We have the wrong idea about future space travel. Our current technology has conditioned us to believe in spaceships as a sterile affair, all metals and plastics. This works for getting to the Moon and back, but if you’re like me that’s not good enough. The frontier beyond the Moon, beyond the Solar System–this is what calls to us.
When one commits to this, one realizes this is going to be a one-way affair. The stars are simply too far away and there will never be any warp drive. When we settle out on our beautifully & brutally precisioned ox cart, our starship and our families will be our home until we pass.
Our starship is so brutally precisioned because it must be. Every single ounce of matter costs an incredible amount of fuel i.e. stored energy to move into space. As the posters on our walls remind us:
What is aboard a starship is an ecosystem.
There is little waste in a properly functioning ecosystem. The energy that flows into the system is minimally wasted. The ecosystem persists by dissipating energy (mainly the sun’s radiation) through the component parts of the ecosystem (bacteria plants animals you). The material components of these cycle in a carefully coordinated pattern powered by the sun.
Say you have a camera, and this camera is affixed to a single atom of nitrogen in violation of all laws of science. We would see this atom of nitrogen float around the atmosphere and down onto the soil until it gets caught up in, say, a rhizobacteria. This rhizobacteria uses a little bit of stored energy to take up that nitrogen and uses it to maintain itself. We follow this bacteria around until it tragically dies. The nitrogen is absorbed by a nearby plant, once more made a part of a larger former until again tragically–but in a slightly higher register of tragedy–it dies when it is harvested by humans for food. On ingesting the plant, that bit of nitrogen (plus all of the plants stored energy e.g. sugars) becomes stuck up inside some dude. This dude uses the stored energy to order the nitrogen into some nucleotide, say adenine–the A in ATCG. Our camera now watches DNA.
In the most tragic scene of all the human dies slipping on a banana peel.
Buried in the ground, another bacteria munches up the DNA and respires it back into the atmosphere. The dance begins anew.
Implicitly given the brutal complexity of the processes just described: the dancers must dance well for all the structures to link harmoniously.
On the frontier there is always the possibility that we don’t make it. Danger forms a bond between every resident of a starship, and this danger means we indefinitely maintain the systems that work. This is not an easy task. The size and complexity of a starship that carries tens of thousands of people meants there are always things to do. Still, we also know these systems bring human flourishing: the sense that the residents are safe and well while maintaining these systems. It is this that enables the whole thing, the starship, to subsist indefinitely.
It turns out there is plenty of material from the past on how to do this.
Not much changes in these multi-generational starships. The labs occasionally figure out some whiz-bang new tool for the men to gawk over (“With this we can save a couple of microJoules powering propulsion, allowing us to play Mario Kart 64") but they manage to mostly keep this to themselves.
You’re incredulous, that such a feat could be accomplished. From your perspective mailing every citizen something is an impossible task. Here’s the thing: we couldn’t get this starship in the air and then figure out how to make it run well, no. We first constructed starships on Earth, socities that lasted long enough to propel themselves off.
Some back of the envelope calculations: a stanford torus with a ring 60 km in diameter and 3 km in width yields ~34 square kilometers of land. A small town and the surrounding supporting country.
The seeding of the first starship proceeds uneventfully. Someone posts on the internet, “Hey, I think it would be a good idea if people interested in building starships all moved to the same town.” Out of all the people on the entire internet, about 10 other people were willing to put this into practice. As it turns out, that is all it took.
The value of living with a multi-generational telos becomes apparent over multiple generations. The town becomes its own ecosystem, producing what it needed to survive locally. The town’s research institution focuses on the dual tasks of maximizing local flourishing while minimizing waste and getting all of it into space. Other towns join in, split, fuse.
One starts on the Moon, the efforts of the “Moonbelt”: USS Tulsa OK, USS Vinita OK, USS Pittsburg KS.
Before long, you can make out it with your telescope, the skeleton of one that goes to Mars.
Hey, I think it would be a good idea if people interested in building starships all moved to the same town.
I’m experimenting with a form of blog revenue as an alternative to ads: tipping via NFTs. I put up the Pastoral Ringworld work as an NFT, and if you’d like to support me, buy one of ‘em! Cheers.