Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
Space Science

Interstellar Ark 703

xantox writes "There are three strategies to travel 10.5 light-years from Earth to Epsilon Eridani and bring humanity into a new stellar system : 1) Wait for future discovery of Star Trek physics and go there almost instantaneously, 2) Build a relativistic rocket powered by antimatter and go there in 22 years by accelerating constantly at 1g, provided that you master stellar amounts of energy (so, nothing realistic until now), but what about 3): go there by classical means, by building a gigantic Ark of several miles in radius, propulsed by nuclear fusion and featuring artificial gravity, oceans and cities, for a travel of seven centuries — where many generations of men and women would live ? This new speculation uses some actual physics and math to figure out how far are our fantasies of space travel from their actual implementation."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Interstellar Ark

Comments Filter:
  • Or... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by brejc8 ( 223089 ) * on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:18AM (#18059300) Homepage Journal
    I would just take billions of pill sized coctails of bacteria from all extreme regions of the earth and fire them off semi randomly throughout the galaxy, wait a billion years for them to evolve and contact us back.
    • starwisp (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @12:06PM (#18059976) Homepage
      That's one alternative.

      Another has been kicking around the theoretical star-travel circles for a while now: Make a VERY small (1Kg) instrument package, put a sail on it, then fire some big lasers at it. For the cost of the ark mentioned in the article you could set up the infrastructure to send out a lot of these packages at a sizable fraction of the speed of light. You'd be able to get decent data about planets in the Epsilon Eridani system within a century; assuming the reports were positive, THEN you'd send out the ark.
      • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Sunday February 18, 2007 @01:03PM (#18060362) Homepage Journal

        We don't even have to wait that long. All we need to do is build a space telescope with sufficient resolving power - which is simply a function of size (and not even continuous size, necessarily... see the various multi mirror / multi antenna designs we use now) and precision - and we can look and see what the conditions were ten years ago (for D=10 LY) and then decide if we want to send anything at all. No need to launch anything out of the solar system; the information has been coming our way all along. We're just not (yet) capable of resolving it, but it doesn't even depend on new technology - just lots of materials, and space-based manufacturing to make it practical. Even if something is 500 LY away, we can still see what was happening 500 years ago. Much faster turnaround than the fastest light-sail technology could provide, which is transit time + message back time - at least twice as long. And of course it would benefit us in many ways to build such telescopes.

        It seems to me that the optimum method would be to start an automated system that just keeps making the telescope bigger using materials culled from asteroids, comets and so forth. The longer it runs, the more detail we cold resolve. Why ever turn such a system off?

        • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @01:24PM (#18060516) Homepage
          It seems to me that the optimum method would be to start an automated system that just keeps making the telescope bigger using materials culled from asteroids, comets and so forth. The longer it runs, the more detail we cold resolve. Why ever turn such a system off?

          do you really want that big of a magnifying lens to exist? let alone have it's focal point you planet?

          Are we trying to figure out what the ants feel just before they get fried?
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by pintpusher ( 854001 )
          Why ever turn such a system off?

          That will be answered by our returning descendents when all they find is one big telescope floating in the space that used to be our solar system.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Daetrin ( 576516 )
            That will be answered by our returning descendents when all they find is one big telescope floating in the space that used to be our solar system.

            That's got to be the crappiest return on investment for a Berserker scenario ever. If you get wiped out by hyper-intelligent super-efficient warlike AIs you can console yourself that at least you just lost out to something more advanced on the galactic level food chain. But being annihilated by a badly programmed telescope construction project has got to rank up

    • Re:Or... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @01:06PM (#18060386) Homepage

      I would just take billions of pill sized coctails of bacteria from all extreme regions of the earth and fire them off semi randomly throughout the galaxy, wait a billion years for them to evolve and contact us back.

      I took some pills & shot some stuff off a few times in the last few years, I'm still praying none of them evolve & contact me.
  • We could... (Score:4, Funny)

    by gcnaddict ( 841664 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:19AM (#18059304)
    we could do that, but the odds of us being screwed over by either a gamma ray burst or some other dangerous interstellar space event would be pretty high.

    but then again, the resulting mutations might come in handy.
    • Re:We could... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rasputin465 ( 1032646 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:32AM (#18059358)
      >>we could do that, but the odds of us being screwed over by either a gamma ray burst or some other dangerous >>interstellar space event would be pretty high.

