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.

Motives For Colonization

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.

But who are we trying to kid? Science fiction, particularly hard SF, is not known for engaging the whole range of human experience. This is no knock on it; all the branches of Romance are selective. The truth is that we want space colonies so that they can rebel against Earth, form an Empire, and generally play out History with a capital H, with lots of explosions and other cool stuff along the way.

From On Colonization by Rick Robinson (2009)

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.

Jets blasting, Bat Durston came screeching down through the atmosphere of Bbllzznaj, a tiny planet seven billion light years from Sol. He cut out his super-hyper-drive for the landing...and at that point, a tall lean spaceman stepped out of the tail assembly, proton gun-blaster in a space-tanned hand.

"Get back from those controls, Bat Durston," the tall stranger lipped thinly. "You don't know it, but this is your last space trip."

Hoofs drumming, Bat Durston came galloping down through the narrow pass at Eagle Gulch, a tiny gold colony 400 miles north of Tombstone. He spurred hard for a low overhange of rim-rock...and at that point a tall, lean wrangler stepped out from behind a high bolder, six-shooter in a sun-tanned hand.

"Rear back and dismount, Bat Durton," the tall stranger lipped thinly. "You don't know it but this is your last saddle-jaunt through these here parts."

Sound alike? They should — one is merely a western transplanted to some alien and impossible planet. If this is your idea of science fiction, you're welcome to it! YOU'LL NEVER FIND IT IN GALAXY!

What you will find in GALAXY is the finest science fiction...authentic, plausible, thoughtful...written by authors who do not automaticallly switch over from crime waves to Earth invasions; by people who know and love science fiction...for people who also know and love it.

From the rear cover of the first issue of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine (1950)

But there are a few semi-plausible reasons we can use as a fig-leaf for our galaxy-spanning space operas.

Population Explosion

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.

Farmer in the Sky

     All in all, I was tired and jumpy by the time I got home. I had listened to the news on the way home; it wasn't good. The ration had been cut another ten calories——which made me still hungrier and reminded me that I hadn't been home to get Dad's supper. The newscaster went on to say that the Spaceship Mayflower had finally been commissioned and that the rolls were now opened for emigrants. Pretty lucky for them, I thought. No short rations. No twerps like Jones.
     And a brand new planet.

     The spuds were ready. I took a quick look at my ration accounts, decided we could afford it, and set out a couple of pats of butterine for them. The broiler was ringing; I removed the steaks, set everything out, and switched on the candles, just as Anne would have done.
     "Come and get it!" I yelled and turned back to enter the calorie and point score on each item from the wrappers, then shoved the wrappers in the incinerator. That way you never get your accounts fouled up.

     Dad sniffed the steaks and grinned. "Oh boy! Bill, you'll bankrupt us."
     "You let me worry," I said. I'n still plus for this quarter." Then I frowned. "But I won't be, next quarter, unless they quit cutting the ration."
     Dad stopped with a piece of steak on its way to his mouth. "Again?"
     "Again. Look, George, I don't get it. This was a good crop year and they started operating the Montana yeast plant besides."
     "You follow all the commissary news, don't you, Bill?"
     "Did you notice the results of the Chinese census as well? Try it on your slide rule."
     I knew what he meant——and the steak suddenly tasted like old rubber. What's the use in being careful if somebody on the other side of the globe is going to spoil your try? "Those darned Chinese ought to quit raising babies and start raising food!"
     "Share and share alike, Bill."

     Dad sat back and lit his pipe. "Want me to clean up tonight?"
     "No, thanks." He always asked; I always turned him down. Dad is absent-minded; he lets ration points get into the incinerator. When I salvage, I really salvage.

From Farmer In The Sky by Robert Heinlein (1950)
Time for the Stars

     I was not even planned on. The untaxed quota for our family was three children, then my brother Pat and I came along in one giant economy package. We were a surprise to everyone, especially to my parents, my three sisters, and the tax adjusters. I don't recall being surprised myself but my earliest recollection is a vague feeling of not being quite welcome, even though Dad and Mum, and Faith, Hope, and Charity treated us okay.
     Maybe Dad did not handle the emergency right. Many families get an extra child quota on an exchange basis with another family, or something, especially when the tax-free limit has already been filled with all boys or all girls. But Dad was stubborn, maintaining that the law was unconstitutional, unjust, discriminatory, against public morals, and contrary to the will of God. He could reel off a list of important people who were youngest children of large families, from Benjamin Franklin to the first governor of Pluto, then he would demand to know where the human race would have been without them? after which Mother would speak soothingly.

     Dad was stubborn. He could have paid the annual head tax on us supernumeraries, applied for a seven-person flat, and relaxed to the inevitable. Then he could have asked for reclassification. Instead he claimed exemption for us twins each year, always ended by paying our head tax with his check stamped "Paid under Protest!" and we seven lived in a five-person flat. When Pat and I were little we slept in homemade cribs in the bathroom which could not have been convenient for anybody, then when we were bigger we slept on the living-room couch, which was inconvenient for everybody, especially our sisters, who found it cramping to their social life.
     Dad could have solved all this by putting in for family emigration to Mars or Venus, or the Jovian moons, and he used to bring up the subject. But this was the one thing that would make Mum more stubborn than he was. I don't know which part of making the High Jump scared her, because she would just settle her mouth and not answer. Dad would point out that big families got preferred treatment for emigration and that the head tax was earmarked to subsidize colonies off Earth and why shouldn't we benefit by the money we were being robbed of? To say nothing of letting our children grow up with freedom and elbow room, out where there wasn't a bureaucrat standing behind every productive worker dreaming up more rules and restrictions? Answer me that?
     Mother never answered and we never emigrated.

From Time for the Stars by Robert Heinlein (1956)
Limits to growth, logistic vs exponential

Malthusian growth model

The Malthusian growth model sees population growth as exponential.

P(t) = Poert
P=  P(0) is the initial population size,
r = population growth rate
t = time

Growth of microbe populations are often used to illustrate this. Let's say an amoeba will grow and divide into two amoeba after an day of absorbing nutrients.

Day 1: 1 amoeba
Day 2: 2 amoeba
Day 3: 4 amoeba
Day 4: 8 amoeba

And so on. Population doubles each day. Exponential growth is famous for starting out slow and then zooming through the roof.
On the left is exponential growth in cartesian coordinates. On the right in polar coordinates, radius doubles every circuit.

Malthus imagined a rapidly growing population consuming all their available food supply and then starving to death.

Logistic growth

Sometimes populations have suffered Malthusian disaster. More often rate of growth slows as the population approaches the limit that resources can support. This is logistic growth.

P(t) = Le-rt / (L +( e-rt - 1))

Where L is the maximum population local resources can support.
At the start, logistic growth resembles exponential growth. But as the population nears the logistic ceiling, growth tapers off. Above the blue boundary represents the limit to growth. In red is the logistic growth curve, the thinner black curve is exponential growth.

What slows growth?

In Heinlein's science fiction, war limits growth. This was also the foundation idea of Niven and Pournelle's The Mote In God's Eye -- War is the inevitable result of burgeoning populations.

The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse -- plague, war, famine and death are seen as natural outcomes of uncontrolled population growth.

A declining fertility rate is a less ominous way to step on the brakes. It is my hope most people will choose to have small families. And indeed, current trends indicate people are voluntarily having fewer kids. Still, there are skirmishes as various entities compete for limited resources.

Bad vs worse

A growing population, a growing consumer appetite, a limited body of resources. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see growth must eventually level off.

Whether it levels off via the 4 horsemen or moderation and voluntary birth control, either option sucks.  It's disaster vs stagnation.

Above is a Johnny Robinson cartoon from the National Space Society's publication.

I believe our solar system is possibly the next frontier. That has been the thrust of this blog since the start. If we do manage to break our chains to earth, it will be a huge turning point in human history, more dramatic than the settling of the Americas. The potential resources and real estate dwarf the north and south American land masses.

While settling the solar system allows expansion, it won't relieve population pressure on earth. Settlement of the Americas did not relieve population pressure in Europe, Asia and Africa. Mass emigration is impractical.

Rather, pioneers jumping boundaries starts growth within the new frontiers. I like to view the logistic growth spiral in polar form as a petri dish. When a population within a petri dish has matured to fill its boundaries, it sends spores out to neighboring petri dishes. Then populations within neighboring petri dishes grow to their limits.
The first petri dish still has a population filling the limit. They have not escaped the need to live within their means. I take issues with critics who say space enthusiasts want to escape to a new planet after earth has been trashed. Space enthusiasts know earth is fragile, more so than the average person. It is noteworthy that Elon Musk is pioneering planet preserving technologies such as electric cars and solar energy.

But even if mass emigration from Europe or Asia was not possible, the expansion into the Americas energized the economy and zeitgeist of the entire planet. It provided investment opportunities. Also an incentive to explore. This is the greatest benefit of a frontier. Curiosity is one of the noblest human qualities and I hope we will always want to see what lies over yonder hill. And that we will keep devising ways to reach the far side of the next hill. Satisfaction and contentment are for cattle. If we lose our hunger and wander lust we will no longer be human.

From Limits to growth, logistic vs exponential by Hollister David (2016)

Mining Towns

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.


The resource curse, also known as the paradox of plenty, refers to the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources, specifically non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources. This is hypothesized to happen for many different reasons, and there are many academic debates about when and why it occurs. Most experts believe the resource curse is not universal or inevitable, but affects certain types of countries or regions under certain conditions.

Resource curse thesis

The idea that resources might be more of an economic curse than a blessing began to emerge in debates in the 1950s and 1960s about the economic problems of low and middle-income countries. The term resource curse was first used by Richard Auty in 1993 to describe how countries rich in mineral resources were unable to use that wealth to boost their economies and how, counter-intuitively, these countries had lower economic growth than countries without an abundance of natural resources. An influential study by Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner found a strong correlation between natural resource abundance and poor economic growth. Hundreds of studies have now evaluated the effects of resource wealth on a wide range of economic outcomes, and offered many explanations for how, why, and when a resource curse is likely to occur. While "the lottery analogy has value but also has shortcomings", many observers have likened the resource curse to the difficulties that befall lottery winners who struggle to manage the complex side-effects of newfound wealth.

Economic effects

The IMF classifies 51 countries as “resource-rich.” These are countries which derive at least 20% of exports or 20% of fiscal revenue from nonrenewable natural resources. 29 of these countries are low- and lower-middle-income. Common characteristics of these 29 countries include (i) extreme dependence on resource wealth for fiscal revenues, export sales, or both; (ii) low saving rates; (iii) poor growth performance; and (iv) highly volatile resource revenues.

A 2016 meta-study finds weak support for the thesis that resource richness adversely affects long-term economic growth. The authors note that "approximately 40% of empirical papers finding a negative effect, 40% finding no effect, and 20% finding a positive effect" but "overall support for the resource curse hypothesis is weak when potential publication bias and method heterogeneity are taken into account."

Dutch disease

Dutch disease makes tradable goods less competitive in world markets. Absent currency manipulation or a currency peg, appreciation of the currency can damage other sectors, leading to a compensating unfavorable balance of trade. As imports become cheaper in all sectors, internal employment suffers and with it the skill infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities of the nation. This problem has historically influenced the domestic economics of large empires including Rome during its transition from a Republic, and the United Kingdom during the height of its colonial empire. To compensate for the loss of local employment opportunities, government resources are used to artificially create employment. The increasing national revenue will often also result in higher government spending on health, welfare, military, and public infrastructure, and if this is done corruptly or inefficiently it can be a burden on the economy. (If it is done efficiently this can boost economic competitiveness - effectively acting as a wage subsidy). While the decrease in the sectors exposed to international competition and consequently even greater dependence on natural resource revenue leaves the economy vulnerable to price changes in the natural resource, this can be managed by an active and effective use of hedge instruments such as forwards, futures, options and swaps, however if it is managed inefficiently or corruptly this can lead to disastrous results. Also, since productivity generally increases faster in the manufacturing sector than in the government, so the economy will have lower productivity gains than before.

Dutch Disease first became apparent after the Dutch discovered a massive natural gas field in Groningen in 1959. The Netherlands sought to tap this resource in an attempt to export the gas for profit. However, when the gas began to flow out of the country so too did its ability to compete against other countries' exports. With the Netherlands' focus primarily on the new gas exports, the Dutch currency began to appreciate, which harmed the country's ability to export other products. With the growing gas market and the shrinking export economy, the Netherlands began to experience a recession. This process has been witnessed in multiple countries around the world including but not limited to Venezuela (oil), Angola (diamonds, oil), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (diamonds), and various other nations. All of these countries are considered "resource-cursed".

Revenue volatility

Prices for some natural resources are subject to wide fluctuation: for example crude oil prices rose from around $3 per barrel to $12/bbl in 1974 following the 1973 oil crisis and fell from $27/bbl to below $10/bbl during the 1986 glut. In the decade from 1998 to 2008, it rose from $10/bbl to $145/bbl, before falling by more than half to $60/bbl over a few months. When government revenues are dominated by inflows from natural resources (for example, 99.3% of Angola's exports came from just oil and diamonds in 2005), this volatility can play havoc with government planning and debt service. Abrupt changes in economic realities that result from this often provoke widespread breaking of contracts or curtailment of social programs, eroding the rule of law and popular support. Responsible use of financial hedges can mitigate this risk to some extent.

Susceptibility to this volatility can be increased where governments choose to borrow heavily in foreign currency. Real exchange rate increases, through capital inflows or the "Dutch disease" can make this appear an attractive option by lowering the cost of interest payments on the foreign debt, and they may be considered more creditworthy due to the existence of natural resources. If the resource prices fall, however, the governments' capacity to meet debt repayments will be reduced. For example, many oil-rich countries like Nigeria and Venezuela saw rapid expansions of their debt burdens during the 1970s oil boom; however, when oil prices fell in the 1980s, bankers stopped lending to them and many of them fell into arrears, triggering penalty interest charges that made their debts grow even more. As Venezuelan oil minister and OPEC co-founder Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo presciently warned in 1976: "Ten years from now, twenty years from now, you will see, oil will bring us ruin... It is the devil's excrement."

Enclave effects

Economic diversification may be delayed or neglected by the authorities in the light of the temporarily high profits that can be obtained from limited natural resources. The attempts at diversification that do occur are often grand public works projects which may be misguided or mismanaged. However, even when the authorities attempt diversification in the economy, this is made difficult because resource extraction is vastly more lucrative and out-competes other industries. Successful natural-resource-exporting countries often become increasingly dependent on extractive industries over time. The abundant revenue from natural resource extraction discourages the long-term investment in infrastructure that would support a more diverse economy. This lack of investment exacerbates the negative impact of sudden drops in the resource's price. While resource sectors tend to produce large financial revenues, they often add few jobs to the economy, and tend to operate as enclaves with few forward and backward connections to the rest of the economy.

Human resources

In many poor countries, natural resource industries tend to pay far higher salaries than what would be available elsewhere in the economy. This tends to attract the best talent from both private and government sectors, damaging these sectors by depriving them of their best skilled personnel. Another possible effect of the resource curse is the crowding out of human capital; countries that rely on natural resource exports may tend to neglect education because they see no immediate need for it. Resource-poor economies like Singapore, Taiwan or South Korea, by contrast, spent enormous efforts on education, and this contributed in part to their economic success (see East Asian Tigers). Other researchers, however, dispute this conclusion; they argue that natural resources generate easily taxable rents that more often than not result in increased spending on education.

Incomes and employment

A study on coal mining in Appalachia "suggest that the presence of coal in the Appalachian region has played a significant part in its slow pace of economic development. Our best estimates indicate that an increase of 0.5 units in the ratio of coal revenues to personal income in a county is associated with a 0.7 percentage point decrease in income growth rates. No doubt, coal mining provides opportunities for relatively high-wage employment in the region, but its effect on prosperity appears to be negative in the longer run."

Another example was the Spanish Empire which obtained enormous wealth from its resource-rich colonies in South America in the sixteenth century. The large cash inflows from silver reduced incentives for industrial development in Spain. Innovation and investment in education were therefore neglected, so that the prerequisites for successful future development were given up. Thus, Spain soon lost its economic strength in comparison to other Western countries.

A study of US oil booms finds positive effects on local employment and income during booms but "that incomes per capita decreased and unemployment compensation payments increased relative to what they would have been if the boom had not occurred."

Political effects

Natural resources are a source of economic rent which can generate large revenues for those controlling them even in the absence of political stability and wider economic growth. Their existence is a potential source of conflict between factions fighting for a share of the revenue, which may take the form of armed separatist conflicts in regions where the resources are produced or internal conflict between different government ministries or departments for access to budgetary allocations. This tends to erode governments' abilities to function effectively.

Even when politically stable, countries whose economies are dominated by resource extraction industries tend to be less democratic and more corrupt.

Armed conflict

According to one academic study, a country that is otherwise typical but has primary commodity exports around 5% of GDP has a 6% risk of conflict, but when exports are 25% of GDP the chance of conflict rises to 33%. "Ethno-political groups are more likely to resort to rebellion rather than using nonviolent means or becoming terrorists when representing regions rich in oil."

There are several factors behind the relationship between natural resources and armed conflicts. Resource wealth may increase the vulnerability of countries to conflicts by undermining the quality of governance and economic performance (the "resource curse" argument). Secondly, conflicts can occur over the control and exploitation of resources and the allocation of their revenues (the "resource war" argument). Thirdly, access to resource revenues by belligerents can prolong conflicts (the "conflict resource" argument).

A 2004 literature review finds that oil makes the onset of war more likely and that lootable resources lengthen existing conflicts. One study finds the mere discovery (as opposed to just the exploitation) of petroleum resources increases the risk of conflict, as oil revenues have the potential to alter the balance of power between regimes and their opponents, rendering bargains in the present obsolete in the future. One study suggests that the rise in mineral prices over the period 1997–2010 contributed to up to 21 percent of the average country-level violence in Africa. Research shows that declining oil prices make oil-rich states less bellicose. Jeff Colgan observed that oil-rich states have a propensity to instigate international conflicts as well as to be the targets of them, which he referred to as "petro-aggression". Arguable examples include Iraq’s invasions of Iran and Kuwait; Libya’s repeated incursions into Chad in the 1970s and 1980s; Iran’s long-standing suspicion of Western powers; USA's relations with Iraq and Iran. It is not clear whether the pattern of petro-aggression found in oil-rich countries also applies to other natural resources besides oil. A 2016 study finds that "oil production, oil reserves, oil dependence, and oil exports are associated with a higher risk of initiating conflict while countries enjoying large oil reserves are more frequently the target of military actions." As of 2016, the only six countries whose reported military expenditures exceeded 6 percent of GDP were significant oil producers: Oman, South Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, Algeria. (Data for Syria and North Korea were unavailable.)

