November 20, 2005
Objections To Multi-Generational Space Exploration

One way proposed for exploration to other solar systems is to have a space ship built that is so large, long lasting, and technologically advanced that it could travel for hundreds of years. The proponents of this approach argue for families to travel via such space ships so that they can give birth to children who will replace them as crew when the original generation gets old and dies. The idea is that the original generation would not live to step foot on some distant planet but their descendants many generations removed would some day colonize a planet orbiting a star many light years from Earth.

The most obvious objection to such a proposal is that why would anyone want to get on a spaceship and tavel to some place they will never see? Such explorers would be very unlike the human explorers of the last few hundred years who at least got to see amazing scenery even if, say, they didn't make it to the root of the Nile or the South Pole. But "explorers" embarking on a multi-generational trip between planets would have no such experiences. They'd step foot onto a rotating spaceship probably built in Earth's orbit and as the Earth receded from view they would have no new places to look at and investigate. They'd have a detailed understanding of their spaceship before even setting foot on it. They'd have stars to look at that would be little different than what they'd see from Earth's orbit.

But my biggest objection to a multi-generational spaceship colony is ethical: How dare some bunch of idealistic nut space explorers set out on a voyage that will condemn all their descendants for many generations to be born, live, and die in a relatively small confined area deep in space! The people who would be born, live, and die in such a vessel would be cut off from any planet, from scientific advances, technological advances, new cultural products, and from significant relationships with the bulk of humanity.

The act of the original generation of explorers would be incredibly selfish. Consider that the original generation of explorers would have direct experience of Earth societies and of travelling around and living in a variety of places on Earth. But the original generation would condemn many subsequent generations to a far narrower range of experiences and would deny the subsequent generations of the choice of whether to live in space or on Earth.

The subsequent generations born on the ship wouldn't be explorers in any meaningful sense. They'd be born on and live their lives out on a spaceship where there'd be nothing to explore. Their sole purpose would be to raise children so that those children would raise children so that some generation would some day see another planet.

Possibly the spaceship would be able to receive a laser beam transmission of information from Earth for at least part of the voyage. But this hardly makes up for the many losses that people would experience as a result of being born on a spaceship deep in space.

Worse yet, the whole sacrifice might turn out to be totally worthless in the end. The spaceship could suffer a catastrophic failure with the loss of all hands. Or an advance in propulsion made a few decades after the ship left orbit might allow much more rapid movement between planets.

But there is a very likely future change in circumstance where many decades or centuries long trips between the stars will become easier to justify both ethically and in terms of the satisfaction of the original explorers: The development of technologies which implement Aubrey de Grey's Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) will allow the original explorers to live in a state of youthfulness for the entire length of a trip to another solar system. Long space trips would therefore no longer involve one generation deciding a very dismal fate of many future generations.

If you want to become a space explorer then your best chance of fulfilling that desire is to politically support the development of SENS technologies. Advocate for increased spending to accelerate the development of rejuvenating biotechnologies such as stem cells, growth of replacement organs, gene therapy, and techniques for getting rid of accumulated intracellular and extracellular junk. Rejuvenation with SENS would allow you to live long enough to be alive and young when interstellar travel technologies get developed and become cheap enough to be accessible to many people. Plus, the SENS technologies would make it possible for you to live long enough to survive the trip and actually set foot on another world. Alternatively, you could stay on Earth longer and wait for the development of faster than light technologies assuming FTL travel will ever be possible.

If you want to travel between the stars you might also want to advocate the development of technologies for hibernation and cryogenic freezing and restoration. A couple hundred years in a space ship would get awfully boring. However, once SENS is developed we'll have plenty of time to develop hibernation technologies.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 November 20 10:52 AM  Space Exploration

Kurt said at November 20, 2005 11:31 AM:

We used to have discussions about this back in my space weenie days when I lived in SoCal (late 80's).

The consensus is that the multi-generation starship idea has been discredited. Robert Forward used to give presentations on the possibilities of intersteller travel. His basic theme was that you don't go (say, to Alpha Centuri) until the technology has been developed such that the travel time is reduced to 40 years or less, which is about 0.1c. Both fusion and anti-matter drives can get you to that speed. 40 years is short enough to eliminate the need for a huge, multi-generational colony ship as well as not putting you too far out of the loop if the boys back home develop warp-drive.

Frank Tipler is of the opinion that we will have up-loading as well as down-loading and, consequently, only "virtual" humans will ever migrate across intersteller journeys. He believes that the whole post-human thing will be developed before we have practical intersteller capability. Given the comparative rates of development in nano/bio vs space development, he is probably right.

Jeffrey Gordon said at November 20, 2005 12:05 PM:

While I agree that mult-generational space travel is probably never going to happen, I doubt human selfishness will be the deterrent. All of human history is full of peoples making choices that constrain the actions of their descendents. Whether we like or not, the dead have great power over the living.

PacRim Jim said at November 20, 2005 2:22 PM:

The biggest objection is that, at your destination, you would find humans already there, who traveled in faster space ships built long after you left. D'oh!

Brett Bellmore said at November 20, 2005 2:51 PM:

Yes, there's no point in lauching a space colonization mission, until you can do it fast enough that later advances in propuslion technology won't beat it there. It's not so much a matter of ethics, as of simple futility.

Given that we have a really good idea of how to achieve .1 C interstellar travel without postulating any new physics, (We're just resource constrained from it at the moment.) and the distance of the nearest plausible interstellar destination, there won't be any formal multi-generation ships. Informally, however, you could get a space colony in the cometary belt up to a pretty good clip, and it would amount to the same thing.

Toby said at November 20, 2005 3:24 PM:

Not to mention Soylent Green.

AA2 said at November 20, 2005 4:16 PM:

I agree with you Kurt. It would make more sense to transmit non-biological 'uploaded' humans if they wanted to go. And in honesty it would be smarter to send non-biological programs over to get what we wanted. Including the information to create simulations of travelling to that planet here on earth.

Kurzweil talks about future simulations involving nanobots who go into your brain and give off or interrupt electrical brain signals. So it will appear that your senses are delivering the information of your environment to you. Ultimately I think people will choose artificially created virtual worlds anyway.

Which to some extent I think science fiction fans who diehard stick with the idea of human manned space ships are doing. They are thinking of star trek like experiences, but obviously the whole show was written by writers to be entertaining.

Patrick said at November 20, 2005 7:31 PM:

Star Trek type voyaging only makes sense within a star system, with a group of terraformed planets. (Which would explain why all the aliens not only look like, but are sexually compatible with, humans).

