Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Movie That Begged To Be Made

     Those of us who dream of eventually spreading Mankind to the stars have long hoped for some technology that would make the trip practical – specifically, for living human beings to board a starship, and for the same living human beings to debark at their destination in another solar system. Unfortunately, no such technology has yet emerged.

     At this time the only conceivable method for interstellar propagation of the human species is the “generation ship.” They who board the ship would not be the eventual colonists of the target system. Rather, the new home would go to their remote descendants, several centuries later. Several generations would live, work, reproduce, and die without ever knowing any environment other than the ship.

     For example, if it were possible to build a sufficiently large ship to provide a complete agricultural / industrial / informational infrastructure for a few thousand persons and get it to a currently achievable velocity – say the escape velocity of Earth, approximately 25,000 miles per hour – traversing the gulf between our solar system and Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to us (which, unfortunately, doesn’t have any habitable planets) would require a journey of over 114,000 years. That’s over 4000 human generations, according to the usual reckoning of a generation as 25 years. Very few persons would be interested in embarking on such a voyage.

     Robert A. Heinlein told of such a ship – and of what fate might befall it – in his early novel Orphans of the Sky. It’s a bleak story wrapped around a plausible development: the degeneration of the ship’s population away from the high intelligence and dedication of those who boarded it in Earth orbit, resulting in the loss of the entire concept. Heinlein’s portrayal of the quasi-medieval society that emerged, whose denizens weren’t even aware that their ship was a ship, was frighteningly plausible. Unfortunately, he concluded it with an implausibly happy ending, at least for its main protagonist.

     Passengers, built on the idea of a crew in suspended animation intended to emerge at its destination as young and hale as when it boarded, centers on another possible calamity: the awakening of some members of the crew much too early, such that in contradiction to what they were told, they’ll never live to see their destination. Given that a suspended-animation technology would probably receive less testing than it should before being put to use, it’s more than plausible:

     The movie stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, and is slated for release in late November. I’m hoping against hope that Miss Lawrence, the most compelling actress to come along in decades, will have the good sense to restrain her unfortunate political and religious opinions until then.


Backwoods Engineer said...

Minor point-- Earth's escape velocity is not enough. At the Earth/Moon system, the velocity required to escape the Sun's gravity and exit the system is about 94,175 MPH.

Francis W. Porretto said...

(chuckle) I didn't think to calculate that. However, we can't currently produce a propulsion system that would achieve it. So I guess the whole idea of aiming for the stars, given current technology, is "not just yet!"

daniel_day said...

Warning to anyone who clicks the comments before watching the preview: That preview gives away FAR too much of the story. I'll probably see the movie anyway, but I'm disgusted.