...its a damn shame i know not of what i speak...

 

Most days on Ascension Island are beautiful, more or less. It makes up for the neighborhood. From a distance the island looks like a jagged rock cropping out of the Atlantic. The entire island is lava, except the thin patches of dirt and vegetation laid down by alien sensibilities or ground up and collected over thousands of years on the lea sides of 40 odd semi-active volcano domes. In fact, Ascension is just the 90 square mile peak of a huge smoldering volcanic edifice sinking down 4000 meters to the smoking Ascension Fracture Zone; our local implementation of the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Ascension is set completely apart on the wide equatorial sea. Close to no shipping lane and invisible on casual maps.

What Ascension does have is the perfect location. Generations of colonial geopolitics, high-tech geoeconomics, isolation, and a dash of astrophysics edged the island out into an interesting corner of center stage.

Since the 1600s Ascension has been repeatedly discovered, ignored, misused, abandoned, and forgotten. Over time Ascension played host to shipwrecked explorers and thirsty merchant mariners. Quarantine camps blossomed in Comfortless Cove for fevered sailors to wither and die in. After Napolian was able to see Elba he saw the Crown dependency of Saint Helena 800 miles to the south east of Ascension. British marines came to Ascension to guard the keepers of the captive French emperor. Their presence brought a more formal transient settlement. During the exile's imprisonment the Royal Navy recorded Ascension as a 'stone sloop of the lesser class.'

Later English forces used Ascension as a base from which to suppress the booming West African slave trade. Sometime after that the Royal Marines took up permanent residence this time lasting several decades before they again quit the island. At that point Ascension was left to the Saints, relative locals. The empty dependency became just an economic footnote to its almost equally desolate southern neighbor.

Modern governments and communications firms rediscovered Ascension as an attractive broadcasting and undersea cable landing site. For a time the posts and radiotelephone companies ruled Ascension without interference. The desert island went commercial with no complaints. Today rotting stumps of fat transatlantic cables can still be seen trailing limply through the tombs and boulders down to the water at their landing points in Comfortless Cove.

Then came the world wars. The island caught the martial spirit again full force when the U.S. Army Engineering Corps arrived to build the British territory into an American aircraft carrier commanding the passage south. Later, as the Cold War cranked into gear Ascension joined the Eastern Test Range as its south eastern outpost. Then in the 1960s with the realpolitik inspired push to the moon, the U.S. government diversified its interests in Ascension by sending NASA to establish a tracking station. Moon rovers were airlifted in for something approaching in situ trials. Gigantic power stations, farms of colossal wind generators, and gold plated desalination plants were constructed to support the handful of secretive project on the island. Unusual events occurred and were completely missed by the world press. As usual, the Americans existed as a autonomous colony within the British dependency, funded and administered from offices in Virginia rather than Georgetown and London.

Around about that time the British teleco firms also began satellite tracking and control along the north coast. NASA pulled back briefly after Apollo, but like most of the entities involved with Ascension, couldn't stay away. The upstart ESA arrived in white turtlenecks with tracking facilities for the Arlene program. All this while the USAF continued to modernize Wideawake Field and other test range facilities to accommodate the latest in strategic defense technology. America's LEO operators and satellite services companies moved into Garrison and the northeast of the island with efficient little ghettos of two room prefab buildings to feed on that investment. Launch barges became a familiar adjunct to the constant presence of the fuel tenders lying off Mars Bay.

These days, plunging launch costs and exploding demand for unrestricted hypersonic flights, vertical launch slots, and emergency landing sites have turned Ascension into a minor aerospace boom town. NASA, its commercial partners and the bureaucrats both rely on needed a remote spaceport for unruly test vehicles, hazardous material return, and other low key operations. Sitting smack on the equator, remote but with modern amenities, including a landing strip built out to accommodate the original Space Shuttles, and with a pliant local administration 800 miles away was Ascension Island. The salubrious weather and lunar landscape was just a bonus.

 

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