I think it started around the time of my great, great, great, great grandfather, but I might be off by a generation or two. Whenever it was is no longer of any importance. What is important now is the success of this mission. The fate of the human race is at stake.
Early in the 21st century scientific exploration had been deemed only of importance on the surface or under the waves, and only if it could show appreciable results that would benefit man at that time. Any dreams of off-world expeditions were relegated to those of children that still had access to comics and science fiction books and magazines. Adults had become too jaded to even think about such things.
That all changed when a vehicle named Voyager 1, launched in 1977 (and essentially turned off in 2025) remarkably turned itself back on (with or without help is unknown). The control terminal at the station which had originally been used to monitor this craft just started transmitting. This station had been deemed an historical site and museum, and the terminals were switched on only during visitor hours to give a more pleasing display. Since the shutdown, only bored caretakers had taken the time to maintain the equipment.
When still operational at the farthest reaches of the galaxy, it took 17 hours just to receive a radio transmission from this craft. What had come in this time were photos, even though the cameras had been shut off years before monitoring had stopped on the radio signals. It was unimaginable to even contemplate how long these would have taken to get here. Of course scientists had been called in and had tried to repudiate this as some sort of hoax. Tests had been run, hackers interrogated and the images analyzed, and eventually it had been determined that they must be the real thing.
My distant ancestor had been one of the scientists involved, and the information would probably never have seen the light of day if not for a security breach. It seems the caretaker/janitor had thought to supplement his meager salary by selling copies to a disreputable news agency. It may have been because of whom they were, that the story petered out rather quick. Something called photoshopping had been supposedly involved. Whatever the case, The material wound up in some filing cabinet, with the intent of never being seen again.
Many years after that incident, another more serious event occurred, which caused this earlier incident to be revived. Usually asteroids are not even visible to the naked eye. This one had been more like a meteor, with only the speed it was travelling keeping it from colliding. As implausible as it sounds, observers swore the underside of it had been burning as though it almost breached the atmosphere. Of course meteors have hit before, but this one was said to have been the size of a large city.
Noted scientists tried to determine the odds of this object actually hitting us on one of its passes, and how long that would be. Had it been getting closer each time, or had this been a fluke? Someone (I'm not saying for sure it was one of my relatives) had the foresight to mention that if what had been transmitted from that Voyager 1 vehicle had been accurate, we should start making plans immediately. This had been in (I believe) my great, great grandfather's day. It has taken all those generations to come to where we are at now. Luckily no close calls had occurred, since that time, with that asteroid (if one can say 58.000 miles is not close).
My ancestors had been involved throughout, with the establishment of the organization that would oversee all aspects, through the building of the vehicles. My Father had taken over from my grandfather as the lead engineer on the final stages of the project. He was responsible for overseeing the launch and rendezvous of the various vehicles.
Governments had been given the responsibility of finding personnel suitable for the long trek ahead. Husband and wife teams were left to the individual countries, with the knowledge that these couples would procreate and be discarded to the black abyss when they died, unless the onboard soil was in need of fertilization. Their offspring would be required to wed and follow suit. At the end of the voyage, there would be just a single community of hearty people that would be the human race.
The part of the vessel these personnel will reside in is called the thorax and the part they will farm, the abdomen, as the design is similar to that of a wasp. The vehicles were so large they were visible to the naked eye from the ground up until their launch. I could not even remember a night that I could not see them since the time I was born. This had an effect on everyone when I was growing up, as all wanted to know who would get the chance to even work on them.
At long last, those chosen to take the journey were shuttled up to the thorax vessel. This procedure in itself took many days. When they were launched (first the abdomen, then the thorax and two bumper ships), it seemed like they were barely moving until eventually they were out of sight. Those with good telescopes, and at suitable locations, might seem them on their outward swing.
That had been the start to a momentous project involving the assembly of a ship while in flight. The abdomen was the first part to utilize the slingshot effect to put it in the same trajectory of that used by the Voyager1. This would increase its velocity to 10,000 miles per hour (mph). The thorax and bumper ships would reach much higher speeds due to the difference in their sizes. While the thorax was catching up to the abdomen, the bumper ships would pass the thorax and home in on their receptacles on the abdomen that would increase the speed of the abdomen to more closely match that of the incoming thorax. The thorax would pass under the abdomen, going through a harness that would be drawn in until the thorax was ahead of the abdomen and literally towing it. At this time the speed of the vessel would be approaching 25,000 mph.
Now came my first (and most important) part in the mission. Four more bumper ships and my head vehicle performed the slingshot maneuver perfectly, and we were on track to unite with the other vessel which we could not even see, when the bumper ships passed me on their way to their respective receptacles, two each on the thorax and abdomen. With the other vessel in sight, I saw the bumper ships dock and then all six gave an added boost. I passed under the abdomen and then went through a harness from under the thorax and felt a slight tug as that massive bulk couldn't quite reach my speed. That slight drag was to be expected, even though it felt disconcerting. I gave a split second burst of my rockets and we got to our cruising speed of 38,000 mph. Everything had gone as planned. I could picture the elation that I heard over my radio from ground control.
It took us longer than expected to connect all parts, but time was no longer a concern to us. We had started the first part of a voyage that none of us alive at the time would ever see end. With all parts connected, It really did look like a wasp, with the bumper ships sticking out like its legs, and solar panels erected that could possibly be described as wings. Those panels would provide the energy to allow the farming in the abdomen and comfort in the living quarters of the thorax, as well as run all the electronics and communications equipment that occupied the head. Our nuclear engines, which though could serve as an inexhaustible fuel, would be held in reserve for cases of emergency only. The exception would be regular firing of the rockets in the bumper ships, which would at some future date, hopefully be utilized as landing ships.
Everything was going as smooth as could be expected, with people going about the business of living, and children growing up that would never see land other than the farm soil in the abdomen. We had been gone for just over ten years. I was making a routine radio contact with ground control, which had now basically been relegated to caretaker status (on occasion a scientist might stop by), when I was surprised to hear my father's voice on the other end. He said it was the final transmission that would be coming, and that he wanted to use it to tell me he loved me and Godspeed with our mission. The asteroid that had come so close all those years ago was returning, and this time, it was on a collision course. I was shocked, and asked how long they had, and wasn't there something they could do to divert it? Despite waiting well past the time delay, the only thing that came back was static.
I decided this news that we were now the only humans left, could wait to be passed along to the ship. After all there was nothing that could be done about it. Instead I went to my wife and told her it was time to try again for a son. We had three daughters, but I still wanted a son to take over as pilot from me. The only other thing I hoped for was that the images of an earthlike world that had been transmitted back by the Voyager1 had, in fact, been real.