The Voyage of the Michael Collins

A historical perspective (Memetics 101)

The significance of the escape of the Ares conspirators.


The epic voyage of the Michael Collins from Mars to Ceres, carrying the Ares conspirators, is one of the defining events of the 21st century. Not for what it was but for what it represented. For many it marks the transition between the old and the new. Between the old dead Mars and the new living Mars, between man in awe of nature and nature in man's thrall, between human and transhuman.

As with previous memetic overturns a multitude of smaller revolutions led to this point. The massive genetic breakthroughs of the first half of the 21st century, the elimination of AIDS, life extension, the world population levelling off, fusion power, the increasingly space-borne humans species, artificial intelligence, robot soldiers, and many other small but significant breakthroughs. The change from conservatism to optimism as the dominant meme stems from this period of man apparently well in control of nature.

The romantic image of the voyage of the Michael Collins and the subsequent Duncanite revolution plays no small part in this meme. In the public view a handful of revolutionaries had changed the Solar System forever and then went on to improve the lot of all humans with their genetic breakthroughs. If 57 scientists acting covertly could terraform Mars and transform the species, what limits are there on what the entire human race could achieve?

The truth is much less romantic. Had the conspirators stayed on Mars the recriminations, the witch-hunts and the opposing factions would have torn Mars apart. The conspirators expected long term imprisonment or worse. Exile to Ceres was seen as a death sentence by many preservationists and not a few conspirators. By pro-terraformers it was seen as martyrdom. The exile mollified both sides and eased the tensions. That the conspirators had corporate backing and that the effects of terraforming were covered-up for so long by so many is often forgotten. That Captain Latisha Fox sacrificed her career to save Mars rarely makes the footnotes.

The voyage itself was unpleasant at best. With 58 people crammed in makeshift bunks in and around valuable cargo, improvised life support operating well above safety limits, and the dream of settlement on Ceres seen as wildly optimistic. Most expected to be taking the Michael Collins straight back to Mars - if they survived. Captain Fox was in no doubt, she had bought Mars the time it needed to heal the rifts. She expected the Ceres mission to fail.

That the Michael Collins and Captain Fox were in the right place at the right time is one of those coincidences from which history is made. That the scientists made their home on Ceres a success story, despite the long odds, is the real untold story.


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