The emergence of the Sicilian Mafia has been attributed to the resource curse. Early Mafia activity is strongly linked to Sicilian municipalities abundant in sulphur, Sicily's most valuable export commodity.

A 2016 study argues that petrostates may be emboldened to act more aggressively due to the inability of allied great powers to punish the petrostate. The great powers have strong incentives not to upset the relationship with its client petrostate ally for both strategic and economic reasons.

Authoritarian rule

See also: Rentier state

Research shows that oil wealth lowers levels of democracy and strengthens autocratic rule. According to Michael Ross, "only one type of resource has been consistently correlated with less democracy and worse institutions: petroleum, which is the key variable in the vast majority of the studies that identify some type of curse." A 2014 meta-analysis confirms the negative impact of oil wealth on democratization. A 2016 study challenges the conventional academic wisdom on the relationship between oil and authoritarianism. Another 2016 study finds that resource windfalls have no political impact on democracies and deeply entrenched authoritarian regimes, but significantly exacerbate the autocratic nature of moderately authoritarian regimes. A third 2016 study finds that while it is accurate that resource richness has an adverse impact on the prospects of democracy, this relationship has only held since the 1970s.

There are two ways that oil wealth might negatively affect democratization. The first is that oil strengthens authoritarian regimes, making transitions to democracy less likely. The second is that oil wealth weakens democracies. Research generally supports the first theory but is mixed on the second.

Both pathways might result from the ability of oil-rich states to provide citizens with a combination of generous benefits and low taxes. In many economies that are not resource-dependent, governments tax citizens, who demand efficient and responsive government in return. This bargain establishes a political relationship between rulers and subjects. In countries whose economies are dominated by natural resources, however, rulers don't need to tax their citizens because they have a guaranteed source of income from natural resources. Because the country's citizens aren't being taxed, they have less incentive to be watchful with how government spends its money. In addition, those benefiting from mineral resource wealth may perceive an effective and watchful civil service and civil society as a threat to the benefits that they enjoy, and they may take steps to thwart them. As a result, citizens are often poorly served by their rulers, and if the citizens complain, money from the natural resources enables governments to pay for armed forces to keep the citizens in check. It has been argued rises and falls in the price of petroleum correlate with rises and falls in the implementation of human rights in major oil-producing countries.

Corrupt members of national governments may collude with resource extraction companies to override their own laws and ignore objections made by indigenous inhabitants. The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee report entitled "Petroleum and Poverty Paradox" states that "too often, oil money that should go to a nation’s poor ends up in the pockets of the rich, or it may be squandered on grand palaces and massive showcase projects instead of being invested productively". A 2016 study finds that mining in Africa substantially increases corruption; an individual within 50 kilometers of a recently opened mine is 33% more likely to have paid a bribe the past year than a person living within 50 kilometers of mines that will open in the future. The former also pay bribes for permits more frequently, and perceive their local councilors to be more corrupt.

The Center for Global Development argues that governance in resource rich states would be improved by the government making universal, transparent, and regular payments of oil revenues to citizens, and then attempting to reclaim it through the tax system, which they argue will fuel public demand for the government to be transparent and accountable in its management of natural resource revenues and in the delivery of public services.

One study finds that "oil producing states dependent on exports to the USA exhibit lower human rights performance than those exporting to China". The authors argue that this stems from the fact that US relationships with oil producers were formed decades ago, before human rights became part of its foreign policy agenda.

One study finds that resource wealth in authoritarian states lower the probability of adopting Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. However, democracies that are resource rich are more likely than resource poor democracies to adopt FOI laws.

Gender inequality

Research links gender inequality in the Middle East to resource wealth, and likewise for the problems of "petro-sexual politics" in Nigeria. A study in the US finds similar results: resource wealth leads to lower levels of female labor force participation, lower turnout and fewer seats held by women in legislatures.

International cooperation

Research finds that the more that states depend on oil exports, the less cooperative they become: they grow less likely to join intergovernmental organizations, to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of international judicial bodies, and to agree to binding arbitration for investment disputes.


A 2008 study argues that the curse vanishes when looking not at the relative importance of resource exports in the economy but rather at a different measure: the relative abundance of natural resources in the ground. Using that variable to compare countries, it reports that resource wealth in the ground correlates with slightly higher economic growth and slightly fewer armed conflicts. That a high dependency on resource exports correlates with bad policies and effects is not caused by the large degree of resource exportation. The causation goes in the opposite direction: conflicts and bad policies created the heavy dependence on exports of natural resources. When a country's chaos and economic policies scare off foreign investors and send local entrepreneurs abroad to look for better opportunities, the economy becomes skewed. Factories may close and businesses may flee, but petroleum and precious metals remain for the taking. Resource extraction becomes the "default sector" that still functions after other industries have come to a halt.

A 2011 article that examines the long-term relationship between natural resource reliance and regime type across the world from 1800 to 2006 reports that increases in natural resource reliance do not induce authoritarianism. With a focus on alleviating the methodological biases of earlier studies, the authors find evidence which suggests that increasing reliance on natural resources promotes democratization, the opposite of what the Resource curse theory suggests. The researchers provide qualitative evidence for this fact across several countries both here, and in another article; as well as evidence that there is no relationship between resource reliance and authoritarianism in Latin America. The main methodological bias of earlier studies, the authors claim, is the assumption of random effects: "Numerous sources of bias may be driving the results [of earlier studies on the resource curse], the most serious of which is omitted variable bias induced by unobserved country-specific and time-invariant heterogeneity." In other words, this means that countries might have specific, enduring traits that gets left out of the model, which could increase the explanation power of the argument. The authors claim that the chances of this happening is larger when assuming random effects, an assumption that does not allow for what the authors call "unobserved country-specific heterogeneity".

These criticisms have themselves been subject to criticism. One study re-examined the Haber-Menaldo analysis, using Haber and Menaldo's own data and statistical models. It reports that their conclusions are only valid for the period before the 1970s, but since about 1980, there has been a pronounced resource curse. Authors Andersen and Ross suggest that oil wealth only became a hindrance to democratic transitions after the transformative events of the 1970s, which enabled developing country governments to capture the oil rents that were previously siphoned off by foreign-owned firms.

A 2011 study argues that previous assumptions that oil abundance is a curse were based on methodologies which failed to take into account cross-country differences and dependencies arising from global shocks, such as changes in technology and the price of oil. The researchers studied data from the World Bank over the period 1980–2006 for 53 countries, covering 85% of world GDP and 81% of world proven oil reserves. They found that oil abundance positively affected both short-term growth and long-term income levels. In a companion paper, using data on 118 countries over the period 1970–2007, they show that it is the volatility in commodity prices, rather than abundance per se, that drives the resource curse paradox.

From the Wikipedia entry for RESOURCE CURSE

Mass automation is undermining our democracy in a very specific way: it's acting as the ultimate "resource curse."

"Countries with an abundance of natural resources, specifically non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources."

Scholars debate the causes of the resource curse, but one popular theory has to do with the way autocrats fund themselves relative to democracies.

Autocrats, it turns out, need a lot of wealth to pay their cronies. No dictator rules alone; they need someone to run the military, someone to collect the taxes, and someone to enforce the laws. Those people have to be paid, and handsomely, or they'll overthrow the dictator (or just allow the dictator to be overthrown). This is called "selectorate theory" and this video is a great introduction.

Oil wealth, specifically, undermines democracy because when autocrats have access to oil wealth, they don't need to depend on their citizens very much. (Indeed, many oil-rich autocratic countries just allow other countries to come in and drill it, keeping local labor entirely out of the loop.)

Resource-cursed autocracies tend to democratize when the oil wealth runs out and they need to rely on the people's productivity to deliver wealth to cronies. When autocrats are forced to allow people to educate themselves and communicate with one another, democracy ensues.

It can work the other way, too. In every democracy, there's a group of folks asking themselves a question: is now the time to try a coup, to replace democracy with an autocracy? As the value of capital increases and the value of human labor decreases, the advantages of staging a coup become more and more enticing.

For years we've thought of human labor as the "ultimate resource." But it turns out that human labor isn't the ultimate resource. Robot labor that's just as good if not better than human labor is a resource beyond any we've ever seen.

But that means that we're discovering/inventing the ultimate resource curse.

We might use automation to fund universal basic income, or a class of elites could use it to undermine "unnecessary" citizens (the "unnecessariat"), establishing a corporate fascism.

When the government depends on human productivity for our tax base, the government needs to keep us all well-educated and healthy. But soon, government won't depend on human labor.

"Is now the time?" they're asking. And, increasingly, the answer is "yes."

Decay of the Fatherland

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.

Time Enough For Love

But space travel can't ease the pressure on a planet grown too crowded not even with today's ships and probably not with any future ships—because stupid people won't leave the slopes of their home volcano even when it starts to smoke and rumble. What space travel does do is drain off the best brains: those smart enough to see a catastrophe before it happens, and with the guts to pay the price—abandon home, wealth, friends, relatives, everything—and go. That's a tiny fraction of one percent. But that's enough.

From Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein (1973)

That in itself might not have been serious, had not Earth grown steadily more jealous of its offspring during the two hundred years since the dawn of space travel. It was, thought Sadler, an old, old story, perhaps its classic example being the case of England and the American colonies. It has been truly said that history never repeats itself, but historical situations recur. The men who governed Earth were far more intelligent than George the Third; nevertheless, they were beginning to show the same reactions as that unfortunate monarch.

There were excuses on both sides. there always are. Earth was tired; it had spent itself, sending out its best blood to the stars. It saw power slipping from its hands, and knew that it had already lost the future Why should it speed the process by giving to its rivals the tools they needed?

The Federation, on the other hand, looked back with a kind of affectionate contempt upon the world from which it had sprung. It had lured to Mars, Venus and the satellites of the giant planets some of the finest intellects and the most adventurous spirits of the human race. Here was the new frontier, one that would expand forever toward the stars. It was the greatest physical challenge mankind had ever faced, it could be met only by supreme scientific skill and unyielding determination. These were virtues no longer essential on Earth; the fact that Earth was well aware of it did nothing to ease the situation.

From Earthlight by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1955)
Subspace Explorers

“All right. On this basic factor there’s no disagreement whatever. No doubt or question. Tellurian labor is a bunch of plain damned fools. Idiots. Cretins. However, that’s only to be expected because everybody with any brains or any guts left Tellus years ago. There’s scarcely any good breeding stock left, even. So about the only ones with brains left—except for the connivers, chiselers, boodlers, gangsters, and bastardly crooked politicians and that goes for most Tellurian capitalists, too. Right?"

One of the most important effects of this migration, although it was scarcely noticed at the time, was the difference between the people of the planets and those of Earth. The planetsmen were, to give a thumbnail description, the venturesome, the independent, the ambitious, the chance-taking. Tellurians were, and became steadily more so, the stodgy, the unimaginative, the security-conscious.

Decade after decade this difference became more and more marked, until finally there developed a definite traffic pattern that operated continuously to intensify it. Young Tellurians of both sexes who did not like regimentation—and urged on by the blandishments of planetary advertising campaigns—left Earth for good. Conversely, a thin stream of colonials who preferred security to competition flowed to Earth. This condition had existed for over two hundred years. (And, by the way, it still exists.)

From Subspace Explorers by E.E. "Doc" Smith (1965)
Space Viking

And after they were gone, the farms and ranches and factories would go on, almost but not quite as before. Nothing on Gram, nothing on any of the Sword-Worlds, was done as efficiently as three centuries ago. The whole level of Sword-World life was sinking, like the east coastline of this continent, so slowly as to be evident only from the records and monuments of the past. He said as much, and added: "And the genetic loss. The best Sword-World genes are literally escaping to space, like the atmosphere of a low gravity planet, each generation begotten by fathers slightly inferior to the last. It wasn't so bad when the Space Vikings raided directly from the Sword-Worlds; they got home once in a while. Now they're conquering planets in the Old Federation for bases, and staying there."

He turned to Basil Gorrarn. "You see, the gentleman isn't crazy, at all. That's what happened to the Terran Federation, by the way. The good men all left to colonize, and the stuffed shirts and yes-men and herd-followers and safety-firsters stayed on Terra and tried to govern the Galaxy."

From Space Viking by H. Beam Piper (1963)
Take The Star Road

Louie grimaced. “The reason’s simple, Vince. Look what happened after the gravitic drive came along. Most of those who left were in the top ten per cent of Earth’s population in terms of intelligence , drive and ability. They could see the way things were going here, and wanted no part of it. They sold all they had , cut all their ties, abandoned everything that held them back, and headed out. Not many had the guts or gumption to do that — it automatically culled all but the strongest candidates. Even then, they weren’t accepted into a colony group unless they had skills, knowledge and abilities that were needed; and they had to come up with a stiff fare payment besides, or work their passage, or accept indentured servitude for several years at their destination. Result was, with so many good people leaving, Earth’s average intelligence dropped measurably during the Scramble for Space. It’s never fully recovered . That’s why they try to stop any more of the smart ones from leaving.”

Vince sighed. “You’re right, of course. The intelligence level on most colony planets still trends higher than on Earth.”

From Take The Star Road by Peter Grant (2013)

     “Mars is America,” Tori said, waving his beer expansively. “It’s exactly the same.”
     “It’s not America,” Malik said.
     “Not like it was at the end. Like the beginning. Look at how long it took to travel from Europe to North America in the 1500s. Two months. How long to get here from Earth? Four. Longer if the orbits are right.”
     “Which is the first way in which it’s not like America,” Malik said, dryly.
     “It’s within an order of magnitude,” Tori said. “My point is that politically speaking, distance is measured in time. We’re months away from Earth. They’re still thinking about us like we’re some kind of lost colony. Like we answer to them. How many people here, just at this table have had directives from someone who’s never been outside a gravity well but still felt like they should tell us where our research should go?
     Tori raised his own hand, and Raj followed suit. Voltaire. Carl. Reluctantly, Malik. Tori’s grin was smug.
     “Who’s doing the real science in the system?” Tori said. “That’s us. Our ships are newer and better. Our environmental science is at least a decade ahead of anything they’ve got on Earth. Last year, we hit self-sustaining.”

     “Do you really think Earth hasn’t noticed?” Tori said. “You think the kids back at the labs on Luna and Sao Paulo aren’t looking up at the sky and saying That little red dot is kicking our asses? They’re jealous and they’re scared and they should be. It’s all I’m saying. If we do our own thing, the earliest they could do something about it still gives us months of lead time. England lost its colonies because you can’t maintain control with a sixty-day latency, much less a hundred and twenty.

From Drive by "James S.A. Corey" (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) 2012. Prequel to The Expanse
Space Cadets

There is an ideology that they are attached to; it's the ideology of westward frontier expansion, the Myth of the West, the westward expansion of the United States between 1804 (the start of the Lewis and Clark expedition) and 1880 (the closing of the American western frontier). Leaving aside the matter of the dispossession and murder of the indigenous peoples, I tend to feel some sympathy for the grandchildren of this legend: it's a potent metaphor for freedom from social constraint combined with the opportunity to strike it rich by the sweat of one's brow, and they've grown up in the shadow of this legend in a progressively more regulated and complex society.

My problem, however, is that there is no equivalence between outer space and the American west.

But. But. But.

The west was inhabitable; it supported a healthy set of interlocking ecosystems in most of which a lone human being could find food and sustenance.

These conditions do not apply in space. You don't get to breathe the air on Mars. You don't get to harvest wheat on Venus. You don't get to walk home from an asteroid colony with 5km/sec of velocity relative to low Earth orbit. You don't get to visit any of these places, even on a "plant the flag and pick up some rocks" visitor's day pass basis, without a massive organized effort to provide an environment that can keep the canned monkeys from Earth warm and breathing.

I postulate that the organization required for such exploration is utterly anathema to the ideology of the space cadets, because the political roots of the space colonization movement in the United States rise from taproots of nostalgia for the open frontier that give rise to a false consciousness of the problem of space colonization. In particular, the fetishization of autonomy, self-reliance, and progress through mechanical engineering — echoing the desire to escape the suffocating social conditions back east by simply running away — utterly undermine the program itself and are incompatible with life in a space colony (which is likely to be at a minimum somewhat more constrained than life in one of the more bureaucratically obsessive-compulsive European social democracies, and at worst will tend towards the state of North Korea in Space).

In other words: space colonization is implicitly incompatible with both libertarian ideology and the myth of the American frontier.

From Space Cadets by Charles Stross (2010)
The Declining Significance of the Frontier in Space History?

It began to be perceptible in the late 1960s, and was certainly recognized in the 1970s, that the intermix of frontier imagery, popular culture expectations, and Cold War concerns was beginning to break-down. This was true across broad swaths of American culture, but it was also very apparent when it came to understanding the history of spaceflight. First, the construct of the frontier as a positive image of national character and of the progress of democracy has been challenged on all quarters and virtually rejected as a useful ideal in American postmodern, multicultural society.

Conservative politicians became the bearers of the frontier mythology increasingly used to justify the space program as the Cold War slipped away, while liberals grew increasingly restless with the exploitation and oppression that the frontier myth seemed to imply.

NASA leaders have largely ignored the negative images conjured up in an increasing number of Americans minds by the metaphor of the frontier. For all their hard-headed practicality, for all their understanding of science and technology, they have been caught up in frontier allusion even to the present. For instance, James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator between 1971 and 1977 and again between 1986 and 1989 commented:

History teaches us that the process of pushing back frontiers on Earth begins with exploration and discovery is followed by permanent settlements and economic development. Space will be no different. . . . Americans have always moved toward new frontiers because we are, above all, a nation of pioneers with an insatiable urge to know the unknown. Space is no exception to that pioneering spirit.

Astronaut, then senator, John Glenn captured some of this same tenor in 1983 when he summoned images of the American heritage of pioneering and argued that the next great frontier challenge was in space. “It represents the modern frontier for national adventure. Our spirit as a nation is reflected in our willingness to explore the unknown for the benefit of all humanity, and space is a prime medium in which to test our mettle.”

