were launched, despite the still relatively primitive propulsion technology of the day.

The Middle to Late First Federation Age - the Megacorps

During the first two centuries of the Federation period there was a lot of government funding for small private space exploration projects. This was still a time of adventure, with interstellar space very much a romantic frontier with opportunities for anyone who was willing to make the attempt. But this was only possible with a great deal of public funding, and by the 13th century increasing economic rationalism and corporatisation had spelled the end of the golden age of private space exploration

By this time most colonisation projects were under the aegis of the early First Federation megacorporations like Intralaunch, Hyperion, Jupiter Transsystems, Omicron Developments, and those included under the heading of the "Big Five" Truth-Santaya Networks, Takicorb, SecureSpace, K4H and the Terranova Foundation. These were later joined by Cygnus Expansion Association (CEA, later Cygexpa), Federation Mining and Exploration (FMA), and Interstellar Development Group (IDG), making the "Big Eight" who later became the prototype for the interstellar empires. Colonists would buy a share in the megacorp project, and if they were lucky and wealthy a Franchise in an out-system development project, and would then be conveyed to that world. During most of Federation history this involved decades long voyages necessitating hypersleep. Much later, as technology improved and amat production became more efficient, sub-relativistic and even relativistic voyages became available for a fortunate few.

This period, from the 10th to the 15th century AT, saw the colonisation of the region that was later to be known as the Inner Sphere, the Core, or the Hub, a roughly spherical region of approximately 100 light year radius, centered on the Sol System (at the time still the center of all civilisation).

Even after the initial worlds were terraformed and settled, the megacorporations sent more colonists, who were established on the planet if they could pay for the privilege, or in the more cramped conditions of orbitals, asteroid habitats, or biospheres on inhospitable nonterraformed or unterraformable worlds. At the same time, new systems were being explored, claimed, terraformed, and opened up for colonisation.

This period came to an end as the breakup of the old Federation, and increasing hereditary entrenchment among the megacorps, led to the establishment of local empires and fiefdoms, and the beginning of the neo-feudalism of the Late Federation, in which all but the well-established inner core worlds were dominated by hereditary megacorporations ruled by Emperors and Presidents, NeoBarons and StarLords. Colonisation suddenly became less attractive, especially if you were likely to end up as indentured labour on some local landlord's hydroponics farm.

Nevertheless private colonisation continued, at times at rates greater then ever (and once again with terrible risk). Very much like the situation during the Interplanetary period, groups of reasonably and even not-so-reasonably well-off pooled their resources and set up collectives, franchises, and small venture capital enterprises. These people however were caught in a bind, and did not have it as well as the those who had procured the services of the megacorps.

Whereas during the early Federation period there had been government funding for such projects, the middle and late Federation was a different matter altogether. Private interstellar travel was prohibitively expensive, and the best most colonists could do was buy passage on a slow moving transport, implying extended biostasis and the possibility of being "fast tracked" - of having someone else arrive before you (tracking past you in a faster ship, leaving you, in the colloquial Anglic of the time, "slowf*ked") or passage to a resource-poor and inhospitable system that no-one else wanted.

By the late Federation period all the good nearby worlds had been taken, and there was no government funding, so even though travel was much cheaper, the groups still had to raise capital for their own ships (and even to custom buy and equip a basic colony ship was excessively expensive), or find a freighter captain and crew willing to make the long journey (a number of vec and space adapted clades were perfect for this task, but they were in high demand and hence hiked up their prices accordingly). In the end, all of the late Federation colonists who aimed for good quality systems arrived to find the destination world had been colonised. Some of these were happy to let the newcomers stay and have a share of the bounty, others allowed them to stay on the condition that they would constitute an inferior caste, and others again sent them away. Late Federation colonists who decided to head for low grade systems were sometimes luckier (the system would still be uninhabited), sometimes not (the system would be inhospitable, or would be fastjumped). And a great majority of these colonists, venturing into little-explored space in cheap substandard ships, never made it at all, or if they did were unable to sustain their colonies.