But there is one realistic scenario where a group would set out with only the hope that their decendents would make it to the destination: Refugees. Think battlestar galactica, the Israelites escaping from egypt, or some future where a particular sub group is no longer safe to stay in our solar system. The people leave not because life in one ship is preferable to life in a huge multicultural free Solar system, but because it is better than being ethnically cleansed, living under sharia law or whatever.

Indeed, much of the early colonization of the Americas, and South Africa, was done by religious cults escaping persecution in Europe.

furthermore, even these guys would have the ability to make Orion drives, which back in the 1960s were calculated to be capable of 0.1C. The only reason we can't use them is that the usual suspects will object. And If you are skipping out anyway, what do you care about the objectors?

Ken said at November 20, 2005 9:03 PM:

Whilst it makes for sometimes interesting SF stories, even the possibility of such a project seems likely to be a multigenerational effort. Besides condemning children and grandchildren to a very narrow and restrictive lives the very idea appears to require those descendents to be as smart and dedicated as their parents, to undergo similar rigorous training to retain the minimum (surely very high)level of expertise needed to complete such a mission. Nature and nurture are no guarantee those future generations will be up to it, even given the strong motivation that ending up dead if you aren't provides. The pool to select critical personnel is going to be very small, the capacity to support those who don't measure up will be limited and the vast and varied skills and resources of a planetary civilisation that would launch such an enterprise will not be there during the voyage or at the destination. The mutitude of advanced technologies that are life and death necessities for such a group are unlikely to be successfully sustained over multiple generations, with probably many critical ones remaining beyond the capacity of anything but populations of tens or even hundreds of millions to successfully sustain and build on.

Sione Vatu said at November 21, 2005 4:54 AM:

Yeah. Your ancestors were a filthy, unethical bunch. How dare they leave their homes and go to America. Think of all the experiences they were leaving behind. How dare they condemn their children to the hardships of that harsh, uncivilised continent. What a narrow existence they doomed their progeny to experience. Shame!

Ivan Kirigin said at November 21, 2005 7:42 AM:

Does anyone have any good numbers on the burn-rate for high-thrust rockets? How about the cost of that fuel?

It would be trivial with those numbers to approximate the size of the fuel tank needed to accelerate at 1 or 2 Gs till relativistic speeds are attained. Slow down once you get close to your target.

The result?

You haven't aged much, and you're at a different star. You could even make trips to more distant locations in constant (relative) time by accelerating for longer, but this requires more fuel.

That fuel has a high cost. That number is pretty meaningless today, given the cost of getting things into orbit, or the lack of abundant space resources.

Despite that cost (and I would like to see a number, even including $50K/Kg to get the fuel it into orbit), space travel will most likely be like "Ender's Game". It will only take generations for those not traveling...

Ivan Kirigin said at November 21, 2005 7:51 AM:


Time dilation and space flight

Time dilation would make it possible to travel "into the future", to where for example one year of travel might correspond to ten years at home. Indeed, a constant 1g acceleration would permit humans to circumnavigate the known universe (with a radius of some 15 billion light years) in under a subjective lifetime. A more likely use of this effect would be to enable humans to travel to nearby stars without spending their entire lives aboard the ship. However, any such use of this effect would require an entirely new method of propulsion. A further problem with relativistic travel is that the interstellar medium would turn into a stream of cosmic rays that would destroy the ship unless stark radiation protection measures were taken.

Current space flight technology has fundamental theoretical limits based on the practical problem that an increasing amount of energy is required for propulsion as a craft approaches the speed of light. The likelihood of collision with small space debris and other particulate material is another practical limitation. As a result, time dilation is not currently a major factor in space travel.

Anthony Kendall said at November 21, 2005 8:18 AM:

The original post is predicated on the argument that depriving children of the larger society is fundamentally immoral. This is akin to arguing that the settlers of the American west (or even America itself) were committing some unpardonable sin upon their children by bringing them to a homestead where they might, across their entire lives, encounter no more than 1,000 people.

I'm not sure exactly what I think about this argument, but I couldn't say that it is immoral without a little further consideration. After all, the way that some trends in society are headed, our children may be better off not exposed to parts of those trends.

Additionally, people are said (by anthropologist Robin Dunbar) to be able to comfortably know and interact with no more than about 300 people (With 150 as a mean). There is a sort of "natural" arrangement of the sizes of human societies: tribes, villages, etc. Beyond this size, people have a smaller incentive to remain a cohesive group, though sizes on the order of 2,000 are certainly within the range of close association. If a large ship, with approximately 10,000 individuals were to set out, this would be enough to assure that everyone could not know everyone else, thus it would not necessarily seem as if they were living in a fishbowl.

James Gilmore said at November 21, 2005 9:50 AM:

I agree with Mr. Kendall. I'd also like to add a point or two.
Absurd as it seems to those who have traveled, most people never leave a 50 mile radius from where they are born. People as a whole like familiarity. Confining people to a small space is not as damaging as has been suggested. I was a submariner. People often say they could never go without seeing the Sun for so long as submariners do. My reply is that there's so much to do on a submarine that you never have time to miss it. A submarine is a tube (very roughly) 30-40 feet in diameter and the maximum length would probably be somewhere around 400-450 feet long. Over a hundred people live and work and play in them. An interstelar space vessel would be much larger. Much, much larger. It must be capable of manufacturing any part it needs, whether food for the crew or a replacement for a damaged antenna array. The crew to keep such a vessel working would be enormous, even with semi-intelligent robotic help. The minimum crew size would be 15000 people, and ship size would be 500 feet in diameter and 1 mile long. As a guess, of course: Every system would have to be redundant, from food manufacturing to circuitry--everything. Now, the perimeter of such a vessel, it's outer shell, would have a surface area of 500 miles! But that's not how such a vessel would be constructed. It would be a confounding maze of corridors, ladders, and hatches with multiple levels. At a minimum I would guess it would be 10 stories deep. But more likely it would be 20 or so, leaving the inner 350-400 feet of the tube hollow, for propulsion, raw materials, whatever. That's between 5000 to 10000 miles of corridors. You could start wandering at birth, and you would never see everything. Most people would only know a hundred or so people. A few would know a couple of thousand. No one would ever run out of new things to learn, new people to meet, new places to explore.
So sure, it would be different from what you and I have as a life, but not so restrictive as you might imagine.

Rahein said at November 21, 2005 10:16 AM:

SENS needs to get as much attention in every field as possible. Every day that the goals SENS are not accomplished hundreds of thousands die needlessly.

An open discusion of SENS in the aerospace industry should be started.

Ivan Kirigin said at November 21, 2005 10:31 AM:

I'm sorry, but I'm a bit confused.

A cylinder radius: 0.05 miles, length: 1 miles, leaves a surface area of 0.33 miles. Where do you get 500 miles?