      Actually, the odds of something like that happening would in fact be pretty slim (similar to the probability of the earth getting destroyed by such an event). I think the odds of the "crew society" destroying themselves = 30 years into the mission would be much higher. Didn't Douglas Adams have something like this in one of the Hitchhiker's Guide books?

    • Re:We could... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @11:46AM (#18059844)
      Any group of people so large together for so long would have one over-riding problem, that of humanities prediliction to segment itself by beleif or role.

      There has not yet been a succesful attempt to produce a 'perfect' society, with the first attempt being by Plato.

      What if the military ship model is used then? Well then you have centuries of one group being in charge, with either hereditary succession or selection by ability (democratic methods have never worked in the military model). Either way you end up with a perception of the controllers and controlled, partition is a natural result of the militaristic method, a caste system emerges.

      Then what about the choice of the people who are born to the ship? They may realise that they have no choice, but humans have rarely prospered and worked at their best when their destiny is completelly laid out. The potential for unrest is quite pronounced. Ghandi demonstrated clearly that even non violent protest can be highly disruptive.

      And at the end of the journey? Well you have a society which is partitioned already, and the people who were in charge are likely (human nature) to weant to stay in charge, even though the members of the expedition who were not in the ruling class (of whatever form) are now in the position of being able to say they no longer need that control, indeed of demanding it.

      War is the most likely result in that circumstance, or at the very least dissent resulting in societal disruption. That's not something a colony could survive, even if it found somewhere to stay when it arrived at the destination.

      A bit bleak I know. I think we'd be better off waiting until the participants in the journey could, in whole or majority, or in shifts, sit out the travel time in hibernation. That way they are not born to a society which has experienced centuries of partition.
  • Ark B? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Speare ( 84249 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:21AM (#18059312) Homepage Journal

    So, let's take a passenger manifest...

    • telephone sanitizers
    • American Idol contestants
    • MPAA lawyers
    • CowboyNeal
    • ...
    • profit!
    • Don't forgot the adult diapers for anyone crazy enough to sign up for it ... :-)
    • Re:Ark B? (Score:5, Funny)

      by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @11:07AM (#18059570)
      or more likely...

      • 2 jihadists
      • 2 crusaders
      • 2 revolutionary marxists
      • 2 trilateralist capitalists
      • 2 illuminati
      • 2 merivingian roylaty
      • george jefferson
      • archie bunker

      and two guys that are each half black and half white, but on oposite sides of their faces, oh and a big cache guns. The ark arrives empty aside for kryton, an evolved cat, a hologram, a sentient computer, and the last man alive_ a vending machine repair man.

  • or a travel of seven centuries

    How many human societies have survived 7 centuries unchanged?

    Heck, just look at how much language has changed in the last century ...

    Or imagine trying to talk to someone from the 1300s ...

    Besides, how would you select the crew and avoid any more "diaper rash" candidates?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Just idly, think of what skills you won't be able to practice for all those centuries, that you'll need on the far end. Mining comes to mind, and resources will be limited, so not a lot of new metalworking is going to get done either, nor advances or even maintenance of electronics fabrication. You can extrapolate this down the line, and unless someone finds a way to freeze the crew, and then thaw them out with their contemporary knowledge intact, you're running the risk of dropping off an, at best, 18th
  • may not be all that enthuastic about having humanity brought to them.
  • Yeah, but then who will make sure all our phones are clean?
    • When you think about it though, the telephone sanitizers should really have gone in the "C" Ark, since they perform actual work. The other problem is that if we travel that far into space we need people who are capable of handling themselves in potentially dangerous situations, and directors of marketing just aren't a good choice.
  • Why? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by brejc8 ( 223089 ) *
    I don't mean to be existential about this but why? We don't have a mission from God to spread and conquer. It seems a little strange how atheists are very keen to strike down the pointless values of religion, yet still believe in many aspects which have no basis.
    What's the goal here? After billions of years the human race is all over the galaxy, few billion years later and its all over the universe. And then what? We cling on for dear life as we exploit the last few sources of energy as black holes swallow
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Bummer. But if, after billions of years, humanity can't figure out a way to expand past/extend the universe itself, then what would have been the point of preserving resources if it all dies anyway?
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:39AM (#18059404)
      I don't mean to be pragmatic about this but why not? There have always been people that have said, "Why? Why go exploring? What's the point? We're all quite comfortable right here, thank you very much." Fortunately for the human race, there have always been those who pushed off into the unknown anyways. Frequently they're never heard from again, but it is surprising how often they succeed, and bring back new discoveries and ideas.

