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Chapter 3 – The Prometheus Program and False Idols
While pop cultural osmosis is correct in communicating to the public that the Prometheus Deep Space Program was not under consideration until 2107, many modern retellings of the First Contact of 2072 do miss to communicate the role that Dr Louisa Jiwe played in its creation.
Writing this chapter was a complicated process for me as I am perfectly aware that, regardless of what I write in it, it will not come close to scratching the surface of Dr Jiwe’s public image. And it really shouldn’t since there is nothing wrong with the person itself. We historians, or at least I, just speaking for myself, do not have vendettas against the people we write about. except maybe for Christopher Columbus. William Wallace, Claus von Stauffenberg, Ronald Reagan, and Winston Churchill. Also Abraham Lincoln. Humorous comment aside, Jiwe is a victim of her own success in many ways and however great and accomplished the real person was, there really is no way but down in regards to a person’s legacy once they have been so mystified by an entire planetary population.
Jiwe is more often than not regarded as one of the greatest minds of her generation, if not of all time, in one long line with Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Tim Berners-Lee, and James Dewar. As the inventor of the hyperspace drive there is little to argue with and her contribution to the engine, both in theory and in building it, are never exaggerated in fiction. So this part of her biography is accurate and rarely, if ever, has been misrepresented in fiction. It is quite impossible, even for filmmakers. But filmmakers and storytellers have, and probably always will, consistently decided to make one of the greatest minds of human history into a flawless deity, when the truth is far different from the fiction, regardless of what movie, series, game, or book you consume on the subject matter. Jiwe was a forward thinking intellectual, Nobel prize winner, billionaire inventor, hyperspace theorist, astronaut, and space adventurer. She was not Earth’s lord and savior. She was a person, a flawed one at that. This is by no means going to be a biography of the famous inventor and futurist but any discussion on the conceptual flaws of the Prometheus program cannot fail to mention the foundation on which the project was eventually built.
Jiwe was born during a time of economic unrest and political uncertainty in the late 2030s. After the neoliberal politics of Western European and North American governments led to multiple financial crashes, labor and socialist parties, like in the form of Jiwe’s home country Germany’s Sozialdemokratische Renaissance Partei or SDWP (Social Democratic Renaissance Party), made a resurgence after decades of post-Cold War conservativism and market liberalism. The introduction of universal income and robot unionization reforms in all six European Union member states led to a reinvigoration in the European economy which had slummed after the European Union Culling of 2025. As the child of first generation immigrants Jiwe profited highly from the newly vibrant economy and the steady universal income. Originally planning to design video games, Jiwe added physics to her computer science studies, eventually graduating suma cum laude with a Master’s degree in theoretical physics and bachelors in computer science.
Following graduation Jiwe spent several years living off her universal income provided by the government while hitchhiking through Europe, occasionally interning at several private space companies, which had sprung up around the world after the first successful Mars missions. Jiwe had never intended to work for any of the companies, she later said in several interviews, merely to “relieve them of their scrap or borrow the occasional cup of antimatter”, as she would later joke, though police records of the time do show her getting arrested several times stealing parts from rocket graveyards.
The creation of the hyperdrive engine itself is a curious case of unbelievable circumstances crossing paths with an unreliable narrator. Jiwe stated throughout the years to have developed the hyperdrive based on previous open source works by physicists and engineers partaking in the Final Frontier Initiative (FFI), an early utopian think tank. She herself stated several times over the years that her discoveries in this time were due to the work of others, which she extrapolated from and perfected using hands on tinkering and computer simulations. This does coincide with the research done during this time by Sir Alan Peters and Dr Rami Patel, senior FFI collaborators. During the later stages of her life, however Jiwe would tell her authorized biographer Molly Sullivan that her discoveries were based on information received by a visiting starship crew from the future, which had been thrown back in time on a mission to recover a group of socialist androids bent on overthrowing the “meatbag bourgeoisie”. Jiwe admitted to having helped the crew of the starship Prometheus, UNC-01-L to recover the renegade time travelers. In turn Jiwe admitted to having copied the design of the ship’s engine room and hyperdrive generator, creating a stable time loop.
