back to article That's no moon... er, that's an asteroid. And it'll be your next and final home, spacefarer

Students and eggheads are designing a futuristic spaceship from an empty asteroid shell capable of housing astronaut crews as they slowly move between stars on trips that could last hundreds of years. The TU Delft Starship Team (DSTART) – based at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands – are working on a project …

  1. Halcin

    Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

    Watch a video, film or documentary about people from 50 or a 100 years ago. Do you feel connected? Can you understand how they feel? Do those long dead people have any idea what life is like for you?

    Now imagine you are on a spacecraft traveling through the void of space. This little world is all you have known. It's all your parents have ever known. It's all your grand-parents have ever known. And it's been this way for hundreds of years.

    You have no interest in what's outside your little world, because, for hundreds of years there has been nothing but void.

    How can you maintain an optimistic zeal to explore when faced with that tiny world for your entire life? How can you engender excitement in your belligerent, cantankerous teenage children? And it's not just your life, you'll be fighting generations of history.

    Traditions and aspirations change with each generation. And I find it difficult to believe our descendants will know, care or even understand why we sent multi-generational spaceships into the void. And if they do, will they thank us or hate us for condemning/committing them to that life?

    1. tfewster Silver badge

      Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_ship#Social_breakdown

      But, that said, how soon can we build the B-Ark?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captive_Universe

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

      @Halcin

      Whilst your broad point is a very important one, your opening paragraph about us not empathising with people 50 years ago might not be best argument for your case.

      In human history, a lot of people have lived their lives in the same fashion as their great grandparents. Technological and social change tends to occur in fits and starts. We are living through such changes, just as our great grandparents did, but this is not true of all people who have lived.

    4. Pete 2

      I resemble that remark

      > Watch a video, film or documentary about people from 50 or a 100 years ago. Do you feel connected? Can you understand how they feel?

      People from 50 years ago - definitely: that would be me!

      But I reckon that a closed community of what? a few thousand people would not evolve socially. One generation would have the same environment as the one before and the one after. There would be no immigration or emigration to mix things up. And hopefully little in the way of conflict to produce rapid change, either. There might be some innovation that gets beamed up - but how much capacity to manufacture new or novel consumables would there be? Especially with light-speed being a limitation to meaningful communication.

      If you built a factory today to create bleeding edge stuff - would it still be able to make the bleeding edge stuff of 100 years from now?

      ISTM that for a journey of a few hundred years, there would not be much change within the asteriod. The language would evolve (unless everyone was taught by AI, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Integral_Trees Larry Niven's Integral Trees but there would not be much social pressure for other sorts of change.

      Personally I would expect that most asteroid habitats would remain in their existing orbits. They would have all the advantages of proximity while allowing the independence of self-sufficiency. Plus, it takes a hell of a lot of energy to accelerate a lump of rock - and how to stop, once yo get to your destination?

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: I resemble that remark

        The evolution of language might depend upon the libraries of books,films and podcasts available onboard - and the appetite of the occupants for watching films set in alien (to them) environments such as cities, grasslands and mountains.

        Slang terms will appear and rise and fall out of fashion - as they always do.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I resemble that remark

        "And hopefully little in the way of conflict to produce rapid change, either. "

        Humans are a hierarchic social animal - and therefore inherently tribal. No matter how small the population it will form groups. What they disagree on may have nothing of substance - but it will form the groups' shibboleths.

        How disruptive that will be will be amplified by the size of the overall population and the competition to make a particular group's shibboleth a compulsory belief for everyone.

    5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

      "Watch a video, film or documentary about people from 50 or a 100 years ago. Do you feel connected? Can you understand how they feel?"

      Ah, youngsters and their sense of time. Had it been the custom back then a video from 50 years ago could have been our wedding video. And a cousin-in-law's home movies from further back still have the teenage me on them. So when I see photos of similar village events from 100 years ago of course I feel connected to those as well.

    6. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

      A lot of interesting SF has been written about Generation Ships, which are still the only known workable concept for Interstellar travel.

