Mission to Mars

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Mission to Mars
 Creator(s) Gaist Heidegger
 System(s) GURPS
 Genre(s) Sci-Fi

Preface

User:Gaist Heidegger's stab at a hard sci-fi setting, under the premise of humanity working on the borderline of TL9 in GURPS 4th edition. In particular, this game setting focuses on a number of individuals, the player characters, and their roles, interactions, and efforts on the Ares I colony on Mars.

This article will at the moment serve as an anchor for transposing the background information into a concerted centralized format for easy reference and for the review of whomever finds an interest in the setting itself.

This game is in progress, and can be found here: http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=2568588

Background

The year is 2047, and humanity has finally stretched beyond our world. A culmination of environmental factors such as global warming and strain upon natural resources coupled with political and economic strife saw nearly a decade of recession spanning the globe from 2009. Third world countries were hit hardest, and resultant terrorism, civil wars and border disputes saw the resurgence of international peacekeeping efforts--but, for the first time, were actually effective in steering towards a global governing alliance with actual powers and cooperation on a large scale.

China underwent a dramatic social revolution after being hit severely with the worsening environmental trends, and a too-heavy pyramid of resource distribution nearly drove the national economy into the ground. Under a newly instated socialist government driven by a surge of approval from the younger populace, democratic rights were expanded alongside diving into the international community's affairs, aide missions helped significantly in stabilizing the status quo across most of the globe.

The true technological revolution began with the successful introduction of Artificial Intelligence through a joint Russian / Japanese research venture partnered with the ever expanding Google Corporation's scientific body. In order to search on the basis of ideas instead of text, a process of symbolic thinking was actually developed in a new programming language. Though the A.I. was as of yet unable to take on dramatic levels of conscious sentience, the advance was still a significant catalyst to a technological boom with the advent of intelligent computing assisting research teams of all disciplines. Vastly different fields of science were finally able to share pertinent information that would have otherwise potentially taken decades to filter through the minds which could understand it, and the elimination of most language barriers for the purposes of peer review helped stabilize an international scientific league for the betterment of mankind.

With the global environment deteriorating and the economy still struggling, the necessity to cast a serious drive for enhanced technology--particularly in the fields of aerospace and more thoroughly integrated personal computing. Through the private funding of international corporate powerhouses coupled with a large funding drive on the parts of the United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia, and Japan (as the major players, with numerous secondary contributors and participants), the Global Science Initiative was founded.

Formed as an global entity independent of direct control from any particular government participant, this initiative was formed with a security and peacekeeping force, taking on much of the mantle of policing while securing the necessary means and locations for focused research and resource gathering. By 2031, the collaborated 'Magnum Opus' was finally completed--a massive orbital space station building off of the core of the previous international space station, to be used first and foremost as a mid-point bridge to lunar development and research, and finally as a staging platform for intended interplanetary travel throughout our system. In addition, the Genesis Project has been experiencing success as well.

With such a conglomerated think tank coupled with A.I. assistance and sufficient funding and resources, the impetus for a dramatic technological boom continued. Gene therapy became a successful reality, alongside tissue engineering and accelerated treatment techniques to stave off and eliminate most of the long-plaguing diseases on Earth. The beginning forays into cybernetics came into being, for usage of limited prosthetics as well as for early advances into more direct conscious interaction with computing systems. As of yet, however, faster than light travel remained a seemingly unreachable peak, and cryogenics never panned out as its early supporters had hoped.

If man was going to form a colony on another planet, more advances must yet be made. Advances were not without hurdles however--such a formalized force of science began to gather considerable ire and criticism from religious fundamentalists and extremists. These disillusions brought increased strain upon the separation of church & state, and the advent of increasingly frequent terrorist strikes and sabotage efforts led to the bolstering of the security entity of the initiative. What had been a protective police force was bolstered into a private army out of necessity for the continued unhindered developments yet needed.

In 2038, the final testing phases were complete for a dramatically improved system of propulsion for travel in space; utilizing serialized and highly controlled 'nuclear' discharges, fusion with hydrogen packets ignited via laser pressure allowed for larger vessels to be brought to enough of a speed and trajectory to reach as far as Mars in a matter of weeks instead of months. It wasn't faster than light, but it was a considerable improvement; and the reduction of bone density loss and muscular atrophy (further assisted by the continued advances in gene therapy and tissue engineering), along with the development of a shield able to properly filter and block stellar radiation, meant manned transit efforts were now plausible--and of an uproar appeal for the initiative's corporate backing and the governments of Earth.