Of course, Jiwe was a heavy hard drug user and self-noted VR and AR addict. Most contemporaries humored the influential creator of the hyperdrive, citing numerous instances of brilliant people being less than neurotypical in the way they perceived reality or reality perceived them. Time travel having to this day not been able to be proven correct added additional layers of doubt. Jiwe eventually recanted her statement a few months before taking her experimental hyperdrive ship on an unscheduled trip to the Jovian moons, eventually getting lost. Without much evidence to support her claims, there is little reason to speculate, but in my personal opinion and that of my mentor, Professor Barkley’s, school of thought, there is no point in speculating about stable time loops in regards to writing and discussing history anyway since any stable time loop will eventually happen and not continue to further impact on the way we write and discuss history. The very fact that I decided to mention the idea of the Jiwe’s stable time loop in this work would speak for an in-built foreshadowing effect that would eventually help future starship crews know that Jiwe was once visited by time travelers, continuing the cycle. Therefor most historians now agree that the story should be mentioned but not explored as it does not help us explain the structural and societal changes leading up to Jiwe using the technology of the 2050s and 60s to create something that was theoretically already considered possible but had not yet been successfully created. The fact that scientists like Nascimento and Cheng had been working on an alternate but similar methods of FTL travel since the late 2030s makes it more likely that Jiwe was one of many individuals whose work would have produced a working engine regardless of temporal interference within the next few decades. Jiwe happened to be the one who got it right first. It would however speak to the heights of human arrogance to assume oneself to be unique in approach and methodology. As historians we must, until the stable loop theory can be confirmed by future historians or time travelers, assume that Jiwe created the engine based on continued work of previous generations of researchers and then submitted the engine to the public by her own choice, leading to a test ship being developed with SpaceExpress, which Jiwe joined as a shareholder after having been bought out. The rest I have already covered in the introductory chapter.
Regardless of stable time loop, the invention of the hyperdrive engine is less important than what it eventually led to: the creation of the Prometheus Complex. Started by Jiwe before her disappearance, the new complex was to create a faster engine that could traverse interstellar spaces as well as the previous interplanetary distances for which the previous generation of engine was already considered fast enough. Originally signed into existence as a civilian space agency after EarthGov’s first tentative years in existence and to present human enlightenment towards the Vaude. The Prometheus Complex, named for Jiwe’s prototype spacecraft, would be able to research and eventually build the ship humanity would first send out among the stars. It would take ninety years after First Contact for the ship to be laid down.
As mentioned in a previous chapter, Earth was moved into a directon of slow expansionism by the Vaude, something that, retrospectively, could have only helped Earth’s first interstellar ship. In the 2070s when Earth’s first ship reached hyperspeed, it could only achieve speeds slightly above the speed of light. Impressive for the day and still even today when you want to get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time, but completely insufficient for long interstellar voyages. Our closest neighboring system Alpha Centauri is 3.3 lightyears away, with Jiwe’s prototype engine this would have taken humanity 3.3 years to reach, an unacceptable amount of time. So while Humans colonists the Asteroid belt, the Prometheus Complex with the help of Doctor Jiwe and after her disappearance her proteges, led to the creation of the Mark IV Hyperspace engine by 2154, which allowed for speeds up to 2.9 lightyears per day, allowing a hypothetical Earth spaceship to reach Alpha Centauri in little more than a day. Construction of the Prometheus Deep Space Ship finally began in 2167. EarthGov were determined to begin the Deep Space Program exactly 100 years after Humanity’s first hyperspace flight.
I have pondered if I should take this time to describe the Prometheus in detail, but eventually decided against for a simple reason: this is a history book, or at least close to one, not a technical manual. I have neither the training nor patience to sift through information to just regurgitate it here and pad out the book by a couple more pages. Any public database on the web can access these informations, so I will tell the story behind the construction instead. So here are the basics:
The majority of the time spent on the Prometheus Project was spend on the polls which were held to name the ship. While government institutions and the Prometheus Complex themselves had lobbied for the name Prometheus for a long time because of its heritage as the very first ship capable of interstellar flight and would therefor make a suitable name for its successor, many other agencies and the media asked for the public to name the ship instead. A funny story, best told in the words of the people involved in it. These comments were pulled from the social media records of the Earth Space Agency, which was later folded into Spacefleet:
Prometheus is totally boring. Yeah, yeah, we get it: guy robs the fire from Olympus and the gods to give to the humans. Yeah, yeah, great achievement for us, but what kind of morale would we teach aliens who found out about what it means? It’d be like naming a ship “Kleptomaniac”.
