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Re: starship-design: Suspended Animation
Kelly St wrote:
> In a message dated 5/6/98 5:31:42 AM, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
> >Most of the crew requirement is at the other end. En route needs would
> >actually be very small. In fact a bridge and engineering crew of twenty or
> >thirty would probably suffice and they could be rotated.
> To maintain a craft the size of a fleet of aircraft carriers?
If you have good AI and semi-autonomous maintenance robots, there is no reason why not.
Check out present-day oil tankers. Those guys navigate with a *lot* of low-activity, low-alert time on their hands. Of course, a watch on which nothing happens is usally a good watch. There is no _technical_ reason why robot oil-tanker "convoys" could not be launched today, with a full crew on one "main" tanker and token humans on the other "slave" tankers.
Guess that goes for aircraft, too. Since the pilot is only really necessary for takeoff and landing, and since a runway can only land or launch one plane at a time, computer autopilots today could do the flying and circling - and one "head-plane" or "on-land" pilot could VR land or takeoff the planes.
Given another 50 years.....
Besides, most carrier space is taken up with R&R, supplies, and - believe it - printed manuals. A "suspended-animation" contingent could considerably reduce those first two items.
(Warning! Methodical lecture mode... :))
1. AI and robots today:
AI _today_ can routinely handle standard (intern level) medical diagnosis, oil prospection and stock-market prediction (this mostly on neural nets). Expert systems in operation today control complex procedures in industrial plants. There is a lot of developement going on in the areas of statistics, systems maintenance, troubleshooting... etc. Using an expert system today is like having the original persons skill available even when they are not there. Artificial specialized assistance is then available wherever needed, even far from the "donors" to the knowledge system.
Robots today are being capable of real-life dynamic object location and tracking, as well as complex (but cautious) locomotion. Was it the DEA that recently showed a clutch of "Runaway"-like small "drug-sniffer" robots?
2. Low-metabolism daily food requirements, today:
Lets not forget Suspended Animation (or coma-like reduced metabolism). 6500 (or so) KCalories were needed for a normal active adult about 50 or 100 years ago. Today, that need has fallen to 3500 KCals. or even less - unless you lead a very physically active life. The Chinese calculated in the 50s or 60s that the bare minimum to starve someone (political prisoners) without killing was in the order of (I think) 1350Kcals or so a day. (Funny, thats 100 KCals more than the diet my doctor put _me_ on. Hmmm....). A healthy person in a comatose and/or reduced-metabolism state would need even less, since he would not be walking around, moving much, seeing... etc. Ditto for oxygen and water consumption. A low-metabolism passenger would probably consume 1/3 to 1/10 of a waking passengers normal consumption. Standard maintenance today could be operated by AI and automation, multiplying the capacity of the human specialist nurses / doctors. A modern Intensive Care Unit is a limited version of this scenario.
3. Within 50 years (foot-in-mouth scenario):
Ships control might look like a tekked-up version of a modern industrial control room (power utility, oil refinery, subway-control, oil tankers... general industrial C&Cs). Most hard-hat chores would be done by by semi-autonomous robots or drones with advanced AI, sensing and mobility - oriented by advanced expert-systems, coordinated by a human operative. The humans chore would be, basically, checking status reports and making decisions on those few exceptions the AI cannot handle. Since these systems would "bring along" the expertise of a wide range of prime specialists from earth, it is probable that the Human op need only pick and rubber-stamp the best option presented.
The reduced-metabolism wards, capsules, tanks... whatever, would be tended by nurse-bots and medical-AI expert systems, supervised by a few humans. Advances in present-day on-chip radar and on-chip chemical analyzers would enable truly star-trek like medical scanners, operated by bots directed by expert systems mounted on earth - based on the _best_ medical specialists in each area. The local human doc would mostly just have to order the system about. Since neural networks can be programmed to improve and learn from experience, the human doc need not be swamped by routine but originally unforseen medical events, once he solves it the first time (or chooses the best option the AIs offer the 1st time).
Continous transmission from the solar system could "update" the AIs on new discoveries. Ditto for entertainement.
The ship could "drop" signal repeaters at regular intervals to ensure adequate reception of earth signals.
Cargo ships, with no human crew, could be "slaved" to "main" ships and be run from them.
By the way, if metabolism is reduced, does that mean that cellular life-time would be extended during "sleep"?