Neal Stephenson provides answers to these questions and many more in his science fiction opus, Seveneves. It’s like a manual for surviving global disaster with the best opening sentence since A Tale of Two Cities’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”.

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.

Science expert and TV commentator, Dr. Dubois Harris, known to millions as “Dr. Doob”, reports the facts of the approaching doomsday to the President of the United States. As a result of the moon exploding into seven large chunks, caused by an unknown “Agent”, space rocks will continue to collide and break up, eventually becoming “Hard Rain”, an unrelenting global meteor storm the likes of which has not been seen on Earth since its formation after the Big Bang.  Doob and his post-doc students estimate that humankind has about two years to evacuate the planet before it becomes a huge fireball. Scientists of other nations have come to similar conclusions.

Two imperatives emerge: to send people and materials into space as soon as possible and to inform the rest of the population of the impending apocalypse without causing worldwide panic. International space agencies aided by private companies tackle the first item on the agenda by building upon the existing framework of the International Space Station, ISS, nicknamed Izzy. A Cloud Ark is envisioned with discrete ships linked to Izzy via docking ports but able to detach to evade destruction via space rocks and debris. That’s the good news. The obvious bad news is that there is not enough time to build enough ships to provide refuge for seven billion people. The second item on the agenda. A Casting of Lots is announced by leaders around the world in which a male and a female from each country will be chosen to represent their nation on the Cloud Ark. In addition, digitized DNA samples of every race and organism will be carried aboard Izzy to be incarnated when circumstances and place allow. You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize the inherent unfairness of two people from each country (China, population 1+ billion, sending the same number of heritage carriers as, say, Mauritius, population 1+ million) nor a scientist to come to the conclusion that only personnel with the best scientific knowledge and technological skills should become members of the Cloud Ark community. “Doob” and others manage to sell the deception with false hopes and ceremonies. For those whose panic cannot be sublimated into fervour for the preservation of the human race, suicide pills will be distributed gratis to be taken ad libitum.

Part Two chronicles the day-to-day ups and downs of life in the Cloud Ark whose population is just under 1,300 souls. Thousands of years must pass before Earth will once more be capable of supporting life. This is where Stephenson really weighs in with the “science” of “science fiction. In a style similar to described video, he walks the reader through all the major -ologies, -ics and -onomies as they relate to living and working in space, including orbital mechanics, the physics of moving chains (think bullwhip), nanorobotics, chemistry and astrophysical fluid dynamics. Ways must be improvised to renew the Cloud Ark’s supplies of water, oxygen, fuel and food. A parade of experts, many female, work to solve the puzzle piece by piece. Pilot extraordinaire, Ivy Xiao commands Izzy. Dinah McQuarrie, her unofficial second in command, specialises in asteroid mining for which she has designed an army of wifi robots. Dr. Moira Crewe is a geneticist with experience in de-extinction. Everyone on Izzy and in the surrounding “arklets” must contribute their expertise to preserve humanity.

Part Three begins with a heading you don’t often see in fiction, “Five Thousand Years Later”. Seven races engineered from the DNA of seven women (the Seven Eves of the title) from Part Two now number three billion, living within the Habitat Ring suspended above “New Earth”. The next step is to colonise the planet. But surveys have spotted bipedal creatures. Who could they be?

Neal Stephenson’s scholarly research has yielded a highly credible pre- and post-apocalyptic scenario that is hard to resist. 861 pages of “hard” science fiction, Seveneves might not be an easy read but it is a completely fascinating one. There is so much information to digest that it deserves a second reading. And maybe a third.