158. The Cost of Starflight

Whatever his faults, Saloman Curran, from the novel Cyan,  is no coward, as he shows at a news conference called when the USNA government tries to shut down the colonization of Cyan because of the high casualty rate associated with cold sleep.

“Chairman Curran,” the reporter asked, “how can you advocate cold sleep, even plan an entire colonization project around it, when it will result in a ten percent mortality rate. That seems more than a little inhumane.”

“A bit cold?” Curran asked. A grudging chuckle greeted his gallows humor. “Your facts are not quite right,” he continued. “That figure of ten percent is inaccurate.”

“You aren’t going to tell us that it is lower. We have that figure from NASA research.”

“Ten percent was the estimated loss for a five year cold sleep. We will be sleeping our people twenty years. We expect a mortality of 19.7 per cent.”

That silenced the room for a moment. Curran went on, “What you are missing is a lesson history has to teach. When the Irish were driven to America by the famine of the mid-nineteenth century, reliable historians estimate that more than twenty percent of them died of disease, starvation, or shipwreck on the way across the Atlantic. When your ancestors crossed the American prairie by covered wagon, they died by the thousands. Indians killed some, but mostly they died as they always had, of cold, hunger, infection from wounds received in their everyday work, and from disease. Influenza, tuberculosis, and a dozen other diseases that no longer exist sapped their strength and killed them wholesale. 

“Settlement of a new land has never been easy. It has never been for the timid. It has been for those whose faith in the future led them to defy the odds.

“And there is more. The Irish who did not leave Ireland, died in even greater numbers. The Americans who did not cross the prairie, faced the same wounds and overwork and diseases, and faced poverty and hunger besides. For all the dangers, the toil, and the hardships faced by the ones who went on ahead, there were as great dangers and greater hardships behind them. They went forth to find a future, but also to leave behind an unacceptable present.

“Look around the USNA. What do you see? Hunger, crowding, and death. What other motivation does a brave man or woman need to risk death, with the odds four to one in his favor?

“No one is being coerced. Every colonist will be a volunteer and we expect a hundred volunteers for every colonist we can take. Maybe a thousand for every one we can take. You may not have that kind of courage. Your viewers may not. If not, they should not apply. But the colonists who go out to settle Cyan will have that kind of courage.

“Will I find enough to accompany me? I will find a million who will cry bitterly that they were not chosen.”

Curran paused to adjust his jacket, with the look of a man overcoming an emotional outburst.

“To come back to your original question,” he continued; “Is cold sleep safe? No, it is not! But I will go to Cyan in cold sleep, and if I die en route, my life will have been well spent.”

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