The image of the frontier, however, has been a less and less acceptable and effective metaphor as the twentieth century became the twenty-first century. Progressives have come to view the space program from a quite different perspective. To the extent that space represents a new frontier, it conjures up images of commercial exploitation and the subjugation of oppressed peoples. Implemented through a large aerospace industry, in their view, it appears to create the sort of governmental-corporate complexes of which liberals are increasingly wary.

Despite the promise that the Space Shuttle, like jet aircraft, would make space flight accessible to the “common man,” space travel remains the province of a favored few, perpetuating inequalities rather than leveling differences. They also assert that space exploration has also remained largely a male frontier, with room for few minorities.

The frontier metaphor has continued to inform space policy to the present. “The compulsion to know the unknown built our nation,” one NASA official had said in 1982. “That instinct drove Lewis and Clark to press across the uncharted continent.” Fletcher accepted the argument of a Space Station as the next step in exploration. Like the image of the pioneer settlement or army post on the American frontier, the Space Station offered a haven from the rigors of the “wilderness” and a jumping off point for forays into the unknown. This same metaphor found ready expression in the present-day effort to develop the Space Exploration Initiative to return to the Moon—this time to establish a permanent colony—and to go on to Mars.

In tandem with the metaphorical frontier of the nineteenth century, NASA also subscribed to an intellectual frontier that fostered scientific activities.

James Fletcher’s comparison of the Space Shuttle to the railroad of more than a century earlier was perhaps a more appropriate, and more negative, image of the frontier than he would have liked to admit. The western railroad and the Space Shuttle both engendered intense economic contests, lucrative contracts, and “no-holds barred” political struggles for primacy and perquisites. Indicative of this reality of the frontier experience in regard to the Shuttle, if not to the myth, Fletcher fell victim to the political pressures of individuals and groups who wanted him to use his office to further the economic well-being of his intermountain region and the people of his religion.

For the space program, as for the earlier experience, the frontier myth presents in a cyclical form the essence of what Americans want to believe about themselves. There are four basic stages of this cycle. The stages come together in the end to create a Panglossian “best of all possible worlds.” The first stage is a separation from civilization. In earlier eras colonists left Europe for America or departed the settled East for the “Wild West.” Now they will leave the Earth and move to a space station or a Moon base.

Second, there is a regression into a form of order that is something less than what had been known in the previous civilization. Frontiersmen had to learn to live in the new environment in which the ideas and even the tools they had mastered in civilization were no longer applicable. Like Jeremiah Johnson in the Robert Redford movie, the frontier taught hard lessons about life and death, survival and freedom. If these were not well received, there would be no success on the frontier. At the same time, the people who participated in the process were changed forever. The space program has a similar learning experience—how to stay alive in a vacuum, how to deal with weightlessness, etc.—and almost none of the lessons learned on earlier American frontiers are transferrable to the new environment of space. If we move outward, we will indeed evolve in the process. For instance, will humans born at a Moon colony, with its 1/6 gravity, be able to function on Earth any longer? An open question, to be sure, but one not unlike Europeans faced with the first settlements in America. Will some future Crevacour ask the question, “what is this new man” (or not to be sexist, this new person), this Lunatic (Moon dweller).

Third, conflict is a central and peculiar feature of frontiering, as Americans struggle against seemingly overwhelming forces seeking to wipe them out. The conflict in the American West was most often played out as humans against environment and as Euro-American against aborigines. In space it is humans against the environment, but it is certainly not at all unlikely that humans will encounter other life in space. The contact of cultures in the frontier was almost always bloody, and I suspect the same would be true in space as well.

The final stage is progress, a step toward some better future. In many instances these have been utopian in outlook. Many earlier Americans saw the frontier as a re-enactment and democratic renewal of the original “social contract,” together with the creation of personal virtue and collective good. This progress ultimately redeems the nation. Futurists view space exploration in the same way, and it has been played out in that way in many a space movie and science fiction novel. Whether this frontier experience actually holds such promise is an open question.

As a final point, I would like to suggest that the frontier myth is an incomplete but uniquely understandable way of looking at the space program. From the beginning of the space age the U.S. effort has been motivated by essentially three priorities. The first was Cold War rivalries with the Soviet Union and the desire to demonstrate the technological superiority of a democratic state over a communist dictatorship. The second was the lure of discovery of the unknown. The third was adventure. The first priority, oriented toward national security, has ceased to be important in this post-Cold War era. But the second and third priorities lie at the heart of the frontier myth and are still just as attractive as they were more than 40 years ago at the creation of NASA.

Libertarians In Space

Earth itself becomes the Old Country, backwards, repressive, ossified in its ways, a place where individualism is cramped. Other planets, moons, asteroids, or artificial space habitats become refuges for misfits, rugged individualists, visionary entrepreneurs, transhumanists, and so on. This often results in The War of Earthly Aggression: Earth becomes a threat to these new islands of freedom in some way, and our heroes must overcome great odds in defending their newfound freeholds.

This trope can cover capital-L Libertarianism, personal and civil liberties plus laissez-faire capitalism, as Heinlein's works often did, but the general idea is more lower-case-l libertarianism, open to broader conceptions of liberty that needn't be, and indeed may challenge the hyper-capitalist variety.

This can be related to Privately Owned Society if we're talking the big-L type of Libertarianism and this society is presented as an ideal, rather than a form of dystopia.

These are some of the sorts of people that might end up as Space Cossacks.

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)

Space Cossacks
Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me...
Firefly main theme

There is no hope and You Can't Go Home Again. The Empire is spreading out. Even The Federation has too many Obstructive Bureaucrats. There is no way for free men to get out of the reaches of The Government and even mounting La Résistance will be of no avail. So what do you do? You become Space Cossacks. You flee to the border and live in a tough area where you all have to be sharp. You set up as Space Pirates or as Hired Guns or as Intrepid Merchants. Or all of these at once. With you are various dissidents like people who feared being Made a Slave. There might be a Noble Fugitive or two, perhaps even a Defector from Decadence. You and your brave band of Fire-Forged Friends will struggle on to survive and maintain your freedom and heed no laws but your own and respect no authority but that of your Team Mom and/or Team Dad. Songs will be written of your deeds.

The Empire most likely officially considers these guys outlaws, either in the sense that they're to be shot on sight, or in the sense that they're "outside the law" and are to be left alone as long as they stay out of the way. Either way, they probably consider them useful, as they both screen the empire from external threats and tame the fringe worlds into a state ready to be colonised. They may also provide a handy place to send people who are to be Reassigned to Antarctica.

Given the parallels to the Wild West, a Space Western is almost sure to be set amongst such people.

The reference comes from the old Russian custom of disgruntled people fleeing to the steppes and joining a Cossack band.

If they persist for multiple generations they may become Space People.

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)

The War of Earthly Aggression

Earth might look good if you're living in the capital of the Terran Empire or The Federation, but what about for all the folks on the offworld colonies?

We've got news for you: The colonies have rebelled against taxes, telepathic Gestapo, and pretty much every other injustice that Earth has inflicted on them, spawning a movement that strongly parallels historical insurrections on an interplanetary or even an interstellar scale.

An interesting note is that, since the Earth loyalists are frequently The Federation, the War of Earthly Aggression has a much higher chance of subverting The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified than any other "rebellion" plot-line. As a general rule, however, The War of Earthly Aggression is usually depicted in morally ambiguous terms, with both the loyalists and the rebels having good reasons for the conflict, and often one can find Psychopaths on either side. Occasionally, both sides.

The trope title comes from "The War of Northern Aggression", a political term for The American Civil War. (Go ahead, guess which side applied the label.)

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)

Planting a Colony

Colonization is fairly straightforwards (given a shirt-sleeve habitable planet), though things can turn nasty if the new planets already have natives.

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.

On Colonization

A post at SFConsim-l leads me to revisit a trope I have commented about here before. Space colonization, as imagined in SF and 'nonfiction' space speculation, is — surprise! — a riff on the English colonization of America, an experience shared by Clarke and Heinlein, albeit from different perspectives. Historically sort of colonization was driven first and foremost by cheap land.

This should be no surprise, any more than the American colonial analogy itself. It is like hydraulics. Provide a cheaper place to live and people will drift toward it, sometimes even flood toward it.

And the heart of the nutshell, as Heinlein once put it, is that there is no cheap land in space because there is no land at all. Land doesn't just mean a solid planetary surface (those are dirt cheap). Land means habitat, and in space the only way to have any is to build it youself. Which makes it expensive, especially since you have to build it up front.

Water can be pumped uphill, and people can be pulled toward expensive places to live by compensating attractions, or pushed there by pressures. But it is not a 'natural' process, and it can easily be reversed, hence ghost towns in rugged, played-out mining regions.

The sort of colonization envisioned in the rocketpunk era, most explicitly in books like Farmer in the Sky, but implicit in the consensus future history of the genre, is just plain unlikely, almost desperately unlikely, this side of the remote future or the Singularity, whichever comes first.

This is not the only possible sort of colonization. People have traveled afar, often spending their adult lives in some remote clime with no intention to settle there, marry, and raise a family, hoping instead to make their fortune and return home. The ones who don't make their fortune may end up staying, but that was not the plan.

Political colonialism often follows this pattern. The British colonized India, but I've never heard that any significant number of Britons settled there. (Human nature being what it is they did leave an Anglo-Indian population behind.)

A similar pattern has been common for trading outposts through the ages, whenever travel times have been prolonged. Even today, with one day global travel, people live abroad for years or even decades as expatriates, not emigrants. This, I believe, is a far more plausible scenario for the long term human presence in space than classic colonization. (And human nature being what it is, a mixed population will leave someone behind.)

Meta to this discussion — and not all that meta — is the delicate cohabitation of 'nonfiction' space speculation and science fiction. Space colonization has been driven first and foremost by story logic. For a broad range of story possibilities we want settings with a broad range of human experience. For this we want complete human communities, which means colonization in something like the classic SF sense.

But who are we trying to kid? Science fiction, particularly hard SF, is not known for engaging the whole range of human experience. This is no knock on it; all the branches of Romance are selective. The truth is that we want space colonies so that they can rebel against Earth, form an Empire, and generally play out History with a capital H, with lots of explosions and other cool stuff along the way.

I've suggested before on this blog that you can, in fact, get quite a lot of History without classical colonies. But another thing to keep in mind is that story logic doesn't necessarily drive real history. We may have an active spacefaring future that involves practically none of the story tropes of the rocketpunk era.

As a loose analogy, robotic diving on shipwrecks has done away with all those old underwater story tropes about divers trapped in a collapsing wreck, or bad guys cutting the air hose, but it has not at all done away with the somber magic of shipwrecks themselves, something the makers of 'Titanic' used to effect.

On the other hand, Hollywood has made two popular and critically acclaimed historical period pieces about actual space travel, and the stories are both an awful lot like rocketpunk.


There is another model of colonization you failed to mention - forced re-location. Worked for Australia, and to a lesser extent in other regions of the world. Expanding population pressures, or a desire to establish off-world colonies to ensure a countries continuance, could conceivably lead to some form of forced colonisation.

Given the prohibitive cost of space travel (now & for the foreseeable future) I find it unlikely that there would be any return of those kinds of colonists; or for that matter, the colonists in the scenarios you paint.


The Grand Banks attracted European fishing boats before Newfoundland attracted European colonists. Antarctica is no worse than Fort MacMurray in the winter: Workers would flock to that continent if we ever discovered viable oil reserves there. If you want to know where people are willing to live, just follow the money (Money draining out of the region is the root cause of people draining out of North America's Empty Quarter).

There are almost certainly large-scale 'deposits' of valuable ore in the asteroids. But is it worth sending up a thousand mining drones, a machine shop, five technicians, and their life support? Are the ore deposits in orbits that don't need too much fuel to get to? Is boron mined under these conditions competitive with boron mined in Turkey?

There's lots of energy available in space, and we seem to be slowly approaching the point where space collectors will be competitive with ground-based collectors. But there aren't a lot of moving parts on solar collectors, so technicians will be thin 'on the ground'.

The plausible mid-future looks more and more like human space as a series of automated mining platforms and research bases, visited by rotating crews of technicians and scientists. The closest thing to colonists are the crews working the cyclers, but even they work on 2-3 year contracts before going home to Earth.

It's very much like the ocean. People work there, they pass through it, but no one really lives there even if they love it.

Citizen Joe:

That model is more of the slave colony model. Although probably more of a commune rather than slavery. The point is that the workers aren't doing it for pay. In fact, on a colony, money (Earth money) has no real meaning. You can't eat it, and it has a really crappy Isp. So everyone has to do the best they can or everyone dies. That means the colony works to be self sufficient so that it can continue to survive. That does not explain the willingness to put up the initial expenditures to found the colony.

Initial funding could be part of a research or political fund. But without some sort of financial gain coming back, there's no reason for corporate investment. Corporate involvement could come from government contracts to maintain communication networks or repair facilities. Ultimately there needs to be some sort of financial return.

I personally like the idea of Helium-3 as the new gold. Assuming the development of He-3 Fusion, particularly the He3-He3 fusion model which throws protons for direct energy conversion rather than neutrons like other forms of fusion. The idea would be that Terrans don't want to pollute the only habitable world known, but still have an insatiable need for power. Thus the development of clean fusion. While there are meager amounts of He3 on Earth and some is available on the moon, He-3 is also the decay product of Tritium (which can be used as a nuclear battery). That decay is mildly radio active, but the production of of Tritium from Deuterium is a fairly radioactive intense process. If you can handle those processes in space, and then ship back the pure He3, that gives a rationale for exploration and continued existence of colonies in space.


One thing no one has mentioned yet is political colonists...those people willing to spend their life savings to travel to the most remote regions to get away from what they consider an intolerable government, or to wait out the end of the world; I don't see why , at some point in the near future, that those groups don't go off-planet to set up their colonies.

Another scenario; a long term scientific or industrial outpost attracts some would-be entrepreneur to set up shop to supply the outpost with some 'luxury' goods or services with the plan to make him rich and then return home...only he doesn't and he (and his family), are forced to remain permanently. Others, hearing about this guy, decide to try to succeed where the first one failed...the impromptu colony grows in fits and starts until, quiet by accident, you have a real city-state that no one planned, it just grew. Of course, then someone feels the need to have to figure out what to do about them...

Rick Robinson:

I am very partial to the ocean analogy. People have gone to sea for thousands of years; it has been central to a lot of cultures, but no one lives there.

Think of Earth as an island, and in the sea around it are only tidal outcroppings like Rockall or coral structures like the Great Barrier Reef. There's every reason to explore these places, and perhaps exploit them economically, but they are not much suited for habitation.

Forced colonization is sort of the counterpoint to what Ferrell raised, 'Pilgrim' colonization. Both are politically motivated.

But both of these require relatively cheap land, again in the sense of productive habitat, even if not appealing land. The point of penal 'transportation' is that it is cheaper to dump your petty criminals out of sight and out of mind than to keep them in jail. (And less upsetting to Englightenment sensibilities than hanging them all.)

The problem for colonization by dissidents is that, for at least the midfuture, only very wealthy groups could afford it, and the very wealthy are rarely dissidents. :-)

The Pilgrims were a very typical dissident group in being predominantly middle class. For story purposes, in settings where you have FTL and habitable planets, these are the sorts of people who could plausibly charter a transport starship and head off to some newly surveyed planet.

This gets back to the meta point. There are a lot of things that work fine as SF literary tropes, but you really have to make a couple of magical assumptions, like FTL, to use them.

Within the constraints of hard SF, though, you probably should find other workarounds.


I tried to plot out a plausible scenario where a small group of ideologically-motivated colonists set up shop in the Jupiter or Saturn moon systems. It just doesn't work. Any launch-cost and travel-time scenario that favoured the colonists also made it easy for larger or better funded groups to get there first.

The closest I came up with was a five-years to Saturn travel-time with Saturnian resources just sufficient to support the colony but not enough to attract megacorp or government attention. But then any reasonable life-support scenario I came up with had the colony dying out in less than a decade.

Ideological colonies will probably follow economic colonies. First the real estate will be developed, then the religious/social loons will move in. The Puritan Great Migration came after King James dumped cash into the Massachusetts colony to build up the economy.


Nice work, as always, and I think most of the points hold water. That being said, I still think there is room for some good old fashioned colonization- if only sometimes, and just barely.

You make a good point that colonization has at least in part been driven by cheap land, and land = habitat. My major addendum would be that habitat is a sliding scale — Las Vegas or Anchorage are not in climates that one would dare call human habitat compared to say, Costa Rica, but the technology of the day — air conditioning, for instance — ended up moving the habitat line, and suddenly the middle of Nevada or Alaska looked very cheap. Io or Ceres might be forever condemned to be a "rock," but someplace like Mars — where plants will grow in the dirt and the air (if pumped up to 0.7psi) and the natural lighting, with a decent probability of tappable aquifers, and gravity sufficient to prevent bone loss, it starts to look more like "land" — equatorial Mars might make for better farmland than quite a few chunks of Earth. Given that indoor and "vertical" agriculture with what amounts to nearly-closed loops are already starting to look cost-effective and environmentally friendly in the present era, and solar panels and nukes are urgently needed to take up the load on Earth, it may be that every city on Earth is packed with off-the-shelf technology that doesn't look much different from a space colony.

I think the legal realities involved also mess with some of the Antarctica analogies. Antarctica is a scientific and tourism enclave by law, not just convenience — mineral exploitation is off limits till treaty review in 2048. Other planets might fall into similar legal zones, but space is big...

The transit times and costs might also open a window for colonies. In Antarctica, the logical window to stay is one season, with Australia and the rest of the world a couple days transit away. If a Martian government/corporation/whatever is sending people onboard a low cost cycler, the trip is six months and the local stay is launch window to launch window, or 18 months, and the trip isn't cheap and the trips will be coed — I find it wholly conceivable that a couple that was of the "right stuff" to volunteer to go might look at those intervals, or a couple of them, as time worth starting a family in, and with a chronic labor shortage meaning high wages, it might not seem so bad to stay. 11 kids have been born in Antarctica, and there are a couple schools so people can bring their kids with them...

From On Colonization by Rick Robinson (2009)

Rate of Empire Expansion

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

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

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.


Issac Kuo questions the assumptions contained in Eric M. Jones's model:

One thing I don't like about these models is that they tend to be based around "average" trip distances and speeds. However, the rate of expansion will be determined by the "pioneering" trip distances and speeds.