      Technologically just about possible since nuclear subs were deployed.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

        The Orville, a recent TV series that is a homage (and not the spoof it was pitched to be) to Star Trek TNG, features a generation ship. The occupants don't realise they live within a ship, and have descended into a tyranical theocracy.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

          I'm pretty sure that no generation ship in the entire of history of fiction has ever not had societal breakdown of some sort.

          Oh, except maybe the Nauvoo in The Expanse, but that's only because it was re-commissioned before any of the passengers ever stepped on board.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

          Social trouble on a generation ship is also what fueled the plot of the infamous Space Mutiny.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

          @The Orville

          Hadn't come across this before, but had a look after this comment. A bit silly in places, but the gen ship episode was good. Also has some surprising guest stars (Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron). Also interesting that Jonathan Frakes directed one of the episodes (he may have done more, but I haven't seen them all yet).

      2. DropBear Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

        The first thing we humans do in any size "community" is draw lines in the sand to separate "us" from "them". No specific distinction required, any one of a number of inconsequential physical traits or ideological issues will do nicely; then we proceed trying to destroy or at least dominate "them". Rules, regulations and tight control of indispensable resources might limit the overt level of conflict on display at any given time, but make no mistake we will find reasons to hate each other's guts - tenfold so due to the pressures created by having to live in a relatively small confined environment. And no, this is not pessimism - this is merely stoic realism.

        Which ties into the larger problem of the looming nearly inevitable disaster caused by a particularly aggressive fraction (or possibly single individual) sequestering or destroying some vital component of an environment that is basically nothing but a long string of inter-dependent irreplaceable or hard-to-replace vital systems, by necessity. Sure, there will doubtlessly be an impressive amount of self-reliance built into any such generation-ship - but how brittle do you expect it to be...? Because my hunch is "extremely". Are you sure the colonists would be able to fashion brand new rocket engines for their ship, if they got somehow totalled? Procure new fuel if they lost most of it? Survive a global disaster affecting all of their food-supplying bio-labs? Make "new" air if what they had escaped...?

        There's only so much redundancy you can build into the thing based on various predicted catastrophic scenarios - when any of the sufficiently displeased (groups of) lunatics finds a vulnerable niche and decides to vindicate his/her/their disenfranchisement (inherent in an environment that cannot afford supporting multiple divergent groups) by attacking it, it will be game over for the whole ship. And here's the thing - no matter what you do, you can never please everybody. If here on Earth we'd all be running about with a super-massive black hole generator in our pockets, our planet would have ceased to exist a long, long time ago...

        1. tfewster Silver badge
          Joke

          @DropBear: self-reliance built in

          No need. The owners will receive a lifetime RTB warranty

      3. B Bunter

        Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

        Agreed. Some of my favorite Sci-Fi growing up included some of these stories.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphans_of_the_Sky

    7. teknopaul Silver badge

      Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

      Three generations of kids going "are we there yet". Imagine how happy they will be when step out on the cool wet grass of a new planet and can finally have a pee without someone watching.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

        "[...] and can finally have a pee without someone watching."

        Why should anyone be concerned about someone watching them pee?

        In my youth men's urinals were just undivided troughs. Boys even had peeing competitions in the school toilets - see the plot denouement of the "Little Squirt" episode of the 1990s Australian children's TV program. Possibly NSFW in this day and age.

        My Finnish girlfriend's summer cottage had a two seater toilet - where she and her friend would sit and talk. An English farmhouse conversion in the 1970s revealed a two seater toilet. Anthony Burgess wrote in his autobiography of the British army's communal latrines consisting of a long plank over a trench.

        In recent years the office young men tended to used the toilet cubicles - rather than the urinals.

        My niece moved to Spain a decade ago and felt offended by the way that men there openly peed in the street. Not sure if it was the hygiene aspect - or an English indecency connotation that bothered her.

      2. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge

        Re: Three generations of kids going "are we there yet".

        "Imagine how happy they will be when step out on the cool wet grass of a new planet"

        I imagine the first and biggest problem would be that they collapse under the crushing weight of gravity because they lived their entire lives at, let's say, 0.09G. Luna's gravity is 0.1667G. The energy required to get an asteroid THAT size/mass moving in the desired direction would be collossal so it is reasonable to assume a much smaller asteroid. It is also reasonable to assume that "artificial gravity" as exemplified in movies/TV remains a product of science fiction. If they have the technological capability to produce artificial gravity that doesn't involve spinning wheels, then they probably don't need to build ships out of asteroids. Just my opinion.

