Encounter with Tiberby Buzz Aldrin, John Barnes
A mysterious radio beacon from a distant world called Tiber unites scientist-astronaut Chris Terence and visionary entrepreneur Sig Jarlsbourg in a new space race -- and leads one man to his doom. The same mystery will lure their families to Mars and beyond, seeking the legacy of ancient beings who came to our ancestors in chariots of fire -- but were too mortal to be gods. A magnificent tapestry of heroic triumphs and tragedies, Encounter with Tiber spans light years and millennia to prove that space is the next challenge of the human spirit, of our eternal need to journey beyond the highest mountain and beyond the farthest shore...
Bulging with facts and explanationsmost of them, unfortunately, at the expense of plot, character, and narrative momentum. Still, Aldrin brings an unmistakable hands-on realism to the details of space exploration, and Barnes lends his expertise to the overall structure and packaging.
- Grand Central Publishing
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Encounter with Tiber
By Buzz Aldrin, John Barnes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes
All rights reserved.
A lot of times I think I remember, but the mind plays tricks. One giveaway, I guess, is that I remember myself from outside, not as if I were seeing things happening, but as if I were watching myself. There's a shrink I know, a guy who only came up to Mars a couple of oppositions ago, who says that's not infallible, but a pretty good indicator that I don't really remember it myself. Probably I heard it told to me so often that now I have a story about it in my head, one in which I picture my four-year-old self sitting there on the living room rug at Grandma Terence's house, watching the TV, listening to my mother explain how my father might be about to be killed.
Talk to the old guys at NASA, the ones who were retiring when I was a rookie, and they call the period that started after the last Moon landing in 1972 the Bad Decades. The exact dates are kind of hard to pinpoint; a lot of people say NASA was still doing okay with Skylab and Viking and the Soyuz rendezvous, fell apart more in the late Carter and early Reagan years, and that they had really pulled themselves out of their slump when they made their commitment to Starboosters for some missions in 2000—which was the year Dad joined the astronaut corps, so I guess you could count him as part of the turnaround. But most of the old guys count the wreck of the Endeavour as the last gasp of the Bad Decades, and so you could say that's the period my dad really came out of.
Dad was Chris Terence, astronaut and astronomer, born the year of the first Moon landing. He was what they called a "do-looper" at Cal Tech, because in one of the old computer languages, a do-loop was a group of code that the computer would keep doing over and over, and at Cal Tech, a do-looper was a guy who got his bachelor's, came back for his master's, and then came back again for his doctorate. So Dad was class of '90, class of '93, and class of '97, with as much time spent as possible in the 144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard, getting his jet hours for his astronaut application.
He'd hit on the tactic of going to Cal Tech and joining a Guard squadron that flew fighter jets long before he actually did it. I remember that years later, among his things, we found a list from a student college guide of the top fifty scientific and technical universities, with his penciled-in notes on the nearest Guard airbases; from the date, it had been October of his sophomore year of high school. There at the top of the list was Cal Tech and Fresno ANG Base. Grandma said it didn't surprise her at all to realize he'd started planning that when he was sixteen; she used to say that his next word after "Mama" had been "astronaut"—"There was never anyone who wanted a particular job more than that boy wanted to be an astronaut."
So he'd poured himself into a BS in aeronautical engineering while working as a crew chief in the Guard, a good student job that not only helped him pay for college but got him the leg up for his next steps—a master's in applied physics plus flight school, and finally his doctorate in astronomy with as many hours of flight time as he could squeeze in.
After he picked up the doctorate, he discovered for himself what any number of scientists had been finding out in the USA in the nineties—that unless you were working on something that Xerox or IBM wanted to build this week, or doing medical work under the protection of some congressman with plenty of clout, nobody in the States wanted you. We were training the world's scientists, and they were going home and opening up a thousand frontiers, but we were sending our young scientists—the ones who were quite often in their potentially most productive years—off to teach community college, write gaming software, or do routine hospital lab tests. Those were the years, after all, when the woman who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for her doctoral dissertation pointing the way to making specific viruses against specific cancers got the call from Stockholm at the clinic in Beverly Hills, where she had gone after taking her specialty in dermatology. Whether it was conscious policy or not, America wanted its affluent teenagers to look good a lot more than it wanted to maintain its dominance in science and technology. Boldly going where no one had gone before was all right on television, but in real life people who wanted to do that had to pursue it as an expensive hobby.
So Chris, who was stubborn, shrugged and decided that if he wanted a steady income, he'd have to get the astronaut job sooner than he'd planned on. Between the Guard, adjunct jobs teaching the same beginning astronomy course at each of three different LA-area colleges, and sometimes filling in as a ferry pilot for FedEx, he was eking out a living, able to afford a little apartment all to himself in Saugus.
It just happened that as one of his ongoing projects, he was obtaining deep-sky images (telescope pictures of the sky in areas that didn't have relatively nearby objects like the planets) over the Internet from various observatories. He had set up a program to record the date and time the pictures were taken and see if any similar bit of sky had been photographed at some other time, then compare the two; if any of the stars in the picture seemed to move, his computer would flag the case, because apparent motion indicated that the object might be an asteroid or comet. By having his computer program search the pictures mainly in the plane of Earth's orbit, he could look for ECOs, "earth-crossing-objects"—asteroids or comets that might someday hit the Earth. There were several small journals that were willing to publish any paper that identified a new ECO, and right now one of the things he needed, while looking for a better job and hoping to get into the astronaut corps, was more papers in his curriculum vitae, the resumé of publication that a research scientist has to submit with every job or grant application.
It was his fourth find, nothing that could ever either be a threat to the Earth or a reasonable destination for space explorers. It was only a lump of tarry rock, about the size of a smallish mountain on Earth, but at least under the International Astronomical Union rules it was named Terence 1995 BR, which simply meant "the asteroid discovered by Terence in 1995, with the randomly generated code 'BR' attached in case he gets lucky again this year."
And again, more or less by chance, one community college where he taught had an aggressive PR director, who faxed an account of the find to the local television stations. This was during the second week of August, traditionally a slow news time when many programs run large numbers of human interest stories. Consequently, Channel 9, needing a little bit of footage for its 10 P.M. news, dispatched a brand new reporter, Amber Romany, with a cameraman, to get a comment.
Chris was just emerging from his classroom, surrounded by the usual array of bewildered students who were trying to get out of a requirement, or into a class, when he was approached by a young woman with flame-red hair, not much older than his students, who pointed a microphone at him. Behind her a bearded and ponytailed young cameraman with a nose ring, wearing a paint-spattered T-shirt, crouched down and brought the camera up to his shoulder, zooming in on Chris. Startled, he took a step back.
Amber turned to face the cameraman, pushed her red hair up slightly, got the nod from him, and said, "We're here with Dr. Christopher Terence, discoverer of a new asteroid which has been named in his honor. Dr. Terence, any comment?"
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded. Dad was never to be noted for his tact.
"Amber Romany. Channel Nine. Doing my job, at the moment; the station said to interview you and the college said you'd be here. So what's it like to discover a new asteroid?"
"I got home and when I checked my computer screen, the program told me I had done it," he said. "So I rechecked the results from the program and it looked like it was right; then I checked to make sure it wasn't a previously known one; then I notified the IAU, they agreed with me, and that was it. About as exciting as accounting but it doesn't pay as well." He turned to storm off, intending to find out who had gotten TV people involved in this.
Then Amber asked, "Any intention to go there yourself?"
"Your vice president said you fly F-15s for the Air National Guard. The 144th 's office in Fresno says you fly a lot. You've published a ton of papers since you got your Ph.D. That's just the basic research I could do with some phone calls and an on-line search of scientific abstracts, but I think I see a pattern in it. All that time in jets plus all that scientific work is a guy who wants to qualify for the astronaut corps."
Chris looked around. Some of his students were still hanging around, either watching him or trying to sneak in behind him and Amber to wave at the camera. They were looking at him a little strangely; he shrugged and raised his hands. "All right, caught and convicted. I can't imagine a less interesting rock in space, but I'd be happy to go there or anywhere else."
She smiled at him. "Now will you tell me how you felt about finding the asteroid?"
"Well," he said, "it's always kind of astonishing; there's a lot of space and all the asteroids ever found, together, wouldn't make up one percent of the Moon's mass ..."
Her interview with him took almost an hour in the hallway; afterwards, as he was grading papers and even as he drifted off to sleep, he kept telling himself that what had happened was that Amber was so pretty that he'd foolishly kept talking, and also kept reminding himself that the interview would probably come out so distorted that no one with any scientific knowledge would even be able to figure out what she had been talking about.
To his surprise, he stayed up later than usual to catch the news, and he had to admit that the interview seemed to be intelligent and seemed to focus on the important issues. Also, looking at Amber on the screen, he realized she was every bit as beautiful as he remembered.
The next day, summoning his courage because he remembered how he had snapped at her when she first appeared outside his classroom, he wrote her a note, in which he grudgingly admitted that she had done a pretty good job on the interview, adding that it was one of the few times he had seen a science story done well. He even apologized for his gruffness when she first approached him—and apologizing didn't come easily to Chris Terence.
Three days later, after he had decided that he'd really made a fool of himself and he needed to stop thinking about her, she phoned him. They met for coffee, and she turned out to be at work on a documentary about JPL, where he knew a lot of people. More or less, that's not only how my parents met, that was to be the whole pattern of their relationship: two smart, talented people yelling at each other, then getting interested in a conversation, and later (sometimes) apologizing.
They were married within a few months, startling all their friends. Following the wedding they had a couple of lean years, during which her salary was three times his and they never bought a car in working order, only junkers he could get to run for a few weeks or months. Afterwards, when they would tell stories about what they had done to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads, I wondered more than once whether maybe those hadn't been the years in which they were happiest.
Anyway, I was born in August 1998, and I guess that made getting a little more cash more urgent, so they borrowed money and put together "Spacetour," a ten-half-hour documentary about the solar system, with Mom narrating and Dad giving some little on-screen lectures, using a lot of footage from public archives. It was a hit with kids and got widely syndicated; I remember it was still showing up on various TV stations when I was about ten because Dad tended to describe the decades-long orbits of the outer planets with phrases like "when my son Jason is thirty ..." and my friends would hear that and tease me.
It was their last really lean year. By the time I was learning to walk, their careers were taking off abruptly. Dad was accepted into the astronaut corps within a week of Mom getting picked up by the network for their morning show. They moved to Houston, which shortened Mom's commute to Washington and put them near Dad's mother—a very important resource, because they were both away a lot, and sometimes at the same time. I'm told that when Dad flew his rookie mission in late 2000, he was in orbit on my second birthday, and Mom was in Africa somewhere covering a famine. Grandma made them a video of me with the cake; considering the mess that was happening between me and the cake, I wouldn't have wanted to be there either.
Now that I was four, in 2002, I at least could recognize my parents on television when they appeared, which for my mother was every night. Ever since last year, when Mom had switched networks and gotten the evening news anchor job on one of the dozens of little startup networks that had proliferated at the turn of the century, the one firm rule from Grandma was that we never missed the evening news. Dad sometimes teased his mother that what she liked about it was that this way she had a relative on television. Astronauts were never on TV anymore.
So Grandma and I had just tuned in to Mom's show, and neither of us was expecting to hear anything about Dad's shuttle flight on Endeavour. The pace of the American space program had picked up a little bit since 1999, when the Chinese had startled everyone by announcing that they would launch a man into orbit on the fiftieth anniversary of their revolution, at the very moment when the Cold Peace was getting underway between the U.S. and China. Even though their first two launches had fizzled, it had still accelerated NASA's program. But though there were more launches, and to everyone's surprise the International Space Station looked like it would get done only about six months late, American manned spaceflight was just not making it onto the news much; it was too routine, and it contained practically no sex or violence.
The broadcast started out with no mention of Endeavour, but it was possible that if this were a slow news day, maybe they'd cut to the liftoff, or so Grandma said. I think I remember her saying that as we watched, anyway.
I have a copy of that particular news show, and I've watched it a few times; it's hard to capture, anymore, even in memory, any sense of how much everyone was worried about China. Mom's lead story was about China making new threats against the Republic of Taiwan, and the 82nd Airborne rushing there to back up the Taiwanese Army. It looked like a bad June; the American, Philippine, and Vietnamese navies were already holding joint exercises off the Spratley Islands, intended to put pressure on Beijing not to carry out their announced plans for constructing a missile tracking station there.
In the middle of the story, I saw Mom stop and squint for an instant, looking right at the TelePrompTer, and then she said, "This just in. We're going live to Houston, where there's apparently big trouble on the Space Shuttle Endeavour."
The picture jumped and bounced for a second, and then we were looking at Mission Control; instead of the usual laid-back atmosphere, everyone was leaning into his screen, and there was a lot of shouting. One thing I do remember vividly is that Grandma's hand was suddenly on my shoulder, clenching hard enough to hurt, and yet I didn't complain; I needed her touch just then.
To the extent that the television news organizations were bothering to cover a story that had grown stale and routine to them, they were billing this flight as the one that would "finish" the International Space Station (ISS), even though there were several flights to go after it before the station would be fully operational. The reason why they thought this was sitting in the cargo bay: the U.S. Hab Module, the American living quarters for the station. For almost four years, the station had been tenanted by a Soyuz crew of three in rotation (with an additional American, Japanese, or European in the mix). With the U.S. Hab, the constant occupancy could go up to six, and Chris Terence was going to be one of the first "real" scientists to serve a hitch there.
Excerpted from Encounter with Tiber by Buzz Aldrin, John Barnes. Copyright © 1996 Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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This book had a very well-developed alien culture and fascinating insights into the science and politics of current and possible future space travel from earth, as well as from the alien home world. There are additional themes exploring how conquest is viewed in the short- and long-term by both the conquerors and the subjugates. The legacy of prejudice that lingers as a result of the "civilized" and "barbarian" labels is also explored. This is a complex weaving of several stories. There is an alien culture whose world is doomed. They have sent a crew of adults and children to earth to determine whether it could be colonized. After taking decades to cross space, they would spend a few short years exploring earth, before they spent another decades-long journey returning home. The presence of another sentient race, humans, presents an obstacle to colonization. Another story looks at a near-present day interception of an alien broadcast from space. The broadcast is decoded and we find out that aliens had built stations on the dark side of the Moon and on Mars and that their home world is attempting to transmit to them the locations of encyclopedias that were sent there to ensure that knowledge is not lost from the far-flung colonies. The politics and science of space travel are explored as different nations try to get to these locations to obtain and control the content of this knowledge. Finally, there is a story of future human space explorers traveling to the former home world of the aliens. The stories are very engaging, and in the tradition of excellent science fiction, Aldrin explores difficult topics about human nature, culture, and politics from the outside looking in and from the inside looking out. However, some readers may find the scientific explanations too elaborate and cumbersome and the politics too negative, whereas I rather enjoyed them.