1. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The Generation Ship

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Wreybies, Oct 25, 2009.

    [​IMG]

    Would it really work?

    Let us assume that all issues with technology are resolved. The ship is perfectly hermetic and recycling of consumable goods is so efficient that loss is acceptable given the length expected of the journey.

    Would humans survive?

    For those not familiar with the science fiction staple of the generation ship, this is a space ship where the ship is usually very large, and the crew is equally large, and it is understood that the speed of the ship will not be sufficient to get the original crew to the end destination. Instead, it is understood that it will be the children, or the children of the children of the original crew that will be the ones to actually see the end destination grow large in the viewport.

    I am watching a show on the concept of cities and they have mentioned the city of Brasilia. I am fascinated by this city. It is the first truly pre-planned, completely planned city, and as architecturally beautiful as it is, it is a city flawed by the idea of human need instead of catering to the actuality of human need.

    A generation ship would be, in effect, an enclosed city, given that people would be expected to live their entire lives within. In order for it to function, it would have to be the most pre-planned environment ever.

    Do you think it would work?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Keep in mind that a generation ship is still only a transport. It isn't a permanent settlement, it's a means of seeding a new planet, or planets.

    So the generation ship need not operate indefinitely.

    Also, the ship's population consists of crew and passengers. The crew would be structure as a military organization, and would be charged with maintaining order as well as operation of the ship's systems. That would be necessary due to te critical nature of the closed ecosystem and everything that is at stake.

    The real trouble would arise when the colonists reach the destination world or worlds. They would be allowed, and in fact encouraged, to spread out into multoiple settlements, to maximize the likelihood of survival. The initial governments might be predetermined at launch time or not, but they would certainly evolve. Some colonists would band together and form their own settlements in any case, so you will have a series of tribes and developing countries. There will be critical resources in short supply, whetejr it be water, habitable land, energy sources, or some other limiting resource. Struggles will develop, and power bases grow.

    However, even with all these issues, spreading human life widely is still its best hope for survival. Pockets of umanity will fail, but others will thrive, invigorated by struggle and competition.

    I've read a great deal of science fiction, and given much thought to such matters. As I was writing this, a couple of the works I have read came imnmediately to mind, and these might be a decent starting point for others:

    Cities in Flight by James Blish
    A Gift From Earth by Larry Niven
    Destiny's Road by Larry Niven

    This isn't by any means a comprehensive bibliography, even for relevent books I have myself read.
     
  3. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've always fantasized about such a ship with me as benevolent dictator...LOL
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i have to disagree, cog... with so many people kept in enforced close contact for so long, trouble is bound to arise long before the last traveling generation reaches the ship's destination... people don't even get along on earth, where they are free to move to other parts of it, if they wish, so how can you assume they'll get along without major 'real trouble' in a place where they can't?
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Respectfully, Maia, your far more pessimistic about humans than I am.

    People got to war mostly out of fear and in competition over resources. I;m assuming the initial selection process would weed out religious extremists, and the ability to coexist with differing beliefs would be a major selection criterion.

    The controlled ecosystem would be balanced for the population so everyone would have sufficient supplies of the necessities, and te accumulation of luxuries would be closely monitored to prevent hoarding, or the formation of a power elite among the passengers.

    That would be the shipboard culture, and it would be relatively stable as long as supplies of critical resources remain adequate.
     
  6. Pallas
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    Pallas Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have always wondered if those space voyages and treks are possible. It would take a great deal of planning and concerted effort of people not yet seen. Perhaps one day.
     
  7. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    What happens to the dead people?
     
  8. Nobeler Than Lettuce
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    Nobeler Than Lettuce Contributing Member

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    The dead people should be turned into useable resources as per the ships environmentally friendly creed. Such a ship would need to have many reusable forms of energy or else it would seem a bit much. You can't carry thousands of pounds of food with you on a long voyage.

    But the disposal of the dead brings up an interesting question. Would the ships inhabitants force themselves into the will of the operation (the underlying needs and wants governed by a paramilitary force).

    Certainly if they were birthed on the ship the inflections of a governing force would be less of a barb than if they had been born and raised free on the earth. The only reason I bring up disposal of the dead is because it seems that humans would most likely want the bodies thrown into space rather than be discombobulated and thrown back into the ships pool of resources.

    Such a ship would need to be an independent entity. Free of any interfering religion or lifestyle. The crew would probably be chosen by their ability to interact with each other.

