Space is explored not by short-sighted governments, but by the Earth Company, a private corporation which becomes enormously wealthy and powerful as a result. Nine star systems are found to lack planets suitable for colonization, so space stations are built in orbit instead, stepping-stones for further exploration. Then, Pell's World is found to be not only habitable, but already populated by the gentle, sentient (if technologically backward) Hisa. Pell Station is built. The planet is nicknamed "Downbelow" by the stationers, who also start to call their home "Downbelow Station".