Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to The Other McCain, Bacon Time, Pirate’s Cove, The Daley Gator, and Flappr for the Rule Five links!

I’ve often found the idea of a “generation ship” interesting, at least from a sci-fi standpoint.  While in my own work, I tend to lean on the likely-impossible idea of superluminal travel (see: Device, Plot, 1 each) an enormous ship capable of sustaining a population for several generations is a more likely way of scattering human populations among the stars.

The idea of having multiple generations of humans live and die on the same spacecraft is actually an old one, first described by rocket engineer Robert Goddard in 1918 in his essay “The Last Migration.” As he began to create rockets that could travel into space, he naturally thought of a craft that would keep going, onward, farther, and eventually reach a new star. More recently, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA launched a project called the 100 Year Starship, with the goal of fostering the research and technology needed for interstellar travel by 2100.

Here’s where I see a problem: By the time our population of humans gets to their destination, they will have changed, culturally, maybe even physically.  Maintaining a one-gee simulated gravity wouldn’t be easy; one would think that the best a ship could do would be some fraction of one-gee, which would result in later generations being taller, slimmer, and more lightly built.  And consider our own society a hundred years ago; things were quite a bit different than they are now.

The result of this, if it succeeds, would be populations of… well, humans, but not humans like the ones that live on Earth.  The result would more likely be planets, separated by decades of radio or laser signal, likely by centuries of travel, and those populations would be so widely spaced that they would gradually become unrecognizable to one another.  Languages would diverge, and humans physically may even diverge due to differing conditions on other planets, to the point that there are far-flung speciation events.  The people on those planets would still be human – but not H. sapiens anymore. Maybe they would be H. taucetiensis, maybe something else.

It’s an interesting problem.