Generation ship

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A generation ship is a hypothetical type of interstellar ark starship that travels across great distances between stars at a speed much slower than that of light. Since such a ship might take from decades, to hundreds, to thousands of years to reach nearby stars, the original occupants of a generation ship grow old and die, leaving their descendants to continue traveling, depending on the life span of its inhabitants and relativistic effects of time dilation.




Such a ship would have to be almost entirely self-sustaining, providing energy, food, air, and water for everyone on board. It must also have extraordinarily reliable systems that could be maintained by the ship's inhabitants over long periods of time. Large, self-sustaining space habitats would be needed. For gaining experience before sending generation ships to the stars, such a habitat could be effectively isolated from the rest of humanity for a century or more, but remain close enough to Earth for help. This would test whether thousands of humans can survive on their own before sending them beyond the reach of help. Small artificial closed ecosystems, including Biosphere 2, have been built in an attempt to work out the engineering difficulties in such a system, with mixed results.[citation needed]

Some have compared planets with life (in particular Earth) to generation ships. This idea is usually called "Spaceship Earth".

Biology and society

Generation ships would also have to solve major biological, social and moral problems,[1] and would also need to deal with complex matters of self-worth and purpose for the various crews involved. As an example, a moral quandary might exist regarding how intermediate generations (for example, those destined to be born, reproduce, and die in transit, without actually seeing tangible results of their efforts) might feel about their forced existence on such a ship.

Estimates of the minimum viable population vary. The results of a 2005 study from Rutgers University theorized that the native population of the Americas are the descendants of only 70 individuals who crossed the land bridge between Asia and North America.[2] However, anthropologist Dr. John Moore estimated in 2002 that a population of 150 to 180 would allow normal reproduction for 60 to 80 generations, equivalent to 2000 years.[3] Careful genetic screening and use of a sperm bank from Earth would also allow a smaller starting base with negligible inbreeding.

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