Our Generation Ships Will Sink

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Not mentioned was sending robots to do the checking and terrarforming first. You could get them there faster and cheaper than meat bodies, get the place ready, etc. It adds some time before we could go of course.


The real solution is that we don’t put baseline humans into space, because we are not evolved to operate under those constraints. Don’t terraform Mars- Marsiform humans, or human-like creatures, in any case. Sure, they won’t be human in many meaningful and real ways, but they’ll be interesting.

I envision a (far) future where there are human-derived species that don’t live on planets at all, but orbit the sun in clusters, harvesting the solar radiation for sustenance. Were spores of intelligences drift between the stars, blooming for brief times and then vanishing in a cloud of spores onto the next star system.

Canned monkeys are never going to conquer the stars, but within a few centuries, these monkeys may be able to make non-monkey creatures much like themselves.


Even if it were possible to send people to another planet and have them live there, it makes little difference to those of us here now, in the sense that none of us alive now and reading this are getting off this rock. Even if it were possible to send out colony ships, terraform, etc., no more than a handful of people would get to go; for everyone else left behind, the problem remains the same. There are always going to be people on the earth, so we might as well make the best of it.


Compelling arguments! I therefore demand a refund for my Mars trilogy books. :wink:


Great that the oft-neglected problems of ecology and even compatible gravity are brought up. Yet for all this the mind is still stuck on the notion that we have to colonize a planet (or did I miss something?). Send self-replicating robotic constructors to the closest system with asteroids. Wait for the “We have arrived” signal and send the ark. Mine the asteroids, build a multi-level habitat (and a couple of smaller backups) with a total surface area the size of a continent, spin it up to 1g and voila, an inverted world ready to be colonized by the ark when it arrives. I suspect the generations born en-route would prefer a closed world over open skies.


I believe humans could get off the planet in some viable form, probably by initially building large habitable satellites and gaining the experience and knowledge necessary to achieve independent survival. They would probably not be single objects but systems of related objects. They could be moved in various directions, even to other stars, although it would inevitably take a long time.

The problem for the present is that there is no reason to do it that outweighs the high cost, economic and political, of doing it. That situation might change in the future, but important social changes in present human cultures and organizations would be required to make the necessary material changes possible, and there is no sign at present of anything but continued pathology: war, waste, greed, vacuous shows, self-delusion, and so on. It could happen, but God knows when.

I hope to take trains to the new planets like in Pandora’s Star. Either that, or hoping a GSV from Iain Banks’ Culture comes along and beams me out of here.


I suspect that anyone who thinks that we are going to achieve prolonged human habitation(or even transit) outside a terrestrial environment without resorting to measures that would make the World Anti-Doping busybodies wet themselves is dreaming. That said, within the constraints of biology as we know it, there aren’t many obvious routes to tweaking humans for even the comparatively pleasant martian environment.

We have seen terrestrial extremophiles, some of which could certainly survive on Mars, possibly even engage in metabolic activity in the more pleasant crevices; but you don’t see extremophiles that are big or smart, usually not even multicellular. Even mere anaerobes tend to be pretty sluggish because of metabolic limitations.

Even if we knew radically more about genetic or bio-medical engineering than we currently do, we can’t beat the fact that it takes a reasonably active metabolism to support human-scale intelligence; and such a thing is going to be tricky when the planet has barely a whisper of atmosphere, is cold enough to snow dry ice, etc. Even a much hardier creature than a human will still need nontrivial environmental modification to have enough energy to devote to a brain.

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wrong universe. the GSV will displace you (with a failure rate of 1 in 80 millions if I remember correctly : ))


It’s bad enough to hear this kind of crap from tech or science reporters that have just enough information to be dangerous. It’s particularly galling to hear it from a sci-fi
author of all things. KSR has been spouting this (strongly disputed) crap about Nitrogen and perchlorates on Mars then you have idiot bloggers characterizing the recent discovery from MAVEN about how Mars lost its atmosphere as being the reason we can’t terraform Mars when the truth from that report is that we could terraform Mars and the new atmosphere would be fine for at least a million more years and that’s assuming you just left it alone - which, of course, we wouldn’t. He talks about technology that would open up the interstellar distances as if our understandings of physics and development of AI and technology are just suddenly going to stop tomorrow rather than what they’re actually going to do which is continue to advance for hundreds of years. We also know that physics as we know them even today do NOT preclude warping of space. For a scifi author to be so mind numbingly shortsighted and pessimistic is an insult to scifi. The people that actually are on the cutting edge of physics and computing and material sciences believe all the things KSR thinks are insurmountable to be possible within a generation or two. Hell, we currently have the technology to begin terraforming if we had the will to spend as much as it would cost.
But Kim Stanley Robinson apparently thinks its all too hard or just impossible so we should quit and just accept our fate.
I don’t know who pissed on his Wheaties and made him so blind to human potential, so blind to the real science that will overcome these hurdles but I do know that when you have as high a profile as this author it is wreckless and irresponsible to voice such unfounded negativity on impressionable people.
I imagine he would wave off everything I’ve said as desperate wishful thinking but I’m basing my optimism on hard science that any of you can research for yourselves (I especially encourage you to look up his false claims about the intractability of the Mars soil composition). See for yourselves just how young our understanding of physics is - how much there still is to discover. Look at the advances in magnetic shielding against radiation, the papers written on workable wormholes or warp drives. You’ll find that there are very hard obstacles to overcome to make these ideas work and many think it could takes decades or even a hundred years - but what you won’t find (with the exception of KSR) are people in these fields that are willing to say its not possible. Or that they violate known laws of physics - they don’t.
Its sad that an author I used to love has somehow lost his way.


