A major nuclear exchanged was the cause of humanity's do-over. Many records were lost so it is unclear how it happened but it did involve a chain reaction of armed nuclear satellites in space. After the dust cleared, over 1 billion people had died. They rose from the ashes. The only recorded event from that time period is a report that the population rose back up very quickly. However this was a watershed event. It united the planet for its journey into the future.
After the formation of the World Authority, the expansion spread to nearby planets, then nearby systems. The only advancement through this way was the high torque Grav Drive. Most had to depend on Mass Energy Ion drives for other uses. FTL travel was accomplished before our first manned attempt to another system. The only unmanned probe, the "Deadalus," reached Bernardís Star in 2101. The first manned journey was to the same star in 2130 using a Fusion Drive coupled with the Hypertransit system. Not exactly a FTL drive, it was just an "adapter" the allowed ships to push beyond the barrier unconstricted by time or mass dilation. The only drawback was that they had velocity limitations (dealing with particle bombardment). The ship that went there was the "Thaddeus." It was enormous for its purpose, which could be shrunk to 100 times its normal size today.
As it was discovered, life giving planets (flowers and sub-life forms like bugs and worms) were spread nicely through the cosmos, inhabited ones were not. Except for the odd thousandth planet with varied animal forms, none were found with any form of intelligent life above the Jackrabbit. Many other planets were colonized... later ones were adapted with life giving properties, but none of these projects produced desirable results (Breaker's Yard is the rose in this bush). By the 23rd Century, over a hundred thousand ships were flying within a hundred parsec radius with a hundred planets with human life to land on. Known as the "Frontier Days", the highest pay went out to people who risked all to push human exploration further. There were side effects. As humans expanded, further, the Sol system quickly ran out of supplies.
With the public's thirst for space exploration, the Authority (and the independent Conglomerates) decided to sanction strip-mining on new worlds, which resulted in the rise of unscrupulous groups out for a quick buck. To satisfy the needs for supplies, these groups were given the "Gourmet," monstrous and ugly vessels that can turn small planets and asteroids into a slagged mess in only a day. These vessels were the brunt of the mining industry but were never revealed to the public. Instead, the Authority placed the clean, and streamlined, "Beetles" in the limelight. This process continued until 2275 when the Gourmet's disastrous side effects were revealed. The damage was done. By 2330, all planets within the "Frontier Zone" were devoid of rich materials and were sustained for their mid-range mineral and tourism profits.
By the 25th century, man had expanded to the outer reaches, pushing back 5 000 parsecs. The planets sprouted less minerals and the expansion slowed. Population did not. Numbers almost reached a 500 billion people by 2555 in a rudimentary (and later slightly inaccurate--give or take 50 billion) census. The Authority--blinded by illusions of superiority and grandeur, never realized the grave they were digging for themselves. By the 26th century, we had reached a level of technology unparalleled, with world-building, moving orbits, full terra-forming, contragravity, force fields, tractor beams and Antimatter. But public morale wasn't so lucky. It was reduced so far, that by the end of the 25th century, revolution was spinning around the air.
It broke in 2565 when the outer planets Ergo, Alexandria, Palomino and Pearl along with fifty other sub-worlds formed the Commonwealth. Planet Tower with forty-five sub-worlds formed the Bloc. The Authority, paranoid of loosing its power sent forces to remedy the situation. It wasn't about to loose 100 planets. Before anything could be done, twenty-five rich mining planets suddenly broke away from the Commonwealth (called the Orion Group) and tried to ally back to the Authority, which was accepted.
The situation exploded in a sudden civil war as the Commonwealth fought to regain control of the Orion group as well as fight off the re-occupational forces from the Authority. They were also fighting too take control of the Bloc. The Bloc, smaller than the Commonwealth, has quite a bite. With forces almost equal, the war continued for 50 years. It was intriguing how much damage could be done. During the war, strip-mining was allowed again, under no cover. Warships of all types were made. Both sides constructed monstrosities, meant mostly to intimidate, rather than destroy. They also produced fighters and carriers...in the thousands.