I tend to agree, though. A traveling city with modern entertainment wouldn't be too boring.

As for submarines, donít the longest deployments last for less than a year?

Jos Bleau said at November 21, 2005 11:00 AM:

All Randall's arguments could be made about the original settlement of the artic, the polynesia settlement of the Pacific & Indian oceans, or the European colonization of Australia [absent the the issue of having to evict/oppress/reduce the aboriginal population, of course].

Consider the settlement of Hawaii, which I believe had lost contact with other polynesian societies for centuries before Cook arrived. Would you call it's Polynesian settelrs " ... some bunch of idealistic nut [ocean] explorers set out on a voyage that will condemn all their descendants for many generations to be born, live, and die in a relatively small confined area deep in [the pacific ocean]! The people who would be born, live, and die in such a [place] would be cut off from any planet, from scientific advances, technological advances, new cultural products, and from significant relationships with the bulk of humanity."

Convince the native Hawaiins that they should never have existed and then come back to this argument.

gah gah said at November 21, 2005 1:05 PM:

As an aside, wouldn't the explorers have to undergo some sort of rigorous psychological testing for stability? I could imagine a lot of potential tension arising within small communities with no way to safely blow off steam. No suicide bombers on this ship, please!

As for the "immorality" of "condemning" one's descendents to life on a space ship: one could easily arrange the ship so as to mimic those environments that humans have evolved to find familiar and comfortable. Heck, make a replica of SoCal. I doubt many would complain. Of course, all these considerations can become obsolete as we send uploaded/downloaded forms of ourselves to jetset around the universe.

S. Cormack said at November 21, 2005 1:36 PM:

"Long space trips would therefore no longer involve one generation deciding a very dismal fate of many future generations."

Really? What happens once they get to their destination? Aren't the future generations stuck with whatever planet they end up on? Sure, maybe it's the Planet of the Nubile Cheerleaders, but what if it's the Planet of the Man-Eating Spider-Things?

Regardless of how you package it, until we get Warp Drive interstellar space travel is a trans-generational commitment for our civilization, but there are enough folks out their like Randall who have lost the 'pioneer spirit' to keep such expeditions limited to the imagination.

Fred said at November 21, 2005 2:44 PM:

If you could build a large enough spacecraft to take a sizable population to a nearby star, couldn't just as easily live on that spacecraft indefinitely? You could make the spacecraft so huge it would be the surface size of a planet. I am thinking of Ian M. Banks Culture series with its very large spacecraft. Of course, in the Culture universe, the problems of mortality have been mostly defeated.

Sione Vatu said at November 21, 2005 5:07 PM:


You are right!

Randall's argument does not hold up. It's silly.

This was how the Pacific Islands, including all of Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia and even Australia were settled. Hawaii was not a singular case.

Take as one simple example the islands of New Zealand. That place was initially settled by at least two separate peoples (and possibly more); Moriori and later on Maori. They were completely isolated. The Maoris even developed a separate culture from the Tahitians (the Maoris originally started out from Tahiti) with different customs, gods, language, legends and so on.

Randall, imagine those Polynesians setting out on their one way trip from Tahiti to NZ. No GPS. No map. No compass. And for most, no serious hope of ever returning... Evil? Irresponsible? Are you being serious?

Nevertheless, imagine how tough it was living in such an isolated community. And NZ gets cold in the winter. It is worse than anything those guys would have known. They had to adapt or perish. For example, even finding food would have been a serious challenge (study the native flora and fauna of NZ and you'll find it is and was unique- they had to identify what could and could not be eaten the hard way). We are talking about isolated canoe loads of people...

Much later, all the islands received settlers from Great Britain, Europe, India and China. These people too were living in isolated conditions and in many cases, that went on for generations. Many of them came to the Pacific to settle in isolated, inhospitable places. They arrived, after months or years of journeying, to places that were "uncivilised," where there were cannibals and where they knew there would be no return for them or their children.

These days many of these countries are better to live in than most of the USA. In some cases better than all of it. Who'd have known? It took generations.

Irresponsible? Evil? No, I do not think so.

Randall, you are dead wrong! You should do some proper prep work prior to writing stuff up. Do not be tempted to be a dilettante. The topic deserved better treatment. As an example, you should SERIOUSLY examine the history of Polynesia and the Pacific and learn about how and why these places were settled. The conditions were not good and yet intrepid people voyaged and settled. Most of them never returned "home." They made the islands their home. This exploration & settlement was a multi-generational undertaking. Yes, we are talking about very finite groups of people heading out into the unknown over generations; in canoes...

After familiarising yourself with this important history, revisit your argument...



Randall Parker said at November 21, 2005 6:00 PM:

To all the people who are making parallels with human settlements in New Zealand or Hawaii or the Americas: Oh get serious.

1) Continents are huge places with scenic vistas and plenty of places to go and things to see. A small number of humans on a continent are not confined. They could also have large families and build larger communities with time.

2) Even a Hawaiian island is a lot larger than a space ship would be.

3) How can you compare Earth places to a spaceship? You'd have to make the spaceship huge. At that point the thing moving between stars would be a moon.

4) The bigger the interstellar vessel the more expensive it would be. Maybe nanotech will make it easy to round up lots of asteroids and build a massive spaceship. But anything short of that would be unfun.

5) Some of those original settlers in small places on the Earth lived crappy lives. Yes, humans did these things. But they also lived pretty limited existences.

6) Humans who would leave human civilization behind today would leave behind far more than humans did in previous centuries.

Roy said at November 22, 2005 7:58 AM:

Comparing settling the Pacific Islands to another star system is a bit of a stretch.

First of all, those second generation Islanders wouldn't have much knowledge of what they left behind, unlike kids on a star ship who with modern technology would know exactly what they were condemmed to.

Also, it may be awfully difficult, but the Islander's COULD go back to the mainland. For the space kids, it would be simply impossible.

Dave Milovich said at November 23, 2005 12:08 AM:

Randall's points (1)-(4) could all be addressed with virtual reality, which I suspect will be quite advanced by the time any multigenerational space voyage is seriously considered. As for points (5) and (6), I'd amplify Patrick's point: the founding generation of such a voyage would almost certainly think something was wrong with the society they were leaving, and that they could do better. Subsequent generations of these space emigrants would be taught by their parents that they were the lucky few to escape Earth.

On the other hand, these later generations could still receive (increasingly outdated) electromagnetic broadcasts from Earth. Based on these transmissions, they might praise or curse their ancestors. A particularly nasty possibility is that, while the ship still has enough fuel to turn around, a civil war breaks out over whether to exercise this option. (The founding generation might prevent this sort of thing by establishing a taboo against Earth broadcasts. Also, the onboard historical archives could be edited to emphasize the founders' criticisms of the society they left behind. The founders' rationale for such measures would be prevention of immoral Earth culture corrupting their progenty.)