      This is no different. You don't learn much by sitting in a cave, and there's no telling what we might become, what might happen in all that time. It's worth a shot.

      And if a few billion years is all we have ... I say let's take it! That's much better than just sitting here on that cosmic bullseye known as "Earth" waiting for the next cataclysmic event to take us out for good.
      • Why? The same reason we don't kill ourselves as soon as we realize we are mortal and their is nothing that will prevent our ultimate death. The same reason that makes us get up in the morning and go on with our lives. To make the most of the time we have.
    • I was going to mod this thread, but I feel I have to answer you here.

      Firstly, your argument could be extended thousands of years back in time to when there were very few humans (we originally evolved in the plains of Africa, IIRC). Why explore/expand? Ditto for many other human civilisations recorded (to be fair, some of them did claim to have deity-assigned missions).

      Secondly, population growth. There is a physical limit to the number of people any village, country or even planet can sustain - and b
    • "Why" is always a personal question. Each person has its own reasons to do as he/she does. All that we do in our lives is futile since we are doomed to die. You choose a path, and act as if it had meaning for you, even if you know that all paths end in the same place.

      So if you can find enough people that want to use their lives in such an adventure, there is no "Why" to ask. They will do it. The only problem, of course, is finding that people. You don't have a lot to offer, really. So a real pressure will b
    • Re:Why? (Score:4, Informative)

      by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:53AM (#18059494)
      isn't the answer obvious? we are in search of hot alien pussy!

      thats right i'm not giving your stupid question a seriously reply because it doesn't deserve one.

      atheism is a disbelief in god, not the disbelief in basic human nature, which is to explore and learn.

      your trying to draw conclusions on things billions of years in the future. people thought in the 1950's we would all have flying cars by now and look how close they were, so how close do you think your uneducated predictions will be?

  • by amrust ( 686727 ) <> on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:28AM (#18059338) Homepage
    * Decode and activate appropriate chevrons on that Stargate-thingy.
  • Step one.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AsnFkr ( 545033 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:29AM (#18059340) Homepage Journal
    .....might be to determine if Epsilon Eridani has any terrestrial planets to live upon. Boy would our ancestors 700 years from now be upset if they got there only to find no place to land.
    • by broller ( 74249 )
      In the century or more that it took to build the Ark, perhaps we'd have a better idea of where to aim it.
    • Well, they could send along a few executives from McDonalds and Starbucks, then at least they'd be able to build a hamburger joint and a coffee shop there.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ScrewMaster ( 602015 )
      Well, that would mean sending a robot probe first, I would think. With no living crew it could theoretically be able to travel even faster, shaving some time off that 700 years, and then you wait 10.5 years for the answer to come back at the speed of light. Still we're talking centuries to find out, if nothing happens to the machine on the way out and if no alien race that's already there vaporizes it before it can report back.

      Better would be to give the ship a list of target stars likely to have planets
  • Too many problems (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tidewaterblues ( 784797 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:34AM (#18059368)
    How would you ever get that many people to cooperate that consistently over that long of a time period? How would you prevent the intermediate generations from feeling like they are meaningless just because they only exist to father the generations that will be able to accomplish something? The rate of clinical depression caused by that would be probably staggering. How do you prevent the development of new religions or philosophies or conspiracy theories that would hinder the progress of the voyage, or perhaps express doubts its goals? Not to mention the more mundane problems like new bacteria and viruses mutating on the tiny ecosystem and wiping out all of its occupants, and liberationists starting political revolutions (ala: we didn't choose this voyage, why should we finish it?), and psychopathic serial killers, and the question of how such a tiny economy would maintain itself (do we go communist or capitalist on this voyage)?
  • After 7 centuries, the ark gets to its destination only to realize that because of buffer overrun bug in software, the landing craft refuses to deploy.


