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starship-design: the slow way; some further thoughts . . .
Concerning the "generation ship," I've been thinking a bit on the
psycho-social aspects of such a project. To me, the most daunting challenge
of such a project has nothing to do with engineering (not directly, at
least), but how to satisfy basic human drives.
We have a need for immediate challenge and purpose, as individuals as
well as societies, and I'm sure it wouldn't work to just stick a bunch of
folks in a can and tell them, "Have patience! Your
great-great-whatever-grandchildren will arrive at a new home, and you can
satisfy yourselves that you'll be helping them get there!"
No way. I doubt if this thing would make it as far as Pluto before
someone started yelling, "Are we there yet?!" Multiply this psychological
itch by the number of the population, and in no time, you'll have mutiny,
constant (or repetitive) wars, and a succession of really bad politicians
("Vote for me and I'll get you there faster/take you back home.").
It is my thought that the goal given to everyone aboard such a vessel,
while the engines are still hot, should not be to stick it out over the long
haul, but to get the hell out of it and find a quicker way to the ultimate
goal. After all, you don't need to tell them that they are prisoners in the
thing; that much is self-evident from the get-go. Thus, you encourage and
creatively channel our basic aggressive tendency instead of futilely trying
to suppress it.
This does have a significant impact on the engineering and design of
such a thing, because, if you just turned such an impulse loose without
providing some resources to use it on, your end would most certainly be
worse than your beginning (worse politicians).
Resources for such a challenge would start, at least, with energy, raw
materials, and knowledge and/or information. What your crew will be doing is
designing and constructing the next generation of starcraft, while enroute.
Basically, we can say:
> energy -- make sure that the ship's power supply can accommodate
some heavy industry.
> raw materials -- this is, I think, a tougher question than it
first appears. How much extra mass do you want to try to accelerate? What
will it consist of, and how much of what kind? A beginning approach, I
think, would be to build the whole ship by hollowing out part of an
asteroid, leaving the rest as material for the crew to amuse themselves with
on the trip. (For more ideas on this, see "Mining the Sky", by John S.
> knowledge/info -- make sure your little community has a good
public school system. I think that one of the most important things to do
would be to make sure that access to knowledge/info can NOT be controlled or
restricted by someone with an ego and an agenda (this goes for all of us
here, now, as well!). There are lots of possibilities for schemes to
accomplish this. Needless to say, critical control functions need to either
be restricted to those who are competent to run them safely, or made fully
automatic and permanently sealed. Personally, I favor the first option,
though that still leaves some room for trouble.
Now, I can hear someone asking already, "Why bother to launch this
thing, just so you can do what you were going to do anyway (build a better
ship)?" Just off the cuff, I can think of a few excuses:
> the added impetus, of a whole population, to focus their energies
toward the ultimate goal of escaping their tin can, by whatever means.
Reduces the force of complacency.
> isolation from political/economic influences of dirtsiders. The ship
would not likely be overtaken by someone yelling for their money back.
> the commitment to build such a ship would, by itself, greatly raise
the level of technology available. It is possible that the very act of
engaging this project would result in a better ship before the project were
Anyway, the generation-ship idea has been done to death for decades in
books, film, and TV, which brings me to an aside about designing it. Some
years ago, there was a TV series about such a ship, and I recall that
someone on it posed the question of how it was designed. The answer was,
"They designed a computer to design a computer to design the ship." It has
occurred to me that such a thing might be possible NOW, by parallel
computing, linking thousands of PC's together on the web to work on the
problem, a la the CETI-at-home screensaver project (sorry I don't have the
address handy, but do look it up; it's cool).
Have I even said anything new . . ? Gimme feedback!