    Would couples get first dibs?

    All this and more awaits you with "THE MANY QUESTIONS OF SCIENCE FICTION" Fiction fiction f i c t i o n.
     
  9. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ironically, good old Darwin could very well destroy this adventure long before it reaches its intended destination. The human body contains natural microbes that live in symbiotic balance with us. Imagine if such a naturally occurring microbe mutated (thank you evolution), becoming both lethal and contagious. The entire population encapsulated within the ship could be wiped out very quickly.

    hmmm...this could make for an interesting story.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The plague ship idea has been around practically forever, and has been bolstered by a few real life incidents during seafaring days.

    The probability is extremely low of a single disease wiping out an entire population, although it could decimate a majority. Even with the most virulent diseases, there are individuals resistant to infection. Furthermore, the controlled environment of a spacecraft is better suited than most to quarantine segments of the shipboard population. and the fewest opportunities for the mutated microbe to take hold in the first place.

    Of course, it could cut down enough of the population that vital shipboard operations break down. If you want a story, how about a disease that wipes out most of the crew, including those personnel necessary to navigate and land the ship in the destination system and that the ship's "government" breaks down?
     
  11. SwirlingSparkles
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    SwirlingSparkles New Member

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    Historically, the 'plague ship' idea has only been around for a bit over a hundred years or so. And, biologically, entire species are often destroyed entirely by new germs. And, how do you know that a spaceship would be good for quarantine? Or, for that matter, that outer space holds no potential for diseases? There's much guesswork going on here, and little biological evidence to back any of this up! Lets just let the writer figure these answers out for himself.
    :)
     
  12. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's precisely my point. Building a carefully constructed spacecraft, a balanced eco-system and a thoroughly designed operational infrastructure does not stop evolution. Mutations can, and will, occur. An author has a limitless range of opportunity for story development, beginning with this premise of a generational trip through space. For example, the population must remain within a narrow range, so there has to be zero population growth. What happens if a child is born with serious retardation and will never be able to contribute to the societal function? The child will consume food and oxygen that should be reserved for children that will grow into contributing members. What do you do with this child?
     
  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Ah.... Now were getting to the nitty gritty.

    As Dave mentioned earlier, the original crew would be a highly skilled, exceedingly well chosen group of people who would have had to pass uncountable "filters" before ever stepping foot on board the ship.

    But that would be the end of the human selection process. A generation ship would need children. As Saulty has already mentioned, population growth would have to be controlled, but there is little correlation between the intelligence level of parents and their children. What if the next generation, on the whole, just isn't up to snuff?

    And another thought occured to me.... Lets say all the children of the children of the original crew are equal in their genius to the OC's. Let's say there has never been a killer mutation of e coli. Let's say there has never been a disgruntled individual with silver tongue and a penchant for rebellion who has lead a coup over the powers that be. The ship gets to the destination. The children of the children of the children of the original crew start the landing procedures. Let's assume that everything is still in perfect working order a hundred and fifty, two hundred years later when they are actually getting there.

    These people have never, ever been outside. They have grown up and lived their entire lives with the idea of hull integrity compromise = death.

    Does anyone think that acute insurmountable agoraphobia might not come into play?
     
  14. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Plus, in a highly limited gene pool, how long will it be before inbreeding deteriorates the quality of new offspring? Look at genetic distribution on historically isolated islands and other geographically isolated gene pools like nomadic herders in Siberia. One possible cure for this is to prevent ANY natural reproduction, replacing it with artificial insemination using randomly selected zygotes that were fertilized and frozen on Earth. In fact, if the entire crew were women, all male zygotes could be kept in storage until arriving at the destination. Only females would be birthed during the trip. This would double the available women to build a new society at the new world, thereby doubling the gene pool and first generation of mixed sex colonists.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    and you, my dear cog, are still young enough to be naive about such things... human nature being what it is, to expect that so many, no matter how well-vetted they may have been, could live in such close quarters for so long with no friction, is simply not rational...

    enforced removal from their homes and being thrown together in an alien, closely-monitored enviroment with total strangers, for the rest of their lives, will cause changes for the worse in many otherwise 'tractable' folks...

    and some will surely take exception to what they're being commanded to do by leaders they didn't have any hand in choosing, thus rebel to some extent, all the way up to attempted mutinies both large and small... all you have to do is look to history for many examples among even smaller groups, like the donner party, prisoner of war camp incidents and such...

    it's just not logical to assume that so many people would get along perfectly well, with no 'trouble' arising for several generations' worth of years, till after the latest ones born reached their destination...
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, i never said they would get along perfectly well.

