Future Tech: How interstellar travel will work on a generational spaceship

In today’s episode of Future Tech, I’m going to talk about what it’s going to be like to travel through space on a generational spaceship. If you’re not sure what that means, we’re talking about the ones you see in scifi movies or shows where there are extremely large ships with 1000s of people. And inside of these ships, it’s literally like apartments and kitchens and bathrooms and a gym. Basically like a small city, traveling through space. People keep mentioning to me all about the ships going into space, to the space station, and soon going back to the moon, and then mars. But how do we get into deep space and populate other solar systems? Tune in to find out!

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Here’s the transcript from this podcast episode, please excuse any typos!

As we know, NASA is going to be shutting off the ISS, the International Space Station, in the next several years. They’re going to decommission it. I mean, it’s falling apart. It’s been a quarter of a century and people don’t realize how old it is. And yeah, there’s gonna be private space stations that are being built now and you know, SpaceX and Blue Origin and all the companies are going to the moon and to Mars, but how do we get to a completely different solar system? How do we get to another Earth-like planet, a different galaxy, when these are probably 25 trillion miles away? So even if we had a really fast spaceship? That goes like 30,000 miles per hour, it’s gonna take us literally hundreds of 1000s of years to get there, so we’re not going to survive. And a generational spaceship is meant for a crew of let’s say, 1000 people, all different types of skills, and they have to maintain the ship while surviving long enough to procreate a generation born on the ship.

So now the children of that crew are born on this ship, and they now have to take over the duties. They’re trained in different types of roles. And they have to now live on the ship for their entire lives, not knowing what it’s like to live on Earth. The hopes that they will then procreate as they get older, another set of children are born to take over and so on and so forth, over and over and over again, until finally the ship arrives at its destination. God knows how long that’ll take, hundreds of years maybe could be longer.

Then whoever gets the finally laid on the play that generation of children will be the ones to populate the planet. So it’s very interesting. And the key question I have in my mind is, will people be willing to sacrifice themselves because what they’re doing is sacrificing themselves and what I mean is the middle journey right? Not the ones that lived on Earth are the ones that arrived on the planet. It’s all the generations in between, let’s say there’s 10 generations of people. Let’s say 10,000 20,000 50,000 people belong to those hundreds of years that have to sacrifice their lives to live on this generational spaceship, for humanity to survive. What’s it going to be like, man? I mean, think about it. They’re going to be living on a ship. Born on a ship dying on a ship. They’re not going to ever be able to go outside and see the sunlight. Sure, there’s going to be simulations and virtual reality by then there’s gonna be holograms, and they’re probably gonna have a lot of technology to simulate what it’s like on Earth. We’ve seen this on a lot of different shows and movies, but it’s not going to be real life. So I’d be curious to see what it’s like. But let’s talk about some of the things that this generational spaceship is going to be. I mean, obviously, water is super important.

A human uses about 300 to 300 gallons of water a year. So we’re gonna have to recycle every bit of urine and what our waste over and over and over again, so the water filtration system on this generational spaceship has to be incredible. From what I understand, I don’t have any kids myself, but I do know that kids benefit from getting dirty so like having a lot of animals on board in a certain place. Where they can interact with animals and dirt, maybe to like, I guess, Goose up their immune system. So when they do get to a planet eventually, they’re not succumbing to possible illnesses or viruses from the dirt or animals that they might encounter on this planet. So preparing for that immunity, especially over generations, they have to keep preparing their kids, animals are going to probably be important and also we can bring animals with us kind of like Noah’s Ark, maybe we can populate the planet with animals that give us food and milk and cheese and you know, protein and things like that. I think another important piece of this journey is going to be career planning. Because when you have hundreds or 1000s of people on the ship, they need to stay busy, right? They can’t just be on the ship and just sitting around watching endless amounts of Netflix, which by that it’s probably going to be something else. They’ll be able to watch the history of television, but they need to have jobs. And I think that not only the crew roles, like the people that are in charge of the ship, whether it’s medics or health or you know, Mechanical, Electrical Computer, any of those types of roles are going to be needed, but also I think that maybe what they can do is they can have tests for all the kids that are born for aptitude. What are they passionate about?