The sorts of interstellar propulsion I find plausible involve an incredible amount of initial investment and economic buildup, but then the marginal costs for additional colonization missions are small. This suggests that the third generation of colonization missions might as well be long range missions. The second generation of colonies will have saturated the nearby systems so the only direction to expand is into long range missions.

For example, suppose it takes 5000 years to build up from an initial colony into something that can send out missions of their own. In the meantime, the home system could be sending out colonization missions at a rate of one per decade. By the time the first generation of colonies is up for sending out colonization missions, the nearest 50 systems have already been colonized. The first generation then sends colony ships to fill out the nearest 2500 systems.

Assuming no one has yet bothered to try any long range colonization missions, the result is a compact ball of 2500 colonized systems, of which only a thin shell on the outside can expand with short range missions.

It seems to me plausible that at least some of the "core" systems will embark on long range missions. Maybe some of those long range missions will merely just barely outrun the expanding border. That's a rather short-sighted strategy. Other long range missions will daringly punch across the galaxy, starting up seeds which won't run into the "slowpoke" border for dozens of millenia.

The result is an overall frontier of expansion that is defined by sporadic long range "seed dots". They fill out eventually, but it's entirely plausible for the overall rate of expansion to be entirely defined by far reaching long range high speed missions from the home system or early generation systems.

Issac Kuo

Rick Robinson had this to say:

Just glancing though your section there, the key challenge for a lot of purposes is time scale — and oddly, it doesn't have much to do with ship speed; an STL civilization might expand over the long haul nearly as fast as an FTL one.

The key issue - and this comes up in all sorts of contexts — is how long does it take for a planet to go from raw young colony to major world, the kind that could and might send out colonies of its own? This is the basic problem you have to solve for settings in which anyone has a space fleet of their own but Earth.

Let me try to put a few numbers on it.

The threshold for having a space fleet is arguably lower than for colonization, because a planet of 100 million people could probably maintain starships, but probably is not feeling a big population squeeze. To be sure, on some planets the habitable area will be pretty much filled, and even on the more earthlike ones the human presence is getting pervasive, so some impulse to colonize might be developing.

Whether a planet of 10 million people - the equivalent of a single large urban region — could realistically have a diversified enough economy to maintain and operate a fleet of starships seems a bit iffy, unless they are putting a massive effort into it, so massive that it may stunt their other prospects.

The most likely scenario for a world of 10 million people sending out a colony might be that they've decided their current home sux, and they're going to try their shot at another one.

Looking at the other end, how many people for a viable colony. I'd say 10,000 at the low end, with 100,000 seeming a lot more comfortable. That's the population of one semirural county. How many machine shops and such does it have, how much can they specialize for efficiency, and oh yeah, you need raw material, a mining sector and all that.

If you can't make it you have to import it, paying starship freight instead of truck freight, and what have you got for sale? The market for colony-world curios is going to get crowded fast, and if you really do have something to sell, you'll probably need more than a one-county economy to produce it in commercial quantities.

So I would say that you usually have to put 100,000 people onto a colony planet for it to thrive. Colonies with fewer than that can hang on, but if subsidies are cut off they may die off outright, or be stuck in a marginal existence; only lucky ones will overcome it and do okay.

For a colony to really go as a largely self-sufficient post industrial world it had better have on order of a million people — more or less the equivalent of Bakersfield and environs. I am certain that Australia has a Bakersfield, but I do not know what it is. Maybe our Oz contingent can inform us.

But once again, if they can't make it or pay starship freight for it they do without it, and the equivalent of Bakersfield has a tough challenge producing nearly all the needs of post industrial civilization. And for exports it is good to have one sizeable airport that can double as the shuttle port and provide steady employment for a lot of the techs.

Big proviso, so hold your pitchforks. This is predicated on the 23rd century, or 28th or whatever, having about the same productive efficiencies of scale that we are used to. If you have got replicators where you shovel dirt in one end and get a washing machine or air car out the other, things are different. But you still need a wide range of human skills, very hard for small communities to provide, maintain, and keep active.

So maybe my figures could all be squeezed down by an order of magnitude, so that a colony of 10,000 is fairly viable, a colony of 100,000 can maintain a full industrial base, and one of a million people can keep its own starships in service. That helps for story settings, but you wouldn't generally expect worlds like that to be active colonizers.

Finally, and most central to time scale, how fast do colony populations grow, either from immigration or birth rate? I would call a million emigrants from Earth each year a benchmark figure for large scale colonization. That's several thousand people each day, one huge ship or several merely big ones, and it still takes a century of sustained effort to plant 100 colonies, each of a million people.

From the colony's point of view, people are another expensive import, if you have to pay them to come. If they can afford a ticket and house stake they will only go to desirable colonies. If someone is paying to ship people to you, you may want to know why, because colonies could be a good place to dump dissidents, minor troublemakers, and similar riffraff.

On the export side, I'm more dubious of shipping off refugees, because by definition you're dealing with lots of them, and shipping them all off world is horribly expensive. Much more so than just plucking the town crank and town pickpocket off the streets and getting them to volunteer for emigration.

But by and large you expect that mass colonization involves people who weren't doing so great on Earth, because the supply of nut enthusiasts like people on this board who would actually like to colonize is limited, and a million people a year is a lot.

The other side of colonial growth is reproductive growth. Doubling the population each generation is about the historical sustained maximum. That corresponds to 10x per century, so Deseret World might go from 100,000 people to 10 million people in 200 years.

But even doubling per century is a pretty robust population growth rate. That's roughly 1.2x per generation. Unless you're growing 'em in vats, about half the women are having three or four kids, and one way or another the society encourages and accommodates itself to this.

It's no given that post industrial societies will generally have this population growth rate, though colony worlds may not follow the current trend in industrialized societies toward ZPG or even less.

If colony populations do tend to grow, I suspect the driving force is not the Heinleinian trope of ranchers with half a dozen marriageable — and "husband-high" — daughters, but the pervasive shortage of skilled specialists of all sorts. How this is transmitted to social attitudes I'm not sure, and no doubt can vary widely.

A colony with population doubling each century will go from 100,000 people to 10 million people in about 700 years, pushing us into the second half of the millennium.

Looking at it broadly, say that the age of colonization is around 2250-2350. That is a fairly common time frame for interstellar SF with a geocentric setting; (Star) Trek is vaguely in this era, AD2300 of course, and it's implied by some of Heinlein's interstellar stories.

After a century or so colonization from Earth sputters out, because all the low-hanging fruit has been plucked, and it is increasingly costly to reach virgin planets.

Emigration from Earth to the existing colonies can continue after that, but at some point the rate will likely fall. Successful colonies will no longer want people dumped on them, unsuccessful colonies can't absorb them, so emigration falls to the level of people who can pay to go and want to go, or who the colonies are willing to pay for.

So. At some point around 2400, colonization has tapered off and emigration is tapering off. We can guess that there are at least a dozen or so full colony planets - if you can reach any you can probably reach about that many (and you need a good handful for a decent scenario).

The upward limit is about 100 or so true colony worlds, set - regardless of how many worlds are in reach of your FTL - by the postulated size of the colonization wave. A hundred million people, a hundred worlds - an average of about a million immigrants per colony, though the distribution may well be oligarchic by a power law, a handful of colonies getting a large share of total immigrants, growing to populations of up to a few tens of millions, while most have less than a million and kind of struggle along.

Beyond and between the colonies there may be planets never made into self-sustaining colonies, but remaining as outposts, and likely with some permanent populations. If someone pulls the plug on these, though, don't miss the last bus out. Same with space stations and such.

As with the chronology, I think this is a fairly classical scale for a mid-interstellar setting — when there are already established colony worlds, that you can get to by starliner, not just outpost transport or even colonization ship.

There are enough worlds for a diverse interstellar setting, but few enough that people who deal with space, at least, will have some notion of them all as distinct places. (The way "Spain" conveys something to you, or "New Delhi," but "Florianópolis" probably does not.

A few of these colonies already in 2400 have upwards of 10 million people and some potential to colonize themselves, but these were the immigration magnets, so they probably still feel short-handed if anything, not inclined to send lots of people off.

It will take 200 or 300 years for smaller colonies with rapid population growth rates to start pushing up into the 10 million population range, and might have the impulse and capability to colonize. But it might take closer to 500 years for a substantial number of the original colonies to have much motivation to colonize.

The early goers, though, will have filled in the next layer of easy pickings. Here is where your FTL really matters - whether you can light off freely into the vastness to hunt for a suitable planet, or are constrained by a colonization sphere that is starting to grow again.

But broadly speaking, it seems that secondary colonization couldn't be expected in any serious way until sometime well after 2500, and perhaps not in a big way till sometime around 2700-3000.

Rick Robinson



     Reid Malenfant

     You know me. And you know I'm a space cadet.
     You know I've campaigned for, among other things, private mining expeditions to the asteroids. In fact, in the past I've tried to get you to pay for such things. I've bored you with that often enough already, right?
     So tonight I want to look a little farther out. Tonight I want to tell you why I care so much about this issue that I devoted my life toil.
     The world isn't big enough any more. You don't need me to stand here and tell you that. We could all choke to death, be extinct in a hundred years.
     Or we could be on our way to populating the Galaxy.
     Yes, the Galaxy. Want me to tell you how?
     Turns out it's all a question of economics.
     Let's say we set out to the stars. We might use ion rockets, solar sails, gravity assists. It doesn't matter.
     We'll probably start as we have in the Solar System, with automated probes. Humans may follow. One percent of the helium-3 fusion fuel available from the planet Uranus, for example, would be enough to send a giant interstellar ark, each ark containing a billion people, to every star in the Galaxy. But it may be cheaper for the probes to manufacture humans in situ, using cell synthesis and artificial womb technology.
     The first wave will be slow, no faster than we can afford. It doesn't matter. Not in the long term.
     When the probe reaches a new system, it phones home, and starts to build.
     Here is the heart of the strategy. A target system, we assume, is uninhabited. We can therefore anticipate massive exploitation of the system's resources, without restraint, by the probe. Such resources are useless for any other purpose, and are therefore economically free to us.
     I thought you'd enjoy that line. There's nothing an entrepreneur likes more than the sound of the word free.
     More probes will be built and launched from each of the first wave of target stars. The probes will reach new targets; and again, more probes will be spawned, and fired onward. The volume covered by the probes will grow rapidly, like the expansion of gas into a vacuum.
     Our ships will spread along the spiral arm, along lanes rich with stars, farming the Galaxy for humankind.
     Once started, the process will be self-directing, self-financing. It would take, the double-domes think, ten to a hundred million years for the colonization of the Galaxy to be completed in this manner. But we must invest merely in the cost of the initial generation of probes.
     Thus the cost of colonizing the Galaxy will be less, in real terms, than that of our Apollo program of fifty years ago.
     This vision isn't mine alone. It isn't original. The rocket pioneer Robert Goddard wrote an essay in 1918—ninety-two years ago—called The Ultimate Migration, in which he imagined space arks built from asteroid materials carrying our far-future descendants away from the death of the sun. The engineering detail has changed; the essence of the vision hasn't.
     We can do this. If we succeed, we will live forever.
     The alternative is extinction.
     And, people, when we're gone, we're gone.
     As far as we can see we're alone, in an indifferent universe. We see no sign of intelligence anywhere away from Earth. We may be the first. Perhaps we're the last. It took so long for the Solar System to evolve intelligence it seems unlikely there will be others, ever.
     If we fail, then the failure is for all time. If we die, mind and consciousness and soul die with us: hope and dreams and love, everything that makes us human. There will be nobody even to mourn us.
     To be the first is an awesome responsibility. It's a responsibility we must grasp.
     I am offering you a practical route to an infinite future for humankind, a future of unlimited potential. Someday, you know it, I'll come back to you again for money: seedcorn money, that's all, so we can take a first step—self-financing even in the medium term—beyond the bounds of Earth. But I want you to see why I'll be doing that. Why I must.
     We can do this. We will do this. We're on our own. It's up to us.
     This is just the beginning. Join me.

(ed note: thanks to Ian Mallett for bringing this quote to my attention)

From MANIFOLD TIME by Stephen Baxter (2000)

4.1. Light Cage

McInnes shows that an expanding sphere of colonization cannot expand fast enough to avoid complete societal collapse due to exponential population growth and increasing population density (McInnes, 2002). Furthermore, after such a crash, the society may be so impoverished of resources that it is forever blocked from making a second attempt. If this theory is universally true of all civilizations, then it offers significant insight into the Fermi Paradox. McInnes extends the intuitive notion of a constant expansion rate with a steadily increasing population density to a linear expansion rate which maintains constant population density. However, the expansion velocity must have some maximum speed limit. To generate an upper-bound for this theory, McInnes considers a maximum expansion velocity of 1.0c. Obviously, in a real scenario, the expansion rate would be considerably slower, but that only exacerbates McInnes’ fundamental point which is that once the maximum expansion velocity is reached, population density once again begins to rise. Eventually, total societal collapse is inevitable. The only way to avoid catastrophe is to shift from exponential growth to logistic growth.

Given a specified growth rate and an initial sphere of some specified size, one can calculate the size of the expanded sphere when the increasing expansion rate reaches the 1.0c limit. McInnes calls this sphere the light cage. Assuming 1% annual growth and a starting sphere the size of Earth, he determines that the light cage is at a 300ly (light-years) radius and that the time to reach the light cage is 8000 years. Out of curiosity, we ran the numbers for a more realistic maximum expansion velocity. If we assume a maximum flight speed of 0.1c, a common estimate for fusion-powered starships such as Daedalus (Group, 1978; Matloff, 2005), which yields voyages to nearby stars on the order of decades, and if we assume a regeneration period of a few decades — and therefore comparable to the duration of the voyages themselves — then we estimate a more realistic maximum expansion velocity to be ~.05c. When applied to McInnes’ equations, this velocity reveals a far more realistic cage of a mere 15ly, and an associated saturation time of 7000 years. Interestingly, while a considerably slower expansion rate drastically reduces the cage, it only slightly decreases the time until the cage is hit. This follows naturally from exponential growth. To make matters worse, .05c may be entirely too fast if the stasis period between voyages is longer than the few decades of the previous estimate. If we briefly consider a maximum expansion velocity of .01c, we derive a cage of only 3ly!

Considering that there are only 52 stars within 15ly of Earth (and none within 3ly!), and that only some fairly small subset will support habitation, this does not provide us with very many systems to colonize before we implode in a population density catastrophe. More crucially, 15ly probably lies within the single-voyage horizon, which implies that early waves of colonization may fill the cage all at once as opposed to diffusing radially. In other words, according to light cage theory, interstellar travel hardly provides any population relief at all, right from the beginning.

McInnes is careful to admit that his model is continuous and symmetrical. Admittedly, galactic colonization is loosely like an expanding sphere, but more precisely it is like traversal of a rooted tree (a graph), where the root is the homeworld, vertices are solar systems, and labeled edges connect stars whose distances are below a maximum traversal threshold with the labels indicating interstellar distances (and associated travel times). In addition to the inherently discrete nature of this graph, the natural distribution of stars will impose notable asymmetries on the edge length and per-node degree (branching factor). McInnes admits to the simplicity of his model, but points out that such details should not affect the model’s outcome. We agree, but in practicality, a tree of no more than 52 nodes (probably far fewer), all of which have direct edges to the homeworld, no longer resembles a continuous sphere in even the weakest sense. A Monte Carlo simulation might help illuminate any interesting properties of the discrete model.

Assuming that the continuous model is apropos to the discussion, then we envisage two ways by which the model may not predict actual events. The first is admitted by McInnes, that populations may succeed in converting to logistic growth and therefore avoid the prescribed collapse. Given the calculation of a 15ly cage and the observation that it would saturate in a single emigration wave due to direct homeworld access, any hope of survival would depend on adopting logistic growth prior to interstellar colonization; any later would be too late to avoid disaster. However, Earth appears to be following just such a course, leveling off its population growth in the 21st century, long before undertaking interstellar travel (Haqq-Misra and Baum, 2009). Not only does this bode well for humanity, it suggests that other ETI civilizations can do the same...but such a conclusion weakens McInnes’ theory that the Fermi Paradox is resolved due to a finite expansion before societal collapse. If ETI are once again enabled to continue steady outward expansion, then the original questions underlying the paradox resurface.

The second challenge we would raise in response to McInnes’ model will be explained in section 4.3 when we introduce ITB theory. Briefly, we are unconvinced that interstellar distances don’t impose an insurmountable paucity of interaction events between solar systems such that contagions of societal collapse fail to adequately infect neighbors. Our final thoughts on McInnes’ model reflect on his postanalysis. He proposes the example of a civilization which permits exponential growth at its frontier but enforces logistic growth wherever resource limits are reached, i.e., deeper within the sphere. He shows how such a civilization could achieve phenomenal rates of unbounded expansion, filling the galaxy in a few millions years. While McInnes’ concedes this scenario, he nevertheless questions its validity by citing Landis’ percolation model, namely to doubt that the civilization would expand indefinitely. Considering that in section 3 we demonstrate some weaknesses of the percolation model, we likewise conclude that the proposed scenario stands relatively unchallenged. Should it turn out to be reasonable, then the Fermi Paradox remains, well, paradoxical.

Group, P.D.S., 1978. Project Daedalus : the final report on the BIS starship study. Journal of the British Interplanetary Society.

Haqq-Misra, J., Baum, S.D., 2009. The sustainability solution to the fermi paradox. Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 62, 47–51.