  • by kerrbear ( 163235 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:34AM (#18059376)

    They will all be really bummed out when during their journey of centuries, somebody invents #1 and gets there ahead of them.

  • Sounds Familiar... (Score:5, Informative)

    by martyb ( 196687 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:35AM (#18059378)

    For an interesting read on what such a ship might be like, take a look at: Rendevous with Rama [] by Arthur C. Clarke. I read it not long after it came out and thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly acclaimed, too:

    • Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1973
    • Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1974
    • Jupiter Award for Best Novel in 1974
  • by rohar ( 253766 ) * <> on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:35AM (#18059382) Homepage Journal
    When I skimmed over the article, 2 things popped into my head.

    1. The relativity principle that gravitational and inertial mass are equal when they don't have to be makes me think that possibly there is no such thing as gravity and we are just accellerating in a 4th dimension at 1G and when this is presented to us in 3 dimensions the effect appears as gravity.
    2. Corn meal waffles would taste good on a Sunday morning.
  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:36AM (#18059384)
    it seems like it would actually be 1400 years as he's presumed constant 1G acceleration towards the destination for the whole trip. Once you got there you'd need to go into a decreasing orbit and slow down for about 700 years (assuming 1G) too!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by flyingfsck ( 986395 )
      Hmmm, after 1400 years - impact at 0.99999 C, due to a minor imperial to metric conversion error...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tomhudson ( 43916 )

      Didn't read the article, hmmm ...?

      After the acceleration phase, there is a period of coasting flight at constant velocity, then deceleration to arrive at destination at zero velocity. This implies more fuel since we need to accelerate in the first phase a mass of fuel which will only be consumed during braking, which translates into the squaring of the exponential:
  • Canned ape (Score:5, Interesting)

    by arevos ( 659374 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:38AM (#18059398) Homepage
    It seems to me that there is a 4th solution, assuming that it is possible to build a computer powerful enough to simulate a human mind, and that it is possible to upload a human consciousness into such a structure. Sending a machine across interstellar distances is likely going to be significantly more practical than trying to transport billions of tonnes of habitat. You don't have to worry about setting up complex biospheres; all you need is a computer significantly robust to survive in interstellar space, and we have more experience in this field than in self-supporting biospheres.

    Likewise, it doesn't seem like it'll be too many decades before we have the technology construct a computer powerful enough to simulate (to a reasonable degree of accuracy) the trillions of parallel interactions that occur every second in our brains. Figuring out a way of mapping neurons to 1s and 0s is likely to be a far more difficult problem, but it seems to me that this would be a relatively simple problem compared to creating some manner of ark-ship. Research into this is likely to be relatively inexpensive by comparison as well, as we could start by mapping brain structures of simpler animals (such as Lobsters []), and then work our way up.

    I suspect that when humanity does visit the stars, it'll be as lumps of silicon (or some more exotic material) strapped onto a dirty great big rocket. Ships that lug their own biosphere around with them are just too costly and complex by comparison.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CRCulver ( 715279 )

      Figuring out a way of mapping neurons to 1s and 0s is likely to be a far more difficult problem, but it seems to me that this would be a relatively simple problem compared to creating some manner of ark-ship. Research into this is likely to be relatively inexpensive by comparison as well, as we could start by mapping brain structures of simpler animals (such as Lobsters), and then work our way up.

      Kurzweil has been proclaiming the rise of machine intelligence now for some years, but his chronology is star

  • Why not all three?

    Start out with the generational ship. Resupply them with constant acceleration anti-matter probes.

