This portfolio originally appeared in Jump Point 5.9.
In the pantheon of enduring corporate entities, one would be hard pressed to find a company that has become as entwined with Humanity’s development as Roberts Space Industries. Whether sailing through the cosmos or walking down your average street, RSI’s contributions to our society are everywhere, but not many know the origin of this institution of innovation.
While most corporate endeavors begin with a dream and a single product, entrepreneur Chris Roberts’ dream was to create a culture that would foster creativity and innovation — one that would change with the times and continue to look to the future. His goal was nothing less than a company that would stay consistent and relevant in the marketplace regardless of whether it was next week or a thousand years down the line.
The great irony was that although the company became synonymous with a wide array of spaceships and terraforming, the ‘Space’ in Roberts Space Industries was an aspirational reflection of where Humanity could evolve to, rather than the company’s actual focus. The first product RSI released in 2043 was actually a hyper-efficient battery converter for ground-based civilian vehicles.
Officially formed in 2038, Roberts Space Industries’ founder, a young and enterprising inventor named Chris Roberts, established the core tenets of the company’s philosophy long before he began working on his first creation:
Learn from the past
Reach for the future
Always be relevant
Earth of the 21st century was a vastly different world than we know today. Although Humanity had travelled to space, it was a rare event and so cost-prohibitive that it was only possible for a few of the various ruling provinces of the era. The truth was that Earth was reaching a critical mass of overpopulation. Numerous wars erupted across the planet as the populace faced food, water and energy shortages.
Roberts looked for innovators from a variety of disciplines to join his team in an attempt to alleviate some of issues of the day. Some of RSI’s initial products ranged from a compact water-purification system to an energy-efficient power network. There was even a small expansion into cricket farming.
Although his company found modest success in these endeavors, Roberts refused to be complacent and continued to seek out greater innovations. In 2061, while studying a recent crop of doctoral dissertations from a prestigious engineering school, he came across the work of Dr. Scott Childress, whose thesis envisioned exciting work in the field of more affordable engine systems for spacecraft.
The prospect of making space travel more accessible reawakened a lifelong dream. Roberts quickly met with the fresh graduate and put together a team to help translate this dream into the real world. Although the process was not without its setbacks, in 2075 Roberts Space Industries unveiled their prototype Quantum Core Engine. Suddenly, space travel didn’t seem that fantastical anymore.
The implications of this technology were immediately recognized around the world. Exploration missions were suddenly feasible, as piloted vessels could now push further into the solar system. Various states (called ‘countries’ at that time) that previously couldn’t afford space travel were suddenly able to embark on missions of their own as well.
Roberts knew that although making space more accessible was a giant leap forwards for our species, it still didn’t solve Earth’s teeming population, which was reaching a critical mass. He pulled together a dedicated team from RSI’s various subsidiaries to create their most ambitious technology yet: terraforming a planet. This scientific conundrum became Roberts’ obsession until he passed away in 2108.
Though terraforming remained elusive in Roberts’ life, the new CEO continued to practice his corporate philosophy of seeking out innovators and finally, though it would take two generations of team members and almost forty years, RSI unveiled a technological breakthrough on 2113:04:21 that would lay the groundwork for terraforming a world. With a potential solution in sight, governments of the world, corporations and scientific minds came together to create a global collective focused on terraforming Mars (which at the time was completely uninhabitable). Finally, there was hope of relieving Humanity’s desperate population problem.
This project lasted decades and faced an incalculable loss when an accident, known as the Mars Tragedy, caused the deaths of nearly five thousand early settlers. During the glacial pace of this project’s sprawling scope, the Chairman’s policy of project diversification yielded another spectacular achievement. Responding to issues faced by the terraforming division’s efforts to transport resources to Mars, RSI’s Astro Development Team created the Zeus, the first commercially available spacecraft.
With Roberts Space Industries now at the forefront of spacecraft and terraforming tech, the company had firmly bound itself with Humanity’s development. As decades turned into centuries, terraforming technology would continue to be refined and RSI would expand further into ship development. It seemed like the company was incapable of going anywhere but up. However it turned out that the biggest threat wouldn’t come in the form of alien wars or maintaining market relevance.
It would come in the form of Human nature.
The Dark Age
For many, the ascension of Ivar Messer to Prime Citizen was a welcome change. At the time, the UPE had well-documented scenarios where endless bureaucratic debate completely stalled the government’s ability to do anything, so cutting through the dialogue in a single direction wasn’t seen as particularly ominous.
Unfortunately, Ivar consolidated his power over the years and subtly removed any checks that could challenge him, making it difficult for most people of that time to realize exactly what was happening. As his son took over the title of Imperator, the Second Tevarin War provided a perfect opportunity to remind the public why they needed decisive leadership.
As the Messers became more and more ensconced in their position, RSI lost their military contracts to Aegis Dynamics, the manufacturer that created the weapons of war favored by Ivar Messer. Several of RSI’s divisions still worked closely with the scientific bureaus and terraforming oversight committees, but as a whole, the company converted into a primarily commercial and civilian corporation.
That wasn’t to say that RSI was immune from the Messers’ wrath. In 2757, the shocking death of Anthony Tanaka reverberated through the Empire. Although the event was never mentioned in any news cycles, footage of the twelve-year-old boy’s refusal to work and subsequent execution on a factory floor still made its way through underground activist channels.
RSI CEO Avel Gedima was one of the few prominent public figures who not only acknowledged the sad death, but ordered a complete evaluation of all RSI facilities to make sure that they were adhering to all health and safety standards. A few months later, Ulysses Messer X released ‘damning and incontrovertible evidence of corporate malfeasance’ to the NewsOrgs, claiming that Gedima had embezzled imperial finances for personal use. The case languished in the courts for years, but the constant barrage of ‘evidence’ forced Gedima to step down.
After the Fall
In the wake of the revolution that toppled the Messers, the Empire experienced a period of free fall. The newly installed Imperator Toi and the restored High Advocate and High Secretary were busy trying to ferret out the rotten elements of the government, while the various planets seemed to turn on each other. For awhile, accusations of having collaborated with the Messer became the weapon of choice. Some of these charges were legitimate, but the unscrupulous used the accusation to escape debts or finally resolve feuds with their enemies. While Aegis Dynamics felt the brunt of the people’s fury and were commonly cited as symbols of tyranny, they weren’t the only ones to suffer from these witch hunts.
As a company, RSI hadn’t exactly prospered under the Messer’s rule, but they had maintained their status as a prominent company. Several historians of the era asserted that while RSI didn’t actively promote the Messer agenda, they consistently failed to use their considerable influence to decry it.
In response to these allegations, RSI established the Future Foundation, a specific division of the company devoted to charitable foundations and grants, and announced that for the first time since the founding of the company they were going to add a new tenet to Chairman Roberts’ original list of corporate philosophies:
Stand for good
The Modern Age
From their civilian ships like the Aurora all the way up to cutting-edge military vessels like the Bengal carrier, Roberts Space Industries continues to be a constant force of innovation in the vast corporate landscape. Meanwhile, the Future Foundation awards millions of credits a year to help promote education, fund new research and even provide housing opportunities.
By sticking to the core concepts outlined by a visionary entrepreneur almost a thousand years ago, it’s clear that RSI is going to be a fixture in Human development for a long time to come.