Yeah, she’ right, we need a cool name for a ship like that, something that would make aliens pee their pants. We should name it Executor!
Dude, that shit is from Star Wars. That’s so old. Besides, it’s totally copyrighted by Disney anyway. Jeez… Let’s go with Enterprise!
Complains about my copyrighted idea but comes up with something from boring old Star Trek!
It’s not from Star Trek! My dad served on the Mars explorer Enterprise, and that’s like the 12th ship named like that. There were a shit tonne of naval ships from France, England, and America named like that.
I love Star Trek for the record, but maybe we shouldn’t do the whole Americancentrism with the first ship we send out. I mean there will be others for sure, we can name one of them Enterprise, but maybe we should go with something else, like a famous explorer.
How ‘bout Columbus?
Columbus? That asshole is like a total psycho, murdered and raped millions of people in the Caribbean.
God, there’s more explorers than just Columbus, and again with the Americancentrism… How about Magellan?
Lame, nobody knows of him.
The man was the first to circumnavigate the globe, that deserves recognition.
Yeah, but nobody knows him. Should be something people know from pop culture.
I like Twilight Sparkle, that’s dangerous AND glamorous!
Shut up, and get out of a grown-up conversation, little girl!
I’m a forty year old man!
Same difference, I’m not assuming anything.
Can we please go back to the topic? No, we can’t take Twilight Sparkle, that’s copyrighted. Please read what we have so far! No Americacentrism, no copyright infrindgement!
How the hell do we even still have copyright in a pseudo-socialist utopia?!
Doesn’t matter, back to naming: I nominate Zheng He, the famous Chinese explorer.
Nobody can pronounce that shit. The captain will probably accidentally declare war whenever he introduces him/herself.
… Maybe they should just stick to Prometheus.
This was of course just a small sample of the hundreds of thousand conversations that were had on the subject. Eventually the ESA in conjunction with the Prometheus Complex opened a public poll to vote on a name. The final results from 4.5 billion votes were:
Marco Polo (5%)
Boaty McBoatface (78%)
It might appear that Boaty McBoatface would be some kind of joke entry, but Boaty McBoatface, it turned out in my research, actually had a long history of service within the British Natural Environment Research Council, being the famous mini-sub on the RSS Richard Attenborough in the early 21st century. There was another Boaty McBoatface serving with the Australian Royal Navy in the mid 21st century, earning two battle commendations during the Resource Wars. Eventually the Royal Navy refused to give up the name for an already laid down exploration ship, as this would be considered bad luck. Eventually the ship was named Prometheus as originally planned and the runner ups were all, as consolation prices, reused as names for the Prometheus’ shuttlecraft.
Thankfully even in a world as ridiculous as ours where I just spent a third of this chapter talking about the implications of time travel on the job of a historian and a ship that ended up saving humanity twice over almost being named Boaty McBoatface, there is one more ridiculous feature to explain:
Going through many of the Prometheus’ logs over the years it always seemed weird to me how this 500 meter long ship ended up the way it did. On paper did bore a striking resemblance to Spacefleets battlecruisers after all, yet it was classified as an explorer. A huge ship for its time and still for today, a schematic still influencing ship builders to this day but the first ship of its class retired after 12 years of service. The fasted ship humanity had ever built, an engine instrumental in saving Earth and laying the foundation for a galactic alliance the likes of which we have never seen, and yet the ship was towed into the solar system by other ships, having lost power just outside the Oort Cloud. The most modern ship ever built on Earth, towed home by twenty year old system defense ships. It seemed like a contradiction to me, and it wasn’t until I read the declassified memos between the Prometheus Complex, chief designer Mark Watney, and Captain Connors.