    Then we'll pick everyone up in a few hundred years and carry them the rest of the way with warp drive.
  • A robot-piloted ship with the crew held in suspended-animation or some kind of a stasis field until vessel arrived at the target star. That is preferable to a generation ship, in that (assuming by some miracle I got to be a crewmember on such a vessel) I would actually be alive when the ship reached its destination, rather that hoping that my great-great-great-great-whatever-grandkids make it there. You know, kind of like the Botany Bay, where Khan and his friends were stored fish-stick fashion until Kirk
  • From the article:

    This prospect undoubtedly constitutes the most immediate psychological brake, but not inevitably the deepest, that every normally made human being will oppose first of all to the idea of a life in the Ark.

    Well, maybe if there was free broadband ...
  • by m0nstr42 ( 914269 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:55AM (#18059512) Homepage Journal
    Instead of building one large ark and setting up for one large catastrophic failure, build lots of smaller arks that can fly in formation. If one runs into an asteroid or breaks down, the rest will be OK. It may even be possible to allow for transportation between the different arks.
  • by Gorgonzola ( 24839 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @10:57AM (#18059524) Homepage
    The article states "The only theoretical limit is the acceleration, which should be kept within physiologically acceptable limits for a human, that is to 1 g or 9,81 m/s", which is not quite true. Jet fighter pilots have to take up to nine G during dog-fights (more than nine G leads to black outs), which is one of the reasons why on the long run the jet fighter pilot will become obsolete, since UAV's can handle more. The nine G figure is unrealistically high, but there are no reasons to assume you can't have a realitivistic rocket that starts out with six G for a short while and then drops its acceleration off to about two G. Combine this with some form of suspended animation, which we can already do for mice [] and all of a sudden the relativistic rocket becomes less far out.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 18, 2007 @11:26AM (#18059704)

      The nine G figure is unrealistically high

      Yes, because jet fighter pilots only have to endure it for a few seconds and even then require special suits to prevent them from passing out.

      but there are no reasons to assume you can't have a realitivistic rocket that starts out with six G for a short while

      That's still too much for humans to endure for months or even weeks.

      and then drops its acceleration off to about two G.

      That would be more realistic over a longer period of time though there may be a lot of medical repercussions.

      Combine this with some form of suspended animation, which we can already do for mice

      This helps a bit but extremely high forces still cause damage, even when people are suspended. On the other hand it solves other problems (travel time is less important, no problem with food, biosphere etc.)

      and all of a sudden the relativistic rocket becomes less far out.

      What's far out about a relativistic rocket are primarily two things: 1. Massive amounts of fuel are required, we don't even come close to solving that problem yet. 2. Radiation shielding needed to ward off gamma rays resulting from background radiation subject to the relativistic doppler effect and impact of cosmic particle when traveling at relativistic speeds when the ship is in mid-trip (at top speed).

  • by Aging_Newbie ( 16932 ) * on Sunday February 18, 2007 @11:13AM (#18059612)
    Travel over a period of 700 years with 1000 or so people introduces a massive risk in that we have no way to assure that the culture of such a small population in isolation could survive. If they did survive, how much has society changed in the past 700 years? With only one ship, all our eggs are in one basket, so to speak. Instead, it makes more sense to send small ships laden with thousands of freeze-dried gametes, thaw them out, and nurture the embryos to maturity.

    The ship would leave with the sperm and eggs of many carefully selected individuals suitably freeze dried. The small ship would require much less energy and the cold of interstellar space would keep the embryos nicely preserved. Upon locating a suitable planet, the onboard intelligence would thaw and combine the gametes and voila - people. Managed by the computer and residing on the planet, the population would grow and by adolesence start to multiply. The accumulated knowlege of humanity would accompany them and they would use it as a means to get themselves started.

    In fact, since the cargo is light, a mother ship could release one of 100 individual 1000 embryo capsules while passing apparently suitable worlds and continue on to others. That way, the survival of at least a few groups would be more likely.

    Of course, the people already on the planet might not like the goings-on but that would be a problem in any case. The humans might populate their zoos, become slaves, become worshiped, or maybe we don't drop people on planets with really intelligent life. Humans seem to like to be at the top of their local pyramid. It is up to our sci-fi writers to explore and filter the possibilities and guide the implementaiton.

    If each colony carries the information to construct and launch a ship, the universe would be ours rather quickly, even if only 10% of each generation of colonies survived.