        1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

          Re: Three generations of kids going "are we there yet".

          If the asteroid is of reasonable size and a required structure can be built to support it, the artificial gravity (perhaps much smaller than 1g, but still) could be created by spinning it along the axis of the travel direction.

      3. jelabarre59 Silver badge

        Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

        Three generations of kids going "are we there yet". Imagine how happy they will be when step out on the cool wet grass of a new planet and can finally have a pee without someone watching.

        I expect by then, the concept of living "planetside" might just be undesirable or unfathomable. Sure, there will be the adventurous ones who will enjoy the potential for new experience, but I expect the concept would alien to most of them.

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

      "Do you feel connected?"

      In general - yes. We all suffer the same daily emotions and restrictions imposed by living in a community. The details will vary - but we react in much the same way.

      The Romans (and Greeks?) complained about the behaviour of children - on much the same issues that you will hear in any generation. They also wrote about relationships, sex, and the pain of unrequited love. Also competition in sport, politics, and war.

      Expectations in your life were determined by your birth stratum - and that is still the case today.

      What seems alien to most of us in this forum would be the degree of social control imposed on our not too distant ancestors through religion. It was just a sign of the conformity which tends to result in the formation of a human society. It is still common in many world societies - and there are those who seek to reimpose it today.

    9. kurios

      Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

      Traditions and aspirations do change with generations. But on such a ship, the range of aspirations which new generations can adopt will be constrained to those that include survival, which will pretty much limit them to continuing the mission, however grudgingly.

      They may hate us, they may feel no zeal whatever for exploration. Could get ugly. But they will carry on - or die. Survivors get to boot up a new world with an expanded range of opportunities. Others disappear in the deep void. Darwin at work.

    10. New To The Electric Universe

      Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

      Hear Hear Halcin ...

      I believe there has been and remains a growing tendency among the writers of technical things, for a narrow form of optimism (lack of worldly experience and perhaps naivety?) that is accompanied by the desire to take that 'one that step more, just because we can or expect we will be able to', to look forward with child-like imagination to versions of the future which would in fact bear no relationship to the likely reality of the day. Mind you, to dream is healthy, as long as our feet remain on the ground!

    11. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Will our Descendants Feel the Same Way?

      But isn't that exactly what the earth is: a multi-generational spaceship flying to who knows where, who knows why, supported by generation after generation of uncaring teenagers who eventually figure out that the only answer is to bring forth a new generation to ask the same questions?

  2. AustinTX
    Headmaster

    Life Aboard A Colony

    I don't think there's anything improbable about a colony ship heading out for a multi-generation trip to another star. In the event that we can build such self-contained colonies in the future, it will come after we've fully matured the technology of inhabiting ones orbiting here within the solar system. Thousands, or millions of them. People living inside will already be accustomed to spending their whole lives inside one colony, just as people still grow up, age and die without ever leaving their county or shire. Sustainability will be the way of life for everyone. It won't change their lives much if the colony is orbiting Earth, Mars, among the asteroids or coasting through interstellar space.

    However, no-one is going to be traveling inside a big lump of raw rock. Imagine the energy required to move such inert mass, and consider that it's probably just a big pile of loose rubble. A mountain of unprocessed asteroid rock is just a waste. Instead, spacecraft colonies will protect themselves inside a shell of already-processed and refined resources, and lots and lots of water ice. Every bit of that will be useful to maintaining life and propulsion.

    1. Mikel

      Re: Life Aboard A Colony

      It turns out that for certain paths through our solar system, Proxima Centauri is "down". With a gentle push many astroids could be put on such a path and gravity will do the rest.

      It's just a matter of finding the paths and the most likely astroid to put on it. It is likely possible to do without any propulsion on board at all, using only paint to alter the albedo.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Life Aboard A Colony

        "With a gentle push many astroids could be put on such a path and gravity will do the rest."

        How do they stop? It could be a nasty crash when they reach the bottom.