Are they creative? And also, of course, unfortunately, there’s going to be jobs that need to be filled right, like so maybe they need cooks. Maybe they need maintenance, maybe they need anything at all, that’s that, that maybe other people weren’t good at or didn’t want to do. And so every job will have to be filled in. I think some jobs will have to be assigned to the next generation. And that’s what may work. It may not I guess we won’t know until we find out. The people are going to be very important in filling roles. So it has to be a diverse set of people that originally go on and the people that the generation that follows has to fill the roles that the people before them had. So of course medicine is going to be huge because in space on a ship, who knows what kind of bacteria or viruses might emerge. We need to be ready for that. immune systems are going to be weakened probably in space. So I think the medical facilities, the health care, all that kind of stuff. Is going to be really important to maintain generations of people.

There’s one way of avoiding a lot of issues in generational space travel. We’ve seen it in the movie Passengers with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, where everybody was asleep in these cryo chambers, right? So imagine if you put 1000 or 10,000 people with all diverse again, diverse jobs or skills or creativity, freeze them, send them to another planet and 10s of years later, or I don’t know how many years later, hundreds of years later, you arrive on a planet you wake up and that’s a way to do it too. But we don’t have the technology. It could also be a small crew of people, maybe 200 people to manage the spaceship and then 20,000 frozen embryos to procreate after arriving at the planet and then of course the crew would have to procreate. In order to keep the crew, the ship was maintained. Or we could just use robots, artificial intelligent robots that could maintain the ship and maintain the embryos and hopefully everything you know works out and we get to our destination. And the robots don’t need maintenance, they don’t die, they can fix each other. They can build more robots, they can self propagate basically so they can continually repair themselves and maintain the ship and make sure their embryos are safe until they arrive. Now if we do go with a generation of people say 2000 people or whatnot, the waste product that they give out, meaning their poop will have to be saved for fertilizer, and we’re probably going to have to build many, many, many different types of habitats and farms within the ship in different areas. So that we’re growing food that we can eat along the way. We’re fertilizing the farms, and we’re basically creating, we’re terraforming the ship in a way so that food is there, our nutrition is there, but as we arrived to the planet generations later, we can then plant all of that food on the planet so that we can start populating the planet with our food. So this is going to take you know, over the course of hundreds of years, imagine how much food we’re going to have on this ship.

Then of course, there’s the interesting fact that if it is 2000 people or even 10,000 people, dating is going to be an option. Are you going to be able to choose the person you procreate with? And it may not work out that way because you have to be careful. The first generation could choose right but the second generation if say it’s a brother and sister they can’t be together, right? So a geneticist might have to choose the different people that can procreate together. It might have to be done in vitro like through a test tube in a lab. It might just be a more primitive selection process based on data based on genetics. Instead there won’t be any couples. There won’t be any marriages. There won’t be any dating or love or anything like that. It’ll be like personA and person IF. You’re matched, you have to procreate, and it might not they might not even be a process. It might just be like the guy just gives up his firm and the girl gives up her egg and then in the lab, they create the babies. And that’s it. Because we don’t want inbreeding, right we don’t want like, you know, first cousins becoming mates. And then next thing you know, it just, you know deteriorates over time. So it might just have to be a selection process. And all of this sounds a lot like sci-fi. We see it in a lot of movies, with people being selected for a lot of different things. But there’s a reason for that. When you’re dealing with a small population that is going to grow over time. There’s a reason for that. So anyway, these are the things I think about when it comes to generational spaceships. I think it’s definitely a possibility. If we can’t figure out warp speed or light speed travel where we can get from one part of the galaxy to the next in minutes or hours or days. If we can’t travel through a wormhole or a black hole if we can’t figure out how to travel through space quickly, we’re going to have to take our populations with us on these large generational spaceships.

There’s a lot of moving parts associated with it, but it’s possible to do. I think that it’s probably going to happen in the future if we can’t figure out light speed travel and we’re not going to be here to see it. And the people that do it are not going to be there to see any of them because then it’s gonna they’re gonna die on the ship and the next people are gonna die on the ship and so on and so forth. So, I’m interested to hear what you guys think about it. What kind of things are going to happen on the ship? What’s life going to be like on the ship? Tell me your thoughts in the comments. I’d like to hear it. I’m always going to answer you and as always, I will see you guys in the next episode.

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Author

Jason Sherman