    One other advantage to this plan. The people would know whence they came, how they got there, and what their destiny was. Mystics and Philosophers would not be required in that gene pool. Of course, they might wonder where WE came from, but that is another problem.

  • by bradbury ( 33372 ) <> on Sunday February 18, 2007 @11:31AM (#18059740) Homepage
    The argument only makes sense when coupled with a strong argument that near future technologies will not develop much better solutions. First and foremost why would you want to send "humans" when you could send nearly human capable robots (one might notice those Mars rovers keep going and going and going...) and greater than human level intelligence with next to zero energy requirements during the trip and much greater than human intelligence capabilities once the destination is reached? For example, a 1 cm^3 nanocomputer with the computational capacity of 100,000 human brains could use next to zero power during the trip and 100,000 W upon reaching the destination once solar arrays were unfurled and/or manufactured from materials harvested at the destination [1].

    Instead of building this huge arc and going there using fusion power (fusion reactors are not small or lightweight), you would build a large space based mass driver (nanotechnology cares significantly less about high-g accelerations than human bodies) and launch a carrier at 0.1c or 0.5c (increasing v if you are willing to expend the energy, decreasing v depending upon the mass required for shields to defend against damage caused by encountering interstellar dust at high velocities). The carrier contains either its own mass driver or moderately large chemical rockets that launch the probe in the opposite direction at -0.9999... * v of the carrier entering the system so as to result in the probe having a net velocity that will result in its capture by the gravity of the destination system. The first probe can then go about constructing an reverse mass driver so future probes can be decelerated using power from the destination system (allowing most of the subsequent mass transfered to be "information content" rather than power systems or velocity control systems [2]).

    If most of humanity hasn't undergone mind uploading several hundred years from now I'd be very surprised. So those early pioneers who decided on the "ark" approach are going to very surprised as they approach the destination system and discover that it has been converted into a Matrioshka Brain [3] and there is nothing left to explore or colonize [4,5].

    No matter *how* pessimistic you are about molecular nanotechology developing in the next two decades -- you have to make a *very* strong argument that it will not be developed over the next fifty years [6]. So any future planning scenarios involving 100+ year time frames should be left as virtual reality exercises.

    1. This is the "classical" rod-logic nanocomputer described by Drexler in Nanosystems [] .
    2. There are strong arguments that the most efficient way to transfer large quantities of information (e.g. Library of Congress equivalents, human mind equivalents, Google database equivalants, etc.) between stars is by mass transfer and *not* by electromagnetic radiation (particularly if reverse mass drivers captures and recycles most of the energy used to send the information from the originating system).
    3. Wikipedia: Matrioshka Brain []
    4. "Welcome to our system ancient humans. We are happy to utilize 10^-26 of our intellectual capacity to interact with you..."
    5. Of course as the humans watch their destination star(s) during the trip they will notice them going dark. So there may be hasty meetings organized to alter course to a virgin star system. Of course altering course at high velocity doesn't come cheap. As Matrioshka Brain conversions are likely to occur on a "most useful system first" perspective, ancient humans had better select systems that the Matrioshka Brains are going to deem "dregs of the galaxy".
    6. Those who want to make that argument should read Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near [] first.
  • by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @11:43AM (#18059822)
    In order for us to actually do something like this, we'd have to get past all the dogma involved in the creation and taking of human lives. Since you are dealing with severely limited resources within a highly confined area, we would need to regularly sheer our numbers down, "Logan's Run" style. Anyone on this ark would have to agree to be put to death once they've become unable to contribute into the community by as much as they take away from it. This means all severely disabled, physically/mentally handicapped, or just plain lazy people would have to be destroyed and recycled back into the community ecosystem, regardless of their age or status among the community itself. It would be the ultimate in "zero-tolerance" policy, with sentencing issued and carried out with extreme prejudice. It would require death squads equal to the Nazis during WWII... only done out of necessity, rather than hatred. (Every second a useless individual mooches off the community, the less resources the contributing members of the community have to survive on.)