Matloff, G.L., 2005. Deep Space Probes: To the Outer Solar System and Beyond. Praxis Publishing Ltd

McInnes, C., 2002. The light cage limit to interstellar expansion. Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 55, 279–284


     “Something’s wrong,” Ben whispered.
     “There always is.”
     “I’m serious.” He let his fingers trace out a line across the black sky. “What do you see?”
     With the Sun eclipsed by the shadow of the FGB module, she gazed out at the subtle light. There was that bright planet, andthe dim red disc of rubble surrounding the Chaera black hole, from here just visible as more than a point source of light.
     “There’s a glow around the star itself, covering the orbit of that single planet,” Ben said. “Can you see?” It was a diffuse shine, Madeleine saw, cloudy, ragged-edged. Ben continued. “That’s an oddity in itself. But—”
     Then she got it. “Oh. No zodiacal light.”
     The zodiacal light, in the Solar System, was a faint glow along the plane of the ecliptic. Sometimes it was visible from Earth. It was sunlight, scattered by dust that orbited the Sun in the plane of the planets. Most of the dust was in or near the asteroid belt, created by asteroid collisions. And in the modern Solar System, of course, the zodiacal light was enhanced by the glow of Gaijin colonies.
     “So if there’s no zodiacal light—
     “There are no asteroids here,” Ben said.
     “Nemoto. What happened to the asteroids?”
     “You already know, I think,” virtual Nemoto hissed.
     Ben nodded. “They were mined out. Probably long ago. This place is old, Madeleine.”
     “It’s like a fragment of a GMC—a giant molecular cloud,” Ben said. “Mostly hydrogen, some dust. It’s thick—comparatively. A hundred thousand molecules per cubic centimeter... The Sun was born out of such a cloud, Madeleine.”
     “But the heat of the Sun dispersed the remnants of our cloud... didn’t it? So why hasn’t the same thing happened here?”
     “Or,” virtual Nemoto said sourly, “maybe the question should be: How come the gas cloud got put back around this star?
     They came at the planet with the Sun behind them, so it showed a nearly full disc. It glared, brilliant white, just a solid mass of cloud from pole to pole, blinding and featureless. And it was surrounded by a pearly glow of interstellar hydrogen, like an immense, misshapen outer atmosphere.
     They could see nothing of the surface. Their instruments revealed a world that was indeed like Venus: an atmosphere of carbon dioxide, kilometers thick, scarcely any water.
     There was, of course, no life of any kind.
     Ben was troubled. “There’s no reason for a Venus to form this far from the Sun. This world should be temperate. An Earth.”
     “But,” Nemoto hissed, “think what this world has that Earth doesn’t share.”
     “The gas cloud,” Madeleine said.
     Ben nodded. “All that interstellar hydrogen. Madeleine, we’re so far from the Sun now, and the gas is so thick, that the hydrogen is neutral—not ionized by sunlight.”
     “And so—”
     “And so the planet down there has no defense against the gas; its magnetic field could only keep it out if it was charged. Hydrogen has been raining down from the sky, into the upper air.
     “Once there, it will mix with any oxygen present,” Nemoto said. “Hydrogen plus oxygen gives—”
     “Water,” Madeleine said.
     “Lots of it,” Ben told her. “It must have rained like hell, for a million years. The atmosphere was drained of oxygen, and filled up with water vapor. A greenhouse effect took off—
     “All that from a wisp of gas?”
     “That wisp of gas was a planet killer,” Nemoto whispered.
     “But why would anyone kill a planet?
     “It is the logic of growth,” Nemoto said. “This has all the characteristics of an old system, Meacher. Caught behind a wave of colonization—all its usable resources dug out and exploited...
     Madeleine frowned. “I don’t believe it. It would take a hell of a long time to eat up a star system.”
     “How long do you think?”
     “I don’t know. Millions of years, perhaps.”
     Nemoto grunted. “Listen to me. The growth rate of the human population on Earth, historically, was two percent a year. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it’s compound interest, remember. At that rate your population doubles every thirty-five years, an increase by tenfold every century or so. Of course after the twentieth century our growth rates collapsed; we ran out of resources.”
     “Ah,” Ben said. “What if we’d kept on growing?”
     “How many people could Earth hold?” Nemoto whispered. “Ten, twenty billion? Meacher, the whole of the inner Solar System out to Mars could supply only enough water for maybe fifty billion people. It might have taken us a century to reach those numbers. Of course there is much more water in the asteroids and the outer system than in Earth’s oceans, perhaps enough to support ten thousand trillion human beings.”
     “A huge number.”
     “But not infinite—and only six tenfold jumps away from ten billion.”
     “Just six or seven centuries,” Ben said.
     “And then what?” Nemoto whispered. “Suppose we start colonizing, like the Gaijin. Earth is suddenly the center of a growing sphere of colonization whose volume must keep increasing at two percent a year, to keep up with the population growth. And that means that the leading edge, the colonizing wave, has to sweep on faster and faster, eating up worlds and stars and moving on to the next, because of the pressure from behind...
     Ben was doing sums in his head. “That leading edge would have to be moving at light speed within a few centuries, no more.
     “Imagine how it would be,” Nemoto said grimly, “to inhabit a world in the path of such a wave. The exploitation would be rapid, ruthless, merciless, burning up worlds and stars like the front of a forest fire, leaving only ruins and lifelessness. And then, as resources are exhausted throughout the light-speed cage, the crash comes, inevitably. Remember Venus. Remember Polynesia.
     “The nearest analog in our own history to interstellar colonization,” Ben said. “The Polynesians spread out among their Pacific islands for over a thousand years, across three thousand kilometers. But by about A.D. 1000 their colonization wave front had reached as far as it could go, and they had inhabited every scrap of land. Isolated, each island surrounded by others already full of people, they had nowhere to go.
     “On Easter Island they destroyed the native ecosystem in a few generations, let the soil erode away, cut down the forests. In the end they didn’t even have enough wood to build more canoes. Then they went to war over whatever was left. By the time the Europeans arrived the Polynesians had just about wiped themselves out.”
     “Think about it, Meacher,” Nemoto said. The light-speed cage. Imagine this system fully populated, a long way behind the local colonization wave front, and surrounded by systems just as heavily populated—and armed—as they were. And they were running out of resources. There surely were a lot more space dwellers than planet dwellers, but they’d already used up the asteroids and the comets. So the space dwellers turned on the planet. The inhabitants were choked, drowned, baked.
     “I don’t believe it,” Madeleine said. “Any intelligent society would figure out the dangers long before breeding itself to extinction.”
     “The Polynesians didn’t,” Ben said dryly.

(ed note: The Chaera are the aliens who formerly lived on the murdered Venus-like planet. They currently live in miserable tiny space colonies orbiting a dangerous black hole artifact.)

     “But there remain mysteries,” Ben said. “The Chaera look too primitive to have constructed that artifact. After all, it manipulates a black hole’s gravity well. Perhaps their ancestors built this thing. Or some previous wave of colonists, who passed through this system.”
     “You aren’t thinking it through,” virtual Nemoto whispered. “The Chaera have eyes filled with salty water. They must have evolved on a world with oceans. They can’t have evolved here.”
     “Then,” Madeleine snapped, “why are they here?
     “Because they had no place else to go,” Nemoto said. “They fled here—even modified themselves, perhaps. They huddled around an artifact left by an earlier wave of colonization. They knew that nobody would follow them to such a dangerous, unstable slum area as this.
     “They are refugees.
     “Yes. As, perhaps, we will become in the future.”
     “Refugees from what?
     “From the resource wars,” Nemoto said. “From the hydrogen suffocation of their world. Like Polynesia.
     The core artifact trembled.
     And Nemoto kept talking, talking. “This universe of ours is a place of limits, of cruel equations. The Galaxy must be full of light-speed cages like this, at most a few hundred light-years wide, traps for their exponentially growing populations. And then, after the ripped-up worlds have lain fallow, after recovery through the slow processes of geology and biology, it all begins again, a cycle of slash and burn, slash and burn... This is our future, Meacher: our future and our past. It is after all a peculiar kind of equilibrium: the contact, the ruinous exploitation, the crash, the multiple extinctions—over and over. And it is happening again, to us. The Gaijin are already eating their way through our asteroid belt. Now do you see what I’m fighting against?
     Madeleine remembered the burster, the slaughter of the star lichen fourteen times a second. She remembered Venus and Australia, the evidence of ancient wars even in the Solar System—the relics of a previous, long-burned-out colonization bubble.
     Must it be like this?

(ed note: As it turns out, our solar system is not primordial. Venus used to be a Terra type planet, before a colonization wave swept through and murdered the planet. Millions of years later a second wave from a subsequent civilization swept through. This one killed most life on Terra with an asteroid bombardment. That is the reason Terra has continental plates and plate tectonics.)

     Life, Cassiopeia (the Gaijin alien) said, was emergent everywhere. Planets were the crucible. Life curdled, took hold, evolved, in every nook and cranny it could find in the great nursery that was the Galaxy.
     Characteristically life took hundreds of millions of years to accrue the complexity it needed to start manipulating its environment on a major scale. On Earth, life had stuck at the single-celled stage for billions of years, most of its history. Still, on world after world, complexity emerged, mind dawned, civilizations arose.
     Most of these cultures were self-limiting.
     Some were sedentary. Some—for instance, aquatic creatures, like the Flips—lacked access to metals and fire. Some just destroyed themselves, one way or another, through wars, or accidents, or obscure philosophical crises, or just plain incompetence. The last, Madeleine suspected, might have been mankind’s ultimate fate, left to its own devices.
     Maybe one in a thousand cultures made it through such bottlenecks.
     That fortunate few developed self-sustaining colonies off their home worlds, and—forever immune to the eggs-in-one-basket accidents that could afflict a race bound to a single world—they started spreading. Or else they made machines, robots that could change worlds and rebuild themselves, and sent them off into space, and they started spreading.
     Either way, from one in a thousand habitable worlds, a wave of colonization started to expand.
     There were many different strategies. Sometimes generations of colonists diffused slowly from star to star, like a pollutant spreading into a dense liquid. Sometimes the spread was much faster, like a gas into a vacuum. Sometimes there was a kind of percolation, a lacy, fractal structure of exploitation leaving great unspoiled voids within.
     It was a brutal business. Lesser species—even just a little behind in the race to evolve complexity and power—would simply be overrun, their worlds and stars consumed. And if a colonizing bubble from another species was encountered, there were often ferocious wars.
     “It’s hard to believe that every damn species in the Galaxy behaves so badly,” Madeleine said sourly.
     Malenfant grinned. “Why? This is how we are. And remember, the ones who expand across the stars are self-selecting. They grow, they consume, they aren’t too good at restraining themselves, because that’s the way they are. The ones who aren’t ruthless predatory expansionists stay at home, or get eaten.”
     Anyhow, the details of the expansion didn’t seem to matter. In every case, after some generations of colonization, conflicts built up. Resource depletion within the settled bubble led to pressure on the colonies at the fringe. Or else the colonizers, their technological edge sharpened by the world-building frontier, would turn inward on their rich, sedentary cousins. Either way the cutting-edge colonizers were forced outward, farther and faster.
     Before long, the frontier of colonization was spreading out at near light speed, and the increasingly depleted region within, its inhabitants having nowhere to go, was riven by wars and economic crisis.
     So it would go on, over millennia, perhaps megayears.
     And then came the collapse.
     It happened over and over. None of the bubbles ever grew very large—no more than a few hundred light-years wide—before simply withering away, like a colony of bacteria frying under a sterilizing lamp. And one by one the stars would come out once more, shining cleanly out, as the red and green of technology and life dispersed.
     “The Polynesian syndrome,” Madeleine said gloomily.
     “But,” Malenfant growled, “it shouldn’t always be like this. Sooner or later one of those races has got to win the local wars, beat out its own internal demons, and conquer the Galaxy. But we know that not one has made it, across the billions of years of the Galaxy’s existence. And that is the Fermi paradox.”
     Now a new image was overlaid on the swiveling Galaxy: a spark that flared, a bloom of lurid blue light that originated close to the crowded core. It illuminated the nearby stars for perhaps an eighth of the galactic disc around it. And then, as the Galaxy slowly turned, there was another spark—and another, then another, and another still. Most of these events originated near the Galaxy core: something to do with the crowding of the stars, then. A few sparks, more rare, came from farther out—the disc, or even the dim halo of orbiting stars that surrounded the Galaxy proper.
     Each of these sparks caused devastation among any colonization bubbles nearby: a cessation of expansion, a restoring of starlight.
     Death, on an interstellar scale.
     Her attention came to rest, at last, on a pair of stars—small, fierce, angry. These stars were close, separated by no more than a few tens of their diameters. The two stars looped around each other on wild elliptical paths, taking just seconds to complete a revolution—like courting swallows, Madeleine thought—but the orbits changed rapidly, decaying as she watched, evolving into shallower ellipses, neat circles.
     A few wisps of gas circled the two stars. Each star seemed to glow blue, but the gas around them was reddish. Farther out she saw a lacy veil of color, filmy gas that billowed against the crowded background star clouds.
     “Neutron stars,” Malenfant said. “A neutron star binary, in fact. That blue glow is synchrotron radiation, Madeleine. Electrons dragged at enormous speeds by the stars’ powerful magnetic fields...”
     Malenfant grunted. “Supernovae.”
     The two stars were growing closer now, their energy ebbing away. The spinning became more rapid, the stars moving too fast for her to see. When the stars were no more than their own diameter apart, disruption began. Great gouts of shining material were torn from the surface of each star and thrown out into an immense glowing disc that obscured her view.
     At last the stars touched. They imploded in a flash of light.
     A shock wave pulsed through the debris disc, churning and scattering the material, a ferocious fount of energy. But the disc collapsed back on the impact site almost immediately, within seconds, save for a few wisps that dispersed slowly, cooling.
     “Has to form a black hole,” Malenfant muttered. “Two neutron stars... too massive to form anything less. This is a gamma-ray burster. We’ve been observing them all over the sky since the 1960s. We sent up spacecraft to monitor illegal nuclear weapons tests beyond the atmosphere. Instead, we saw these.”
     “I saw what these things can do, Madeleine,” Malenfant said. “It would be like a nearby supernova going off. The ozone layer would be screwed by the gamma rays. Protein structures would break down. Acid rain. Disruption of the biosphere—”
     Madeleine watched as the Galaxy image was restored, and bursts erupted from the crowded core, over and over.
     Malenfant glared at the dangerous sky. “Cassiopeia, are you telling me that these collapses are the big secret—the cause of the reboot, the galactic extinction?”
     Madeleine shook her head. “How is that possible, if each of them is limited to a thousand light-years? The Galaxy is a hundred times as wide as that. It would be no fun to have one of these things go off in your backyard. But—”
     They were shown a cascade, image after image, burst after burst.
     Some of the collapses involved particularly massive objects. Some of them were rare collisions involving three, four, even five objects simultaneously. Some of the bursts were damaging because of their orientation, with most of their founting, ferocious energy being delivered, by a chance of fate and collision dynamics, into the disc of the Galaxy, where the stars were crowded. And so on.
     Some of these events were very damaging indeed.
     So it finishes, Madeleine thought: the evolution and the colonizing and the wars and the groping toward understanding. All of it halted, obliterated in a flash, an accident of cosmological billiards. It was all a matter of chance, of bad luck. But there were enough neutron-star collisions that every few hundred million years there was an event powerful enough, or well-directed enough, to wipe the whole of the Galaxy clean.
     It had happened over and over. And it will happen again, she saw. Again and again, a drumbeat of extinction. That is what the Gaijin have learned.
     “And for us,” Malenfant growled, “it’s back to the f**king pond, every damn time... So much for Fermi’s paradox. Nemoto was right. This is the equilibrium state for life and mind: a Galaxy full of new, young species struggling out from their home worlds, consumed by fear and hatred, burning their way across the nearby stars, stamping over the rubble of their forgotten predecessors.”
     But her mind was racing. “There must be ways to stop this. All we have to do is evade one collapse—and gain the time to put aside the wars and the trashing, and get a little smarter, and learn how to run the Galaxy properly. We don’t have to put up with this sh*t.”
     Malenfant smiled. “Nemoto always did call you a meddler.”
     BUT YOU ARE RIGHT, the Gaijin said. SOME OF US ARE TRYING...

(ed note: a coalition of advanced civilizations has located the next sterilize-the-entire-freaking-galaxy gamma-ray burster and are trying to prevent or at least delay the onset of its burst)

From MANIFOLD: SPACE by Stephen Baxter (2000)

Growing a Colony


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.


Let’s look at population statistics. (This stage of the creative process approaches sex, like violence, in terms of its quantitative results, rather than its messy particulars.)

How many people are there in 2290, and where do they live?

The results of the model can be seen in figure 4.

Virtually all the growth of population in the long run comes from rural populations. This is caused by something that always startles elitists: people are not stupid. Agriculture is labor-intensive, and as long as an additional person can produce food in excess of its consumption, it pays to have another baby. (Famines are generally caused by a drastic change from the expected future—war, drought, or land confiscation changes the value of children after they’re born.) In most parts of the world, the expected value of children doesn’t reach zero right out to the limit of human fertility.

By contrast, life in cities is expensive, and work children can do there is less valuable, so having kids really doesn’t pay. Thus over the long run (it takes time to alter perceptions, and peasants who move to the city don’t suddenly de-acquire children), city dwellers will have children at or below a replacement rate and rural people will have all they can. “All they can” globally currently corresponds to a global rural population increase of about 2.3 percent per year.

Luckily, practically everyone would rather live in the city. (The American back-to-the-land fetish is an extreme minority taste.) Currently a bit under half of one percent of global population moves from country to city per year. If that continues, by 2056, the growth of rural areas has reversed, and as they decline in population the rate of population growth slows. In fact, World War IV is so big that global population actually peaks at around fifteen billion in 2237 and declines to just under eleven billion by the beginning of the colonization era. Global population is then more than 95 percent urban (as opposed to 22 percent today).

For a quick extrapolation of spaceborne populations, assume a VNP makes work for 100 people and the percentage of spaceborne population that would be working in the energy industry declines steadily by 10 percent every twenty-five years. That gives a population growth rate of 6 percent (most of it supplied by immigration at first).

By the beginnings of interstellar colonization, there are 1.256 billion people living permanently in space. Go ahead and gasp—but it’s a slower rate than the European population increase in Australia 1788 to 1900, and Australia effectively cost more to get to.

…Arbitrarily, I’ve set the colony ship size at ninety-six adults, one million preserved human embryos, plus everything needed to fully establish the colony. I also assume that because our descendants get better information faster, and perhaps have a better way of using it, there are no mistakes on the order of Jamestown or Botany Bay.

…I gave each ship forty-eight couples of childbearing age and one million frozen embryos. What would that grow into?

This required only a very rough demographic model, because I just wanted to know what the population age profile and size would look like, and from past experience I knew that a “point entry” demographic model would give me the two digits of accuracy needed.

The quick-and-dirty spreadsheet I created is thus extremely crude. A point entry model is one in which all the major demographic life changes are assumed to happen simultaneously for everyone. So in this model:

  1. The ship arrives on the nineteenth birthday of all ninety-six adults.
  2. Exactly one year later, on their twentieth birthdays, each of the forty-eight couples adds a decanted baby (a former frozen embryo) to the family. In addition, one-third of the mothers give birth on their twentieth birthday.
  3. Every birthday thereafter, through the forty-ninth, all adult couples adopt a decanted baby (until the supply runs out) and one-third of them have an additional birth.
  4. All children pair off into couples on their nineteenth birthdays and are part of the reproductive pool beginning with their twentieth birthdays.
  5. Everyone drops dead on his or her eightieth birthday.