    2. Mage Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Life Aboard A Colony

      It could take a long time to get even 2 LY away ( maybe hardly past Oort Cloud), perhaps 100 to 500 years. All that time you have comms, with increasing latency. You use only a fraction of your energy source/fuel/reaction mass to leave Solar system. Then hope within a 1000 years you reach somewhere habitable. You need stuff designed for long life and onboard factories, inc the bits that replicate all the bits including the bits that replicate the bits.

      Food, water and air etc is more or less a solved problem. Having all the technology work for 100s to 1000s of years is harder and involves basically being able to manufacture everything from raw materials and recycled parts. The 3D printers only solve some issues.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Life Aboard A Colony

        Our first 3D printers weren't printed... they were moulded, turned, extruded and milled. Follow it back...

        How do we get from a piece of knapped flint to a precision machine tool?

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Life Aboard A Colony

        "Food, water and air etc is more or less a solved problem"

        Maybe, maybe not, if you consider that as you leave our solar system, you'll need some kind of long-term reliable energy supply for photosynthesis [and to keep temperatures in the "livable" range]. That energy supply needs to have enough fuel to last for the 'hundreds of years' trip.

        Maybe a huge supply of water with heavy hydrogen might help? Of course, that would cause a bit of "weight gain" if people drank it for a long time... (and now I thought of a really funny impractical joke to pull on someone who's always dieting)

        1. Steve the Cynic

          Re: Life Aboard A Colony

          Maybe a huge supply of water with heavy hydrogen might help? Of course, that would cause a bit of "weight gain" if people drank it for a long time...

          Apparently, no. D2O is toxic in a way that H2O is not. It has the same acute toxicity characteristic that "light" water does, but has a long-term toxicity that belongs only to it. It would take less than two weeks for them all to die if they drank only drinks made with heavy water.

          The full explanation is a bit long for this post, but our good friends at the Unreliable Source have a readable description.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_water#Effect_on_biological_systems

      3. Pete 2

        Re: Life Aboard A Colony

        > It could take a long time to get even 2 LY away ( maybe hardly past Oort Cloud), perhaps 100 to 500 years.

        Yes. And once you get to where you were going, what will you find?

        The not-so-jokey answer is that you will find people from your own world. Ones who were born centuries after the asteriod-ship left. People who had the benefit of hundreds of years of scientific development. And by using that development, all the discoveries, brand-new physics, life-prolonging and suspending technologies - they were able to beat you to your destination.

      4. aqk
        Alien

        Re: Life Aboard A Colony- Stuck in the Oort Cloud?

        If you yourself drifting around (bad description) the Oort Cloud, it would help to speak Dutch.

        Jan Oort's compatriot Delft will certainly share the remaining food and water (eaten from their Delft dinnerware) with you.

        English or French may be optional, but certainly not Walloon or German.

    3. Tikimon Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Life Aboard A Colony - Small Biomes are unstable

      Show of hands - who has kept a fish tank? A 20-40 gallon or larger tank is reasonably manageable. The cute desktop 2-gallon tanks are a nightmare. It takes a much smaller change to knock the small tank out of whack, since that change is a larger percentage of the total environment. Thus, any imbalance tends to run quickly out of control. These micro-colonies will face the same issues. I wonder if it's even possible to create a sustainable, STABLE biome in such a small area.

      Socially, the effect will be even stronger. Any small group of radicals will be a relatively large percentage of the population, giving them outsized influence. The population is relatively small, so it takes less effort to force changes on everyone. Biological concerns aside, I seriously doubt our species' ability to keep a stable society long enough to reach the target. Every organization formed with the best of intentions is eventually taken over by aggressive radicals intent on destroying the original founding values.

      We need cold sleep, or we're stuck here.

      1. ravenviz

        Re: Life Aboard A Colony - Small Biomes are unstable

        I seriously doubt our species' ability to keep a stable society long enough to reach the target

        Agrarian cultures managed it for millennia, various malefactors have come through all our villages at various points in history, but they still exist. Small populations (~150) are key; for a generational ship, procreation would need to be managed, which Human Rights might have something to say about. If they are 'employed' as 'astronauts' then they signed up. If they are someone's kids born in space then they didn't sign up, and potentially are there against their will.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you can, take along a comet (om nom nom nom)

    It can be used as reaction mass (remember that you have to slow down at some point) and has lots of good, usable materials for building, repair and regeneration.

