Living in Space
In a three-part discussion, Norman Sillito, Mark Koerner and Don Webb examine from the viewpoint of both science fiction and reality what it means to live in space.
Generation Ships vs. Space Habitats
by Norman Sillito
Why does every generation ship end up degenerating? Does spaceship Earth degenerate? Why are all generation ships deemed temporary habitations until the passengers get to the next planet? Why go back to planets at all?
Once a generation ship is functional, wouldn’t it make sense for the first one to build a second, and then each of them build another, and so forth until there are more people living permanently in generation ships than there are back on Earth? The generation ships hang together in space like separate countries.
Doesn’t it make more sense that once we get out of the gravity well called Earth that we would have enough sense to stay out? Fly on out to the asteroid belt, grab all the resources you need.
The biggest problem that generation ships introduce is that Earth becomes obsolete. Within a few generations, the generation ships would have more economic power than Earth.
Consider the colonization of America. Did they have to ship over every last American and every stick of lumber and slab of beef? The whole point of generation ships isn’t to get to the stars, it’s to build a home among the stars.
How to address the boredom factor? Take enough resources and generation ships in a group and let life carry on. Some people on Earth get bored, most are self-motivated to explore, build, discover, invent, rebuild, tinker etc. I don’t think boredom is really a problem other than in the author’s mind.
I would argue that by going into space one gets far more resources than by landing on a planet. Where did all the resources on the planet come from? Most solar systems have some planets and and/or leftovers from the formation of the system. Accessing those resources is a lot easier than getting them on a planet where one is constantly fighting the effects of the gravity.
There are two big pushes for space development besides the search for ET: power collection and raw resources. And the biggest impediment is the gravity well of our planet. Once we get out of the gravity well, Earth will begin a final decent into poverty as the energy-rich environment of space quickly makes generation ships far wealthier than anything on Earth.
In space, one can develop a fusion process, if necessary, to burn hydrogen through all the stages until one gets to oxygen, which is a byproduct of energy generation. And since it can be done a safe distance, there is no worry that an accident might destroy the habitat.
Gerald O’Neil’s book, The High Frontier as a primary resource is early speculation about space colonization. His primary purpose for building space habitats was not to create generation ships. Rather, he envisioned space colonization as just that: the colonization of space.
It was science-fiction writers who looked at these space habitats and thought about pointing them out to the stars as slow boats. I suppose if one goes with the idea of a space habitat being used as generation ship, isolation and the lack of resources between one star and the next could present a challenge.
But if one works from the idea of space colonization, then there is no reason to send one ship on a solo mission. Why not send a flotilla of ships along with a few asteroids and pick up a few comets for volatiles as well? Take it all with you and plan on space colonization on the other end. That would avoid the issue of landing on a planet and dealing with the local flora and fauna.
If the flotilla arrives at a new star system and finds no easily accessible asteroid belt, one could be created by busting up a planet.
I understand that the generation ship stories are simply vehicles for looking at social breakdown etc and aren’t meant to be specifically about generation ships. I would just like to see some fiction using real space colonization as the backdrop. One group of O’Neil cylinder’s battling another group. A crime drama crossing cylinders. A group of cylinders arriving in a new solar system and finding intelligent life, either more or less advanced than our own, maybe even living in cylinders already.
I’m just really tired of the colonization of planets backdrop. It’s not a sensible future scenario.
Copyright © 2014 by Norman Sillito