Remember that the main difference between a colony and a base is that the inhabitants of a colony do not intend to ever leave.
In our solar system, the planet Mars is a pretty inhospitable place to live, but there are large numbers of people who'd jump at the chance to colonize the red planet, just for the sheer romantic awe of it all. If a paradise planet was discovered and starships are available, the number of potential Martian colonists would be a drop in the bucket compared to the Paradise colonizers. Which is good for science fiction writers interested in writing about interstellar empires. No colonized planets = no Galactic Empires. This is the trope called Settling the Frontier.
Having said that, I must point out that Charles Stross has an incendiary essay where he is of the opinion that space colonization is implicitly incompatible with both libertarian ideology and the myth of the American frontier. Rick Robinson expands upon that in his essay The Dun Hills of Earth.
As an amusing side note, in a science essay called "The Sight Of Home" Isaac Asimov once calculated how far an interstellar colony would have to be from Terra before Sol was too dim to be seen in the colony's night sky with the naked eye. Turns out that colonies further than 20 parsecs (65 light-years) cannot see Mankind's Homestar, because Sol's apparent magnitude is dimmer than 6.
There are some sub-types of interstellar colonies.
A Space Colony is when a colony is not on the surface of a planet, but instead is a huge space station. They are discussed in detail here.
A Penal Colony or Prison Planet occurs when somehow it is cheaper or more politically expedient to ship prisoners to an interstellar colony instead of putting them in local jails. Penal colony planets are invariably miserable hell-holes. The prisoners may or may not be forced to perform hard labor (often mining), if no labor is required the government thinks that the hardship of simply living on the planet is punishment enough. The morality become questionable if the prisoners start to have children, who then are being punished for the sins of their parents.
A Cult Colony happens when members of some extreme cult want to really get away from all those sinful corrupt heretics that compose the population of Terra. The cult's pathological determination means they are willing to put up with barriers like problematic Generation ships, lack of support, donating all their worldly wealth to the colonization effort, marginal planets nobody else wants, and being cut off from all other human contact. Once the colony is established, the cult is free to become even more fanatical, and can institute even more draconian methods to purge the less than ideologically pure.
A Lost Colony is when somehow a colony loses all of its technology, and Terra loses all record of the colony's existence. The colony reverts to whatever technology is supportable (probably about pre-Industrial Revolution), and may even forget that they are not native to the planet. In pulp science fiction, writers were fond of using the shocker that Terra itself was a lost colony from somewhere else (a couple of such pulp stories also threw in a gratuitous "Adam and Eve" theme). This fell out of favor when evolutionary science had advanced to the point where it could demonstrate that mankind almost certainly evolved on Terra.
The part about Terra losing all records of the Lost Colony can happen many ways:
- Terra can suffer a nuclear war (which the lost colonists might have been fleeing) thus destroying all the records
- The colonists are founding a Cult Colony and carefully destroy all records of their destination before leaving
- The colonists use a sleeper ship aimed at random which after a few thousand years happens upon a habitable planet unknown to Terra
- The colonists use an experimental faster-than-light starship which malfunctions and lands them in a location unknown to them or Terra
- Or any combination of the above
When contact is reestablished with Terra, what happens next is influenced by which of the two has the higher technology.
And when a mature colony starts making noices about "No Taxation Without Representation", the time is ripe for a War of Independence.
The always-worth-reading Rick Robinson has written quite a few essays on the topic in his Rocketpunk Manifesto blog. The comments are worth reading as well.
As Rick Robinson mentioned, the real reason for extraterrestrial colonization is so that science fiction authors and game designers will have a marvelous background for their creations.
A more dubious reason is that the author is writing about Bat Durston, that is, they are being lazy by writing a space western. Westerns are set in the wild west, the corresponding location in science fiction is an interstellar colony.
Understand that I'm talking about lazy writers who are taking a western story and simply removing shooting irons and substituting with Winchester laser rifles or Colt proton blasters. The tired old "calling the jackrabbit a smeerp" trick. Un-lazy writers can and have written award-winning novels which technically are "westerns set in space" but are not pulling a Bad Durston: examples include Heinlein's juvenile novels and the TV series Firefly.
But there are a few semi-plausible reasons we can use as a fig-leaf for our galaxy-spanning space operas.
But Terra becoming overpopulated can not be solved by colonization.
Back in the 1960's it was feared that the global population explosion would trigger a Malthusian catastrophe as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse pruned humanity's numbers. That didn't happen, but at the time a few suggested that population pressure could be dealt with by interplanetary colonization.
Noted science popularizer Isaac Asimov pointed out the flaw in that solution. Currently population growth is about 140 million people a year, or about 400,000 a day. So you'd have to launch into space 400,000 people every day just to break even. If you wanted to reduce global population, you'd have to launch more than that. It is a lot easier to use contraception.
The other thing to note is that as nations become industrialized, their population growth tends to level off, or even decline. This removes population pressure as a colonization motive. See Demographic Transition.
Some planets might be miserable hell-holes that are poor advertisements for immigration, but might have other attractions. Remember one of the possible MacGuffinites (profit-motive reason to colonize space in the first place) is Mining. This may occur in a near-future solar-system colonization situation, or in a far-future faster-than-light starship galactic colonization situation.
But in both cases there is the personally-depressing but author-plot-wise-interesting phenomenon of the dreaded Resource Curse. Meaning you personally wouldn't want to live there but science fiction authors delight in such situations for their protagonists to strive against.
Since there is a short supply of perfection in the universe, Eden-like paradise planets might be few and far between inside a sea full of zillions of bad-lands mining worlds.
This can also be an entertaining scenario if a paradise planet is discovered to have a valuable deposit of something-or-other. Hilarity will ensue as the greedy faction in search of short-term gain go to war with the paradise faction who like things just the way they are, thank you very much. Naturally if a paradise person stumbles over the resource before anybody else knows (and has read the Wikipedia article on Resource Curse) they will go to insane lengths to cover up the secret.
I have noticed in a few science fiction novels a variant of the trope "Libertarians In Space". The idea is that when extraterrestrial colonies are opened; all the forward thinking, high-IQ, rugged individualist types will flee corrupt, welfare-bloated, decaying Terra and find a new free life in the colonies (TV Tropes calls them Space Cossacks). The result is that Terra will become a slum and the colonies will become shining beacons of libertarianism.
Often Terra becomes alarmed at their fall from power, and starts putting pressure on the colonies in order to maintain their dominance. Commonly a civil war or revolutionary war occurs (TV Tropes calls it the The War of Earthly Aggression).
Examples include Subspace Explorers by E.E. "Doc" Smith, Space Viking by H. Beam Piper, Take the Star Road by Peter Grant, Red Planet and Between Planets by Robert Heinlein, the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, and the Coyote novels by Allen Steele.
I already pointed out how Charles Stross proves this to be a questionable scenario, at least when it comes to colonies where you need high technology just to make air to breath.
The trope seems to be founded on an idealized version of the opening of the American frontier. Which does not make sense, since according to the trope Britain should have turned into a third world country after the American Revolution. Which did not happen.
What it boils down to is: how valid you think the trope is depends upon how valid you think Libertarianism is.
If your universe contains faster-than-light starships that can visit a new colony planet every afternoon (including week-ends), then establishing a colony is relatively easy. Dump your colonists on the new planet with tents, MREs, and first-aid kits. Then ship in supplies as they need it.
If your universe only has slower-than-light starships such that a new colony will be lucky to see a ship every hundred years, then of course things become much more difficult. If the colonist have forgotten some vital machine, an unstoppable alien plague pops up, or other cosmic disaster strikes, the mother planet cannot do much more than send sympathetic radio messages to the soon to be extinct colony.
What is the minimum number of colonists? For genetic reasons, if the number of colonists is too small and no new colonists arrive via starship, the colony will eventually die out due to inbreeding. This is important on a slower-than-light starship colony mission were every microgram is expensive, you do not want to waste payload mass on unnecessary colonists, and follow-up missions are unlikely. However this is a non-issue with FTL starships bringing new immigrants every week, the new colonists will quickly swell the colony size large enough to avoid genetic problems.
The minimum number of colonists also applies to a Generation starship, which is after all sort of a traveling colony.
If you do not want to fiddle with math below, the bottom line is as follows. If the colony is to survive inbreeding for up to 100 years, you'll need a minimum of 500 randomly chosen colonists or 50 hand-picked colonists all who are unrelated and of breeding age. If the colony is to have enough genetic diversity to survive for thousands of years, you'll need a minimum of 5000 randomly chosen colonists or 500 hand-picked colonists all who are unrelated and of breeding age. That's if I have not made a silly mistake in arithmetic. Now you can skip to the next section.
Most researchers use a rule of thumb invented by Franklin and Soule called the "50/500" rule. The "50" comes from Franklin (Franklin, "Evolutionary Change in Small Populations", 1980) and the 500 comes from Soule (Soule, "Thresholds for Survival: Maintaining Fitness and Evolutionary Potential", 1980). The 50 and 500 are values for a variable called Ne, the "Effective Population Number" (Kimura and Ohta, "Effective Population Number", 1977).
Ne = (4 * M * F) / (M + F)
- Ne = Effective Population Number
- M = number of unrelated, breeding-age (UBA) males
- F = number of unrelated, breeding-age (UBA) females
You will please note that if M and F are equal, the equation simplifies to Ne = M + F, which is kind of obvious.
If M is approximately equal to F, a rule of thumb is that both will be equal to about 10% to 20% of the total population, if the population is a random sample. If the population is nothing but hand-picked colonists, M and F could be 50% of the total population (i.e., the entire population is nothing but unrelated breeding-age males and females).
The larger Ne is, the better. The equation implies that Ne is reduced if there is a large difference between the number of UBA males and UBA females. Ne is also reduced by variations in the number of offspring per female, overlapping generations, and fluctuations in the population from generation to generation.
Franklin calculated that to avoid genetic inbreeding problems in the short term (100 years) Ne had to be a minimum of 50.
f = 1 / (2 * Ne)
- f = Inbreeding coefficient per generation
- Ne = Effective Population Number
Domestic animal breeders will accept f = 0.01 (inbreeding rate of 1% per generation), solving for Ne reveals Franklin's value of 50. The colony will experience significant viability problems due to inbreeding when f rises to 0.1, and the colony will probably die out when f reaches 0.5 to 0.6. The life-span of the colony before inbreeding caused extinction is (according to Soule)
t ~ 1.5 * Ne
- t = number of generations til extinction
- Ne = Effective Population Number
The number of years in a generation is more or less the average age of a female when she bears her first child. Probably about 25 years.
So a colony with f = 0.01 should last about 75 generations (1875 years), f = 0.1 will last 7.5 generations (190 years) and f = 0.6 will last about 0.8 generation (20 years)
In the long term Franklin figures you'll need Ne to be about 500. The idea is that you need to maintain enough overall genetic variability to evolve in step with the changing environment. Below 500 Franklin says "genetic variance for complex traits is lost at a significantly faster rate than it is renewed by mutation."
Ne can be achieved with a lower number of UBA male and females if a stockpile of frozen fertilized ova from off-world is available for host mothers. In Andre Norton's novels, such a hosted baby is called a "duty child." Breeding-age females will be obligated by the colony by-laws to bear one or two of these duty children in order to increase the genetic diversity of the colony. Soren Roberts notes that modern liberated women nowadays will be highly resistant to bearing duty children, and suggests that artificial wombs be employed instead. This will also help with the problem of couples who are infertile, non-heterosexual, or transgendered. Ne can also be effectively increased by such draconian measures as colony authorities enforcing a mandatory reduction in variations on family size, enforcing an equal number of male and female births, forbidding inbreeding, or through deliberate half-sibling or first cousin breeding (this can paradoxically increase effective Ne, but only after 16 generations). Such draconian measures can almost double Ne.
Once you have decided that your Terran Empire is X number of light years wide or contains Y number of stars, it would help to have a realistic number for the amount of years it will take for the empire to expand to that size. Or from the other side, if you have decided how long the empire has been around, it would help to be able to figure out how many stars and how wide it is. This is a little more difficult.
The SETI scientists are always fretting about the Fermi paradox. As a result, there have been a couple of attempts to model the speed of galactic colonization by a hypothetical alien race. These can be used, keeping in mind that they always assume slower-than-light starships. Such models have inhabited planets colonizing nearby worlds. When the population of the colonies grows large enough, they send out their own colonization missions.
A comprehensive but mathematically intensive model is Burning the Cosmic Commons by Robin Hanson. Another interesting model is Computer Simulation of Cultural Drift: Limitations on Interstellar Colonisation by William Sims Bainbridge. I would like to explain how to use them, but I'm still trying to digest the models myself.
Newman & Sagan (Galactic civilizations; population dynamics and interstellar diffusion. Icarus, 46, 293-327) attempted to apply the gas diffusion equation to interstellar migrations.
∂P/∂t = αP (1 - P/Ps) + γΔ2 ∂/∂x (P/Ps ∂P/∂x)
- P = population of a settlement
- Ps = the carrying capacity of a settlement
- t = time
- x = spatial coordinate
- α = local population growth rate (percentage of current population)
- γ = emigration rate (percentage of current population)
- Δ = mean separation of settlements
- ∂ = partial differential (Yes, I know. Scary Calculus. But don't panic)
The solution to the equation is:
P/Ps = 1 - exp((x - vt) / L)
- L = Δ sqrt(2γ / α) = gradient length scale
- v = sqrt(αγ / 2) = wave speed
However, when Newman and Sagan analyzed the problem, they came to the belated realization that the local growth rate (α) greatly exceeds the emigration rate (γ) so that L <<Δ. Translated into English, this means that the galactic colonization resembled an explosion more than it did a slow gaseous diffusion. Which means the equation is worthless for this purpose. Back to the drawing board.
Eric M. Jones found a more promising approach. In Discrete calculations of interstellar migration and settlement( Icarus Volume 46, Issue 3 , June 1981, Pages 328-336. Costs $15 for the article) he uses a Monte Carlo simulation (i.e., rules are established then a lot of dice are metaphorically thrown). Jones found the following equation will approximate the Monte Carlo results:
v = Δr/ [(Δ/vs) + (1/α) ln(2α/γ)]
- Δr = average radial distance traveled (i.e., distance as meaured from the center of the empire)
- Δ = average distance traveled
- vs = ship speed
- Δx/vs = average travel time (years)
Jones says one can usually assume that Δr = 0.7Δ and neglect the travel time, resulting in:
v = 0.7αΔ / ln(2α/γ)
Assuming the mean separation between settlements (Δ) is 7.2 light years (2.2 parsecs), local population growth rate (α) is 10-3 per year, and the emigration rate (γ) is 10-4 per year, this means the colonization wave will travel at about 2 x 10-3 light-years per year (5 x 10-4 parsecs per year). This would colonize the entire galaxy in a mere 60 million years.
The emigration rate could become much larger. In the 1840's the great Irish emigration reached a whopping 0.01/year. The population of Ireland at the time was about four million, so the emigration was an incredible 40,000 per year or about one hundred per day.
Using the upper equation, with my figure of 8.3 light years for Δ, and a slower-than-light ship speed of 10% c, I figure an expansion wave speed of 1.93 x 10-3 light-years per year. Unfortunately, upping the speed of the ships has little effect. At 50% c it's 1.97 x 10-3 ly/yr, at 100 c it's still 1.97 x 10-3 ly/yr, at ten times the speed of light it's 1.98 x 10-3 ly/yr, and at one thousand times the speed of light it is still 1.97 x 10-3 ly/yr!
At this speed, it would take about 50,000 years to expand to a 100 light year radius empire, which seems like an overly long time to me.
But maybe not. Mr. Jones is talking about a population growth of 10-3 or 0.1% per year. The United States has a growth rate closer to 0.6%, and some nations are crowding 3.0%. If our empire had a growth rate α of 0.6% and a modest emigration rate γ of 10-4 per year, it could reach 100 light years in radius in about 6900 years. And if it had a draconian γ of 10-2, it could reach that size in a mere 260 years.
With respect to increasing the population of a colony, women are a more critical item than men.
If you wanted to create ten new babies in a year, the minimum requirement is one man and ten women. A single man can create ten babies in one year by impregnating ten women. But the only way for women to make ten babies in one year is with ten women, not one. Hunters know that if you do not want to make your prey extinct you'd better only hunt the bucks, not the does. The same goes when fishing for crabs and the like, throw the she-crabs back into the water.
Which means that with respect to growing the new colony, the colony can better afford to have a few men eaten by alien land-sharks than women. In new colonies, women might find themselves somewhat protected and forbidden to engage in dangerous occupations. The colony needs all the women it can get, the men are expendable.
There will also be an iron-clad tradition of "women and children first."
Once the planet is fully colonized, such cloistering will not be needed, but old habits die hard. In many science fiction stories, people from Terran cultures are often taken aback at the old-fashioned women-as-objects-to-be-protected attitudes of colonial cultures.
This trend might be moderated if the colony makes extensive use of artificial wombs. Though that assumes a colony industrial infrastructure capable of supporting such a high tech device.
Remember that in the early days when both the colony's population and genetic diversity is low, families may be forced to have "duty children", from fertilized ova imported from off-world. This helps prevent the dangers of in-breeding.
In a colony, generally the food must be produced at the colony. Shipping food over interstellar distances is either prohibitively expensive or if not it sort of misses the point of establishing an independent colony in the first place.
In Asimov's FOUNDATION trilogy, the capital planet of Trantor is supplied with food from twenty agricultural planets. But Trantor is not exactly a "colony." In Asimov's THE STARS, LIKE DUST newly colonized planets become agricultural/herding planets, who export food to industrial planets. Again industrial planets are not exactly "colonies." The point is that industrial planets can pay for imported food with manufactured goods and Trantor can pay for imported food with Bureaucracy. But colonies have nothing worth exporting to pay for imported food.
And remember David Drake said nobody ever fooled a farmer into thinking life was fair. One little capricious bit of bad weather will render all your back-breaking labor for naught.
A colony has to rapidly boot-strap a technological infrastructure. While this is underway, the colony will have to use whatever primitive technology that can be supported, such as horses.
Marcin Jakubowski has a vision: an Open-sourced blueprint for civilization. He and the people at Open Source Ecology are trying to develop what they call a Global Village Construction Set (GVCS). This is a a modular, DIY, low-cost, open source, high-performance platform that will allow a small community to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts. It is more or less a "civilization starter kit". It seems to me that this would also work admirably as technology seed package for an interstellar colony.
The GVCS is a set of fifty machines that support each other, allowing a a technolgy base to be grown and maintained. Each of these machines relies on other machines in order for it to exist. The various components designed to have the following properties: Open Source, Low-Cost, Modular, User-Serviceable, DIY, Closed-Loop Manufacturing, High Performance, Heirloom Design, and Flexible Fabrication. There is a list of the fifty machines here. In the links below, the interesting part of the description is the "product ecology." This is a table showing From (which of the other machines are used to build the machine in question), Uses (which of the other machines are needed to run the machine in question, and required feed stocks), Creates (the output of the machine), and Enables (the industries and other machines that are enabled by this machine).
I do note this seems aimed at creating a major industrial base. By which I mean: machines for creating thread, cloth, and clothing seem to be absent. I guess they assume they will have the blueprints to 3D print a spinning wheel and loom.
|CEB Press||produces Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB) from onsite soil|
|Dimensional Sawmill||pattern-cuts lumber|
|Microtractor||a small, 18 hp version of the full-sized tractor|
|Rototiller and Soil Pulverizer|
|Bakery Oven||cooks bread|
|Baler||compresses hay and other dispersed material into bales|
|Well-Drilling Rig||a device for digging deep water wells|
|CNC Precision Multimachine||for milling, lathing, drilling to make precision parts|
|Ironworker Machine||cuts steel and punches holes in metal|
|CNC Torch/Router Table||cuts precision metal parts using a plasma torch|
|Metal Roller||shapes metal bar stock|
|Rod and Wire Mill|
|Universal Rotor||a tractor-mounted rotor that can be fitted with a wide array of toolheads|
|3d Printer||Manufactures objects by additive technology|
|3d Scanner||Can scan an object and generate a blueprint suitable for a 3d Printer or CNC Precision Multimachine|
|CNC Circuit Mill||CNC (computer numerical control) mill produces electrical circuits by milling and drilling copper-clad circuit boards|
|Industrial Robot||a robotic arm which can perform certain human tasks — such as welding or milling|
|Power Cube||a multipurpose, self-contained, hydraulic power unit that consists of an engine coupled to a hydraulic pump|
|Gasifier Burner||a clean and efficient burner that gasifies the material that is being burned prior to combustion|
|Linear Solar Concentrator||produces heat or steam from solar energy|
|Electric Motor/Generator||turns electricity into torque and vice-versa|
|Nickel Iron Batteries|
|Modern Steam Engine|
|50 kW Wind Turbine||Generates 50 kW of electricity from wind power|
|Universal Power Supply|
|Aluminum Extractor from Clay||dissolves aluminum from aluminosilicate clay, then extracts it by electrolysis|
|Bioplastic Extruder||extrudes plastic stock into various forms|
The Prerequisite Problem
One problem with outfitting a new colony with infrastructure is the prerequisite problem. Often in order to manufacture item Alpha you will need tool Beta. And if you do not have tool Beta you will have to manufacture it, whereupon you will discover that manufacture requires tool Gamma. And so on.
The solution is to be sure you bring the tools required to manufacture the tools and items at the bottom of the chain of dependencies. This will allow you to boot-strap your way upwards. The Civilization Starter Kit was designed with this in mind.
The Deadlock Situation
If you have to competing actions that are both waiting for each other to finish, you will have the dreaded Deadlock situation. In the quote below from Bind Your Sons to Exile, the colony does not have enough workers so everybody is working overtime. The solution would be to manufacture labor-saving devices and automation. Unfortunately the colony cannot spare the workers to manufacture the labor-saving devices. Deadlock.
Let's look more closely at the horse-doesn't-need-United-Steel argument. On a planet, it is highly inadvisable to utilize technology that cannot be supported by the planet's technology infrastructure. The home world might be using high tech goodies like The Jetsons, but the dirt poor colony worlds will be using stuff that is much less advanced.
The late lamented TV show Firefly got that right. Unthinking viewers were confused by a show that featured starship crew members riding horses through western style towns, but this actually makes lots of sense.
Think about it. On a new colony planet with no infrastructure, automobiles are worthless. A vehicle that requires gasoline as fuel isn't going to work very well on a planet with no oil wells nor oil refineries. Importing gasoline from off world will just drive the price out of reach for everybody. Not to mention the lack of a local source for spare parts (requires iron ore mining, steel mills, coal mining, electrical power plants, and factories to manufacture spare parts). And local repairmen. If the vehicle itself is an off world import it too will be much too expensive for the locals to afford. Without a car assembly plant, there will be no new cars.
It make much more sense to import a breeding pair of horses and seeds of crops horses will eat.
Examples of this can be found in Robert Heinlein's TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE (especially the "tale of the adopted daughter") and in Andre Norton's THE BEAST MASTER, LORD OF THUNDER, and THE SIOUX SPACEMAN.
Now there is a more nasty implication of the horse-doesn't-need-United-Steel argument. If a new colony can economically utilize horses, they can also economically utilize slaves. Or indentured servitude or debt bondage, with the hapless people theoretically capable of buying their freedom, but in reality they will perpetually owe their soul to the company store.
In the early United States, as the north started to build their industrial infrastructure the slavery in the south could not compete economically. But before the industrial infrastructure existed, slavery made economic sense. Especially in that period when North America was initially being colonized.
Please note that this mainly applies when the colony is located on a planet with a shirt-sleeve environment, where people can breath the air and survive the temperatures (i.e., life-support is free). If the colony is located in, for example, a space station, then the life-support costs of human beings might make industrial infrastructure the cheaper option.
Also note that along with pirates, slavers are considered Hostis humani generis, Enemy of Mankind.
The economics of slavery is covered in the short story "Logic of Empire" by Robert Heinlein (1941).
Colonists will need a good supply of building material, preferably from a renewable resource. One that renews really really quickly, unlike petroleum. As it turns out there already exists such a thing, the wonder plant Bamboo.
Don't sneer. In the real world bamboo has a thousand and one uses. Blasted stuff grows so fast it looks like you are seeing it under time-lapse photography. Three to one hundred centimeters in 24 hours. It does not grow like a weed, instead weeds dream of growing as fast as bamboo.
And if you have long and skinny tubes, you can grow the stuff in a space habitat or asteroid colony. It probably grows taller in microgravity as well.
Bamboo also has a composition very similar to switchgrass, aka the feedstock used for bioethanol fuel. A recent study in China showed that bioethanol production from bamboo in China is both technically and economically feasible, as well as cost-competitive with gasoline (scientific paper here). Just the thing for a new colony that does not want to invest in the mining infrastructure required for the production of petroleum.
The useful substance Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood in the absence of oxygen. Naturally this can be done using bamboo, producing Bamboo charcoal. The difference being that bamboo grows a heck of a lot faster than trees do, and interstellar colonists are in a hurry to become self-sufficient. As with conventional charcoal, bamboo charcoal can be used as a fireplace fuel, and as an activated charcoal filter. The latter is particularly useful if the colonists are unsure about how pure the water supply is. Not to mention its use in the production of whisky and vodka.
As a bonus, making bamboo charcoal also produced "bamboo vinegar" (pyroligneous acid). This is a primarily mix of acetic acid, acetone and methanol. But it also contains 400 different organic chemical compounds which can be applied for many purposes including cosmetics, insecticides, deodorants, food processing, and agriculture.
Bamboo is also perfect for making slide rules, if your colony cannot produce plastic or aluminum yet.
In 1978 James Grier Miller published his Living System Theory. His central thesis is that the systems in existence are open systems composed of twenty critical subsystems that process inputs, through-puts, and outputs of various forms of matter-energy and information.
This is relevant to our interests because LST can be used to analyze Space Stations, Spaceports, Planetary Bases, and Colonies. Spacecraft as well, for that matter. Such analysis can spot areas that can be optimized, places that are bottlenecks, and prime targets for sabotage attacks.
LST can also apply to a team of people, such as a spaceship crew. Here is a document where a member of the US Army tried to apply LST to armored fighting vehicle crews.
LST might allow the creation of a definition of "life" more sophisticated that "something that dies when you stamp on it". Current definitions are equivocal, controversial, or otherwise unsatisfactory. Which could prove embarrassing or worse if future space explorers stumble over an alien phenomenon that may or may not be a life form.
Robert Freitas Jr. even speculates that LST might be the foundation of a science of Cliology or the psychohistory envisioned by Isaac Asimov in his Foundation trilogy.
All of which should bring a smile to the face of science fiction authors and game designers searching for plot complications and critical paths. This will also have applications to games in areas similar to Resource management and Base Construction in Starcraft-like games. Not to mention spacecraft construction games similar to Kerbal Space Program.
Miller discusses applying LST to space exploration in Applications of Living Systems Theory to Life in Space, which can be found online here, and in PDF form here(on Volume 4, section VI). Other good reading on LST include Tank Crews and Platoons as Living Systems by Billy L. Burnside, A General Theory of Living Systems by Robert A. Freitas, Jr. and The Appropriateness Of Using The Living Systems Theory By James Grier Miller As A Diagnostic Tool by Lars Lorentsson.
The two types of resources handled are Matter-Energy and Information.
There are twenty different subsystem types. Two of these subsystems—Reproducer and Boundary—process both matter-energy and information. Eight of them process only matter-energy. The other ten process information only. Most of the subsystems are in pairs: e.g., the Matter-Energy Storage subsystem and the Memory subsystem are just like each other save that one is for matter-energy and the other is for information. See the table below.
There are five type of flow: Matter, Energy, Information/Communication, People, and Money. People flows are classed as matter-energy + information. Money flows are classed as a subclass of information.
Flows of Matter, Energy, and People connect to matter-energy subsystems. Flows of Information, People, and Money connect to information subsystems. Any of the five flows can connect to Reproducer and Boundary subsystems
And there are eight levels of living systems: Cell, Organ, Organism, Group, Organization, Community, Society, and Supranational System. This shows that living systems are fractals: a Organism living systems is composed of several Organ living systems. Robert Freitas Jr. suggests that there may be three more levels: Interplanetary Society, Interstellar Community, and Galactic Civilization.
According to Dr. Miller, a living system needs to have all twenty subsystems in order to stay alive. If any one subsystem is blocked or destroyed the system eventually dies. At a given level the system must either possess all twenty subsystems or at least have all missing subsystem functions available by being "dispersed".
Dispersed means one or more of the subsystems are absent but their jobs are delegated to another level (upward or downward). For instance, on the level of an organism's internal organs (Organ level), the "Reproducer" subsystem is absent and its job is dispersed upward to the level of the entire organism (Organism level). A single internal organ cannot reproduce itself, that function is delegated one level upward. An entire organism can reproduce itself by using a womb, in the process of which each individual internal organ is also reproduced.