    The concept of family would be a thing of the past, replaced with child farming. There would be no relationships between anyone outside of basic affection. Sex itself would be discouraged or considered a capital offense, as the act itself would waste precious resources. Instead all children would be a product of test-tube fertilization. Every member of the community would be required to submit their egg/sperm cells every few weeks to be catalogued in order to keep the gene pool as diverse as possible. After fertilization, the embryo is placed into one of several hundred women tagged as surrogate mother stock, who's sole purpose in the community is to be impregnated, gestate and give birth, not unlike a queen insect laying thousands of eggs... while the real mothers of these children are left to continue work in whatever section of the community they serve in.

    These child farms then serve as large scale permanant daycare centers until the children are old enough to contribute back into the community. No child would ever know their real parents or genetic siblings to prevent familial conflicts from disrupting community contribution. Names would be assigned only as a novelty, like one does with their pets, to get around the trouble of memorizing dozens of similar sounding identification numbers.

    In a lot of ways, the life style of an interstellar ark would be best visualized by watching ant or bee colonies. No one is "special"... you're simply there to plug up a particular hole in the wall where someone else inevitably failed at the task.
    • by helphand ( 613056 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @09:38PM (#18063490) Homepage

      In a lot of ways, the life style of an interstellar ark would be best visualized by watching ant or bee colonies. No one is "special"... you're simply there to plug up a particular hole in the wall where someone else inevitably failed at the task.

      What you suggest makes the entire ark thing pointless, whatever it is that arrives at the destination really wouldn't be 'human' anymore.


  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @01:20PM (#18060486)
    We should:

    a) Find a better/cheaper way into space than chemical rockets. Space elevator / maglev launch system / whatever. As long as it doesn't involve strapping huge amounts of volatile chemicals to our payload.

    b) Colonize some of the non-Earth objects in out own solar system to gain insights into how to live best on asteroids (plents of 'em out there, a dime a dozen), rocky worlds that need major terraforming (Venus/Mars), moons of gas giants, and dwarf planets. The chances of our would-be interstellar colonists finding any of the above at their destination are almost infinitely higher then the chance of finding another Earth. And, hey, there's plenty of real estate in our own solar system to spread to. One step at a time - not colonizing our solar system before heading to another would be like Columbus trying to get to the moon instead of sailing west.

    c) Manage to send an unmanned probe to another star system, to get the kinks in the propulsion/astronavigation/etc systems worked out.

    d) Get energy-positive fusion working. Seriously. Without it, doing anything major outside the orbit of Mars is going to be a royal pain in the ass.

    Also, we should not:

    a) Totally trash Earth before we're ready to haul our collective asses to some other place. Once we need to spend the majority of our resources on just surviving, our chances of getting to anywhere outside our solar system are about as good as finding an ice cube on Venus.

    b) Get wiped out or wipe ourselves out.

  • by Ambitwistor ( 1041236 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @01:38PM (#18060596)
    Does anyone think we can afford that? The U.S.'s manned space and Moon/Mars initiative is strangling NASA and forcing it to shut down many of its science programs (here [], here [], here, here [], here []). It hasn't even started to get into the real spending for a Moon mission, let alone a Mars mission.

    An interstellar mission would cost orders of magnitude more than an interplanetary mission. Who would ever fund it? Even an international collaboration would be hard pressed to put together much more than the currently planned Mars mission. And governments wouldn't be too keen to start a mission that can outlive entire nations before we hear the results.

    "Frontier spirit" just doesn't cut it against those scales of money and time.

    The only thing that likely could spur a manned interstellar mission, barring drastic improvements in technology, is the impending destruction of human civilization — and who would see that coming in time, with enough certainty, to spur the development of a crash program like that? (Especially given the wars likely to ensue if people are that sure of the annihilation of the human race.)

    No, I don't see it happening unless we get much, much better technology. It costs enough just to lift things off Earth, let alone build and launch a working intergenerational starship. (The economics of space development given launch costs and the absence of space industry is an extra can of worms... and I am also not economically optimistic of the development of orbital factories or space elevators or the like.)
  • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @02:07PM (#18060786)
    This is a technologically lousy solution, even considering the 'classical' case. I wrote an article a while back on a FAR better, obvious approach on usenet. Will link if anyone is interested.