Prometheus, as it turns out, was servant of multiple masters. When it was laid down just five years before launch, there was no way the team at the Complex could have been able to build a ship from scratch within five years. O’Neil Station in the Belt, the solar system’s biggest shipyard to this date, wouldn’t be finished for another twenty years after all. From these memos we now know that the ship was built on the frame of a failed class of Spacefleet battleships, abandoned ten years early. The spaceframe had never been destroyed and just mothballed near Luna. The Prometheus Complex used the existing spaceframe to make up for lost time, gaining a year’s worth of build time from the pre-existing frame, but others were less optimistic about it. Spacefleet Vice Admiral Tokogawa, designated mission control for the Prometheus Project wrote to the Fleet Admiral on the day the spaceframe was handed over the Project:
Admiral, I am not sure about the spaceframe as a basis for the new Prometheus. We have designed the spaceframe for short-range hyperspace flight with a Mark III hyperspace generator. The abandoned Mulan-class Battleship was primarily envisioned as a short-range colony and solar protection ship, with overhauls every 50 lightyears. Prometheus has completely different needs. As a long-range explorer she won’t be able to be overhauled every few dozen lightyears, she will spend most of her time in hyperspace. The hyperspace bubble protects the ship only that much, structural integrity within hyperspace is stressed regardless due to the different laws applying in hyperspace. Prometheus’ Mark IV hyperdrive will be able to take some of the stress of the spaceframe, but we need to build a ship that can last, not one that’s cheap. When we’re out there in space we will need redundancy. I must request that we scrap the build and start fresh, regardless of whether or not we hit the deadline.
Spacefleet Chief of Staff Admiral Blackwell never responded to Vice Admiral Tokugawa’s formal protest directly, but several memos passed through Spacefleet and ESA during this time make clear that some sort of follow-up tests were made. Eventually, to cut a long and too detailed story for this book short, it was decided that Prometheus would receive a second deflector and thicker armor plating to compensate for the integrity problems, most simulations made during this time projecting a 75% increase in structural integrity rating. This ended up, however, cutting down on the armament the ship could receive as the new heightened structural integrity cut down on magazine space for missiles. Eventually it was instead decided to cut down on missiles entirely, relying instead on the brand-new pulse cannon technology and a magnetic accelerator gun on the front of the ship, which would be able to fire scooped up space debris at enemy ships. Missile tubes were cut down from 24 to 4. Of course we now know that this eventually led to a big problem for Prometheus’ battles to come, as most interstellar species relied heavily on missile combat, as Admiral Tokugawa and Prometheus Complex scientists pointed out even back then, this being simple logic. Space is, after all, very big, and energy weapons have a relatively small reach of only 20.000 kilometers at the time. While being lightspeed weapons and therefor operating under the hit-scan principle, missiles had a range of more than 10 times than energy weapons even today. Modern day Earth ships regularly engage enemy ships at over one million kilometers away, relying on missile domination to get the job done. Prometheus, with its questionable structural integrity and in a time before modern composite armor was invented, took several heavy beatings in the first few years of service, regularly outclassed by its opponents.
This brings us back to the concept of Prometheus as a servant of serval different interests. As a joint project between the Spacefleet, ESA, and the Prometheus Complex, a military and civilian contractor, and civilian space agency, Prometheus was drawn thin and build with multi-purpose missions in mind. An explorer with enough firepower to defend itself, a science vessel with the ability to nuke planets into oblivion, the fastest ship in the sector, and the toughest beast in any fight. In the words of Captain Connors herself:
They built me a fucking turkey.
Prometheus ended up too heavily armed for first contact vessel, with too little room for sensory equipment for science vessel, too little armament for a gunboat, and too little defensive capabilities for a lone ship out in the middle of nowhere. And while this book is dedicated to demystifying common misconceptions about the Prometheus and its crew, even I can only tip my hat at the ingenuity of the people who kept the ship running. The fact that the ship made it through a journey of over 9000 lightyears, dozens of firefights, and one interstellar war without disintegrating, breaking apart, or simply blowing up after someone sneezed is more a testament to a good on-board engineering team and good old-fashioned human blind luck. One of the later chapters will explore how arguably the gold standard for a human engineering team ended up being run by an idiot savant from rural Kentucky without an engineering degree or complete control over his mental faculties.
In the end, the ship ended up being launched in time for the 100th anniversary of First Contact. Louisa Jiwe went missing decades before, but her family was there, and one of them would make history as the first and only captain of Prometheus. The person, as it would turn out, least qualified for the job.