Generation ships

Previously we discussed both embryo space colonization as well sleeper ships as possible methods of interstellar space colonization. Our conclusion was that neither method could be considered as a serious option for colonizing other stellar systems, though we were a little bit more optimistic about sleeper ships than about embryo space colonization.

Unfortunately space colonization is often conflated with interstellar travel, and space colonization is subsequently rejected as unfeasible, at least at this moment. Space colonization is, however, the process of establishing permanent human settlements outside the Earth, including colonies within our very own Solar System. Given the infeasiblilty of practical interstellar travel, current space colonization efforts should focus on establishing space settlements in our own Solar System.

Besides interstellar travel being unfeasible, there’s also no need for interstellar colonization since the Solar System contains enough resources for a large expansion of humanity. According to John S. Lewis the Asteroid belt alone contains enough resources to sustain ten quadrillion people (1), and there are much more resources outside the Asteroid belt.

Does this mean that Republic of Lagrangia is opposed to interstellar colonization? No, but given the current state of affairs interstellar colonization should not have our primary attention. Instead we should concentrate our efforts on the creation of space habitats. Once properly designed, build and maintained, those habitats can last for centuries. And an important additional benefit of space habitats is that, unlike planetary or lunar colonies, they can be moved.

And because of this property, space habitats are indistinguishable from generation ships. A generation ship is a space ship on which many generation can live, and they are a common trope in science fiction. Usually generation ships are proposed as a method of interstellar travel at low (i.e. subluminal) velocities, and consequently the crew which arrives at the ship’s destination is not the same as which left our Solar system, but are instead the descendants of the original crew.

If we are really eager to make a distinction between space habitats and generation ships, we have to find it in the purpose for which these structures are build. Space habitats are build just with the purpose of providing living space for people, whilst generation ships are build the intent to reach a certain (interstellar) destination.

That these two “purposes” aren’t mutually exclusive, is demonstrated by the following example. Suppose that at a certain moment a space habitat has been built in the Asteroid belt, but for various reasons the inhabitants decide to move the habit towards the outskirts of our Solar System at some point. But after some period of time, they decide to move another little bit further. If such decisions are repeated over time, the space habitat will move further away from its original destination and might at some point in the future even leave the Solar System completely.

Basically this is the model of how interstellar colonization will and should happen, each generation of colonists will decide whether they will stay were they are, or if they will go to somewhere else. But first we should settle our own Solar system.