Future tense, present tense

Radio National’s Future Tense ran a program last weekend discussing interstellar space travel, i.e. voyages to another star system lasting a hundred years or more. I’ve added the following to the discussion (I’m the only contributor so far!).


I maintain that these very long space journeys are utterly impractical for several reasons:

1. Humans just cannot get along with each other. I don’t believe any grouping of more than 100 people, who would have to procreate over several generations in the time scales involved, could coexist harmoniously. It has never happened on Earth, it will never happen in the confines of a starship.

2. Technology is moving ahead so quickly that any “starship” will be rendered obsolete before it leaves the solar system, let alone gets near any other star. How would you like to be on the starship and receive a message about 50 years out, “Umm, sorry people, but we’ve figured out how to instantly transport people to where you’re going. There’ll be a party to meet you when you get there, otherwise, if you can work out how to turn around and come back, we’ll see that you get medals.”

3. Everything breaks down sooner or later. How are you going to build a starship that is guaranteed never to fail in some way? How are you going to carry the spare parts? Are you going to manufacture every component of the starship on board to cope with failures?

4. How are you going to cope with the intellectual needs of the crew? When you’re talking hundred year journeys, or longer, people will want to evolve and grow. A confined space will breed discontent. The loss of communication with Earth (due to the time delays) will be stifling. The crew will need to be a different breed of people.

5. As has been pointed out, collisions at starship speeds with even fine dust particles will pose danger. “Make the ship long and thin”, they say. That will restrict interior space. No, I don’t believe it’s possible.

6. Radiation – we still can’t provide sufficient shielding from the radiation we know about, let alone the stuff we don’t know. It will be a suicide mission.

My belief is that we are not meant to physically travel these long distances in our present human form.

However, every cell in our body contains our DNA, which is the blueprint for how we’re made. When that “book” can be deciphered, copied and transmitted instantly, perhaps by some quantum means, to be recreated at the receiving point, only then will we be able to travel these enormous distances.

I sound like a Luddite, I know, but I’d be interested to hear any solutions to the points I raise.