    Essentially, a much better approach is to leave one's entire engine behind and electromagnetically accelerate 'smart pebbles', pieces of matter with enough nanoscale smarts and nanoscale engines to adjust their course slightly. These pebbles would enter a long ring of magnets in the spacecraft's engine, be deaccelerated to rest relative to the spacecraft with their energy stored in accumulators. This energy would then be used the accelerate the pebbles the opposite direction, doubling the momentum transfered.

    Advantages - no rocket equation, you do not carry fuel with you
                          - far more efficient than a laser sail because the spacecraft has a MUCH narrower cross section (a few square meters) and most of the pebbles make it, instead of wasting their energy.

    For deacceleration you throw away half the spacecraft and have it fling back the pebbles.

    Top speed would be a target of about .9c, because beyond that blue shifted photons would start to destroy any conceivable spacecraft.

    You don't carry human crew, but self replicating machines. Quantum teleportation (a practical technique, demonstrated in the lab) would be used to transmit the key memory state molecules of a human brain.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by infolib ( 618234 )
      I wrote an article a while back on a FAR better, obvious approach on usenet.

      I think it's worse and non-obvious. A few questions:

      These pebbles would enter a long ring of magnets in the spacecraft's engine, be deaccelerated to rest relative to the spacecraft with their energy stored in accumulators.

      Are the pebbles charged? How do they keep their charge while moving through the solar wind? How large and strong a system of magnets/induction coils do you need to turn relativistic charged pebbles around?
  • by Jesus_666 ( 702802 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @03:10PM (#18061172)
    Come on, Mars has more than enough moons; nobody would miss Phobos if we were to carve it out and turn it into a giant colony ship...
  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday February 18, 2007 @03:27PM (#18061302) Journal
    by building a gigantic Ark of several miles in radius

    You're supposed to measure in cubits, you damned heathen!
  • Epsilon Eridani?!?! (Score:3, Informative)

    by mrbiggenes ( 1065834 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @02:39AM (#18064968)

    Looking at the nearest star systems for a decent system to visit or colonize, it is a tough call. There are only 7 star systems within 10 light years of ours. Four of those (Wolf 359 at 7.8 light years, Lalande 21185 at 8.3 light years, Luyten 726-8 A and UV Ceti at 8.7 light years, and Ross 154 at 9.7 light years) are red dwarf flare stares, which produce very little heat and emit frequent (hourly, daily, monthly) extremely high radiation flares that would kill any known living creatures close enough to derive energy or warmth from them. Also, the red light from these stars would not be conducive to photosynthesis for plants as we know them.

    One near star system (Sirius A and Sirius B at 8.6 light years) seems a bit more promising. Although the system is fabulously more rich in heavy elements (metals, etc.) than our own star system (or any other in the area), Sirus B went nova a couple hundred million years ago and probably sterilized any nice planetary systems of atmospheres, water, or life (that's an educated guess, but . . .). Also, at 8.6 light years away, it is quite far.

    Barnard's Star (at 6 light years) is a red dwarf, but not a flaring one. It's one of the oldest systems in the area, and quite calm. Of course, as a red dwarf it puts out little energy. Still, at the second closest star system it might be a potential place to visit or find rocky planets around.

    The last and most promising star system within 10 light years is actually the closest--Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri at 4.2-4.36 light years. Proxima is a red dwarf, and a flaming/flaring one, but is far away (one-fifth of a light year) from the other two stars and is therefore negligible. The other two are yellow or orange stars, a bit less or a bit more powerful than our Sun, with good light for photosynthesis. Although a dual-star system, planets within 2 AU of either star (about the distance from the Sun to the Asteriod Belt past Mars) would not greatly be affected by the gravity of the other star. Liquid water could exist within about the orbit radius of Venus for the smaller star, or Earth to Mars for the larger star. The system has twice the heavy element content of our own system.

    At 4.36 light years, and the closest neighbor we have, why not try going there instead of Epsilon Eridani at 10.5 light years? You'd save well over half the time, whatever method you used to get there! G-forces aside, if you could average 10% the speed of light, it'd take about 50 years one way.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus