Monday, 21 October 2013

The Generation Ship Idea

In Poul Anderson's "The Troublemakers", the Pioneer will take 123 years to reach Alpha Centauri. Everyone who enters the ship will die in it. How many would do this? Do their lives have any purpose other than to transmit their genes to an extrasolar colony planet? Well, yes, their own lives can have meaning if the spaceship is properly designed and equipped.

In this fictitious future, entire populations already live in artificial environments off Earth. The Pioneer is a space habitat that happens to be moving between systems instead of orbiting around the Sun. This does mean that there is no longer any possibility of revisiting Earth or any other part of the home system. However, crew members can be occupied either in scientific study of the space through which they are passing or in jobs that are necessary for the flight and maintenance of the ship.

Recreation and culture should be of the same quality as in any of the already existing enclosed environments. And we learn that applied psychodynamics ensures that, despite inevitable conflicts, society will neither collapse nor stagnate en route. So maybe the idea is not as mad as it sounds?

There are three types of people in the Pioneer:

those who entered the ship and will die in it;
those who are born and die in it;
those who are born in it but must be trained and equipped to colonize a planet at journey's end.

Anderson applies the Asimovian idea of a science of society to the Heinleinian idea of a generation ship. Psychotechnics prevents the Mutiny that destroyed technological civilization inside Heinlein's Vanguard. Having told this one story about an STL ship, Anderson then moves on to the FTL period of his History.

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