With the surface of Mars mapped with greater accuracy than the oceans of the Earth, the terrain and atmosphere yet remained uninhabitable by human beings. In preparation of making ground-fall, a sister station to the orbital platform over Earth was put into construction, along with a series of unmanned construction ships to build the foundation for a permanent colony on the surface. These efforts to ensure a basis for further research and expansion on Mars were awaited with baited breaths, and would still yet take some time. Within a week of their announcement, however, the waiting list for competent and skilled volunteers already numbered in the hundreds of thousands, with millions inquiring after the possibility of being colonists.

In 2043, the Mars orbital station Athena was operational, with the necessary facilities to house an active populace of thirty, able to oversee and manage the development of the colony below and to stage material receipt and surface transit from orbit. The most affluent and experienced of A.I. cores was transferred to the station as part of the administrative efforts, as well as to facilitate data communication relay back to Earth efficiently and to assist with the management of research data below. With Athena in place, production of a habitable colony on Mars was put into full swing, and the export of resources and materials was set to its highest from Earth.

By 2044, lunar development on our Moon had allowed for the relocation in full of the initiative's headquarters facility, to allow more direct staging of the Mars colonization efforts and training of potential inhabitants. Also this year, the screening processes had finally narrowed down the pool of candidates to a more acceptable level beyond those previous NASA veterans and members of other aerospace teams stationed on Athena. Social interaction studies and psychological profiles were put underway, and a three-year training program was performed to prep new crew members for the forthcoming colony.

In 2046, the Mars colony Ares I was finally completed, allowing for a sustained population of roughly one hundred individuals. Much of this initial occupancy was soon filled with engineers and other constructive labor forces teamed with A.I. assisted design and expansion. Over the next year, several batches of scientists, servicemen, security personnel and a handful of high-profile private donors were transferred to the colony.

Now, it is 2047, and Ares I has just recently completed its third expansion stratum, bringing the population capacity to two hundred individuals. With a stable population capable of handling the day-to-day maintenance and upkeep, the stage has been set for serious scientific study to move full swing on the surface.

Preparations are in the works for launch #7 to the colony--containing the latest batch of resources and personnel for Ares I.

Government & Religion

As mentioned, the separation of Church and state remains a heated issue even presently, and also as mentioned certain religious sects have taken to radical and extremist acts, and in some cases Luddite anti-technological stances. On the flip-side, however, is the example of the secular community whom actually proclaims that mankind's savior will come in the form of an A.I. Consciousness.

There is a pointed long-term trend trudging steadily towards technocracy, but for the most part many parts of the world are operating under socialist or parliamentary capacities and systems.

Ares I

Personnel

G.S.I. Doctorate Staff

  • Dr. Masahiro Sato

Played by Mr. Horyd

  • Dr. Michael Erwin

Played by Silentman0

  • Dr. Elizabeth Monroe

Played by Ambivalent

  • Dr. Henry Turner
  • Dr. Veronica Edwards
  • Dr. Vincent Weir
  • Dr. Adrian Dawkins - DECEASED

G.S.I. Engineering

  • Martol Stanimirov

Played by Tindjin

  • Malcom "Clint" Galleon

Played by Elendil004

  • Ian Young
  • Grace McGraw - DECEASED

G.S.I. Defense Corps

  • Staff Sergeant Andrew Stewart
  • Corporal Yelena Sokolova

Played by John A Tallon

  • Corporal Frederick Adams
  • Corporal Sean Tyson
  • Private Austin Hunter

Played by Malus

  • Private James "Jimmy" Hawke

Played by Milky Moor

Civilian

  • Wesley Turner

Sub-Communities

Party grouping & colony structure. Though characters, and well enough, colony participants have widely varied disciplines and tasks at hand, they remain collectively social groups, in that each 'batch' of new occupants represents a different corporation or G.S.I. initiative respectively. That is to say that while there are around 150 individuals residing on the colony, they are generally segregated into smaller groups, working as a whole for larger needs and projects where necessary and combining like-minded scientific think tanks as well.

Nevertheless, consider that each mini-'community' is in and of itself a sort of social experiment and case study for life on Mars. There are variables and controls untold, but in the end this is in large part an explanation for the question of 'why would these characters / how would these characters be involved with one another on a consistent basis?'.

Each community group has a general common 'setup'--a shared section of living quarters, an assigned A.I. Assistant, and a pool of segregated resources. When not involved in overarching initiatives in the colony, members of a given community will conduct research and perform tasks (often times outside of their scientific discipline as well) for maintaining the colony's operating structure.