Ken said at November 23, 2005 12:06 PM:

I don't think the comparisons with European colonists heading to the Americas or elsewhere on Earth have much validity given that none of those were multigeneration voyages or even went beyond the reach of ships in widespread use at the time. Whilst they may have expected to see their children face deprivation, danger and lots of toil, they could also reasonably expect to see some prosperity for those children within their own lifetimes and not by establishing an entire self supporting colony in isolation but by trading what they hoped to be plentiful and easily exploited, like rare timbers, gold and precious minerals and the produce of fertile farmlands (the like of which would be virtually unattainable in Europe without vast wealth). They didn't have any immediate expectation or even intention of producing the high tech items of the times, they expected trading ships to bring and sell them tools, pots and pans, seedstocks, crockery, cloth etc and take whatever they'd grown on their newly cleared land, harvested from the wild or gotten by trade wih the indiginous inhabitants (or taken from the local inhabitants by the force of superior arms). In other words they were outposts of existing trading empires and never expected to exist in ongoing isolation. Very probably many would have been hoping to make fortunes enough to go back to their former homelands as wealthy 'Colonials'. And if things got desperate enough they probably thought they could catch a ship back "home" - to lives of debt as well as deprivation, danger and toil.
I expect colonising near space - even with resupply, trade and with ongoing financing and support from Earth - to be difficult enough, If ever those colonies become permanently viable and able to survive, thrive and expand in a fully self-sufficient manner (and without solar power), then that may lead to attempts to colonise more distant places, perhaps even in the oort cloud and beyond. New colonies further and deeper in interstellar space could end up as a kind of multigenerational interstellar expansion that eventually reaches another star system given tens or hundreds of thousands of years. I see this as more like the Polynesian model than multigeneration voyages.
Sorry to sound so negative - I've always enjoyed a good SF story set in a future where humanity has expanded to other stars - but I fully expect that for a long long time to come this planet will remain the place where all the action is. The notion that life "out there' will be intrinsically better, that people who go 'out there' will act more sensibly and reasonably or allow greater 'freedom', or be more 'democratic' or 'meritocratic' or otherwise prove to be inherently superior to the vast majority left back home is naive. The reality for any space colonists is likely to be danger, deprivation and toil, with a requirement for multiskilled workaholic perfectionists who are prepared to accept about the same level of freedom as troops in a battle zone - ie you do what you're told when you're told, no arguments and oh yes, you care for your environment more fanatically than any greenie and you recycle absolutely everything.

Sione Vatu said at November 23, 2005 1:42 PM:


So how many Maoris returned to Tahiti exactly? Check up on a little Maori genealogy and history.

You imply that the Elders never told us their knowledge and understanding. You'd need to study up the history and culture of the Pacific to find out about this.


Your original contention was that multi-generational voyages were unethical, that is, evil. That position is incorrect. Stop trying to defend such silliness.

I respectfully submit that you are the one who should get serious and undertake some proper solid study (we call it prep work and you need to do some). This was not a topic suited to a quick, once over lightly treatment. Commit to some intellectual effort. In this case you are not in a position to judge whether a multi-generational voyage is ethical or not. Your coments demonstrate you presently lack the understanding, experience or qualification. Addressing your comments in turn:

1) I mentioned Pacific Islands and cited New Zealand as one example. New Zealand is NOT a continent. It is a group of islands. There are no continents in Polynesia, Micronesia or Melanesia. There is only one continent anywhere near them. That land mass is called Australia. Perhaps you may have heard of it.

Should you visit Australia you will find that much of it is uninhabited, even today. Read up on it and you'll find out why. Even in Australia early settlements were isolated. People WERE confined. They were cut off from the rest of humanity for years (in some cases decades and even generations).

Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia consist of plenty of small islands. Most of them do not have that much to see. They are beautiful but they are very similar in many aspects. Once settled, the villagers usually did not travel very far from the fale. The number of people in a village was limited. Populations were modest. Perhaps you should come to Samoa and spend a few weeks enjoying the village life in order to gain an insight to how most lived.

I asked you to consider the intrepid voyagers departing from Tahiti in canoes. They had no idea where they were going, whether they'd get there and what they'd do if they did. Once they got to New Zealand that was it. They had to stay there. The decision was made and for their progeny and later generations there was no returning. In New Zealand, the Maoris usually stayed right in the coastal areas. For the majority penetrating further into the interior was difficult, bordering on impossible; a multi-generational task. There was almost no settlement of the South Island (most of NZ was not explored by Polynesians). Meanwhile, the Moriori were restricted to very limited stretches of coastline and to the Chatham Islands.

The early settlers of New Zealand were most definitely cut off from the rest of humanity for generations. After the initial voyages there was no contact with "home." Their total isolation was only broken by the arrival of the whalers, the British and other early voyagers (possibly the Chinese). They were remote and culturally self-sufficient. And this was similar to what happened right across the Pacific.

Randall, if you bothered to do some prep as recommended you would have discovered that once settled these peoples were not highly mobile. The demands of survival meant they did not have time or inclination to go on big trips around the countryside taking in the sights. Get real man! Journeys took weeks, months or even years. These guys did not commute 20 miles to the taro plot and back again each day. They were on their own and confined to modest areas of action. Much later some of the warriors began to travel between villages and tribes for the purposes of limited communication, modest trade and warfare (the losers got eaten; losers were a good protein source). Even so, most people didn't move much at all. They couldn't. They were stuck.

You mentioned having large families and building "larger communities with time." Even assuming this was so (& very often it was not) it would take many generations. But before discussing this aspect (let alone population control in isolated, restricted spaces) perhaps you ought to check out what the typical lifespan was in the ancient days of Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, New Zealand and Australia. And definately look up the text-books to see what the birthrates were for differnt groups (important). And you should check out what it was that drove the great Pacific migrations. Then check out WHY the populations remained modest. Come on!

When the British & the Europeans arrived and things changed. Cultures were modified greatly and quickly. There were dislocations and upheavals.

British, European, Chinese and Indian settlers were leaving behind a great deal in order to journey and settle the Pacific. They too were isolated from their peers, much of their traditional culture and common practices. They sacrificed a great deal but they did it for their own purposes and goals. Good on them I say. We would not be here, many generations later, had these excellent people not taken the risks they did.

2) Really? And how would you know that? There have been suggestions that future space-farers could adapt asteroids for their travels. How big they go is up to their engineering abilities and wealth. At this point in time you do not have sufficient information to know.