    Your bioengineering will have to be top notch. Fill your spacecraft with manimals to tend the place while you sleep.

    1. revenant Silver badge

      Re: If you can, take along a comet (om nom nom nom)

      Fill your spacecraft with manimals to tend the place while you sleep.

      Is that the one where there is too much 'Man' in the manimals and they become self-aware enough to realise that their Masters are actually just so much frozen food?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If you can, take along a comet (om nom nom nom)

        Is that the one where there is too much 'Man' in the manimals and they become self-aware enough to realise that their Masters are actually just so much frozen food?

        Some kind of self-awareness is probably required but you just need to program them to not want to dig the meat. Or just dont't give them ambition nor digestive tracts - spaceship-disbursed nutrient spigots should be fine.

  4. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Delft where no man has delft before.

    I like the idea of a tin glazed asteroid with dragons and other shit painted on it bumbling around the galaxy. They can make jokes about how their space suits are minging.

  5. Mikel

    The Heinlein story

    It was an old story about youths in such a craft who had lost their parents and forgotten the mission.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: The Heinlein story

      And another, a BBC radio drama, called Earth Search. The story begins as four youths come to realise that the AIs they were raised to see as guardians might have been telling porkies about the meteorite strike that killed their parents and the rest of the crew...

    2. Vinyl-Junkie

      Re: The Heinlein story

      That would be this one https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphans_of_the_Sky

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Heinlein story

      This idea was a SF staple back in the 50s and 60s with quite a number of stories appearing in Galaxy, Worlds of IF and Analog around that time.

  6. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
    Alien

    For The World Is Hollow & I Have Touched The Sky

    Also Captive Universe by American author Harry Harrison.

  7. verno

    How about we work on this bit on Earth first...

    "...but you can at least keep it running before the next generation takes over."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How about we work on this bit on Earth first...

      Another good reason to doubt that a multi-generational ship would work. Relying on human nature not to burn up the resources now and leave it to future generations to sort out the problem? Hasn't worked out well here on Version 1.0.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: How about we work on this bit on Earth first...

        In countries with high levels of female education, good healthcare and access to contraception, the birth rate is more or less equal to the death rate (and that's without any top-down policies of the type tried by China or India). This means that the population size is fairly stable. It is an expanding population that has depleted our low hanging resources on Earth.

  8. Corwin_X

    "Generation ships" (to use the common SF term), where multiple generations are born and die in transit, are probably the only way humans will reach the stars.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Either generation ships or seed ships - where frozen embryos are brought to term in an artificial womb and the resulting children raised by robots. See: The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C Clarke.

      Medical and psychological challenges. Presumably a seed ship can be smaller than a generation ship.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      I don't believe this is the case.

      The ability to warp space simply requires sufficient energy, at least according to some scientists who worked it out. They believe it's "star level" energy, but I suspect it's much easier than this. Consider the advantages in earthbound flight that have happened in the last 100 years, and then consider that space flight has only been for about half of that.

      The only reason we haven't colonized the moon and mars yet is because GUMMINTS were running the space programs. Once private industry gets its proper foothold, advances will happen again. It's just that the gummints have been HOLDING US BACK, DELIBERATELY. "For our own good" I'm sure they *FEEL* (not think). I've been disappointed with this kind of thing since the 70's when they scrapped the moon program.

      I suspect it might be possible to create gravity waves/particles [which exist, there are space craft that measure them] using a spinning mass, and with sufficient field strength and density, could form the classic 'warp bubble'. The idea would be to make something that, when it spins, doesn't fly apart, then let it get to relativistic speeds so that the effective mass vs actual mass is different, which should [in theory] release the difference in relativistic vs actual mass as gravitons aka gravity waves. Perhaps it's possible with charged particles in a resonant cavity with an extremely high magnetic field, like a magnetron filled with Xe gas. So yeah people laughed at the ion drive, at one point [but there are space craft using it, heh].

      Many technologies we currently use were things once described in sci fi. I'd just like to consider the possibilities that existing tech COULD be used to create a 'warp ship' of some kind, as long as someone knows what pieces to cram together in order to do it...

  9. kventin

    http://www.nealstephenson.com/seveneves.html

    Amalthea and Greg’s Skeleton, of course (that's Grigg–Skjellerup, and the nickname is too cute)

  10. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "algae capable of producing enough oxygen to keep gangs of rats alive for months at a time and in return the rats produce carbon dioxide for the plants ."

    And the rats will eat their own dead.

    "Where's Grandad"

    "Shut up and eat your burger."

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A hundred years ago people in the UK tended to live their whole lives in the same small community. Even in a city they often stayed within a small district.

    That changed rapidly after the 1960s. The dispersal of uncommon family names over the generations will reflect that spike.

    My sense is that nowadays people are again tending to stay close to their birthplace.

  12. Jedit
    Thumb Down

    "MELiSSA"

    I think the scientific community needs to formalise strict legislation preventing the use of backronyms.

  13. NerryTutkins

    history will repeat itself

    They'll get about 50 years in, and suddenly the older generation will decide things were so much better on the earth they left. Because when they were in their 20s, they got more sex, had more energy, had more fun and generally didn't worry so much about dying or having foreign neighbours.

    And so while the younger members of the crew might want to plough on to somewhere better, the over 70s will turn the thing around and head back to earth, convinced that somehow, things will be just like the swinging sixties again with the fab four, Joe Lyon's tea shops and Hancock's Half Hour, even though they know they'll be dead before they get there and be inflicting their choice on their grandchildren, who don't want it.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: history will repeat itself

      The young ones will just build some sheds on the outside of the asteroid and stick the grumpy old gits in there.

  14. not.known@this.address Bronze badge
    Alien

    Asteroid Ships

    "Barnacle Bull the Sailor" and the "Starstormers" series (the latter by Nicholas Fisk) spring to mind...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Asteroid Ships

      Yup, it's hardly a novel idea in sci-fi, especially sci-fi anime. Looks cool, and makes for some interesting generation-ship drama, but there's no reason to hollow out an ore-rich asteroid when you can smelt the ore and build a steel hull that's stronger and lighter. Or, looking beyond old technology, we could build super-strong nanotech materials with continuous repair capability. Then G-force could become a limiting factor; if you accelerate at 1G (or even more) until the halfway point, turn the ship around, and decelerate, it would still take decades to reach any potentially-habitable star system.

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: Asteroid Ships

        The fuel needed to maintain a 1g acceleration for, say, one week would be prohibitive. See: The Rocket Problem. Sorry.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There was the SF story about such a generational ship. The denouement was that a catastrophic breach of the observation dome(?) showed it not to be in space after all. Outside was a perfectly habitable environment. The plot revolved round a young rebel and a sort of Wizard of Oz "ruler" - and sex came into it somewhere.

    Ring any bells?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sounds almost like the backstory of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which I never got into, though it sounds amusing). Supposedly that one's pure fiction. But I wouldn't be surprised if exactly what you describe has been done by at least one real-world cult. They're surprisingly common.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "But I wouldn't be surprised if exactly what you describe has been done by at least one real-world cult."

        Coincidentally Netflix have the programme "Wild Wild Country". A documentary series about a guru’s sinister commune in 1980s Oregon.

        It doesn't have to be a cult to give someone a different perspective on society. Somewhere on my bookshelves is the autobiography of a German girl who lived most of her childhood in an isolated Amazon jungle tribe's village. Her father was possibly an anthropologist.

        When a late teenager she went back to Germany for further education. When out walking with friends she would often stop and chat to people she met. Her friends asked her how she knew so many people. The answer was that they were all strangers to her - but back in the Amazon you always checked on strangers to establish why they were in your area.

    2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Sounds a bit like Ascension (TV Series).

  16. Toilet Duk

    Face it - we are NEVER getting off this rock. Space is just too vast and hostile. The environment is already deteriorating. We will die out and take much of the biosphere with us or survive as basically animals. And I'm convinced that's why we see no glimmer of life outside the Earth - when a species reaches the technology level to leave the planet it's already too late. They either trash their planet or wipe themselves out or are wiped out by AIs. Gaia theory. The only way around it is if the system held more than one habitable planet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "The only way around it is if the system held more than one habitable planet."