No doubt Lewis Carroll could have a lot of fun with such a society. One can imagine Big Day celebrations every January first, in which the whole family gets together to unbottle a new crowd of babies in the morning, attends a mass wedding at lunch followed by a mass birthing, and then goes out to the cemetery to watch old people drop into their predug graves before going home to the traditional dinner.

Yet although the results this model yields are different from the real world, for the story I want to tell, four hundred years after landing, they aren’t different enough to matter. The demographic profiles for two planets (size of cohort by age) are shown in Figure 5.

If you need a more accurate model (e.g., to get accurate effects of baby booms, plagues, or wars in the age profile), you can always improve the precision by cutting down the time represented by one iteration, making deaths or births depend on variable fractions of many age cohorts, and installing more leaks (bachelorhood, early death, individual preference, sterility) into the reproductive pool.

Just one warning—if you do try a more elaborate model, make sure that the total death fractions applied to each cohort add up to 1, as do the total fractions moved out of the reproductive pool. Few things screw up a demographic profile as thoroughly as immortality, negative people, perpetually fertile dead people, or reverse mothers!

From HOW TO BUILD A FUTURE by John Barnes (1990)

All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplus age, excrescence, adornment, luxury or folly which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a “perfect society” on any foundation other than “women and children first!” is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly — and no doubt will keep on trying.

From TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE by Robert Heinlein (1973)

(ed note: Wee Mad Arthur is a gnome, about six inches tall. He is a rat exterminator, hunting them with a crossbow.)

A minute later Wee Mad Arthur emerged into the daylight, dragging the rat behind him. There were fifty-seven neatly lined up along the wall, but despite his name Wee Mad Arthur made a point of not killing the young and the pregnant females. It's always a good idea to make sure you've got a job tomorrow.

From FEET OF CLAY by Terry Pratchett (1996)

As you could see with the example of Tristan de Cunha, most of the men died when that boat sank, but the colony was able to survive. The same thing would probably not be true if the majority of the women had died.

In general (at least with mammals), the ratio in size between males and females for a given species represents the mating ratio for that species. So, if males and females are the same size, then usually one male will be mating with one female (for a given mating period), and if males are twice the size of females, one male will mate with two females. The larger size is related to the number of other males they have to fight for access to the females.

In our species, males are slightly larger than females, suggesting that populations with slightly low male to female mating ratios (3 men / 4-5 women) have been the 'optimal' state over the last five million years or so. Note that this is not necessarily the actual ratio of males to females in the population, nor does it mean that the colonists could not adopt an even lower ratio at the outset, since one male can fertilize a large number of females at one time. Of course, the fewer males you have, the lower the Y-chromosome diversity will be.


For agriculturalists, children are valuable laborers, but for most of human existence, population was strictly regulated to remain in line with the carrying capacity of, say, the Outback or the Arctic. We can learn from extant foraging communities and from the archaeological records of their ancestors. Their rituals and taboos, their regulations of sexuality to keep populations low, might once again be of great value to our species.

Once space colonists arrive at their desired exoplanet, however, things will change yet again. The migrant population will be expected to explode upon arrival because—as we have learned in conservation biology on Earth—larger populations of any organism are always safer from extinction (local or general) than smaller populations. This will drive yet another shift in the cultural details of sex and sexuality, re-enacting the demographic shift from foraging to farming that occurred millennia before, back on Earth.

From STAR-CROSSING LOVERS by Cameron M. Smith (2013)

     “Is it true that you found bodies aboard?” Converse asked after Drake had been speaking for several minutes.
     “It’s true.”
     “And that one of them was a woman?”
     “What would a woman have been doing aboard a warship?”
     “She was wearing the uniform of a weapons tech,” Drake replied, “I presume she was a member of the crew.”
     “Women spacers, imagine that!” someone said.
     “It takes no imagination at all!” a contralto voice said from the edge of the crowd. Drake turned to gaze up at the new participant in the discussion. The woman was a reddish-brunette, with striking eyes, a heart shaped face, and an ample figure. She was dressed in a clinging, backless evening gown. She pushed her way into the inner circle and seated herself on the arm of an overstuffed chair that was part of the small conversational grouping around the settee. She turned to face the man who had made the comment about woman spacers.
     “The fact is that there have been many women spacers throughout history. The first was a woman named Valentina Tereshkova. By the time Antares exploded, the Grand Fleet of Earth was nearly twenty percent female. Some of the commercial starship crews had an even larger percentage of women. Check your history books if you don’t believe me.”
     “I stand corrected,” the man who had made the comment said. He glanced nervously down at the empty glass in his hand, and then backed out of the inner ring of listeners.
     “It’s true, you know,” the woman said, continuing in the same lecturing tone. “The Altan ethic restricting women from the so-called “risk professions” is a result of our ancestors’ need to populate this planet. It was not unusual for pioneer women to give birth to six, eight, or even ten children each. Raising such a brood leaves very little time for anything else, I assure you.”


Because of this holistic experience of studying a small, relatively self-sufficient community and trying to figure out all its parts and how they fit together, I find most discussions of space settlement curiously incomplete. Typically, they go to great lengths to explain how habitats will be built on a planetary surface or in space, how food will be grown in these habitats, and how the community will earn its way by mining or manufacturing some valuable product; then they skip on to few details about domestic architecture, local government, and the like.

Thatching a Roof in Polynesia

A communal working group thatches a roof on the island of Nukuria, a Polynesian atoll located in the Bismarck Archipelago near New Guinea. In this atoll community of some 200 inhabitants, people work cooperatively on such chores as roof thatching, much as early American farmers used to help each other out with barn-building “bees.”

The isolation, small size, and relative self-sufficiency of such island communities allows the anthropologist studying them to gain a holistic perspective on all facets of life from birth to death. This holistic perspective in turn may enable anthropologists to foresee critical human elements in future space settlements that planners who are inexperienced in the functioning of small, relatively self-contained communities may ignore.

(ed note: imagine the inhabitants of a tiny asteroid colony cooperating in a "dome raising" bee for a new resident. )

Among the crucial elements of human life omitted, or glossed over, in these futuristic projections is the most basic one for the survival of any society: reproduction. How mating, the control of birth, and then the rearing of children are to be arranged is seldom even mentioned in discussions of space settlement. Yet, if our ventures in space were limited to communities of nonreproducing adults whose number would have to be constantly replenished with recruits from Earth, we could hardly expand very far into space.

Of course, it could be argued that no great attention will be required in this area—that people will carry into space whatever reproductive practices are current in their earthside societies. But, would that mean a high percentage of single-parent households and low birth rates? A distinguished demographer, whom Eric Jones and I invited to a conference on space settlement, explained his lack of professional interest in the subject by saying that he really did not think there would be much population expansion into space. He argued that the nations most likely to establish space settlements are those which have passed through the demographic transition from high to low population growth and that, furthermore, the highly educated, technology-oriented people who would be the ones to colonize space are those inclined to have the fewest children, perhaps not even enough for replacement of the population.

A population’s demographic past is not necessarily a reliable predictor of its future, however, as we should have learned after the surprise of the post-World War II baby boom in the United States. It seems obvious that, when people perceive that it is to their advantage to have many children, they will do so. For example, Birdsell has documented how, in three separate cases of the colonization of virgin islands by small groups, the population doubled within a single generation. Unless radiation hazards, low gravity, or some other aspect of the nonterrestrial environment constitutes an insuperable obstacle to our breeding in space, there is every reason for optimism about the possibility of population expansion in space.

Nonetheless, the export into space of some current features of mature industrial societies, such as the high cost of educating children, the desire of both parents to have full-time professional careers, and the lack of institutions to aid in child rearing, would certainly act to slow expansion. Space settlers interested in expanding their populations should structure community values and services in such a way that people would want to have more than one or two children and would be able to afford to in terms of both time and money.

Some of the practices from our remote past might even be relevant to our future in space. Suppose, for example, that the harshness of the airless, radiation-intensive environments of space, combined with the economics of constructing safe human habitats, dictates that the first space settlements would have to be small, containing well under a hundred people. Pioneering space colonies might therefore be in the size range of the hunting and gathering bands in which most of our ancestors lived before the discovery of agriculture and the consequent rise of urbanization. If so, space settlers might face some of the same problems relating to reproduction as did their distant predecessors: the genetic dangers of inbreeding, random imbalances in the sex ratio of children born into the group, and what might be called the “kibbutz effect,” wherein children reared close together are not markedly attracted to one another upon coming of age.

Our predecessors could avoid these problems with one simple institution: the practice of exogamy, whereby youths had to marry someone from outside their natal group, thus enlarging the effective breeding community to encompass hundreds of persons, not just a few dozen. Of course, it could be argued that sperm and egg banks, in vitro fertilization, and even in vitro gestation and genetic engineering may be so advanced by the era of space colonization that there would be no need for exogamy. Yet, marrying outside of one’s group can bring benefits that may not be obtainable by other than social means.

Exogamy can promote social solidarity by binding together otherwise separate and scattered communities into a network of units which, in effect, exchange marriageable youths. Although the Australian aborigines, for example, lived scattered over their desert continent in small bands averaging 25 men, women, and children, they were linked together in tribes of some 500 people. This larger tribal community was more than a breeding unit. At appointed times, the members of all the bands would gather together to arrange marriages, conduct rituals, and enjoy the fellowship of friends and relatives from other bands. Just as this tribal community provided the aborigines with a needed wider social group, so might a space age confederation of intermarrying space colonies help their pioneering inhabitants fight the loneliness of space.

Of course, a space age exogamy system would probably not replicate all the features of its archaic predecessors. Take, for example, the custom of female bride exchange, whereby the marriageable young women were sent to other groups, which in turn supplied brides for the young men who remained at home. Space age young women would surely object, on the grounds of gender equality, to any rule that required that they leave home to marry, while their brothers could stay. Conversely, adventuresome young men might not relish the idea that they must remain at home and import their brides. More than likely, if the ethos of space communities is explicitly expansionistic, then both males and females will vie for the opportunity to leave their natal community and, taking a mate from another established community, go off to found a new colony.

From SPACE MIGRATIONS: ANTHROPOLOGY AND THE HUMANIZATION OF SPACE by Ben R. Finney. Collected in Space Resources NASA SP-509 vol 4


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
Cement Mixer
Dimensional Sawmill pattern-cuts lumber
Universal Seeder
Hay Rake
Microtractor a small, 18 hp version of the full-sized tractor
Rototiller and Soil Pulverizer
Hay Cutter
Bakery Oven cooks bread
Dairy Milker
Microcombine small-scale harvester-thresher
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
Laser Cutter
Plasma Cutter
Induction Furnace
CNC Torch/Router Table cuts precision metal parts using a plasma torch
Metal Roller shapes metal bar stock
Rod and Wire Mill
Press Forge
Universal Rotor a tractor-mounted rotor that can be fitted with a wide array of toolheads
Drill Press
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
Hydraulic Motors
Nickel Iron Batteries
Modern Steam Engine
Steam Generator
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
Simplified Automobile
Simplified Truck

During the early years of a colony's development, GAILE provides the basic industrial equipment necessary to the survival of a modern society. This equipment varies from one colony to the next depending upon such factors as climate, landing sites, terrain, mineral and food sources available, and the general development plan formulated by the pioneers themselves. The following is a typical list of items GAILE might provide:

  1. A gigawatt torroidal fusion core power plant
  2. A computer complex including data files containing all of Human knowledge
  3. Basic seed crops for up to ten years food supply
  4. Cell banks containing fertilized eggs of domestic animals
  5. A biolaboratory for analysis of native life, control of disease and the development of food sources better adapted to the new environment
  6. Automining and refining equipment for the production of industrial materials
  7. Factory equipment capable of producing, on a limited basis, all forms of mechanical and electronic equipment up to and including computer master switching centers and class one robots
  8. A few antigravity vehicles for local transportation of people and goods
  9. Modular sections which also can serve as temporary housing for new immigrants are carried on GAILE's starships

With this basic equipment and the knowledge stored in their central computer, pioneers have been able to construct modern industrial societies from wilderness within 100 years.

From Handbook for Space Pioneers by L. Stephen Wolfe and Roy L. Wysack (1977)

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.

Prerequisite Problem

(ed note: Stevens and Nadia are marooned on a planet, and have to build an "ultra-radio" to call for help. Steve quickly runs into the hard facts of infrastructure, how everything depends on something else)

"Not necessarily—there's always a chance. That's why I'm trying the ultra-radio first. However, either course will take lots of power, so the first thing I've got to do is to build a power plant. I'm going to run a penstock up those falls, and put in a turbine, driving a high-tension alternator. Then, while I'm trying to build the ultra-radio, I'll be charging our accumulators, so that no time will be lost in case the radio fails.

"It's going to be a real job—I'm not try to kid you into thinking it'll be either easy or quick. Here's the way everything will go. Before I can even lay the first length of the penstock, I've got to have the pipe—to make which I've got to have flat steel—to get which I'll have to cut some of the partitions out of this ship of ours—to do which I'll have to have a cutting torch—to make which I'll have to forge nozzles out of block metal and to run which I'll have to have gas—to get which I'll have to mine coal and build a gas-plant—to do which...."

"Good heavens, Steve, are you going back to the Stone Age? I never thought of half those things. Why, it's impossible!"

"Not quite, guy. Things could be a lot worse—that's why I brought along the whole 'Forlorn Hope,' instead of just the lifeboat. As it is, we've got several thousand tons of spare steel and lots of copper. We've got ordinary tools and a few light motors, blowers, and such stuff. That gives me a great big start—I won't have to mine the ores and smelt the metals, as would have been necessary otherwise. However, it'll be plenty bad. I'll have to start out in a pretty crude fashion, and for some of the stuff I'll need I'll have to make, not only the machine that makes the part I want, but also the machine that makes the machine that makes the machine that makes it—and so on, just how far down the line, I haven't dared to think."

As Stevens had admitted before the work was started, he had known that he had set himself a gigantic task, but he had not permitted himself to follow, step by step, the difficulties that he knew awaited him. Now, as the days stretched into weeks and on into months, he was forced to take every laborious step, and it was borne in upon him just how nearly impossible that Herculean labor was to prove—just how dependent any given earthly activity is upon a vast number of others.

Here he was alone—everything he needed must be manufactured by his own hands, from its original sources. He had known that progress would be slow and he had been prepared for that; but he had not pictured, even to himself, half of the maddening setbacks which occurred time after time because of the crudity of the tools and equipment he was forced to use. All too often a machine or part, the product of many hours of grueling labor, would fail because of the lack of some insignificant thing—some item so common as to be taken for granted in all terrestrial shops, but impossible of fabrication with the means at his disposal.

At such times he would set his grim jaw a trifle harder, go back one step farther toward the Stone Age, and begin all over again—to find the necessary raw material or a possible substitute, and then to build the apparatus and machinery necessary to produce the part he required. Thus the heart-breaking task progressed, and Nadia watched her co-laborer become leaner and harder and more desperate day by day, unable in any way to lighten his fearful load.

From Spacehounds of IPC by E.E. "Doc" Smith (1931)

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.

There are certain conditions that must exist in order to created the nasty Deadlock in the first place. And there are some standard solutions to Deadlock.

Deadlock Problem

(ed note: Moria is the first inhabited asteroid. The mining colony is just barely hanging on by its fingernails, with not enough equipment and not enough workers)

The valve system (for the hydroponic garden) was a maze, and the instruction sheet for the operators looked like an airline schedule: close Valve C-4 at 2240 hours, then pump fifteen strokes on Pump #5; open Valve 73-A at precisely 2244 hours and give seven strokes to Pump #6, then nine more on Pump #5.

I looked at the maze of plastic pipes, valves, and pump handles. It would take 150 hours or more to understand any of it. "Couldn't you automate some of this?" I asked.

Jesse sniffed, then chewed on a stem he'd broken off one of the plants. "Used to chew tobacco," he explained. "Pity we can't grow any here. Miss the stuff." He worked his jaw sideways and swallowed. "Sure we could, Duke. Back on Earth we had seven acres of greenhouses. Full hydroponics operation. Doris and I ran the whole show with three hired hands. Timers to run the pumps, solenoid valves to run the. timers — sure we could."

"So why don't you?"

He laughed. "No pump motors. Every electric motor we get ends up in the mine operations. Not enough solenoids for the valves. No timers. But we make do. Doing all right, too."

The whole place was like that. There were dozens of simple improvements we could make, only we couldn't because we couldn't spare anybody to make the tools to make the parts to make the improvements. How do you make labor-saving devices if all your labor is on overtime to begin with?

Eventually I came up with a plan. "What we need is wire," I told Commander Wiley.

"Yeah. I know." He got two beers out of his cupboard. It was his only luxury, and nobody grudged it to him. Wiley worked harder than anyone else, and we never knew when he slept. "They didn't send us much last shipment—"

"We can make it," I told him. "I want to build a wire-drawing mill."

"And what do you use for insulation? Don't mean to belittle your work, Duke, but we've thought of that one — "

"Sure. I did some checking with Flo in organic synthesis. She thinks she can make me some enamel that'll work for motor insulation." I sucked up a slug of beer and laughed. "Of course, first she's got to make starting chemicals. Since everything in her plant is on continuous production runs of stuff we need to stay alive, she'll need new reaction vessels. But the reactions need stirring, so either somebody's got to stand there and twirl the stirrer or we need an electric motor — "

"Only you need insulated wire to make the motor," Wiley said. He wasn't laughing. "Every problem is like that. A ball of snakes."

"That's not all, either," I said. "To make my wire-drawing gadget I need some precision milling. The mill operators right now do about half skilled work and half stuff anybody could do. I could get milling done by putting some of the farm people to the unskilled work in the mill, except that to get the farmers loose I need solenoids and pump motors to automate the farms to release the labor to do the milling to make the wire-puller to make the wire to make the solenoids — "

I wasn't laughing either. "Do we try it?" I asked.

He thought about it for a moment. "Yes. I like it. There's positive feed-back. You get started, and. I'll see if I can't pull a couple of people off the refinery. Let's do it."

