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Threshold: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Friday, March 5, 2010 18:43 EST



    Satya Gupta paused by the doors a moment, gathering his thoughts. A.J. Baker’s hasty and intense conversation had indeed helped, but there was still resistance to be dealt with. He hoped that the new factors, however, would be enough to sway opinion. Then he nodded to the guards outside and strode in.

    The president of India, Goutam Gaurav, rose respectfully, as did the other men and women in the Space Development Committee. "Thank you for coming, Dr. Gupta."

    "The pleasure is entirely mine," Gupta said, aware of the atmosphere in the room. They were very doubtful. Yes, he had supporters, but most were afraid of the imponderables of perception as well as the practical difficulties of the project he proposed. "It has been some time since I made my proposal initially. I trust you have had the opportunity to consider it?"

    "We have," the president answered. "And it is a… very interesting idea, Dr. Gupta. Speaking for myself, I would be inclined to follow your advice. But as you are aware, I am but one member of the committee. Many other members have questions and objections."

    He nodded slowly, taking in the entire room. The president was being a bit evasive. True, looked at from one angle, Goutam Gaurav was just one member of a committee. Since the very same person was the head of the state of India if not the head of its government, however, the difference was obvious. But he did not say anything aloud. The president was simply using the evasion to defer making a decision. Gupta had not expected anything different.

    "Indeed, indeed it must seem risky, Mr. President." He let his sonorous voice roll about the room. He was aware—none better—that his voice was in some ways his most potent weapon of debate; here he must employ it to the full.

    "With India being only newly come to space capability, in comparison with the United States, Russia, and even China and Europe, I can understand that it must sound strange for me to urge you to not develop a NERVA-style spacecraft such as Nike, especially when you have been given an engine and reactor capable of driving just such a vehicle. Yet I tell you that this is an opportunity—a great opportunity—which I can see propelling India to the very forefront of space commerce."

    "That is what you said in your original proposal," Madhuri Ganeshan pointed out. The Speaker for the Lok Sabha (the House of the People in the Indian parliament) was an intensely political, though scrupulously honest, member of the Committee. She would be most concerned about the potential for political gain or loss from decisions made here. "We have seen the proposal. And make no mistake, sir, we do appreciate what you have done for us—advocating our side in the debates on the Mars Treaty, and in other ways showing you have not forgotten your heritage. We have read your proposal very carefully. You advocate building a so-called ‘space elevator’—something no country has yet attempted—rather than build our own interplanetary vessel, when we are already being given one of the key components for nothing. I can see that such a course appeals to a gentleman such as yourself, Dr. Gupta, since you are well known as a visionary. It may be a bold and daring move to take this course, but many of us are elected to be reasonable, not risky. Convince me that it is more reasonable to do this, and you will have my vote." Her sharp, severe features, framed by pure white hair, were like a sword upraised in salute and challenge.

    "I do indeed have additional facts to present, Madame Speaker. And I will attempt to convince you that it is reasonable. Indulge me, however, in allowing me to restate what I think are the compelling reasons why it is not reasonable to follow the current course."

    Speaker Ganeshan glanced at the president and the other members. "I have no objection."

    "In building a ship like the ships that all the other spacegoing powers either have built or are building, you are attempting to compete with them in the area where they are strong and you are weak. We all know how this reflects a lack of wisdom, if an alternate course exists. And there is such a course.

    "Instead of a ship, which transfers people and materials between the planets, I say that you should instead make a better way to transfer these people and materials from Earth to space. Build an elevator to space, a tower stretching thousands, tens of thousands, of miles, provided with power to draw up almost limitless material for construction, to bring safely to earth people and goods from space. Consider that the major limitation on the construction of Nike according to its schedule was the severe lack of launch capability—pushed to its limit, perhaps six hundred tons per month, far less in ordinary times. With even the simple, single elevator proposed as the beginning of this project, India will immediately double the launch capacity of the entire Earth, and by building additional cables we can increase that capacity, almost without limit. A similar design which rotates may be used as a mighty slingshot, to cast cargoes of nearly any size across the solar system to their final destination. You will need no ships; the ships and colonies, instead, will need you."

    They stared at him, caught momentarily in the spell of his voice. "But if this is so obvious and easy, why are the other countries not pursuing it?" The question came from one of the other members of the committee—Singh, from the Rajya Sabha, the Council of States which was the upper house of the parliament of India..

    "Obvious? Perhaps. Easy? I said nothing of easy. No project so grand will be easy. Yet it is within India’s ability to do, with the right allies." Gupta made a wide, sweeping gesture. "There are many possible reasons they may not be following this course. Perhaps, as all the other space-capable powers are to the north, they see more of the problems of a space elevator. For example, it must be anchored to the equator if it is desired that one minimize its tendency to sway, and they have no direct access to the equator as we do."

    That was fudging a little. The southernmost tip of India was eight degrees of latitude north of the equator, not directly upon it. But eight degrees was close enough, as a practical matter.

    "But that is probably not the main reason," he continued. "If need be, they could certainly find an area they could lease for the use. To name one, the Galapagos Islands are situated directly on the equator. The government of Ecuador has made it quite clear that it would be delighted to provide any spacegoing nation which wished to use the islands as the anchor for a space elevator with a ninety-nine year lease. Even at a reasonable price."

