The novel centers on a ten-year interstellar voyage aboard the spaceship Leonora Christine, and it opens with members of the crew preparing for their departure from earth. It is an especially moving departure because they know that while they are aboard the ship and traveling close to the speed of light, time will be passing much more quickly back home. As a result, by the time they return everyone they know will have long since died. From practically the very first page, therefore, Tau Zero sets the scientific realities of space travel in dramatic tension with the no-less-real emotional and psychological states of the travelers. This is a dynamic Anderson explores with great success over the course of the novel as fifty crewmembers settle in for the long journey together. They are a highly-trained team of scientists and researchers, but they are also a community of individuals, each trying to make a life for him or herself in space.