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starship-design: Mission Structure

Hi everyone.

Kelly wrote:

>This presuposes you want and can afford a colony there.  Given one would
>very expensive to maintain (all those long supply flights), its unlikely
>be maintained.  Be self sufficent would require a huge population and
>investment in equipment.  Which seems unwarrented.  We also haven't
>identified a reason to colonize there.

>If you did want to colonize their you wouldn't want to go to the planets.
>Its harder to find and process raw materials their, and since you can't
>the biosphere anyway, build a space colony.

What's the point of a hugely expensive manned trip there and back? With
advances in computer and robot technology, probes could surely perform this
task at much reduced cost, and with a powerful communication laser / maser,
wouldn't even need to make the return journey. The only motive for a manned
flight would be an extended stay and a very thorough on-site inspection of
the planets / stellar system. If this is to be done, I don't see that a
permanent presence would be so much more difficult or expensive. Compared
to the cost of shifting many millions of tons from Earth to TC within a few
years, the cost of maintaining a presence in-system can't be all that
astronomical. You wouldn't need a continuous flow if supply flights. Food
and supplies would be taken on the initial flight, and a major component of
the mission would be to set up a self sustaining biosystem, either on a
planet or in space (I feel that a planet, despite the disadvantages of the
gravity well, would have such psychological advantages that it should not
be dismissed lightly). Biotechnology is one of the most rapidly advancing
areas of knowledge right now. I think we can be fairly confident that
within a hundred years or so 'designer' organisms could be created
specifically for colinization purposed. A pathfinder probe sent before the
main mission to gather data on the planet(s) might make it possible for
plants to be engineered to survive in the 'open,' which would make
planet-bound base easier to set up - space would not have to be made within
the base for food crops (of course, plants/algae for oxygen generation
would still have to kept within the base. For maximum efficiency, I would
envisage separate, specisialist organisms designed for the two main
purposes of food and O2).

The other relevant technology, also undergoing rapid advancement at
present, is virtual reality. The psychological impact of spending long
periods of time - perhaps an entire lifetime - away from Earth would be
diminished, perhaps eliminated, by the availability of highly realistic VR
systems, possibly indistinguishable from reality. Updates could be sent 
regularly from Earth to keep the simulations up-to date. TC could be kept
no more than 10 years (or whatever the Earth-TC light distance is) behind
Earth in this way. The idea of replacing reality with simulations might
seem a horifc idea to us, but we must bear in mind the social and
collective psychological changes that may well occur in our culture as VR
is developed. I can imagine the distinction between reality and simulation
that seems so important to us being much less of an issue in a generation
or two (of course, colonists would still spend most of their time in the
'real' world doing scientific research and construction work.) We must
therefore consider the possibility that getting home might not be a major
issue for the colonists - or at least that people for whom this would be
true could be chosen for the mission. A large enough gene pool for a
self-sustaining colony could perhaps be squeezed into the Asimov (are we
still calling it this?), as long as careful genetic screening was carried
out to ensure that those chosen did not unnecessarily duplicate gene types.
Even if this were not possible, one way flights of small ships just
carrying colonists (no exploration equipment) could be sent to top up the
gene pool. The cost of this would be reduced if the first wave of colonists
had time to set up a decleerating particle beam / maser first (this would
also enable return flights, if absolutely essential).

I really believe that some kind of colonisation is required to justify a
manned mission of the scale we have been considering. The only benefit
that, in my opinion, could possibly outweight the almost globally crippling
cost of the program would be a major social advancement of humanity (a two
starsystem culture - I have thought of many advantages of such a culture
which I won't go into here). A colonization  mission would add so much to
the return from the massive investment, for a proportional increase in cost
which, for a culture presumably with colonization experience within the
solar system, would not be excessive.

Nick Tosh