LonCon3 #6: Generation Starship – Would you sign up?

Panellists: Ro Nagey, Pat Cadigan, Gregory Benford, Tlanti Griffiths

An Earth-like planet is found orbiting a distant star. It has water. And we can tell that something is living on the planet but we can’t determine what kind. To get there will take hundreds of years in a generation ship. There’s no suspended animation: only your (distant) descendants will see and, hopefully, colonise the planet.

Your ship is a partially hollowed-out asteroid 2 miles wide and 10 miles long. The initial crew is 1000 people. When you land, the target is having 10,000 colonists when you get in orbit around the planet. You job will include both building more living space inside the asteroid and teaching the descendants and passing on cultural values. The trip will take between 500 and 800 years. The asteroid would carry many times the equivalent of the Library of Congress. It would also contain a complete film library of movies, documentaries and tv shows. Obviously, it would also contain all the seeds needed grow plants and trees. Bacteria, viruses and the like would also be on board.

You would be able to go with your family if all the adults agreed and everyone (including the children) passed the tests. Would you volunteer to be a colonist? Why or why not?

*75% of this panel possessed science degrees, including a physicist.


  1. Everyone on board is a scientist so they can pass on their knowledge to the next generation.
  2. It would be a surveillance society, for efficiency purposes.
  3. Taking a sperm bank with you to avoid incest and related problems.
  4. Eugenics – there will be genetic screening, though special needs will be allowable.

Everyone must be willing to:

  • procreate to increase the population by 9,000 by arrival.
  • pitch in and be willing to do any and all jobs. No task can be too small or dirty. Co-operation and collaborative working would be imperative. This includes shared care-giving. Working with friends can be fun.
  • take their leisure time. ‘All work and no play…’ Pleasure androids were eagerly suggested.


It was suggested that we should select the group of scientists from agoraphobics/city-folk/country-folk. Farms will be needed therefore there will be lots of open spaces but it’ll also be claustrophobic as you can’t leave the asteroid. Homogenization of the community will develop and small town mentalities will form, despite access to the world library. Everyone will be born on the ship, live on the ship and die on the ship.

Leadership and issues of political power can get messy. Egos may be bruised and factions may form. Conflict of all types is inevitable in such a small inescapable environment. Revolutionaries who’ve never seen Earth may want to return there.

There will be some difficulty in motivating people when their futures have been mapped out for them. You’re really enslaving future generations by forcing them to conform and do jobs they don’t want to do and study subjects they’re not interested in.

Possibilities on arrival

You arrive:

  • and there are natives on the planet. Do you go to war?
  • to find Earth was wrong, it’s not a habitable environment. What then?
  • and the population doesn’t want to colonize the planet. Where do you go from here?


  • They say it’s more about the journey than the destination, does this apply here?
  • How would religion evolve?

And finally, would you sign up?

It depends on how bad conditions are on Earth, though I have a feeling I’d prefer to stay here, on the planet I was born on. I’m a little claustrophobic and I like my free will, which would be eroded somewhat on a generation starship. In fact, just reading my Across the Universe review puts me off the idea of signing up to this mission.

Recommended Reading


3 thoughts on “LonCon3 #6: Generation Starship – Would you sign up?

  1. I absolutely would without a seconds hesitation, the universe has been my glass for many years it’s mystery it’s greatness and wonder it truly would be a journey of all journeys


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