Subsystems can also be dispersed outwardly/laterally/horizontally, that is, delegated to another position at the same level. In an army tank battalion, the battalion requires Matter-Energy Storage subsystems in the form of huge fuel tanks. Instead of each armored fighting vehicle in the battalion having its own Matter-Energy Storage subsystem, that function is dispersed horizontally to fuel tanker trucks that are also part of the battalion level.
|The Subsystems of Living Systems|
|Subsystems which process both matter-energy and information|
|1. Reproducer, the subsystem which carries out the instructions in the genetic information or charter of a system and mobilizes matter, energy, and information to produce on or more similar systems. Please note it is intended to reproduce the entire system, not create replacement for individual components of the system.|
Example: the charter of a group.
|2. Boundary, the subsystem at the perimeter of a system that holds together the components which make up the system, protects them from environmental stresses, and excludes or permits entry to various sorts of matter-energy and information.|
Example: A cell wall. Guards patrolling the fences and gates of an organization's property.
|Subsystems which process matter-energy||Subsystems which process information|
|3. Ingestor, the subsystem which brings matter-energy across the system boundary from the environment.|
Example: an organization's procurement or receiving departments.
|11. Input Transducer, the sensory subsystem which brings markers bearing information into the system, changing them to other matter-energy forms suitable for transmission within it (e.g., writing a phone conversation down on paper).|
Example: military scouts, telephone operators, personnel distributing mail, intelligence gathering units.
|12. Internal Transducer, the sensory subsystem which receives, from subsystems or components within the system, markers bearing information about significant alterations in those subsystems or components, changing them to other matter-energy forms of a sort which can be transmitted within it.|
Example: group ombudsman or sensor of group changes, internal inspection or auditing unit in an organization.
|4. Distributor, the subsystem which carries inputs from outside the system or outputs from its subsystems around the system to each component.|
Example: an organization's truck drivers and supply clerks.
|13. Channel and Net, the subsystem composed of a single route in physical space or multiple interconnected routes over which markers bearing information are transmitted to all parts of the system.|
Example: talking, telephones, radio.
|14. Timer, the subsystem which transmits to the decider information about time-related states of the environment or of components of the system. This information signals the decider of the system or deciders of subsystems to start, stop, alter the rate, or advance or delay the phase of one or more of the system's processes, thus coordinating them in time.|
|5. Converter, the subsystem which changes certain inputs to the system into forms more useful for the special processes of that particular system.|
Example: an organizations subsidiary groups operating oil refineries, electric generating plants, slaughter houses, etc.
|15. Decoder, the subsystem which alters the code of information input into it through the input transducer or internal transducer into a "private" code that can be used internally by the system.|
Example: language translation teams, deciphering secret messages, interpreting intelligence data, interpreting directives and regulations.
|6. Producer, the subsystem which forms stable associations that endure for significant periods among matter-energy inputs to the system or outputs from its converter, the materials synthesized being for growth, damage repair, or replacement of components of the system, or for providing energy for moving or constituting the system's outputs of products or information markers to its subsystems.|
Example: components involved in the cooking of food, factory production, maintenance and repair of equipment, building construction.
|16. Associator, the subsystem which carries out the first stage of the learning process, forming enduring associations among items of information in the system. Information can come from input transducer, internal transducer, or memory.|
|7. Matter-Energy Storage, the subsystem which places matter or energy at some location in the system, retains it over time, and retrieves it.|
Example: refrigerators, lockers, stock rooms, fuel storage tanks.
|17. Memory, the subsystem which carries out the second stage of the learning process, storing information in the system for different periods of time, and then retrieving it.|
Example: filing sections, librarians, computer operators.
|18. Decider, the executive subsystem which receives information inputs from all other subsystems and transmits to them outputs for guidance, coordination, and control of the system. This is the only subsystem that cannot be "dispersed" to another system above or below this system. It can be laterally dispersed i.e., decision making can be decentralized.|
Example: group leader, headquarters or executive office of an organization.
|19. Encoder, the subsystem which alters the code of information input to it from other information processing subsystems, from a "private" code used internally by the system into a "public" code which can be interpreted by other systems in its environment.|
Example: speech writers, lobbyists, advertising departments.
|8. Extruder, the subsystem which transmits matter-energy out of the system in the form of products or wastes.|
Example: cleaning crews, sewage disposal units, delivery trucks and drivers, crews manning trains, barges, or other delivery systems.
|20. Output Transducer, the subsystem which puts out markers bearing information from the system, changing markers within the system into other matter-energy forms which can be transmitted over channels in the system's environment.|
Example: radio operators, public relations departments, news-releasing agencies.
|9. Motor, the subsystem which moves the system or parts of it in relation to part or all of its environment or moves components of its environment in relationship to each other.|
Example: moving crews, car pools.
|10. Supporter, the subsystem which maintains the proper spacial relationships among components of the system, so that they can interact without weighting each other down or crowding each other.|
Example: building managers and designers, walls, tables, chairs.