Humans are messy and tricky. While I was thinking about artificial intelligence working aboard a space salvage station I realized that there would be some unlabeled parts. This was even before the story about John Young smuggling a corned beef sandwich on board a Gemini-3 launch. When systems can’t identify things, people are going to get the job. Below is a story about a junk sorter from the Off Earth Series world.
Before the first orbital war there were tens of thousands of pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth. Expended satellites were parked in a geo-stationary orbit where they wouldn’t affect modern, functional satellites. Smaller decommissioned satellites were de-orbited to mostly burn up in the atmosphere though in some cases their mass survived and plummeted into one of the oceans. It wasn’t a great system and many people believe it was the true cause of the first orbital war. A piece of Chinese space debris collided with a United States based space tourist station. One hundred and four customers died and an equal number of staff perished when exposed to the void of space.
When the orbital war was finished the every day amenities people on Earth were accustomed to were gone. No satellite communications, no global positioning and limited weather forecasting. There was so much debris orbiting the planet and so little information available that any space launch was considered a suicide mission.
Then Kai Nazca returned.
Flying the rock now known as Lagrange-4 back from deep space was remarkable enough. But when he saw the mess preventing him from returning to his planet his next idea was pure brilliance. Using old radio wave technology he was able to communicate with the early ruling body that was to become the Planetary Operating Alliance (POA). In exchange for cleaning up the debris circling the Earth he was granted exclusive rights to the stationary orbit of Lagrange-4 in perpetuity and passable to his heirs, as well as complete ownership of anything he was able to recover for a ten year period.
The ten year period for ownership ended long ago. Now they were required to purchase any debris from the owners before it could be salvaged. While every component of a ship launched into space was logged and labeled, humans were less precise. Tourists, laborers and stowaway’s all brought personal affects with them. When a vessel failed and the escape pods were used, plenty of unlabeled items were left behind, eventually needing salvage.
Artificial Intelligence and bots were great at processing individual labeled items. They were terrible at processing unlabeled items or products that were assembled from multiple-labled items. A.I. Would routinely label complex systems as something simple based on the component on it’s surface.
When A.I. And bots fail, humans get involved. That’s how Kurt Plaque ended up in the massive salvage bay of Lagrange-4 parsing through a motley collection of jewelry. The value of gold, platinum and silver dropped dramatically after it was discovered in abundance in several asteroid mines. Here in space there was a market for handmade Earth goods. A gold necklace with a locket made on Earth was worth more than it’s weight in gold.