Yeah, no.

Just like Strong AI was thought to be solvable in a year or two back in the late 50s, and still seems several decades out, if ever.


A recent novel had an interesting solution to these problems. Lockstep, by Karl Schroeder.

The basic idea was that humans colonized the kuiper belt by using suspended animation to run their human civilization as brief bursts of activity followed between long periods of hibernation, during which robots and machines would continue to collect resources. This also solved the travel time problem in that the human colonies ran on synchronized schedules and one could therefore travel during the hibernation periods.

So the even more basic underlying idea is that under extreme resource deprivation one might be able to live by slowing down.

I’m still a bit dubious of journeys to the stars that aren’t all intelligence is software, and we just need a few thousand kilograms of equipment to, eventually, build an orbital civilization.


I’m beginning to fear I’m going to miss my window for journeying to the stars.

OTOH, NASA is hiring astronauts again next month.



KonMari agrees.

It seems many of these “hard obstacles” identified by experts are usually in other fields. Being a professional futurist and practicing scientist must involve a large degree of buck passing.

Why should such observations be considered “pessimism” or “negativity”? It could be that instead of denying human potential, KSR sees that more potential lies elsewhere.

I have no misgivings about optimism, but I wouldn’t call it “scientific thinking” to bet upon solutions which you admit do not exist as of now for some rather basic problems, while you decry it as irresponsible for KSR to note that there are currently no solutions. To fall back upon blind optimism and hope for progress is simply an exercise in faith. And your claims that “impressionable minds” should be shielded from possible reality checks is a denial of people’s critical reasoning, as well as hyperbole which approaches “won’t somebody think of the children” levels.

No, I do not agree that any of these obstacles are necessarily intractable, but I do acknowledge that some may resist the time and resources we have to apply to them. It helps us to budget them and avoid sunk-cost bias.


Make up your mind!


Trying to make a case for cynicism by comparing the current level of technology and it’s trajectory to the state things were in in the fifties is apples and oranges. The predictions made in the fifties were based on imagination, hope and philosophical arguments with extremely small amounts of anything close to science. We are already capable of matching the human mind in calculations - the hardware IS actually here for that - the software/programming side of the equation is less than two years away. That’s not pie-in-the-sky hope, it’s based on real science, real technology. I’ll be happy to come back in Nov of 2017 so we can discuss where we are. The advances made to AI just in the past eighteen months is more than the previous ten years. It’s easy to look back and be pessimistic but you have to base that on concrete things and comparing where we are now to the environment that existed in the fifties (or even the sixties or seventies) is just inaccurate.


Maybe I’m getting crotchety, but I’m finding I don’t have a whole lot of patience for people who declare either “We know how to travel to the stars” on the one hand, or “Colonizing the galaxy is probably impossible.” It’s easy to imagine both easy solutions and insurmountable barriers when we have close to zero actual experience trying to solve the problems we’re likely to encounter.

It is true that if we tried to colonize other solar systems using the technology and experience we have today (or are likely to possess within the next few hundred years) it’s likely to be a miserable failure. But that’s not what’s going to happen.

If and when humanity ever tries to move beyond our own solar system, it’s going to be after a long period living beyond Earth in our own solar system. Why would you even attempt to send a generation ship light-years away if you haven’t already successfully colonized Mars, the Moon, Venus, or Earth orbit?

And if you have a thousand years’ experience building self-sustaining colonies elsewhere in the solar system, why would you suppose that experience wouldn’t be useful in trying to build a generation ship?

So while an article like this is interesting and leads to some fun speculation, I fear it’s about as relevant to the actual problems of interstellar travel as Galileo writing about taking one of his flying machines to the moon.