The new kind of war waged was the strategic \ tactical war. It was no longer prudent to attack civilian targets and make sure your side dropped bigger bombs that the other side, although this proved to be the turning points in the war. What was important were the bases and installations. Destroy the enemy's capability for war, and you win, leaving lots for the taking after it was concluded. Many attacks were subversive, actually being viral attack on the computer systems. Many of the war's initial victories weren't even noticed. They were minor attacks on computer banks and manufacturing facilities, but their big victories were the think tanks and craft designing firms. Taking out carriers and command posts also contributed to this. Man of the designs that survived were the ones everyone knew about. During the war, many groups kept their secrets very secret, and only kept ships designs in a few places. This eventually became their undoing.
Almost becoming a war of attrition, it was finally cut. The official explanation was exhaustion. The war ended in 2615 but several events shows it was coming to an end sooner. The Orion group allied, and was later absorbed by the Authority, weakening the committed Commonwealth. When a Cyclops detonated and wiped out a military base and colony on Oberon, the Bloc signed a peace treaty with the Authority but managed to remain independent. Tower was never touched. They declared themselves neutral, leaving the Commonwealth alone. Then on July 2nd, 2610, a massive force from the Authority laid siege to the four Commonwealth planets that lasted over three months. All four planets were demoralized and the war ended very quickly. It took many months for the hostilities to cease.
The year was 2615 when the lines were redrawn. The Commonwealth was gone and so was the Orion Group. The Authority had regained control. Because of an earlier peace treaty, the Bloc was still intact and provided the only haven for people willing to escape the strictness of the Authority. With virtually every planet devoid of minerals, a massive census began. Where once 750 000 ships roamed through the territory, now only 150 000 remained. The monstrosities were gone. Technology was lost. Currently, only 650 different vessels are built by the various company and conglomerates.
A very old census (and probably inaccurate one) claims that since mankind's stretch into space, nearly 200 000 different types of vessels have been constructed. Over 70% of those are from before the war. It holds to reason than that almost 60 000 different ships designs (including prototypes and experimental) were made in the inset, during, and after the war. Computer records only hold plans for 55 000 different vessels. Most cannot be built today. The Vendetta, the Bloc Flagship, on a training mission to the Kapteyn's Star system, vanished without a trace. It was a great setback since it occurred in the middle of the war. The Angulan, seven years later, in the same system, was passing through to refuel at Chaos and move on to initiate a battle run on Baha when it also vanished. No evidence of either ship had been found since. No explanation of the Vendetta's disappearance had ever been given but several groups have posed several possible fates for the Angulan. the most popular is a viral outbreak. The ship then fell and was crushed into the atmosphere of Chaos.
Over a period of half a century, civilized man was reduced to the size the technological level of 200 hundred years ago. There was some minor pushing and shoving after the war concluded, but since then, nothing has arisen. Corporations don't push each other around and Governments don't push each other around. The only conflicts that arise are between Military contractors (Fastcore, TMA) and the Multi-Nationals and the Rigger and...everybody else. The chances for another conflict occurring in the next fifty years is slim.
Faced with an economic cataclysm with no minerals, the Authority and the Bloc started a daring project. They built small, incredibly powerful tugs, based on prototypes of multi-role docking-assist vehicles. Nicknamed Mules, these vehicles would go out, find, and retrieve ships for reprocessing. When the project began, the ships were made and controlled by the Bloc and Authority. The machines recovered were then processed and rebuilt by the Government controlled corporations.
Eventually, the responsibility fell entirely to the corporations to find and process the hulks found. The government's role was reduced to simply overseers. It wasn't long before freelancer Mules and Mule firms (groups of 3 to 7 Mules) appeared. Probes would find the evidence and the Mules would retrieve them. Commission was developed to wean out the bad crew with the good crews. This has now become the most lucrative business around above the ground. Records of craft and space history only go back 150 years. Many events have contributed to loss of historical records. The largest one were the Territorial Wars but several other events also contributed. This included the holocaust of the 21st century and corporate wars of the 22nd century. This, however, cannot make up for the dramatic absence of information preceding the 20th century, where the damage almost seems indescribable. Some say an unstoppable virus cleared out records. Most people prefer to look at the future.
In the last 200 years, several craft have floated into the territory. They have sometime been identified as lost design coming back to tell a story of the war. Sometimes, just sometimes it turns out not to be. Almost all the time, these ships either vanish again or are confiscated. Please note: No official proof that alien life exists has been exposed...thus far.
Records before are sketchy and nothing reliable has been confirmed more than 250 years ago. Now, twenty years after the Mule's inception, the year is 2656...and things are just getting interesting.