BTW do you know how large the smallest of the Hawaiian archipelago actually is? Surprise! Go find out. Anyway, the comparison is silly for two reasons; you likely do not know the size of the smallest Hawaiian island and, future pundit or not, you do not know the size of ALL space-faring vehicles to be built in the future.

Off topic for a second, you should really learn the history of how Hawaii was annexed by the USA. Compare that with they way the British operated in New Zealand or Fiji. Most interesting contrast. You should see to it that your representatives in Washington give Hawaii back to the Polynesians to whom it ALL rightfully belongs.

3) And? Your point was that the whole exercise was unethical, that is, evil. Now you appear to be objecting to the size of the vehicle. OK. Are you now trying to imply big is bad? Or is it that your arguments are all over the shop since you know you've got this one dead wrong? Get consistent and stick to the point. Fact is, you've made an error. Multi-generational journeys of exploration/settlement are not necessarily unethical. Admit it.

4) So what? Who knows what technology will make possible. You certainly don't.

5) And they will likely continue to so do. It's in the eye of the beholder or, rather, the person undertaking the task (living the life!).

6) Says you. Of course what you fail to state is what they gained or thought they would gain by leaving "home" behind. Same goes in future. For many people the World may not be as comfortable or desirable as a voyage of exploration. It's their choice.

As for the "concern" about future generations, you are confusing the potential for the actual. This is a way of accepting the "precautionary principle"; a complete nonsense.

Randall, you got burned on this one mate. You're so wrong. Admit it.


Sione Vatu said at November 23, 2005 2:39 PM:

Hello Ken

The Polynesian "model" was a multi-generational undertaking. Randall's hypothesis can readily be applied to it. Of course once you do this it beomes clear that Randall is incorrect.

I agree with your conclusion that the settlement of the solar system will proceed along Polynesian lines.

As far as interstellar voyaging is concerned, we do not really know how this may be achieved. However, once it is undertaken clearly the resources to achieve it will be available, as will suitable technology and knowledge.

When it becomes possible to be self sufficient in the absence of sunlight, then it certainly is possible to set off on multi-generational interstellar voyages. An interesting possibility arises. Such a voyage could be commenced with no particular destination in mind; the perpetual voyage. For the voyagers it would be analogous to living on a completely isolated island. This would not be all that different from how they would be used to living anyway.

The Polynesians (and others) have demonstrated the way. Go forward, as you can't go back.



Randall Parker said at November 23, 2005 6:06 PM:


The Polynesian "model" is not analogous. There was no massive boat that held people for generations between islands. Your argument falls apart right there.

Condescension rarely strengthens arguments and your argument is no exception. New Zealand is a big place, orders of magnitude bigger than a spaceship that would carry a few thousand people.

Your argument about population sizes makes no sense. Surely the number of people who travelled to Hawaii or New Zealand was far smaller than the number who lived there a hundred years later. The boats didn't carry as many people as the islands could support. Even restricted to a small part of NZ a population could grow much larger.

Also, the trips were not long. No one spent years on a ship in the Pacific going from one island to one other island, let alone generations. Again, you are trying to equate things that are different in many ways.

The Europeans travelled much longer distances and spent only months between land stops.

Sione Vatu said at November 24, 2005 5:34 PM:


The analogy holds.

It was you who wrote: "But my biggest objection to a multi-generational spaceship colony is ethical: How dare some bunch of idealistic nut space explorers set out on a voyage that will condemn all their descendants for many generations to be born, live, and die in a relatively small confined area deep in space! The people who would be born, live, and die in such a vessel would be cut off from any planet, from scientific advances, technological advances, new cultural products, and from significant relationships with the bulk of humanity."

Remember that? You ought to. You wrote it.

This is analogous to: "But my biggest objection to a multi-generational Pacific colony is ethical: How dare some bunch of idealistic nut island-hopping explorers set out on a voyage that will condemn all their descendants for many generations to be born, live, and die in a relatively small confined area (a tiny island) deep in the remotest reaches of the Pacific! The people who would be born, live, and die on such an island would be cut off from any country, from scientific advances, technological advances, new cultural products, and from significant relationships with the bulk of humanity."

Please go away and think on it.

My (and other's) position was that multi-generational undertakings of the sort are not necessarily unethical. Examples were cited to cast serious doubt over your approach. It was clear you had not thought the topic through and needed to undertake further learning.

Your response was (and remains) a spirited yet obtuse defence of your position. You raise spurious points and arguments in a consistent avoidance of the main topic. Do we need to keep debating this? There's not much point if you can't learn anything. Anyway, one last time. Addressing your latest post:

How big would a space vessel for a multi-generational voyage be? Do you really know? No!

WRT New Zealand. This was cited as but one example. We could discuss Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Wallis, Tahiti and so on. We could discuss particular or singular islands. How about Easter Island? Or Savaii? Manu'a? What about one of the Yasawas? Or Kwajaleen? Or Waiheke? Or even the Great Barrier Island? Va'Vau? Tongatapu even? There are thousands of islands and many of them fit the multi-generational scenario you set; isolated, limited size, small populations, lived on by the same people for generations. As I can't educate you (do not have the time or inclination to try to do this over the web), why don't you go do some of your own research?

New Zealand is about the size of the United Kingdom. Now read this next part very carefully. MOST OF NZ WAS NOT SETTLED OR EVEN EXPLORED BY POLYNESIANS. In general they were restricted to coastal areas (some exceptions but those guys were even more isolated). They could not go much further. The effort was too high and they lacked the resources. OK.

What you need to understand is these people usually lived their lives contained within small, local areas of action, mostly a few miles in diameter. Note that point right there. This is not really so different from what was happening with people elsewhere in the Pacific; limited areas of action. It certainly is analogous to a multi-generational space voyage.

The Maoris did not live as a single race under a single economic or political system. There were separate, independent tribes and hapu (proudly so). Mostly they did not have anything much to do with each other. Modest distances represented a serious barrier (even for the Maoris and they were more mobile then most). Undertaking a journey was a major commitment of time and resource. The effort was considerable. There were dangers in such a hostile environment (NZ gets cold). Food is scarce. Contact between groups was limited.

Those Maoris were all cut off from the rest of Tahiti and Polynesia. They were isolated for so long that they developed unique culture of their own. Separate tribes developed along similar yet separate lines (even today the tribes and hapu maintain their proud independent identities). Populations remained modest. Some tribes grew, others did not. As with many places throughout the Pacific there were areas where human populations were static for generations and there were even areas where the population was declining. Some historians report the overall Maori population was in decline when the British decided to colonise New Zealand. The point is, in the main we are dealing with populations of a few hundred to a few thousand (if that), restricted to fixed and finite areas of action. Geographically limited. Physically restricted. Got that? Can you perceive the analogy yet?