Fifteen hundred hours later we had wire. We also cobbled up hand-turned coil-winding machines, which were easy because most of the parts could be cast. Pretty soon everyone in the station was carrying around a coil-winder and making motor and solenoid coils during their off-hours. We wound coils white we ate, while we watched TV casts from Earth, during general station-crew assemblies; I think some of the farmers' learned to wind coils in their sleep.

From Bind Your Sons to Exile by Jerry Pournelle (1976)
There's a Hole in My Bucket

(ed note: this children's song describes a deadlock situation)

There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with straw.

The straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long.

Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it.

With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?

With a knife, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
With a knife, dear Henry, dear Henry, with a knife.

The knife is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The knife is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.

Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, sharpen it.

On what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
On what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, on what?

On a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
On a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.

The stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.

Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

Try water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Try water, dear Henry, dear Henry, water.

In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza, in what?

In the bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
In the bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, a bucket.

But there's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Traditional children's song

The Economics of Horses

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.

It was extremely expensive in terms of uranium to keep an interstellar gate open and the people in this wagon train could expect to be out of commercial touch with Earth until such a time as they had developed surpluses valuable enough in trade to warrant reopening the gate at regular intervals. Until that time they were on their own and must make do with what they could take with them … which made horses more practical than helicopters, picks and shovels more useful than bulldozers. Machinery gets out of order and requires a complex technology to keep it going but good old “hayburners” keep right on breeding, cropping grass, and pulling loads.

From TUNNEL IN THE SKY by Robert Heinlein (1966)

Frawn herds ranged widely, and men, who perhaps on the other worlds of their first origin had depended upon machines for transportation, found that the herder here must be otherwise equipped. Machines required expert tending, supply parts that had to be imported at astronomical prices from off-world. But there remained a self-perpetuating piece of equipment that the emigrants to the stars had long known at home, used, discarded for daily service, but preserved because of sentiment and love for sheer grace and beauty — the horse. And horses, imported experimentally, found the plains of Arzor a natural home. In three generations of man-time, they had spread wide, changing the whole economy of both settler and native.

From THE BEAST MASTER by Andre Norton (1959)

Dart Rifles:

Strictly speaking this is not a military weapon, but it is widely used for hunting and the like on colonies so colonial militia sometimes use them for sniping.

The weapon fires a dart pneumatically, so it is as hard to detect as a needle rifle. The dart is reunsable and either drugged or poisoned. Its penetration is poor.

Since the air pressure can be (and usually is) hand pumped and the darts are reusable, colonists like it. All they have to buy are tubes of drugs (and these may be locally obtainable) rather than expensive ammunition or powercells.

From Space Marines {miniature wargaming rules} by A. Mark Ratner (1977)

Corporal Anuraro showed me how to get into the canoe without swamping it. We don't have those things in Arizona. As they paddled me ashore, I thought about how silly the situation was. I was being paddled in a canoe, a device invented at least ten thousand years ago. I was carrying a pair of light-amplifying field glasses based on a principle not discovered until after I was born. Behind me was a steamboat that might have been moving up the Missouri River at the time of Custer's last stand, and I got to this planet in a starship.

From WEST OF HONOR by Jerry Pournelle ()

(ed note: Lazarus is telling Minerva the story of the time he and his wife Dora were on a pioneer planet and wanted to travel via mule-drawn Conestoga wagon to a new homestead.)

But why didn't I have Zack put us down on the spot on the map I had picked as being our likely place of settlement?- with everything we would need to start farming: and thereby avoid a long, dangerous trek. Not risk death by thirst, or by lopers, or the treacheries of mountains, or whatever.

Minerva, this was a long time ago and I can explain only in terms of technology available there and then. The Andy J. could not land; she received her overhauls in orbit around Secundus or some other advanced planet. Her cargo boat could land on any big flat field but required a minimum of a radar-corner reflector to home on, then had to have many metric tons of water to lift off again. The captain's gig was the only boat in the Andy J. capable of landing anywhere a skilled pilot could put her down, then lift off without help. But her cargo capacity was about two postage stamps—whereas I needed mules and plows and a load of other things.

Besides, I needed to learn how to get out of those mountains by going into them. I could not take Dora into there without being reasonably sure that I could fetch her out again. Not fair! It's no sin not to be pioneer-mother material—but it is tragic for both husband and wife to find it out too late.

So we did not do it the hard way; we did it the only way for that time and place. But I have never put the effort into a mass calculation for a spaceship at liftoff that I put into deciding what to take, what to do without, for that trek. First, the basic parameter: how many wagons in the train? I wanted three wagons so badly I could taste it. A third wagon would mean luxuries for Dora, more tools for me, more books and such for both of us, and (best!) a precut one-room house to get my pregnant bride out of the weather almost instantly at the other end.

But three wagons meant eighteen mules hauling, plus spare mules—add six by rule-of-thumb—which meant half again as much time spent harnessing and unharnessing, watering the animals, taking care of them otherwise. Add enough wagons and mules and at some point your day's march is zero; one man can't handle the work. Worse, there would be places in the mountains where I would have to unshackle the wagons, move them one at a time to a more open place, go back for each wagon left behind, bring it up—a process that would take twice as long for a three-wagon train as for a two-wagon one, and would happen oftener, even much oftener, with three wagons than with two. At that rate we might have three babies born en route instead of getting there before our first one was born.

I was saved from such folly by the fact only two trekking wagons were available in New Pittsburgh. I think I would have resisted temptation anyhow—but I had with me in the light wagon we drove from Top Dollar the hardware for three, then I spent that extra hardware on other things, bartering it through the wainwright. I could not wait while he built a third wagon; both the season of the year and the season of Dora's womb gave me deadlines I had to meet.

There is much to be said for just one wagon-standard equipment over many centuries and on several planets for one family in overland migration if they travel in a party.

I've led such marches.

But one wagon by itself—one accident can be disaster. Two wagons offer more than twice as much to work with at the other end, plus life insurance on the march. You can lose one wagon, regroup, and keep going.

So I planned for two wagons, Minerva, even though I had Zack debit me with three sets of Stoga hardware, then did not sell that third set until the last minute.

Here's how you load a wagon train for survival: First, list everything that you expect to need and everything that you would like to take:

  • Wagons, spare wheels, spare axles
  • Mules, harness, spare hardware and harness leather, saddles
  • Water
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Blankets
  • Weapons, ammunition, repair kit
  • Medicines, drugs, surgical instruments, bandages
  • Books
  • Plows
  • Harrow
  • Field Rake
  • Shovels, hand rakes, hoes, seeders, three- five- & seven-tine forks
  • Harvester
  • Blacksmith's tools
  • Carpentry tools
  • Iron cookstove
  • Water closet, self-flushing type
  • Oil lamps
  • Windmill & pump
  • Sawmill run by windpower
  • Leatherworking & harness-repair tools
  • Bed, table, chain, dishes, pots, pans, eating & cooking gear
  • Binoculars, microscope, water-testing kit
  • Grindstone
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Churn
  • Buckets, sieves, assorted small hardware
  • Milk cow & bull
  • Chickens
  • Salt for stock & for people
  • Packaged yeast, yeast starter
  • Seed grain, several sorts
  • Grinder for whole-grain flour, meat grinder

Don't stop there; think big. Never mind the fact that you've already overloaded a much longer wagon train. Search your imagination, check the manifests of the Andy J., search the ship itself, look, over the stock in Rick's General Store, talk with John Magee and look over his house and farm and outbuildings—if you forget it now, it's impossible to go back for it.

  • Musical instruments, writing materials, diaries, calendars
  • Baby clothes, layettes
  • Spinning wheel, loom, sewing materials—sheep!
  • Tannin & leather-curing materials and tools
  • Clocks, watches
  • Root vegetables, rooted fruit-tree seedlings, other seed
  • Etc. etc. etc. . .

Now start trimming—start swapping—start figuring weights.

Cut out the bull, the cow, the sheep; substitute goats with hair long enough to be worth cutting. Hey, you missed shears!

The blacksmith's shop stays but gets trimmed down to an anvil and minimum tools—a bellows you must make. In general anything of wood is scratched, but a small supply of wrought-iron stock, heavy as it is, must be hauled; you'll be making things you didn't know you could.

The harvester becomes a scythe with handle and cradle, three spare blades; the field rake is scratched.

The windmill stays, and so does the sawmill (surprise!)—but only as minimum hardware; you won't tackle either one soon.

Books—Which of those books can you live without, Dora?

Halve the amount of clothing, double up on shoes and add more boots and don't forget children's shoes. Yes, I know how to make moccasins, mukluks, and such; add waxed thread. Yes, we do have to have block-and-tackle and the best glass-and-plastic lines we can buy, or we won't get through the pass. Money is nothing; weight and cubage are all that count—our total wealth is what mules can take through that notch.

Minerva, it was lucky for me, lucky for Dora, that I was on my sixth pioneering venture and that I had planned how to load spaceships many years before I ever loaded a covered wagon—for the principles are the same; spaceships are the covered wagons of the Galaxy. Get it down to the weight the mules can haul, then chop off 10 percent no matter how it hurts; a broken axle—when, you can't replace it—might as well be a broken neck.

Then add more water to bring it up to 95 percent; the load of water drops off every day.

Knitting needles! Can Dora knit? If not, teach her. I've spent many a lonely hour in space knitting sweaters and socks. Yarn? It will be a long time before Dora can tease goat shearings into good yarn—and she can knit for the baby while we travel; keep her happy. Yarn doesn't weigh much.

Wooden needles can be made; even curved metal needles can be shaped from scraps. But pick up both sorts from Rick's Store.

Oh my God, I almost missed taking an ax!

Ax heads and one handle, brush hook, pick-mattock—Minerva, I added and trimmed and discarded, and weighed every item at New Pittsburgh—and we weren't three kilometers out of there headed for Separation before I knew I had us overloaded. That night we stopped at a homesteader's cabin, and I traded a new thirty-kilo anvil for his fifteen-kilo one, traded even, with the pound of flesh nearest my heart tossed in for good measure. I swapped other heavy items that we would miss later for a smoked ham and a side of bacon and more corn for the mules—the last being emergency rations.

We lightened the loads again at Separation, and I took another water barrel in trade and filled it because I now had room for another and knew that too heavy a load of water was self-correcting.

I think that extra barrel saved our lives.

From TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE: "Tale of the Adopted Daughter" by Robert Heinlein (1973)

(Lysander is the prince of the planet Sparta. Blaine is the governor of the planet Tanith. BuRelock is the Bureau of Relocation, who forcibly transport undesirable people from the over populated Earth to dump them on the various colony planets.)

"We have an excellent liqueur, rum based with flavoring from the Tanith Passion Fruit, but perhaps it's a bit early in the day for something so sweet. Tanith whiskey, perhaps?"

"Thank you." Lysander sipped gingerly at the dark whiskey. "That's quite good."

"Glad you like it. Bit like Scotch only more so. Some find it strong."

"Sparta's whiskey is descended from Irish," Lysander said. "We think it's better than Earth's best. We had a master distiller from Cork!"

"Much the same story here," Blaine said. "Whole family from near Inverary. Can't imagine what they did to annoy BuRelock, but up they came; Tanith's benefit and Earth's loss. One of my predecessors set them up in the distilling business."

From PRINCE OF MERCENARIES by Jerry Pournelle (1989)

The Economics of Slaves

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).

Ostensibly a tale about a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his struggle to free himself from the oppressive circumstances in which he is plunged, this story also serves to explain how slavery develops in a new colony.

Even in the future, the technology available to a new colony is always initially low. If a machine to do a necessary job is too expensive to import (say a wheat harvester, a water pump, or even a washing machine), a human must do it instead. If too many jobs must be done by hand and there is a shortage of labour compared with independent resources that free labour could take up ("land", although this condition is not clear in the story), a market for slavery develops. Decades later, while there is still an abundance of land, this market remains because the colony itself has quotas to meet and debts to repay — they cannot spare the resources to develop local industries to make the machines themselves and free labour does not have to bid its price down enough to outcompete slave labour.

From Logic of Empire entry in Wikipedia

Long before space travel, when we hadn’t even filled up Terra, there used to be dirtside frontiers. Every time new territory was found, you always got three phenomena: traders ranging out ahead and taking their chances, outlaws preying on the honest men — and a traffic in slaves. It happens the same way today, when we’re pushing through space instead of across oceans and prairies. Frontier traders are adventurers taking great risks for great profits. Outlaws, whether hill bands or sea pirates or the raiders in space, crop up in any area not under police protection. Both are temporary. But slavery is another matter — the most vicious habit humans fall into and the hardest to break. It starts up in every new land and it’s terribly hard to root out. After a culture falls ill of it, it gets rooted in the economic system and laws, in men’s habits and attitudes. You abolish it; you drive it underground — there it lurks, ready to spring up again, in the minds of people who think it is their ‘natural’ right to own other people. You can’t reason with them; you can kill them but you can’t change their minds.”

From CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert Heinlein (1957)

Ander Nordholm had been a government man. He and his daughter were classed as outsiders and strangers by the colony group, much as were the other representatives of law from off-world—the Ranger Franklyn, Post Officer Kaus and his two guards, the medical officer and his wife. But every colony had to have an education officer. In the past too many frontier-world settlements had split away from the Confederation, following sometimes weird and dangerous paths of development when fanatics took control, warped education, and cut off communications with other worlds.

Yes, the Nordholms had expected a period of adjustment, of even semi-ostracization since this was a Believer colony. But her father had been winning them over—he had! Charis could not have deceived herself about that. Why, she had been invited to one of the women’s “mend” parties. Or had it been a blind even then?

But this—this would never have happened if it had not been for the white death! Charis’s breath came now in a real sob. There were so many shadows of fear on a newly opened planet. No safeguard could keep them all from striking at the fragile life of a newly planted colony. And here had been waiting a death no one could see, could meet with blaster or hunting knife or even the medical knowledge her species had been able to amass during centuries of space travel, experimentation, and information acquired across the galaxy.

And in its striking, the disease had favored the fanatical prejudices of the colonists. For it struck first the resented government men. The ranger, the port captain and his men, her father—Charis’s fist was at her mouth, and she bit hard upon her knuckles. Then it struck the medic—always the men. Later the colonists—oddly enough, those who had been most friendly with the government party—and only the men and boys in those families.

She could return; or she could remain here until the hunt found her—to take her as a slave down to the foul nest they were fast making of the first human settlement on Demeter; or somehow she could reach the mountains and hide out like a wild thing until sooner or later some native peril would finish her.

Her safety depended upon what the settlers would decide. She had no means of concealing her back trail. In the morning it would be found. But whether their temper would be to follow her, or if they would shruggingly write her off to be finished by the wild, Charis could not guess. She was the one remaining symbol of all Tolskegg preached against—the liberal off-world mind, the “un-female,” as he called it. The wild, with every beast Ranger Franklyn had catalogued lined up ready to tear her, was far better than facing again the collection of cabins where Tolskegg now spouted his particular brand of poison, that poison, bred of closed minds, which her father had taught her early to fear. And Visma and her ilk had lapped that poison to grow fat and vigorous on it.

There was a spacer, a slim, scoured shape, pointing nose to sky, the heat of its braking fire making a steam mist about it. But this was no vision — it was real! A spacer had set down by the village!...

Charis faced around toward the ship and waved vigorously, looking for the insignia which would make it Patrol or Scout.

There was none! It took a moment for that fact to make a conscious impression on her mind. Charis had been so sure that the proper markings would be there that she had almost deceived herself into believing that she sighted them. But the spacer bore no device at all. Her arm dropped to her side suddenly as she saw the ship as it really was.

This was not the clean-lined, well-kept spacer of any government service. The sides were space-dust cut, the general proportions somewhere between scout and freighter, with its condition decidedly less than carefully tended. It must be a Free Trader of the second class, maybe even a tramp — one of those plying a none-too-clean trade on the frontier worlds. And the chances were very poor that the commander or crew of such would be lawfully engaged here or would care at all about what happened to the representatives of government they were already aligned against in practice. Charis could hope for no help from such as these...

Charis had known some Free Traders. In fact, among that class of explorer-adventurer-merchant her father had had some good friends, men who carried with them a strong desire for knowledge, who had added immeasurably to the information concerning unknown worlds. But those were the aristocrats of their calling. There were others who were scavengers, pirates on occasion, raiders who took instead of bargained when the native traders of an alien race were too weak to stand against superior off-world weapons.

"It is simple, my friend." The trader's insolent tone to Tolskegg must have cut the colonist raw, yet he took it because he must. "You need labor. Your fields are not going to plow, plant, and reap themselves. All right, in freeze I have labor — good hands all of them. I had my pick; not one can't pull his weight, I promise you. There was a flare on Gonwall's sun, they had to evacuate to Sallam, and Sallam couldn't absorb the excess population. So we were allowed to recruit in the refugee camp. My cargo's prime males — sturdy, young, and all under indefinite contracts. The only trouble is, friend, what do you have to offer in return?...

So that was it! Charis drew a deep breath and knew there was no use in appealing to this captain. If he had shipped desperate men on indefinite labor contracts, he was no better than a slaver, even though there was a small shadow of legality to his business...

"You present a problem." The captain spoke to her again. "There is no processing station here, and we cannot ship you out in freeze-"

Charis shivered. Most labor ships stacked their cargo in the freeze of suspended animation, thus saving room, supplies, all the needs of regular passengers. Space on board a trader ship was strictly limited...

And as her eyes adjusted she saw that they had indeed set down in a wasteland.

Sand, which was a uniform red outside the glassy slag left by the thruster blast, lapped out to the foot of a range of small hills, the outline of which shimmered in heat waves. There was no sign of any building, no look of a port, save for the countless slag scars which pecked and pitted the surface of the desert sand, evidence of many landings and take-offs.

There were ships — two, three, a fourth farther away. And all of them, Charis saw, were of the same type as the one she had just left, second- and third-class traders. This seemed to be a rendezvous for fringe merchants...

"This is our chance, the big one, the one every trader dreams of having someday- a permit on a newly opened world. Make this spin right and it means-" His voice trailed off, but Charis understood him.

Trading empires, fortunes, were made from just such chances. To get at the first trade of a new world was a dream of good luck. But she was still puzzled as to how Jagan had achieved the permit for Warlock. Surely one of the big Companies would have made contact with Survey and bid in the rights to establish the first post. Such plums were not for the fringe men. But it was hardly tactful under the circumstances to ask Jagan how he had accomplished the nigh to impossible...

From ORDEAL IN OTHERWHERE by Andre Norton (1964)


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.