A.I. Assistants

There are a plethora of reasons to the particular structuring of the colony's A.I. Assistants, and their roles as defined. Consider that the colony has a centralized mainframe and data-center with significant data stores and information available--but this centralized system is not run by a particular A.I. (save for interactions of a higher caliber from G.S.I.'s core A.I. assigned to the orbital station Athena.)

Each community in the colony has been assigned a different A.I. Assistant which operates with, interacts, and as it's namesake role, assists those members with research and other tasks. These A.I. 'persona' are in and of themselves varied and cultivated into 'unique' consciousnesses--another component of the social studies going on on the colony's overall structure--and are able to access the centralized mainframe, but interact with one another on a more overtly 'social' level rather then a pointedly digital one.

One unsaid significance to this structure is to ensure that all 'eggs' are not in one 'basket' so to speak, but it is also to provide dedicated sophisticated backing to the needs of each sub-community of the colony. A.I. Assistants predominantly function in aide for research data cataloging, statistics, and even active participation where applicable in reaching project goals, with their direct and conjoined access to vast data store systems allowing quick and efficient processing work to be performed and relayed to science personnel.

On another level, however, each A.I. Assistant also functions as a companion to their sub-community, providing a wealth of corresponding interactions (such as typical needs like "Hey, play Chess with me.") or satisfying some intellectual and emotional needs (such as "Please read me this bit of Shakespeare to help me ease off to sleep.")

A.I.

  • Felix a.k.a. Invictus - Security and data management guru. Transferred to the Athena orbital station, and fitted as the communications overseer and master controlleFirst of the prolific A.I. consciousnesses.
  • Gretchen - Member of the International Medical Research Front board of directors, an affluent contributor to modern medicine. Second of the first prolific A.I. consciousnesses.
  • Pradnya - Core of the Library of Alexandria data network. Third of the first prolific A.I. consciousnesses.
  • Akihiro
  • Eddie

G.S.I. - Global Science Initiative

Security - Of Man & Machine

The call for high security on the Mars Initiative is gravely important. Radicals, activists, extremists, and in truth even certain corporate entities have vested interests in obstructing, hindering, delaying, and otherwise sabotaging any stage of Mars colonization that can be influenced, providing threat sufficient to call for active countermeasures on all fronts. While it may seem implausible at first to affect a facility more than thirty six million miles away, propulsion technology is as readily available on the black market--and popular--as thermonuclear warheads and weapons of mass destruction once were. For the most part, these unapproved space-bound shuttle craft are supported by glaringly lacking logistics to 'succeed' in much beyond periodically making lunar headway undetected, there is an ever-mounting drive and not-insignificant demand for shirking those waiting lists and approval processes in place in one part, and reaching Mars with ill-intent in another part, just the same.

If physical personal potential threats were not enough, a far more 'accessible' route for ne'er-do-wells and privately funded espionage departments is the all-the-more appealing route of electronic probes into the Mars colonization efforts. By design, the core mainframe and systems on Ares I are cut off from communique with Earth and Lunar-based systems in order to significantly eliminate the potential for tampering and malicious penetration; all data transfer and communications are routed first to the orbital station Athena's systems, utilizing those as a mid-point for transactions and interactions with the to-and-from of data parcels.

Any security matrix is invariably going to have -some- sort of entry method regardless of encryption, and given the relative 'ease' (cost not withstanding) of putting a satellite into Earth's orbit, Athena for all of its distance from Earth is fairly constantly on the receiving end of a bulk of what is regarded as 'garbage' traffic. Be it curious Earthbound Internet users sending all manner of what is at times random messages and packets, or the various corporate sponsors of the Mars Initiative utilizing 'keep-alive' transfers for uninterrupted communication flow, Athena's systems are hit 24/7, and respectively monitored by a dedicated team of systems operators and administrators on the orbital station itself.

The peak of these electronic 'defenses', however, is in the A.I. Assistant on-board the Athena--G.S.I.'s wildly successful Felix, though more commonly named and referred to as 'Invictus' for official duty. Felix was one of the earliest success stories for efforts at cultivating unique A.I. consciousnesses, made particularly notable by 'his' natural acclimation and satisfaction in puzzling out encryption and other elaborate riddles and codes. In 2036, Felix successfully thwarted the notorious 'super virus' ODIN, which had been wreaking havoc on networks worldwide, while coupled with the processing reserves of Deep Blue II, and thereafter went on to provide remarkable algorithms and platforms for the prevention of incursions. For point of interest, the two 'sister' A.I. to Felix, Gretchen and Pradnya, developed along different focal paths--with Gretchen evolving into the first non-human member of the International Medical Research Front board of directors, and Pradnya forming the core A.I. Assistant for the Library of Alexandria project.