    Such cynicism is not an inevitable outcome of age, my friend. There have been times I have been as cynical as you are now. But I see a better side, especially as I open my eyes to it.

    We can, as te cliche declares, agree to disagree on this point.
     
  17. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    You have answered your question! :D The zygotes frozen and taken with them could have all been tested for certain DNA defects.


    Now. To pose my own question. How would the children who reached the destination fare being "let loose" on whatever planet they came to, after having spending their entire lives being completely submissive to the crew? Surely, they couldn't be let out to govern themselves, could they?
     
  18. Shadow Dragon
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    Shadow Dragon Contributing Member Contributor

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    When the ship lands, they'll likely set up three or four large towns/small cities and the children would likely be divided up between the towns. Also, if you go with the artificial insemination of eggs idea, the kids early life would be similar to living at a boarding school, or private school with a dorm. That would likely stay the same when landing on a planet.

    Oh and NaCl:
    The starting genepool won't be as small as an small island nation or a nomadic tribe. A generation ship would probably have about the same population as Los Angelos or possibly even New York. So as long as the doctors over seeing the creation of new people keep tract of genetic information, it should be possible to avoid inbreeding.

    As for resource management, they could mine astroids and planets they come across, as well as siphoning gases from the atmospheres of inhospitaple planets and gas giants. Though unless you know that resource is going to be there, you should depend on finding them.
     
  19. A2theDre
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    A2theDre Active Member

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    Unfortunately, Cog, positive traits are not hereditary. Just because the parent is an atheist and able to coexist with others does not necessarily mean that the child will be as well.

    Same as on Earth, only quicker. What do you think happened to our ancestors who died 5000 years ago? The ones that weren't mummified or otherwise preserved, that is. They died, were buried, decomposed and returned to the earth. The dead crew would have to be returned to the (hopefully) closed system of the ship.

    This would be a major problem. If it were left to natural reproduction, then the crew would have to enforce the idea of natural selection. They would have to kill the child and return it to the closed system of the ship. While not moral, it is necessary, and could really only be achieved if the ship was run as a military operation.

    This could cause problems as well. How would the final generation (the ones that actually land) deal with having males around on the planet when they've never seen one before? Not to mention having to deal with the sex drive of said males.

    I dare say the first landed generation will only set up one community. Humans are pack animals and the security in numbers idea is a pre determined one for us. They will need the mutual security against natural phenomena like the local weather; local flora and fauna; and each other.

    Not necessarily true. The following I pulled from Wikipedia (yes, yes, I know... Wikipedia... *rolls eyes*)

    "Anthropologist Dr. John Moore estimated in 2002 that a population of 150-180 would allow normal reproduction for 60 to 80 generations, equivalent to 2000 years."

    *** *** ***

    As for my opinion, I think that isolation of the initial crew members should be started on Earth. We would have to choose men and woman with desirable genetic traits (ie. not prone to obesity or ill health) and forcibly isolate them from society. And these men and women won't even be the initial crew. Their children would be. The children would need to be raised by people other than the parents so they'd be instilled with desirable traits and thoughts.

    The reason for that can be explained by considering the following scenario. Imagine we chose the absolute best that humanity had to offer for the initial crew. Even if they were the absolute best, they would still have been connected to human society and all its negative nuances. Say something goes wrong on the ship, and one of the initial crew mutters the curse, "Oh, God," and a child hears it and enquires as to its origins. This child could think of this God as more important than the mission or even as against the mission. This could be disastrous.

    By having the initial crew completely ignorant of Earth's human societies, then they can be prepared by people well aware of the negative societal nuances that are NOT wanted at the destination planet. This would give the journey the best chance of success, and even the planet communities the same chance.

    That's my two cents.

    Great question by the way, Wrey!
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    would more likely be 'buried at sea/space'... just imagine how large a morgue would be needed to house several generations of the dead!
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The raw materials need to be reclaimed, Maia. Cremation would return water, carbon compounds, nitrogen, and other volatiles to the ecosystem, and the nonvolatile ashes would be returned to soil or hydroponic growth media.
     

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