The Age of Expansion - the New Space Rush

During the 22nd century AT onwards, godtech gifts like reactionless drive and stargate/wormhole technology opened up space exploration like never before, a vast exodus from the densely populated inner worlds, but under the aegis of the AIs. The introduction of the first crude space-time engineering and wormhole technology by the emissaries of the Lord of Rays and eir proxies for the first time made near-instantaneous travel available between the nearer star systems; interstellar trade in commodities becomes economically viable. This continues as wormhole technology improves and passage becomes cheaper safer. The invention of stargates and their establishment and construction over the next 500 years or so also brings about a wonderful age of commerce.

Isis - midsized
Image from kevin Williams

Many paranoid groups however want nothing to do with this, and become increasingly isolationist, or buy up old and cheap amat ships and leave for parts unknown. Many aioids and vecs also migrate at this time. Now that the supporting technology for deep space missions has matured, private expeditions prove far superior to public ones in regards to relative successes and accomplishments. This period, which lasts for several centuries, constitutes the greatest period of colonisation and expansion that Terragen mindkind has seen. But because all the nearby worlds are already colonised, the colonists have to go successively further and further out in relativist ships. Some reach their destinations only to find someone else has gotten there before them. Others continue outward, and to this day there are still many travelling outwards at relativistic velocities.

The post-Expansion Age Colonists and Adventurers

Finally we need to mention the post-Expansion Age colonists, visionaries, and adventurers. By this time the inner sphere was well-charted and settled, even down to the many resource poor systems. There were also a great many who didn't make it, and whose empty ships and lifeless biodomes stand as mute tribute to the sacrifices made.

The post-expansion age colonists and adventurers were an astonishingly diverse group, including every imaginable clade and intelligence level, and every degree of preparation. Unlike the other waves this was not a brief period lasting a few centuries, but a sporadic, ongoing process that continues to this day. There will always be visionaries, explorers, adventurers, and utopians, seeking a new life away from the restrictions and persecution of the old world. As with the other waves, very few of these adventurers found what they were seeking. Many, travelling outward at relativistic velocity in an attempt to avoid being fast tracked or ending up on someone else's world, are still travelling to this day, pushing back the periphery of Terragen space.

Colonist Slang

assembly-lined - (Anglic - adjective) to end up as indentured labour (industrial age exploited workers)

bloodsucker - (Anglic - noun) a megacorporation, company or private crew who demand exorbitant fees for transport to a colony [see leech].

bossrider - (Anglic - noun) the captain of a private vessel (origin unknown)

cog - (Anglic - noun, sing. or plur.) a vec crew or crewmember (at the time "cog" was a disrespectful term bionts used to refer to vecs, hence the vec colony at AC+25 7918, when discovered in 3405, was labelled "Cog" by the sensationalist media. The name stuck, and eventually acquired a certain sense of prestige)

fast track - (Anglic - verb) by using faster or better ships, to arrive before earlier colonists, intentionally or unintentionally claimjumping their world

first contact - (Anglic - verb, noun) the hope of discovering an alien race.

hegira - (Arabic - verb) - colonisation, migration, leaving the old world behind. During the middle First Federation period "to make hegira" became a common term for to decide to embark on colonisation.

grail - (Anglic - noun) [1] singularity at the center of the galaxy, [2] first contact, [3] anything promising great fame and fortune.

leech - (Anglic - noun) - a megacorporation, company or private crew who demand exorbitant fees for transport to a colony, [after a Terran ectoparasitical annelid worm].

sieve - (Anglic - noun) - a substandard colony ship (humorous reference to air leakage, in fact even the very cheapest colony ships were 100% airtight).

slowf*ked - (Anglic - verb, adjective) - the state of being fast tracked.

sweatshopped - (Anglic - adjective) to end up as indentured labour (industrial age slave-labour or exploited workers).

Related Articles
Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev
additional material by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 14 September 2000.