      By those arguments that would only delay the extinction by some small amount. Earth's overall resources have only started to be consumed on an unsustainable basis in the last few centuries. Before that the extinctions were usually localised.

      Unless we find a way to live within our environmental means - then we will be subject to the same population crash cycles that all over-breeding living things suffer.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great idea!

    Maybe we could use the cast from one of those Big Brother "reality" TV shows? That way we'll have our volunteers and those annoying programs get off the air. Win-win!

    Wait... maybe we can turn the first years of travel into a reality TV show in order to finance the whole thing ;)

  18. ma1010 Silver badge

    John Brunner explored this idea

    He wrote a novella called "Lungfish." In it a generation ship goes to another star. When it arrives there with just a few "Earthborn" still alive, they discover that their descendants, having been born during the trip and not knowing any other life, have no interest in leaving the ship. So much for the new colony!

    It also makes me think of the idea of "Rocks" from The Culture series, asteroids that some people lived in for their permanent homes. Asteroids would make great space habitats, as you can "blow" them up[1] to create space in them, then spin them to provide "gravity." You leave the walls thick enough, and radiation from space isn't a problem. If they can solve the life support and social issues, it might well work. Add some sort of propulsion, and you've definitely got a potential starship.

    [1]Larry Niven's idea was to drill a hole through the long axis, then fill it with bags of water and spin it up. You then put mirrors around it to reflect enough sunlight to heat it up to a semi-molten state, and the water converts to steam and expands inside the asteroid, causing it to expand and providing lots of space inside. Or you could just hollow out a bigger asteroid like "The Stone" in Greg Bear's novel Eon.

  19. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
    Alien

    Conflicting requirements?

    You need something so huge that it can carry a large number of humans with both a biological and industrial infrastructure that is self sustaining.

    This also has to have a drive system and reaction mass to accelerate away from our solar system and then decelerate at the far end. So far, so good.

    Wait a minute, though. Look at all the other planets in the solar system, and look at Earth as well. The moon is covered in craters. Mars looks pretty knocked about. Earth has had some big hits in the past and we are worrying about future ones. A giant spinning turd waltzed past recently. Space isn't empty, it is full, especially around solar systems. So this mahoosive space habitat has to be strong enough to take a few hits head on, but maneuverable enough to avoid anything a significant percentage of its size with long range detection capability.

    Starship Enterprise with shields and warp and impulse drive might be able to dodge and repel stuff but a lumbering rock may not be quite as nimble.

    Given all that, it is still worth doing just because we are overdue for the next dinosaur killer.

    Plus point might be that for the first few and last few years of an interstellar trip you are never far away from raw materials to be scavenged.

  20. Eclectic Man

    In Space it is really COLD

    Even if we could accelerate to, say 1% of c, a spaceship capable of holding a genetically stable population (we'd need at least 500 people of diverse origin to start with, as I recall), keeping it warm enough to sustain life in it's interstellar voyage would require enormous amounts of heat energy. Spacecraft in near sun orbits do not need to keep themselves warm, in fact they need serious cooling, but out beyond Pluto / Kuiper Belt / Oort Cloud in the 3K of interstellar space we would need serious thermal insulation and heating. even if we managed to get Hydrogen fusion technology to work, how much fuel would we need to keep the interior of the ship at a comfy 300K (or thereabouts)? (and remember all that fuel has to be accelerated to 1% of c too.)

    The other option is the laser propelled ship, with the laser at the base solar system and the ship using a solar sail. After 300 years, when the base solar system's economics / politics decides they have more pressing needs for all that energy, or someone just has an accident, what then?

    And , of course there is the assumption that the next generations would have the intellectual capability to run the thing. And recycling: How will they manage when their touch screens all die through over-use after 98 years? Or other equipment simply wears out?

    Sorry to be a doom-monger, but there are so many technically difficult problems to solve with a 'generation ship' traversing interstellar space that it strikes me it will still be fiction for a long time after I'm dead.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: In Space it is really COLD

      If people are living inside, how's the heat going to escape though a hundred meters of solid rock, when the only method of surface dissipation is blackbody radiation? With a very small surface area to volume ratio, it isn't going to be able to shed heat very quickly.