'Invictus' manages innumerable fronts at very nearly all times on Athena--but the need for physical security also remains important for the Mars Initiative--and therein lies the call for members of the G.S.I. Defense Corps present on the colony. G.S.I. operates several divisions of what amount to ground troops on Earth, born from the mantle of international policing and conflict resolution the organization took to bear, and for the necessity of protecting the interests of the G.S.I. as well.

G.S.I. DC in particular draws parallels to the old British S.A.S., and consists of well-trained, well-equipped, and (frankly) well-paid fighting men and women who form what is usually the 'response team' role for G.S.I. on Earth. For the Mars Initiative, G.S.I. DC Guardsmen (though contested in some circles as a PR distinction--G.S.I. has received no small criticism in the media for the G.S.I. DC soldiers and some of their operations in third world countries. The veracity of these claims is up for debate, however.) are stationed in the event of unforeseen physical threats to the colonists of Ares I, as well as to function as a police force as well. Given the limited occupancy of the colony, it has been determined as more practical and efficient to send fewer, but better trained and equipped security personnel, rather than trying to maintain a more voluminous force.

G.S.I. Defense Corps Guardsmen are trained in typically general firearms usage, with additional notable skill in hand to hand combat, demolitions disposal, first aid, hostage situations and negotiation. For the Mars Initiative, Guardsmen are further trained in the standard usage of vacc suits (in addition to being able to fight capably in one, if necessary), as well as the operation of Mars ground vehicles deployed by G.S.I. (at present summarized as ATVs). Standard equipment involves a rifle & sidearm pairing using caseless ammunition, ballistic bodysuits, and an optics and communication headset. For obvious reasons, Guardsmen stationed on Ares I do not receive the concussive explosive ordinance their Earthbound counterparts are usually outfitted with. In addition, the ignition temperature for caseless munitions to be used on Mars has been adjusted with consideration paid to the differing surface temperatures to avoid accidental 'cook-off'.

G.S.I. performs psych evaluations of all active Guardsmen on a quarterly basis, screening for disturbances--something which is doubly thorough for candidates under consideration for duty on the Mars colony. Guardsmen who have been on longer active duty typically receive tissue therapy as part of their bonus pay--including a number of vaccinations and immune system enhancements which would otherwise be quite costly to a civilian, making it one of the big incentives for long-term service. Similar to most professional military services, the Defense Corps provides tuition reimbursement, benefits packages and other perks.

Technology

Cybernetics & Robotics

Though A.I. advancements and medical breakthroughs have been the game of the day throughout much of the scientific headlines in recent years, there have been advancements in both Cybernetics & Robotics with recent unveiling and project completions. Toyota and several other Japanese corporate divisions are largely responsible for the successful projects thus far, as well as Australia-based Cytech Industries. Prosthesis has been available the longest, and have been made possible in a synergistic fashion by advancements in synaptic system interfaces. Though nowhere near submersed virtual reality, these personal connections do allow for more efficient data access, and have also made for some particularly interesting interactions with A.I. Assistants 'on their level' so to speak. Prosthetic limbs range from the cosmetic (functional, very convincing limbs only moderately weaker than flesh counterparts) to the highly functional (less organic in appearance, but often stronger and far more durable than flesh counterparts).

Synaptic interfaces for simple mechanical control is in preliminary testing phases. In addition, ocular replacements have just begun to reach commercial and medical availability, offering a more drastic and costly, but potentially far improved alternative to traditional laser eye surgery. Through synaptic system interfaces, at present there is the equivalent to an elaborate G.U.I. available with a greater response time than the traditional keyboard and mouse access. Synaptic interfacing cybernetics remain quite costly, however, and are typically only readily available to either the well-to-do, or those whom are corporate sponsored in a cybernetics program.

Robotics have advanced to the point of streamlined mass production facilities on Earth, as well as developed equipment to handle maintenance and repair in particularly dangerous circumstances. Robotics machinery was employed in the Chernobyl leak in 2034, when it was impossible for humans to safely approach the decayed infrastructure as they had in the past. Oceanic exploration has also been a forefront of robotics, particularly in the mapping of volcanic activity and the pursuit of additional veins of retrievable resources.


For the Mars Initiative, robotics have thus far been employed primarily in the initial construction of the colony; those units have since been converted and put to use in minor excavator roles until more construction and expansion is needed.

Library of Alexandria

Derived in homage to the ancient locale of the same name, the Library of Alexandria data network is a global, publicly accessible source for academia, encyclopedic reference, and knowledge fonts. All one needs to access the network is a system with internet connectivity and a valid G.S.I. Public Access account.