Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Sionnach Glic » Sat Feb 20, 2010 12:51 pm

A thought that struck me not too long ago.

Let's say Earth builds a giant starship to travel to and colonise another habitable planet. The trip will take approximately three generations, at which point the ship will arrive and the descendants of the original crew are to begin the construction of a colony. As it takes off, the ship is crewed with a variety of technical experts and menial workers, all of whom are volunteers.

Here's the thing though. The first generation is made up of people who decided of their own free will to go, so there's no real problem there. The third generation will be the ones who arrive and get a whole planet all to themselves.

But what of the second generation? Their entire purpose is simply to have kids, make sure nothing breaks, and die. They have no say over their presence of the ship, and no way to leave or change their surroundings. They are, to all intents and purposes, prisoners on the ship. They will never once set foot on a planet, or even leave the ship at all. Because of the length of the trip it is a certainty that they will die before reaching their destination. These people never volunteered to do this. They aren't getting paid either (and even if they were, there's nothing to spend it on out there). They're destined to live out their entire lives maintaining a ship they never built nor wanted to live on, and give birth to a new generation who is destined to leave the ship and colonise an entire planet. The only escape those of the second generation will ever have is death.

So, the question is simple. Is it ethical to create a generation ship? Is it ethical to effectively condemn hundreds, if not thousands, to a life of bleak and meaningless servitude on a ship for a mission they may not want any part in?
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Tyyr » Sat Feb 20, 2010 10:25 pm

Well, while you're spot on to the fate of the transit generation(s) something to remember is that they're going to be raised by those prior generations. Their parents will spend their entire lives telling them how important what they're doing is or how great it is. They'll also never know anything else. Sure, you might talk about wide open fields or lakes, or cities full of millions of people but they have no concept of that. All they know is the ship and the people on it. So it's not like a prison in that the "inmates" don't really know any different.

As for it being ethical? Well that's actually an interesting question. My feeling off the bat is that its not unethical. Lets face it, while their environment is rather restricted their lives aren't that different from most people's. You grow up, you do your job, you have some kids, eventually you die.
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Lt. Staplic » Sat Feb 20, 2010 11:49 pm

I have thought about this before myself. My own personal opinion is that it would be somewhat unethical. While the 2nd Generation would have no knowledge of a planet they could live on, the fact that that experience is being taken from them without their consent is unethical in my opinion. I also see the fate of the 3rd Generation a little unethical. We have decided before their parents were even born that they would be destined to live a hard life on a strange world no other human has been to before. All the problems that could ensue to lead to slow painful death, in a way that could be even worse than what happened to the second generation
Check this out, Let me know if your interested: viewtopic.php?f=33&t=7385
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Lighthawk » Sun Feb 21, 2010 12:19 am

Lt. Staplic wrote:I have thought about this before myself. My own personal opinion is that it would be somewhat unethical. While the 2nd Generation would have no knowledge of a planet they could live on, the fact that that experience is being taken from them without their consent is unethical in my opinion. I also see the fate of the 3rd Generation a little unethical. We have decided before their parents were even born that they would be destined to live a hard life on a strange world no other human has been to before. All the problems that could ensue to lead to slow painful death, in a way that could be even worse than what happened to the second generation


The problem with that line of thought is then you could say that any time any group of people moved to settle elsewhere, it was unethical. Granted it's not in the same league of inability to return "home", but for the most part when a group moved out and settled somewhere new, that's where their kids grew up and lived. Most children of a relocated people through out history wouldn't have the means to go "home" and establish a life there.
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Lt. Staplic » Sun Feb 21, 2010 12:47 am

Lighthawk wrote:
Lt. Staplic wrote:I have thought about this before myself. My own personal opinion is that it would be somewhat unethical. While the 2nd Generation would have no knowledge of a planet they could live on, the fact that that experience is being taken from them without their consent is unethical in my opinion. I also see the fate of the 3rd Generation a little unethical. We have decided before their parents were even born that they would be destined to live a hard life on a strange world no other human has been to before. All the problems that could ensue to lead to slow painful death, in a way that could be even worse than what happened to the second generation


The problem with that line of thought is then you could say that any time any group of people moved to settle elsewhere, it was unethical. Granted it's not in the same league of inability to return "home", but for the most part when a group moved out and settled somewhere new, that's where their kids grew up and lived. Most children of a relocated people through out history wouldn't have the means to go "home" and establish a life there.


I'm not necessarily saying that the unethical part of that was that they couldn't return to earth so much as the fact that they had no say in their destination, and their completely on their own on this (potentially hostile) alien world. In most cases of relocation on earth, at least the generation that decided to move were the ones that had to 'break ground' so to speak and create the settlements that their descendants could (hopefully) live on.
Check this out, Let me know if your interested: viewtopic.php?f=33&t=7385
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Coalition » Sun Feb 21, 2010 9:14 pm

Sionnach Glic wrote: Let's say Earth builds a giant starship to travel to and colonise another habitable planet. The trip will take approximately three generations, at which point the ship will arrive and the descendants of the original crew are to begin the construction of a colony. As it takes off, the ship is crewed with a variety of technical experts and menial workers, all of whom are volunteers.

Here's the thing though. The first generation is made up of people who decided of their own free will to go, so there's no real problem there. The third generation will be the ones who arrive and get a whole planet all to themselves.

But what of the second generation? Their entire purpose is simply to have kids, make sure nothing breaks, and die. They have no say over their presence of the ship, and no way to leave or change their surroundings. They are, to all intents and purposes, prisoners on the ship. They will never once set foot on a planet, or even leave the ship at all. Because of the length of the trip it is a certainty that they will die before reaching their destination. These people never volunteered to do this. They aren't getting paid either (and even if they were, there's nothing to spend it on out there). They're destined to live out their entire lives maintaining a ship they never built nor wanted to live on, and give birth to a new generation who is destined to leave the ship and colonise an entire planet. The only escape those of the second generation will ever have is death.