Yes, potentially New Zealand could support more people, as many as another 50, 100 or even 200 million people. So what? You're again confusing a potential with an actual. This is another red herring. It's not material. Stop raising irrelevant arguments all over the show and stick to the topic at hand. Besides, if one wanted, one could postulate a large space vehicle setting off with a tiny population (a few "canoe loads") ready to build a larger population over the generations... The analogy holds.

Randall, the point is not that Polynesians spent generations on the same canoes (your "massive boat" idiocy). I never raised that idea or implied it. You keep getting sillier and sillier. Read was written and think about it. Your comment earns not condescension but contempt. Really! Your comment would have earned a right brutal hiding if you'd said it in any local pubs around here. Seriously. People would have found it that offensive. Contemptible. Pull your head in.

At this stage there is not much reason in continuing this argument. You clearly lack the knowledge and understanding or intention to comment constructively. That piece you originally wrote definitely was not thought through or properly researched. It was pure dilettante puff. As recommended previously, the most useful thing for you to do is to learn about the Pacific peoples and their proud heritage of exploration and settlement. Then you can read about the British and the Europeans coming to the Pacific. You'll find the early Chinese explorations enlightening as well.

The analogy holds.

Setting forth on multi-generational undertakings such as voyages of exploration & settlement (even in isolated places) is not necessarily unethical or evil. It depends on context. There is historical precedence that may be consulted.



Randall Parker said at November 24, 2005 6:36 PM:


Yes, context matters. No, your analogy does not hold.

Irrelevant arguments? You are long winded. You spend as much time arguing about the argument as making the argument.

Massive boat: Yes, being on a spaceship is different than being on an island. You are taking a succession of migrations to a series of islands, each migration relatively short in duration (at most months and probably days or weeks in the vast bulk of the cases) and incorrectly conflating that with a single long trip that will last potentially hundreds of years for a single hop. No, the historical analogy does not fit.

Proud heritage: So is this what your argument is all about? You are offended as an islander? Oh do grow up.

People who already live on an island who do not have enough food and set off hoping to find a better life are not the same as people who go exploring with absolutely huge amounts of resources that they need for a multi-generational space trip.

- The people on the boats are not going to have multiple generations of kids moving from one island to another.

- The people on the boats are driven by hunger and crowding where they came from or a mythical belief in some wonderful island over the horizon. Explorers heading to another solar system will not expect their immediate descendants or the next several generations to live better lives.

- The vast bulk of the people living on islands in the Pacific have far more room to move around in than people would on a spaceship. Some of the islands are in chains and the people can even move back and forth between islands in a chain.

- The number of Maoris living in NZ was far greater when the Euros arrived than originally made the trip by boat.

- You seem to miss the very obvious point that ethical choices facing primitive peoples are different than ethical choices facing developed peoples. Primitive peoples have fewer choices and harsher choices. A path with deprivation and risk by primitive peoples has to be compared to other paths of deprivation and risk. For developed peoples a path of deprivation and risk should be compared with many other paths of greater affluence, lower risk, and less isolation. So you are trying to defend the choices of your ancestors when they faced different ethical choices because you have created a false analogy between them and people on a multiple generational spaceship.

Ken said at November 24, 2005 9:21 PM:

I'm probably closer to Randall than yourself in thinking such comparisons aren't that helpful. Whilst I suggested a model of expansion in space that was in some ways analagous to Polynesian expansion in the Pacific, the differences remain huge. To me the real problem looks like that of maintaining a very high level of technology with a small population base over multiple generations without outside support besides perhaps communications - I'd think that difficult enough for colonies that aren't trying to travel beyond the warmth of our Sun. To me such interstellar projects sound like recipes for decline and ultimate failure and in that sense condemning descendents to suffer the consequences of choosing to participate . Any expansion into space will probably be utterly reliant on technology from Earth on an ongoing basis for a long long time and remain mere outposts of an Earth based economy and society.

Jos Bleau said at November 25, 2005 7:06 AM:

By the time we can build interstellar arks we will have a lot of experience buiding large space station colonies. We will have evolved a culture [cultures?] of people who like living in artificial environments, with all the negatives and positives that that entails. The constraints of station living will have been adjusted to and turned into moral 'virtues' by those who live there. For them the novelty will be the travelling, not the living in a tin can.

Its possible that they won't even want to live on a planet's surface - they won't need too! They can target just about any population II star, making almost the whole of the galactic neighborhood habitable. The tin canner's descendants could outnumber the planet bound in a few generations!

Sione Vatu said at November 25, 2005 1:38 PM:


You have a cheap mind. I wondered whether you'd try having a go at my background (the race card) and now you have. Well that's you on public display.

Anyway, you're still wriggling around trying to evade the point (again). This is intellectually dishonest (worse than being intellectually lazy or even profoundly ignorant). Won't do you any good. Two errors you have made:

1/. "Analogous to" does not mean "exactly the same as."

2/. Multi-generational voyages are not necessarily unethical, that is they are not necessarily evil.

Can you get that? Do you understand? It's clear you actually do but can't bring yourself to admit it in this forum. That's too bad.

Your latest outburst includes something new and interesting: "You seem to miss the very obvious point that ethical choices facing primitive peoples are different than ethical choices facing developed peoples." So now you have introduced a new subject; the nature of ethics. Should you wish to investigate that topic (it is a good one to investigate) it would be best if you started on a new thread. The logical approach is to establish a derivation for an ethical system and then provide its validation. It would be interesting to read your ideas on that.

In the meantime I'm pleased to note you appear to have started undertaking some basic learning about the Pacific and its peoples. There's much of interest there (check out how they navigated the sea and how some still do). You still need to read more to understand how & WHY the migrations occurred. Nothing wrong with doing prep. Most fascinating.


Randall Parker said at November 25, 2005 1:57 PM:


You are the one playing the race card here. If you think your fake pose of moral indignation will intimidate me you are wrong.

I've made no effort to pick up history books in response to anything you've written in this thread. I've read plenty of history books about human migrations and general world history already. Similarly, neither have you. You've just asserted repeatedly that the historical record supports your argument.

You ignore my points while asserting that I ignore yours. You suggest the important point about ethical trade-offs is a matter for another thread. But this point about ethics illustrates why your analogy does not fit. You don't want to face this. But, no, multi-generational space travellers would not face the same moral trade-offs as people making orders of magnitude shorter trips between islands.

Any time someone advances an analogy it becomes fair game to examine whether the analogy fits. I've explained several reasons why it does not fit. Your response is to attack me or tell me to go read history books. You aren't really arguing.

Sione Vatu said at November 25, 2005 1:57 PM:


Actually you have little in common with Randall's position. While I remain grateful and impressed he provides this venue, I am disappointed by his approach to discourse and debate.

