Interstellar ark

From Academic Kids

An interstellar ark is a conceptual space vehicle that some have speculated could be used to traverse the distances between stars. The concept was first developed by Dr. Gregory Matloff, who argues that such a vehicle may be the most economically feasible method of traveling such distances.

An interstellar ark could be either a generation ship or a sleeper ship.

Considerations for Generation-Ship Proposals

It would have to be large, and the only adequate technology likely to be available (even assuming the most favorable economic and political factors) soon enough to make plans around is the Orion concept of propulsion by nuclear impulses. The largest spacecraft design analyzed in the Orion project had a 400-meter-square footprint and weighed approximately 8 million tons. It could be large enough to host a city of a hundred thousand or more people.

The purely engineering issues above concern building, in space, a physically self-sufficient craft. In light of the many generations that it would take to reach even our nearest neighboring star system, Alpha Centauri, further issues of the viability of such arks include:

  • the possibility of humans drastically evolving in directions unacceptable to the sponsors
  • the minimum population required to maintain in isolation a culture acceptable to the sponsors; this could include such aspects as
    • ability to maintain and operate the ship
    • ability to accomplish the purpose (planetary colonization, research, building new interstellar arks) contemplated
    • sharing the values of the sponsors (which are not likely to be empirically demonstrated to be viable beyond the home planet).

Considerations for Sleeper-Ship Proposals

Though much discussed, cryopreservation and other forms of "cold sleep" lasting decades or longer are, for mammals and as of 2003, merely speculative possibilities, suggested mainly by short-term hibernation in a small fraction of mammalian species, and by the surprisingly low oxygen needs of people close to death by hypothermia. These conceptual methods' appeal rests on hopes of:

  • reducing ship mass by eliminating the equipment needed by an active ship-city (without cold-sleep-maintaining and -reversing equipment of comparable mass), and/or
  • avoiding the need for an acceptable ark-adapted culture.

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