So, the question is simple. Is it ethical to create a generation ship? Is it ethical to effectively condemn hundreds, if not thousands, to a life of bleak and meaningless servitude on a ship for a mission they may not want any part in?


It is ethical for the society becasue they are putting effort to make sure their culture and species survives.

It is ethical for the people, because each of the generations is working to give their children a better chance at the future. If one generation screws up, and their children have to fix the mess, that would not be 'right'. You are basically saying you want to goof off and relax, without paying any attention to what your kids might want. (I gotta be careful, this might touch on political grounds)

As to what the second generation wants, it is similar to real life. We all want a perfect job, perfect life, etc, but we don't get it. Someone who enjoys painting gets a job as a car wash attendant, because nobody actually buys their art, and they have to find a regular job, or starve.

Similar setup on the generation ship, where a kid might want to be the astronomer's assistant, but isn't qualified enough. So they have to take care of the waste processing station. Hopefully the prior generation can instill a culture of doing a job that needs to be done, while improving yourself to do the job you want. Similar to kids that get jobs in fast-food, as motivation to graduate high school and get a good job.

Off-hand, a person facing a bit of semi-planned difficulty, in order to achieve a potentially better future for your kids has another name. Life.
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Graham Kennedy » Fri Feb 26, 2010 11:45 pm

How is this any different, ethically, to giving birth to a person knowing that they are destined to spend their whole life on Earth? There's no escape from Earth, no serious possibility of ever leaving it or altering its path. You just have to live out your life here and make the best of it.

Yet I for one am glad I am alive and here. I don't see why the crew wouldn't be just as glad.
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Reliant121 » Sat Feb 27, 2010 1:00 pm

The only remote thing i can find different is that the Earth truly is massive, I certainly cant quite comprehend how huge it is. A generation ship would be smaller, but i still dont see that being much of a difference.
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Graham Kennedy » Sat Feb 27, 2010 2:06 pm

I think that is an important point. The ship must be big enough, and the crew numerous enough, that they form a true society.

If we're talking about a crew of twenty or so, say, who live their lives within a few thousand square feet, then I wouldn't support it to be sure. You spend your life seeing the same few rooms, dealing with the same few people, doing one of a handful of jobs... no, I couldn't conndemn people to that.

But if we're talking about one of those "hollowed out asteroid" type designs, or something similar, where there is a area of many square miles available, with a crew of tens of thousands or more, then it's really no different to living in any other city. I live in a city of 50,000 people, and whilst I enjoy being able to go to other places, I can't say that the thought of being stuck within its borders for my whole life fills me with horror.
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Captain Seafort » Sat Feb 27, 2010 2:22 pm

GrahamKennedy wrote:If we're talking about a crew of twenty or so, say, who live their lives within a few thousand square feet, then I wouldn't support it to be sure. You spend your life seeing the same few rooms, dealing with the same few people, doing one of a handful of jobs... no, I couldn't conndemn people to that.

But if we're talking about one of those "hollowed out asteroid" type designs, or something similar, where there is a area of many square miles available, with a crew of tens of thousands or more, then it's really no different to living in any other city. I live in a city of 50,000 people, and whilst I enjoy being able to go to other places, I can't say that the thought of being stuck within its borders for my whole life fills me with horror.


A generation ship would need those numbers anyway - without crews in the thousands, or even tens of thousands, the colony would run the risk of collapsing due an insufficiently diverse population base. Designing the original crew to ensure a a good genetic spread initially would reduce that risk, but not eliminate it unless there are enough people.
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Tyyr » Sat Feb 27, 2010 4:56 pm

5,000 is about the absolute bare minimum viable population. Below that there's not enough genetic diversity to avoid inbreeding taking down the population. I'd expect a true generational ship to have a crew of at least 10,000, probably more.
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Graham Kennedy » Sat Feb 27, 2010 10:55 pm

I've always thought that it would be far, far more efficient to send a smaller crew and simply pack some thousands of sperm samples along with them to ensure diversity.

In fact come to think of it, the first interstellar colonies should be all female with a great big sperm bank along.
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Tsukiyumi » Sun Feb 28, 2010 1:20 am

GrahamKennedy wrote:...In fact come to think of it, the first interstellar colonies should be all female with a great big sperm bank along.


So, pretty much just you and a few thousand women? :wink:
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Tyyr » Sun Feb 28, 2010 12:21 pm

From what I've read when it comes to long duration confinement single sex crews don't work well. They're ok in the context of a few months voyage on a navy ship but when you're talking years confined together it simply doesn't work. People have biological imperatives that can only be held off for so long. Eventually they need some opposite sex companionship and without it things start to break down and get ugly. The obvious exception being if you sent out an entirely lesbian ship but how you maintain that into the second generation I don't know.

The other reason to send out large ships is redundancy. With a crew measured in the tens of thousands an accident that kills fifty people is tragic but not the end of the ship. If you've only got a hundred or a few hundred people on the ship losing 50 people is huge. By its very definition a generational ship is going out so far beyond the limit that if something goes wrong there's no one else to help you. Have ten or twenty thousand people along for the ride gives you a lot of back ups in case something goes tits up.
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Re: Is A Generation Ship Ethical?

Postby Monroe » Wed Mar 17, 2010 11:23 pm

I think it depends on your reasons. If you are going to use the generation ship as the last ark of humanity sure what other choice is there? But if you're going to use it to explore and setup new colonies then I'm leaning no.

A good movie that deals with this is City of Ember. Now its not a generational ship but, like Fallout, it deals with generations of people living in something built by their ancestors. Its a really good kids movie. I recommend it.
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