Your concerns are probably right. It sure would be a difficult task to undertake and unlikely to happen until far into the future (very far). Were people of that future time capable of undertaking such voyaging they'd need to address the very issues you raised. I expect they'd possess much of the knowledge to do so. Best guess is that there'd be some spectacular failures prior to a success. Hard to say. But the pattern of human exploration suggests these efforts would occur and continue to occur.

First up, the solar system would need to be settled. That would take some considerable time (I wonder, how long?). Perhaps some of this may involve multi-generational voyages... What do you reckon? How do you see this playing out? A shame we won't be around.


darkwader said at November 26, 2005 7:09 PM:

yes sens definatly makes sens:)

for space travel seens u dont get old and die 40 pity years dont count.

aubrey de grey rules:)

Sione Vatu said at November 27, 2005 5:50 PM:


Quit blustering. You can't expect to bluff your way out of what you asserted. Either you repair it or you retract it.

I'll respond again for you. Then please do go away and THINK for a while.

1/. "Analogous to" does not mean "exactly the same as." An analogy is a similarity, usually with a limited number of features common between the subject (of the discussion) and its analogy. In this case the similarities I wanted you to consider were those of a limited population isolated from the rest of humanity unable to share technological advances, scientific developments, culture, a meaningful relationship with the rest of humanity and subject to a "narrower range of experiences" than the rest of humanity. These were the descriptors you used in your original post. I submit these are exactly what certain explorers of the Pacific, and generations of their descendants, actually experienced.

2/. Multi-generational voyages are not necessarily unethical, that is they are not necessarily evil. This is a direct opposition to your original assertion. I'm saying you are wrong.

By the way, at the time such a challenge could be realistically faced and attempted (and this is far, far into the future) the means to so do would be at hand (technology, specialist knowledge and so on). Certainly such voyagers will have a far better idea of what they and their descendants are up against than the Polynesians (and other peoples of past migrations) did. They will also have better knowledge and methods to deal with such issues. Even should a particular attempt fail, that does not necessarily make it unethical to try.

And add this:

3/. Always be prepared to pick up the books and do some learning. You absolutely should undertake proper research and think about your topics in depth rather than in a superficial manner. Otherwise you'll find things unpleasant (you couldn't have enjoyed recent exchanges).

Do you really still consider that multi-generational voyages of exploration and settlement are necessarily unethical; that is, evil? Please answer with the truth. You can always qualify your original position or alter it. There is no shame in correcting errors or omissions. There is no shame in revising your position when you learn something new that contradicts what you originally thought. Just say so. Admit it.

For the record; my position is that multi-generational voyages of exploration and settlement are not necessarily unethical. That is, they are not necessarily evil of and in themselves. The choice to embark on such an action is not necessarily wrong.

Apart from you answering that one question there is not much more to discuss on this topic really. End of story.

Randall, do you really still consider that multi-generational voyages of exploration and settlement are necessarily unethical; that is, evil?"



PS Nature of Ethics is a completely different subject. It properly should contitute a new thread. Still we can use this one if you like.

Randall, prior to discussing "ethical trade-offs" and whatever such things may or may not be, it is necessary to discuss the Nature of Ethics. We would need to establish the proper derivation of ethics and check the validation. That is critical.

For example, consider this question. Where do ethics come from? There are at least three possibilities: the supernatural (spirits, gods, mythology, monsters, the dead etc.), social metaphysics (what everyone else thinks, what is customary practice or what the culture is, society, the polity etc.) or existence (reality, the universe, Man etc.). Determining the derivation of a proper ethical system is important so we can operate from a common and correct base. Knowing the derivation allows an ethical system to itself be tested prior to being applied as a standard or measure. That would be necessary for another reason as well; to prevent you being intellectually dishonest and attempting to wriggle out of what you assert. No bluffing allowed!

As previously, this is an interesting topic and I would be happy to correspond.

Randall Parker said at November 27, 2005 6:08 PM:


You are playing the game you accuse me of playing. Blustering? That's what you are doing.

Analogies: Again, you are trying to assert that your analogy fits. No, not all analogies fit. I've explained what is wrong with your analogy. You ignore the objections. No, relatively short hops between islands are not analogous to really long multi-generational trips between planets in different star systems.

Again, I do not see an error in my argument. I see errors in your own argument. I've pointed them out to you. You've ignored the errors. You can't imagine that you are wrong. At this point I see it as pointless to try to convince you of the errors in your reasoning.

Unpleasantness: I do not write posts to be pleasant to or get pleasant responses. I'm quite okay with having some people despise me for what I say. On other topics I get lots of hostile responses and all sorts of accusation.

Ethics: Humans do not all operate from a common ethical base. Individual humans do not even have consistent ethical philosophies. The human mind does not work that way because we were not selected for to operate with philosophically consistent ethical systems of belief. Philosophying ethical thinkers are like communists who try to argue for a model of society that is incompatible with human nature.

Also, there's enough genetic variation in how brains get wired that people have different ethical beliefs because of their genetics. People see different ethical trade-offs due to differences in IQ, in levels of instinctual desire to carry out altruistic punishment, and in other qualities. It is unreasonable to expect people to have common ethical bases. Never mind that lots of people think we should all have common ethical beliefs. It is very unreasonable to expect people to do so.

Sione Vatu said at November 27, 2005 9:47 PM:

Just answer the question Randall. That's all you are being asked to do.

Randall, do you really still consider that multi-generational voyages of exploration and settlement are necessarily unethical; that is, evil?

Yes or no.


Kyle Bennett said at November 28, 2005 11:34 AM:

The argument that multi-generational ships are unethical because of what it does to the children is deeply flawed. And it doesn't require any psychological analysis or empirical study of ancient migratory patterns to see that.

First, at the time the trip is being contemplated, the child in question does not exist, not even as a potential. Therefore, starting the trip can in no way affect him. Once the trip is commenced, the question is whether or not to have children. The consideration there is NOT whether this proposed child is better or worse for being on this ship, the question is whether he is better off being born on the ship or never being born at all. Is a less than ideal existence (if it would even be that) worse than no existence?

The conditions under which anyone is concieved are an a-priori given for that person, they are not good or bad or right or wrong, they just are. If the parents choose not to conceive under certain condtions until conditions improve, then the conception of the child that would have resulted is not deferred until later, it is forever lost - that child will NEVER exist. Any future conception will be of an entirely different person.

Be careful attributing ethical considerations to things that do not exist.

Sione Vatu said at November 28, 2005 4:55 PM:


re Ethics

IF it is unreasonable to expect people to operate from common ethical basis, then it is unreasonable for you to denounce multi-generational space-farers as unethical. You are hoist by your own petard!

