In 1993 the governments of the United States and Russia agreed to build a space station. Not long after that announcement, Japan, Canada, Brazil, and Britain along with the remaining 10 countries of the European Space Agency joined the US and Russia. Together they formed the Internation Space Alliance (ISA) and begin to build the International Space Station (ISS).
In 1994 an event occurred in our solar system that caused the ISA to realize just how easily life on Earth could end. The event was the collision of large fragments from the Shoemaker-Levy Comet with Jupiter. Such an event on Earth would undoubtedly be a "global killer". The ISA knew there was no plan or action that could prevent an event like this happening to our planet, so they establish another global space endeavor to hopefully insure the continued survival of human kind.
At the same time the ISA would be building the space station in Earth orbit, there would be another space project underway on Earth. This new highly classified globally backed endeavor was named "Project: Columbus". This project would be the building of an interstellar ship to search the galaxy for Earth-like planets for human kind to colonize. The ship would be the Columbus reflecting the mission to discover a new world, hence its project code name.
In order for this program to be fulfilled, the United States government would provide highly classified advanced propulsion systems and gravitational control technology only if the construction of the Columbus would take place at the a highly classified aeronautics research and development facility located in the Nevada desert. This is known to the general public as infamous AREA 51. The US would not share this technology and suppliy it only under the condition that US personnel would be in total control of its systems. Once the ship was launched, the ISA Ground Control Network could take control of the mission.
Since the galaxy is vast and our detailed star charts are limited, it was decided to explore the closet system to Earth, Alpha Centauri, which is a binary star configuration four light years away. It was thought that a planet might exist there which could support human life.
The Columbus took over two decades to fully develop, test, and construct even with the global effort, and its design configuration resembled the proverbial "UFO" and "flying saucers" seen by wintesses for years.
In October of 2007 the Columbus was secretly launched from the Area 51 base. The ship's eight person crew was comprised of six internationally selected civilian scientist (including one of the Area 51 scientist that had developed the propulsion system and gravitational control technology, Dr. Albert Vogel) and two US military officers that were the pilots and the ship system engineers.
The launch and the flight of the Columbus through our solar system was flawless, but as the ship was leaving our system, the main ISA Ground Control Center began losing audio contact. The Columbus then started moving erratically and without warning there was a flash of light and the ship was gone. The cause of the flash is unknown and the disappearance of the Columbus is a complete mystery.
Most speculate that the flash was an explosion due to a terrorist bomb or sabotage, while others think it was a critical systems malfunction relating to the new propulsion technology utilized by the Columbus. There has also been those that believe the Columbus may have encountered some sort of unknown spatial anomaly that caused its disappearance.
Regardless the ISA and the Area 51 personnel ceased operations and began an immediate investigation into the incident. After two years of relentless testing of the propulsion and gravitational systems via computer models and an ongoing investigations into the potential causes of the Columbus incident, it was determined it was not a design or a system failure. The apparent destruction of the Columbus was officially classified as sabotage.
Unfortunately due to the dismal state of the wide world economy in 2007 and 2008, most international members of the ISA had to cease funding the project to send a interstellar ship to explore our galaxy for an Earth-like planet.
In 2010 the United States Government along with the US Air Force Space Command and NASA joined forces to resume the project to seek an Earth-like planet with the second interstellar ship Odyssey. The Odyssey had infact been under contruction almost in parallel with the Columbus and would be even more advanced technologically due to the three year delay during the Columbus incident investigation. Apparently the impact of yet another stellar object with Jupiter in 2009, plus the continuous threat of asteroids passing very close to Earth, had influenced US Government officials to fulfill this exploration mission alone.
In 2011 the Earth has had its closest contact with an asteroid to date which prompted the United States to create and test a new "Emergency Broadcast System" message nationally. The resulting asteroid scare and the increasing fear of Climate Change resulting in Extreme Weather conditions also help to reinforce the need to seek another planet capable of supporting human life.
Since the launch of the ill-fated Columbus in 2007 it has been determined with the aid of deep space probes and manned reconnaissance missions that finding an Earth-like world in the Alpha Centauri system is potentially improbable, but the chances of finding a planet within a habitable zone is probable in the Gliese 581 system which is twenty light years away. This system potentially has planets that fall into an habitable zone that could sustain human life with Gliese 581 g being the most likely candidate.
The Odyssey controlled by Space Command will launch in 2012 with a two-fold mission. First, the ship will perform a final investigation at the actual location of Columbus disappearance and search for any debris and/or residue. It will also explore any potential spatial anomalies located in the area that may have affected the ship. Once this part of their mission is complete, the Odyssey will proceed to explore the Milky Way Galaxy for an Earth-like planet.