      Even if your power generation is external (nuclear or fusion are the only options) the consumption of such power will be internal, so you will in fact have to take measures to actively dispose of excess heat!

      1. Eclectic Man

        Re: In Space it is really COLD

        How are you going to accelerate a space ship capable of holding over 500 people, their children, and their whole life support systems for 400 years with an outer rock 'skin' 100 metres thick to Solar escape velocity? I appreciate that 10m of solid rock is a lot, but my experience of stone buildings is that they are rather cold, and that stone is quite an effective heat sink.

        Though I grant you that it would make an excellent micro-meteorite shield, it would not be very manoeverable in the event of it being pointed at another large rock.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: In Space it is really COLD

          Stone buildings are cold on Earth because blackbody radiation is only a tiny portion of their heat loss. Most of it is to the ground, the air, water (rain/snow) etc. which cause them to lose heat far more effectively than in a vacuum.

          Also, if the stone buildings you have been are in cold, it is because they were poorly built and leaked air, and/or the walls were thin. Adobe houses have two foot thick walls and maintain temperature quite well since the thermal gradient matches the day/night cycle. Igloos maintain temperature well despite being made of ice, because they have similarly thick walls.

          I agree acceleration would be an issue, and maybe 100m is overkill, but even with 1m thick walls you will likely have a problem with too much heat inside, rather than not enough, because of all the power use inside (I won't count the people, since some fraction of the power use inside will be growing food that keeps people alive and thus generating body heat)

  21. DagD

    First thoughts seeing this article...

    I huge Halo Ring with a super massive bungee cord system in the middle that catches a comet flying by, and can withstand the acceleration produced by the comet? Only question is will the comet peter out...

  22. ecofeco Silver badge

    Better idea

    Use it as a solar orbiting shuttle/taxi/ferry/way station between Earth and Mars.

  23. ecofeco Silver badge

    So Red Dwarf

    Yes the coat with the helmet.

  24. 89724905708169238590784I93056703497430967093434677347864785234986359235564854495684561564545876 Bronze badge

    It's already passed us by

    Oumuamua - they all died off after being knocked off course by a passing brown dwarf, to drift by, unresponsive to a civillisation third rock from an alien sun.

  25. Sysgod

    been there, done that

    Ice shelled spaceships with foam interiors. Beat that for costs.

    Metal? Mining? Just use a big hose.

  26. herman Silver badge

    W0t?

    “Meanwhile, we’re also integrating other technologies such as 3D printing and asteroid mining into our design.” Nope - this ship will never fly without Cloud and Blockchain.

  27. aqk
    Alien

    Be careful of these mad Delft Dutchmen!

    I sense a plot here-

    The language of this "starship" will be Dutch by default. Not Russian or English. Once we sail away from Earth and out to the Oort Cloud and perhaps beyond, the space colony may get bogged down in this strange Dutch cloud (remember- it is named after Jan Oort). There, we will all gradually replace what is left of our English, French, Chinese, Swahili and Russian languages with the Dutch language.

    This is what the fiendish Delft overlords will be counting on.

    The remaining dolts on planet Earth, with their new Trumpian religion will totally totally fuck the planet up, and after a couple of millennia, reduce themselves to a gibbering bunch of ersatz gibbons.

    3,7 Millenia later:

    The Genever gin has finally been exhausted... and-

    Our descendent starship uber-captain (A Dutchman no doubt- well, at least he/she SPEAKS Dutch; who knows what genes she/he now has from this motley crew!) will finally sober up and decide that it is now too much trouble to sail to some star 25 LY away, and propose "Hey! Let's go back to Earth now! I hear it's finally much greener!" And there may be more Genever there! YAY! Let's GO!

    Then, this new "Chistopher Columbus" gang will return to land on Earth and then slowly overcome the babbling indigenous peoples. Perhaps even teach them the new Dutchspace alphabet (27 characters, 45% or them peculiarly guttural, as they were millennia ago) and...

    Everyone will soon learn Dutch!

    This triumph of Dutch over English will finally avenge the humiliation of the 17th century. And who knows? The new Capital city of the Earth may be called New Amsterdam once again.

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