You can't have it both ways, surely?.


Randall Parker said at November 28, 2005 7:49 PM:


Your reasoning is flawed. People setting out on a multigenerational spaceship trip would do so planning to have children. There'd be no point of making the trip unless they were going to have children and grandchildren and so on. The whole point of the trip would be to have descendants some day walk on another planet.

As for whether we have ethical obligations to the unborn: A lot of people would disagree with you.

Randall Parker said at November 28, 2005 8:14 PM:


You are conflating single long space voyages with series of smaller voyages over much shorter durations. I'm not. So your question makes no sense to me. You can pretend there's a single answer for all conditions. But your game is transparent.

As for ethical judgements: Your argument amounts to saying we can't or shouldn't form moral judgements of each other. Are you sure you want to go there?

Sione Vatu said at November 29, 2005 3:32 PM:


re Ethics

It was you who asserted it is unreasonable to expect people to operate from common ethical basis. You appear to also believe that ethics is non-volitional in key aspects. That being so, how can you legitimately apply YOUR ethical system to other people? Surely it would be "unreasonable" to do so? Their ethics would be different from yours and just as valid. How do you propose resolve the contradiction?


Thomas Flood said at December 4, 2005 9:09 AM:

Never underestimate our urge to explore, our ability to adapt.

Who among us could predict the emeregence of an awkward, shambling pack of ungraceful primates of a million years ago into the dominant species we now are?

Don't underestimate huminanity - it'll prove you wrong every time.

Space is just another journey in the remarkable history of our species - we'll adjust as we go along, just like those tiny, frightened, curious,and determined ancestors of ours. Ancestors who, in in their own different ways,and along different paths, conquered cold, dark, water, disease, distance and each other to arrive here and now - poised for the next great journey.

I don't believe we'll explore deep space - I know it. We just can't help ourselves.

Mike said at April 8, 2006 10:28 AM:

Not to mention that since these explorers will be the first to know what the star system they're going to is like,
it could turn out to be uninhabited and uninhabitable on every planet. Bad news, because it is unlikely the ship
will be designed so well that it will simply be able to turn around and go home, or go on to another star system,
with about the same chances of finding no place to live. So it would need to refurbish itself, even upgrade its
systems. Is that possible with no ground support? Not likely. I agree, too, that it would be unethical, even if
they smiled when they were conned into joining the crew.

Reminds one of the young people looking for homes today.

Josh said at February 14, 2009 4:13 PM:

You could object to people on Earth having kids:

"But my biggest objection to having children is ethical: How dare some bunch of idealistic nuts condemn all their descendants for many generations to be born, live, and die in the awful conditions of our society!"

My objections to a generation ship are:

1) How do you make the machines last that long?
2) How can the ecology last that long?
3) What if someone back home makes a faster ship?
4) Won't such a small population (with not enough people to support university-level education) degenerate into barbarism, like in The Voyage That Lasted Six Hundred Years?

I think it's a stupid idea. It's better to use cryonics--just freeze a bunch of people for the whole trip.

Iwas.A.Member said at January 3, 2011 8:02 PM:

if curious to see realistic new practical living options good for many billions off Earth, email me & I can email back an attached compressed DOS file detailing well such nice practical new future living improvements

Leon J Williams said at November 7, 2012 6:50 AM:

Is this thread officially dead?

Providing the spaceship is big enough I don't see any difference between having a child on a ship to having one on Earth.

Michael Bush said at September 19, 2014 2:16 PM:

i would haveto almost completely disagree with your ethical concerns for such a endeavour. afterall the ship would haveto be built as a completely independent civilization with there own research, production, entertainment, engineering, cultivation, medical and deep space mining fields to name a few. not to mention it would haveto be a completely isolated ecological system designed to promote harmonious cohabitation with a variety of plantlife and animals. also the crew themselves would haveto all be specialized spacificaly for there fields taking the place of schools as we know them so each crew member would be the top minds of there field. this is far more of an ideal environment then if we didn't take this endeavour and allowed overcrowding and pollution to ravage the planet just because we are scared to colonize. not to mention that failure to colonize makes our species weak in the evolutionary sense because of the fact that a single cosmological event could roll around and destroy the entire species in one fell swoop without the colonization of distant planets.

Randall Parker said at September 19, 2014 8:02 PM:

Leon J. Williams, Michael Bush

If we put a couple hundred millon people on a planet-sized spaceship then we'd have the scale necessary to have an independent civilization. That level of scale is required to support original research on a range of topics.

A planet spaceship would need fusion reactors to keep everyone warm and fed and cared for beneath the surface. Then a full civilization could move itself. Want to think that big? Okay, then we can maintain a big civilization and maintain it on a long trip.


If we had the biotech necessary to freeze people for centuries and the robotics needed to maintain all the cooling equipment and fusion reactors that could power the ship for centuries then I guess going across the vast distances frozen would allow an intact civilization to arrive at the destination. The bright side is that everyone who reached the other end would be people who chose to do so.

Michael Bush said at September 19, 2014 9:23 PM:

in my opinion this is the only logical course of action for space exploration and colonization at the current juncture. and as research breakthroughs progress on earth the data can be sent to the ships already underway to ease or improve there journeys and vise/versa. in this single idea much of the worlds problems will also be eliminated because overcrowding would no longer be an issue. you haveto understand that a multi-generation ship would haveto support 10,000-50,000 souls with room for expansion. maintenance would be a huge undertaking. as the ships would depart full of families our planets population would breath a little easier each time and eventually starvation or fighting over resources would become a thing of the past. it has also been proven that lighter populations curb out hostility. i would say as a global project one ship would take atleast 5 years to construct in a zero gravity environment without a massive orbital construction. holding 50,000 people at 6 feet and requiring atleast 10x cubic living space then doubling it for expansion, engineering systems, departmental space, ect. ect. it would be 609.6 cubic kilometers or 2 million cubic feet at minimum.

Michael Bush said at September 19, 2014 9:27 PM:

its not about the numbers its about ideas. since the entire crew would be specialized in there fields research would be included in there training and each department would have there own research divisions and collaborate as needed.

David said at June 28, 2015 9:09 PM:

I would go in a heartbeat. and as for the children and their children having problems remember children are naturally curious and would want to explore. as for a faster ship beating them to the destination surely the faster ship could meet up with the generation ship and upgrade their engines... but what if we never manage to build faster engined ships? Its better to make the effort than to set around doing nothing

Randall Parker said at July 2, 2015 5:57 PM:


Children living in a multi-generational colony ship would be explorers. They'd live in the same space and would experience nothing new for generations. There'd be nothing to explorer for many generations of people who would live on the ship. Their lives would be boring and the range of their daily experiences pretty limited.

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