There may be a hundred billion planetary systems in the galaxy awaiting exploration. Not one of those worlds will be identical to Earth. A few will be hospitable; most will appear hostile. Many will be achingly beautiful. In some worlds there will be many suns in the daytime sky, many moons in the heavens at night, or great particle ring systems soaring from horizon to horizon. Some moons will be so close that their planet will loom high in the heavens, covering half the sky. And some worlds will look out into a vast gaseous nebula, all those skies, rich in distant and exotic constellations, there will be a faint yellow star — perhaps barely seen by the naked eye, perhaps visible only through the telescope — the home star of the fleet of interstellar transports exploring this tiny region of the Milky Way Galaxy.
The themes of space and time are, we have seen, intertwined. Worlds and stars, like people, are born, live and die. The lifetime of a human being measured in decades; the lifetime of the Sun is a hundred million times longer. Compared to a star, we are like mayflies, fleeting ephemeral creatures who live out their whole lives in the course of a single day. From the point of view of a mayfly, human beings are stolid, boring, almost entirely immovable, offering hardly a hint that they ever do anything. From the point of view of a star, a human being is a tiny flash, one of the billions of brief lives flickering tenuously on the surface of a strangely cold, anomalously solid, exotically remote sphere of silicate and iron.
In all these other worlds in space there are events in progress, occurrences that will determine their futures. And on our small planet, this moment in history is a historical branch point as profound as the confrontation of the Ionian scientists with the mystics 2,500 years ago. What we do with our world in this time will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully determine the destiny of our descendants and their fate, if any, among the stars."