    He shook his head. "No, I suspect the main reason is the simplest. A man with an existing skill will invariably seek to apply it to new work, before he concludes that he must undertake the more difficult task of learning a new skill altogether. You, on the other hand, do not suffer from that handicap for the obvious reason that you have no significant commitment to the traditional methods of space travel. Why not take advantage of it?"

    Speaker Ganeshan spoke. "You mentioned the ‘right’ allies, Doctor. This is also in your proposal, but you give little guidance as to who these allies are. You also mention that the ships and colonies will need us; all well and good, but before embarking on such a project I would want to see at least one specific need—a customer, in short, for what we would offer." She held up an imperious hand as a few other members began to speak. "I am not unreasonable myself, Dr. Gupta. I do not expect you to have a market which will make the project profitable in the next five years, not in an area filled with so much risk and speculation. Give me one real customer, one group which I can believe as needing our assistance in this specific way. Give me a name or two that specifies these ‘right allies’ that we will need to construct your space elevator. No more generalities."

    Inwardly, Gupta smiled. He had left those broad statements in to allow one of the members to bring up just these points, in just this manner.

    "I will answer your second point first, Madame Speaker." He said. "While you have our own space program, it is quite limited at this time. To construct the elevator, therefore, you really require two things: the materials from which it is constructed, and additional people with experience and expertise in the construction and maintenance of reasonably large space facilities who are, themselves, not already going to be devoted to their own country’s spaceship projects. Now, the creation of such an immense structure can only be done through the use of carbon nanotube materials."

    The president’s eyebrows rose. "I see."

    "Indeed. The Tayler Corporation has established considerable manufacturing ties with India in the past decade, as have many other manufacturing corporations in the past several decades. Tayler is the primary—almost, in fact, the only—source of the material needed. Their work has been well-proven in the Nike mission—as spectacularly shown by Ms. Fathom’s exploits, among others. I have taken the liberty of approaching them confidentially on this matter, and they were very receptive. Based on that conversation, I have brought with me a sample agreement which, I believe, will suit Tayler’s needs.

    "Manpower would seem to be a difficulty, as all the space-capable countries are already working as hard as possible to create their own—or in the case of the United States, additional—vessels. But there is one other source of such expertise, the one other organization which already is established on Mars. I was contacted earlier by Mr. A.J. Baker of Ares who has supplied me with this letter of support and commitment." He placed the document on the table. "If you undertake this project, Ares will not only assist you in the engineering of the elevator and all associated infrastructure, but will also contract with you to construct a similar elevator for Mars itself. They are very much in need of launch capacity themselves, and so, Madame Speaker, they may also be considered to be a customer as well as an ally."

    The committee seemed nearly convinced; a faint murmuring of intense conversation began. Ganeshan’s smile, however, was wintry. "I will agree that you have supplied the allies in specific, and sufficiently so for now, but let us not attempt a magician’s trick in making one appear to be simultaneously the other. I cannot speak for my learned colleagues, but I have been following Ares’ activities quite closely in the past few months. They are essentially bankrupt, are they not? Oh, if they somehow manage to establish themselves and survive the next ten years they may amount to something, but is it not true that it would be quite ludicrous of us to consider them a significant customer at the present time?"

    "Madame Speaker, you are entirely correct." The murmurs turned to a hush. "I do believe that in the future you will find them excellent customers, but it is undoubtedly, undoubtedly true, that you need another customer, one in the here and now. One which has considerable monetary resources, yet no space capability of its own, one which has pressing reason to enter space in a wide and diverse capacity but which at the present time cannot do so itself." He saw her eyebrows rise as the thought struck her an instant before he spoke. "Such a market, such a customer, exists already. The Interplanetary Research Institute. I have spoken with Director Glendale on this matter, and he was willing—I will even say, enthusiastic—to commit the IRI to supporting this enterprise." He placed the final document on the table like a poker champion laying down his hand, and looked calmly into the Speaker’s eyes.

    After a moment, she smiled more broadly. "Doctor Gupta, I withdraw my objections and offer my support. This project is visionary, risky, and bold; but—in the context of history as we are seeing it—it is, indeed, reasonable." Her smile widened momentarily. "And I believe we can all find profit in the publicity."

    Gupta laughed. "Indeed, indeed we can, Madame Speaker!"

    He heard and answered additional questions, but the expressions on the faces, the way in which the questions were phrased… The conclusion had already been reached. They would try. They would at least try. If they could manage to see this project through, the results would transform the world.

    He thought back to a conversation he’d had years earlier, with Jackie Secord, where he expressed his lack of complete enthusiasm for the Ares Project’s intended approach to space exploitation. One of his major concerns was, and had always been, that the benefits of extending humanity’s reach into space be brought to all of humanity, not simply to its wealthiest and most privileged classes and nations. Brought, not in some fuzzy handwaving sense, but in the hard and practical ways an engineer could appreciate.

    Despite all the economic shifts of the past decades, the United States had always managed to stay—sometimes just barely—ahead of the other countries in its influence and power. Gupta didn’t begrudge them that status; he was an American citizen himself, after all. But he felt it was far past time for other countries, especially his native land, to step forward from the red, white, and blue shadow, by taking the best that America had to offer and making it their own. The alliances he proposed here would do just that. And regardless of what some of the current crop of politicians might think when they realized that he was helping India "steal a march" on the other countries, including America, he felt that this was actually a quintessentially American direction.

    The thought came with great satisfaction. Let my native land follow the best of my adopted homeland’s methods, and there will be a victory that we can all feel pride in; a victory for the whole world.

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