Exit Earth

(ed note: in the novel Earth has been rendered uninhabitable and among the few survivors are the people in the space arks Noah and Pegasus)

Lester Rajani dominated the meeting. He is an expert on agriculture and forest growth. He is from Pakistan, and among the people in that part of the world he is famous as Mr. Bamboo. He has performed miracles in genetic alterations of bamboo plants. I never expected to be talking bamboo in my report logs, but there is a reason. Rajani may have saved us all. This man with dark skin and the deep, brooding eyes of a Russian poet is a genius. I am glad he fought me as hard as he did. For a while I judged him to be crazy.

The day I married Tanya and adopted her children was the same day I became intensely interested in Lester Rajani's work with bamboo growth, I write these extra pages so our sons may read them one day and pay homage to this man from a backward country who may have saved the future for them.

Rajani has a most extraordinary perception of the future. Apparently he has always had this trait. Marc Seavers tells me he considers Rajani the embodiment of a famous name in American history; he calls the man from Pakistan the Johnny Appleseed of the future. All nations have their Johnny Appleseeds; in the future our young ones must honor Rajani. Somehow he knew that our single greatest tool and supply source, while we were in space but most especially when we returned to Earth, would be bamboo, the giant grass that built and sustained so much of the world before our ultimate disaster. Let me emphasize that the Soviet, like the other technological societies, abandoned bamboo in favor of metals, ceramics, and plastics.

How foolish we have been! How utterly stupid we are in our present situation, to rely upon materials that are so limited to us! Ranjani spoke to me as he would to a child. He taught me that bamboo is the only truly renewable source of a thousand goods and uses. He spread his plants everywhere in Noah and in many parts of this ship. How can one argue with a man who uses space no one else does and grows his giant grass in incredible speed and profusion? It is strange to be a student to this man, but so be it. Rajani had me learn about the Giant, a bamboo native of Burma which grows more than a foot thick and better than one hundred and forty feet high. He pestered me so much that I gave him a full afternoon for his teaching. He seized on this fiercely. Among things I was ordered to learn was that, in the Giant bamboo, columns of living tissue are scattered throughout hollow culm walls, and that its joints, or nodes, provide tremendous strength. Why do I persist in writing all this? I said that Rajani might be the one who saves us all; I repeat it now. Who else but Rajani could grow a plant that becomes a building and construction material, a dozen tools, a variety of containers . . . the uses are boundless.

"You will need this giant bamboo, along with the more critical plants, when we make planetfall," he told us. "The Earth will be stripped of its precious fertile soil. There may be nothing growing but grass and weeds and bushes. Without the insects there will be no flowers. What we bring back will determine our future. There will be no trees. We must bring instant trees to Earth for the future generations, and it is the Giant that will do this. See here? It never takes from the soil, but enriches it. It binds loose soil together and firms it. Do we need scaffolding? Paper? Medical supplies? Heat and energy? Furniture? Wagons and boats? Drinking vessels. Conduits for water. For anything! And look how it grows! Aboard this ship seven feet a day! Under Earth gravity, crushing and relentless, it is still four feet every day."

Lester Rajani spoke also to the children. They must learn to work, plant, harvest, respect and love bamboo as he did, he told them, and he told them stories. I will repeat one here as he told it. The American woman-astronaut, Stacy Thorpe, has typed out the moment—

"Once upon a time, long ago and far away, so far away that no one knew where it really was, there were dragons who lived in Ishmoteer. This was a fabled and a truly marvelous land. Now the dragons here were considered to be magic, because with only the great bamboo forests about them, they did wondrous things. Using only their bamboo, they grew food and they built houses, they made their own furniture and floor mats and even their cooking utensils. They made wheels and wonderful chariots, and little cages for their pet crickets, because dragons have pets, also. They made paper for writing and telling stories and for very fine painting, They made all sorts of marvelous things. They made drums and flutes and fifes and pipes and clarinets and bongos and laughing music with their instruments. They made perfume, and fine jewelry, and even crutches for the dragons who stubbed their big toes. They made vases for their flowers and long tunnels to carry water and ovens and stoves for cooking and baking. They made writing pens and combs and shoes and when they went high into the mountains where there was snow they made sleds and toboggans and even skis. These dragons of Ishmoteer built soaring bridges and wonderful temples, they made candles from bamboo, and on warm summer evenings they sailed their bamboo boats and played music and sang songs"

"Were the dragons really real?" an excited little boy asked.

"And was there really an Ishmoteer?" cried a young girl.

Rajani smiled upon the children who had glided through the bamboo thickets of Noah, growing tall and straight under the ultraviolet suns crafted by man, glistening in the light of charred bamboo in the decorative lamps, looming over the bamboo chairs and benches, holding drinks in bamboo cups and gourds. Rajani brought a bamboo flute to his lips and an airy tune flew forth. He lowered the flute and his eyes shone.

"Of course the dragons are real," he told the children. "And do you know where Ishmoteer is?"

"Tell us! Tell us!"

"Why, look around you. This is Ishmoteer, and we are its dragons."

No, to survive we needed a physical barrier across the front of each ship, wide enough to span the vessel's full diameter and more. A barrier that could cause an incoming rock particle to disintegrate and somehow break up its force before it struck the main structure of a ship. (ed note: a Whipple shield)

"I can build you such a barrier," Lester Rajani said to me. He entered my command office and calmly told me he could do what our engineers, scientists, technicians, construction crews, metallurgists—the whole useless lot of them—could not. And he could do it quickly, without damaging or weakening any part of our two ships.

I asked him how long it would take to perform this miracle. He told me four to seven days. I almost threw him from my quarters but he was too quiet, too confident. Give me your construction teams and all the extra hands, the spacetugs, and in one week at the outside he would have the needed barriers in place. And, he added, he would be able to replace the barriers and keep replacing them as necessary. I would have thrown him from my sight except that in my sudden anger I lost my temper and my feet spun out from beneath me and I could barely move. But even as my hands groped for his throat he smiled at me. Never will I forget his question.

"Commander Tereshnikov, are you aware that in many instances bamboo is stronger than steel?"

Stronger than steel! Of course I did not know any such thing and I told him so in most unpleasant terms. He informed me he had already been preparing the barriers. None of this made much sense until I told him to speak with greater clarity and take each move one at a time. Here, as I recall it, is what he said:

"Bamboo can be made stronger than steel. It is much lighter than steel, so it is easier to handle. I start all this maybe fifteen days ago. Much of our Giant bamboo is ready for cutting. So we cut the tall grass, and we have been heating and drying them until two days ago. Then we have been containing them in a heat-soaking oven. This enables us to straighten them and cut them to any length we need. Have you ever been to Hong Kong? Of course not. If you had then you would recall that in that city all the scaffolding for building construction, no matter how tall, is made from bamboo poles tied together with strips of bamboo. After a typhoon you would see steel structures twisted and smashed—but not the bamboo. It endures, just as it has endured for centuries. I do not believe you have seen the most famous of all historical bridges. There is a great suspension bridge at Siuchuan in China that spans the Min River. The bridge is suspended by bamboo cables. The cables are wound about capstans and are tightened when needed."

I asked this madman from Pakistan just how long the bridge had lasted before it fell into the river. Again, I quote to the best of my ability:

"How long has this bridge lasted? When we left Earth it had been standing for more than one thousand years. Since five centuries before Columbus crossed the ocean. It still carries—I beg your pardon, it carried until the final destruction—full convoys of trucks. And it was still bamboo. A thousand years, a thousand years."

How would this man make us the barriers we needed? To him it was simple. The engineers adapted machine shop presses to create a pressure oven within which they laminated bamboo with plastic. What emerged were great woven and plasticized sheets, one layer over the other, of a thick and strong shield. How was he so certain all this would work? He and his people had been producing these thick sheets for weeks. He would never have wasted a minute of my time unless he was absolutely certain everything would work the way he said. His plan that he gave to me was that construction crews in pressure suits would bring the plasticized sheets to the bow of the ships. There, using scaffolding made of bamboo—he smiled as he called it the Hong Kong Treatment—the crews would build huge bow plates. The full growth of Giant bamboo, he explained, requires only sixty days. He had brought enough seedlings to produce bamboo for a hundred years.

Of course I gave full permission for Rajani to commence this critical work immediately. I notified all engineering and other personnel who would be involved that Rajani was the project chief and that I would consider any hesitancy in cooperating with him to be a direct challenge to me.

After this amazing farmer from Pakistan left me, I thought greatly on the meeting. I marveled at our incredible good fortune.

From EXIT EARTH by Martin Caidin (1987)
Clarke County, Space

(ed note: Clarke County is an L5 space colony)

Torus S-16 was sometimes known as the Bamboo Farm. Unlike the other agricultural tori in the colony, which specialized in either food crops or algae production and thus were lined with long rows of hydroponics tanks, the Bamboo Farm resembled the Okefenokee Swamp. Instead of tanks, the upward-curving floor of Torus 16 was covered with vast, shallow pools of water and Mississippi Delta mud, imported at great cost from Earth. From this artificial swamp grew tall, dense glades of Arundinaria Japonica: Japanese bamboo.

The reason for bamboo cultivation in Clarke County were simple and practical. it was necessary to maintain an inexpensive, renewable supply of building material for structures within the colony; new walls were always being built, new homes and offices were always being planned. Yet it was prohibitively expensive to import huge amounts of wood from Earth, and even genetically tailored species of timber took much too long to grow in the colony, although a relative handful of decorative trees had been transplanted and grown in the biosphere and habitation tori. While lunar concrete was cheap and available resource—most of the larger structures, like the LaGrange Hotel, Bird Stadium, and the campus buildings of the International Space University were built with mooncrete—something less utilitarian than mooncrete was desired for houses, shops, and other small buildings.

The New Ark came up with bamboo as the perfect substitute. On Earth, the American strain of Japanese bamboo grew to heights of ten feet; in the lesser gravity of the space colony the reeds often topped twenty feet. Bamboo grows much faster than trees, and as a cultivated crop, requires less management. Since buildings in Clarke County were not subject to strong winds or extremes of temperature and only occasional rainfall, lightweight bamboo walls were more than adequate. It gave the homes in Big Sky and in the habitat tori a definite gone-native look., but the houses were sturdy and easily built.

As a bonus, surplus stalks were milled and refined as paper—one more item that did not have to be imported from Earth. Also, Clarke County paper was uses extensively on the Moon and Mars, which provided an additional boost to the colony's economy.

From CLARKE COUNTY, SPACE by Allen Steele (1990)

(ed note: in the novel, the people are living inside a generational starship but have forgotten this fact generations ago)

Beyond the barricade, men worked vigorously, hacking down the tall ponic stalks (bamboo), the edible sap, miltex, spurting out above their blades. As they were felled, the stalks were inverted to preserve as much sap as possible. This would be drained off and the hollow poles dried, cut to standard lengths and used eventually for a multitude of purposes. Almost on top of the busy blades, other sections of the plants were also being harvested: the leaves for medicinal use, the young shoots for table delicacies, the seed for various uses, as food, as buttons, as loose ballast in the Quarters’ version of tambourines, as counters for the Travel-Up boards, as toys for babies (into whose all-sampling mouths they were too large to cram).

The hardest job in the task of clearing ponics was breaking up the interlacing root structure, which lay like a steel mesh under the grit, its lower tendrils biting deep into the deck. As it was chopped out, other men with spades cleared the humus into sacks; here the humus was particularly deep, almost two feet of it covering the deck: evidence that these were unexplored parts, across which no other tribe had ever worked. The filled sacks were carted back to Quarters, where they would be emptied to provide new fields in new rooms.

From NON-STOP by Brian Aldiss (1958)
Bootstrapping Clothing

(ed note: making cloth and clothing from bamboo fiber)

Bamboo has bast fibers, similar to flax and hemp. Most things referred to as 'bamboo fiber' are actually rayon made with bamboo as a feedstock, but true bamboo fiber is possible. The raw material is high in lignin, so processing is often a combination of mechanical chopping and chemical or enzyme boosted bacterial retting. Lots more details here:

The tenacity of those fibers is less than half that of cotton. The resulting cloth won't be as durable or tough, but still falling between wool and rayon. That is to say, still useful and with a reportedly pleasant feel.

The yield of bamboo basts can be as high as 53 tonnes per hectare (5.365kg/m² or 14.7g/m² per day). As long as the net fiber yield is at least 15% of the gross bast mass then it is competitive with cotton. If it is over 31% then it is competitive with hemp.

yield source:

If we look back a ways (1909), at least one author noted yields as high as 44 tons per acre (an eye-popping 98.6 tonnes per hectare) and fiber yields as high as 44%.

source: Congressional Serial Set: pulp and paper investigation hearings. 1 January 1909. (available free)

Let's go with the modern optimistic yield (while noting that high-intensity hydroponics can almost certainly double that value) and a fiber yield of, say, 38%. That would give a fiber yield of 5.6g/m² per day or about 6.1m² per person. The plants require a three-year lead time and a third of the stand is harvested each year. Waste from this process would be suitable for paper or fuel alcohol.

I think the main drawback would be that bamboo grows very tall. A dwarf species could be found that grows to 4m after three years, but it's not certain the yield numbers would still apply. Even so, that's about 25m³ per person. Cotton by contrast grows to perhaps 130cm. Allowing 20cm for lighting and nutrient systems, that same 4m space could house two stacked crops. If a mild dwarf variety of cotton was developed that matured to 110cm or less, three stacked crops could occupy the same space and would become competitive again on a floor-space and volume basis.

Another drawback is that bamboo requires several years to develop for this purpose. Peak fiber yields occur at three years. Peak structural strength is typically seen around 5 years. For paper pulp or wattle it can be taken at 1-2 years.

Those drawbacks are certainly opposed by several advantages unique to bamboo. It's a structural material, can be used similar to wood (buttons, flooring, furniture) and resists bacterial and fungal attack. Bamboo resists high-pH environments and can be embedded in concrete; it could serve as the tension member in a reinforced regolith-block construction if metal is scarce.

Bioethanol Production from Bamboo

As a member of the Graminae family, the composition of bamboo is highly similar to other grasses utilised for biofuel purposes (e.g. switchgrass, Miscanthus). Its cell wall is comprised of the polymeric constituents cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. The complex physical and chemical interactions between these components prevent enzymes from readily accessing the microfibrillar cellulose during the saccharification stage of its conversion into biofuel. As a result of this recalcitrance, a pretreatment stage is needed to maximise hydrolysis of cell wall sugars into their monomeric form.

Alternative approaches to reduce bioethanol production costs are still needed however, to ensure its competitiveness in a possible future scenario where neither tax exemptions nor subsidies are granted to producers. These measures may include improving sugar release with more effective pretreatments and reduced enzyme usage, accessing low cost bamboo feedstock or selecting feedstocks with higher/more accessible cellulose.

Littlewood et al.

In their study, the Imperial College London team used liquid hot water (LHW) pretreatment to enhance sugar release from bamboo lignocellulose while minimizing economic and environmental costs. Pretreatments were performed at temperatures of 170-190°C for 10–30 minutes, followed by enzymatic saccharification with a commercial enzyme cocktail at various loadings.

The economic analysis found that the lowest enzyme loading had the most commercially viable scenario (production cost of $0.484 per liter (US$1.83/gallon US) with tax exemption and a $0.16/liter (US$0.606/gallon US subsidy)) even though it produced the least amount of bioethanol and generated the greatest level of co-product electricity.

This economic result was primarily due to the significant enzyme contribution to cost, which at higher loadings was not defrayed adequately by an increase in the amount of sugar released, the team said.

A cost breakdown and sensitivity analysis of the 10 FPU/g glucan scenario demonstrated that the cost of raw materials was the greatest contributor, with bamboo and enzyme purchase accounting for 51% and 17% of the MESP, respectively.

The supply-chain model showed that bamboo would be competitive with gasoline at the pump in scenarios with enzyme loadings of 60 FPU/g glucan and lower.

Colony Culture

Dunbar's number

Dunbar's number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. This number was first proposed in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 250, with a commonly used value of 150. Dunbar's number states the number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, and it does not include the number of people known personally with a ceased social relationship, nor people just generally known with a lack of persistent social relationship, a number which might be much higher and likely depends on long-term memory size.

Dunbar theorized that "this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size ... the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained." On the periphery, the number also includes past colleagues, such as high school friends, with whom a person would want to reacquaint himself if they met again.

From the Wikipedia entry for Dunbar's number
Cultural Analysis

Speculation about revolutionary developments is not, however, immediately relevant to a most pressing question about human adaptation to space: How can groups of people live and work together without psychological impairment or the breakdown of social order in the space stations, lunar bases, and Mars expeditions now being planned? Psychological and social problems in space living constitute, as both Soviet and American space veterans attest (Bluth 1981, Carr 1981), major barriers to be overcome in the humanization of space.

Coping with isolation from Earth, family, and friends and with the cramped confines of a space module or station has been enough of a challenge for carefully selected and highly trained spacefarers of the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. As those cosmonauts who have been “pushing the endurance envelope” the farthest attest, staying longer and longer in space provokes severe psychological strain (Bluth 1981; Grigoriev, Kozerenko, and Myasnikov 1985; Oberg 1985, p. 21).

Now life in space is becoming even more complicated as “guest cosmonauts” from many nations join Soviet and American crews; as women join men; and as physicians, physicists, engineers, and other specialists routinely work alongside traditional cosmonauts and astronauts of the “right stuff”. How will all these different kinds of people get along in the space stations of the next decade and the lunar bases and martian outposts which are to follow? What measures can be taken which would reduce stress and make it easier for heterogeneous groups of people to work efficiently and safely and to live together amicably for months or even years in these space habitats?

Among social scientists it has been primarily the psychologists (Helmreich 1983), with a few jurists, sociologists, and political scientists joining in, who have tried to address these problems of space living. However, inasmuch as among the diverse lot of people who call themselves anthropologists there are those who are intensely interested in interpersonal relations and small group behavior, it should not be surprising that anthropologists might also be attracted to work in this field. Interestingly, some recent recruits come from maritime anthropology, where they have worked on the dynamics of small-boat fishing crews.

These and other anthropologists interested in space can bring to the field a degree of “hands-on” experience in working with “real” small groups—be they fishing crews, Antarctic scientists, or hunting and gathering bands.

Here I wish to suggest two specific areas in which this cultural perspective of anthropology could be useful: (1) in addressing the problems of cross-cultural relations among heterogeneous space crews and societies and (2) in the application of cultural resources to develop models for space living.

Cultural factors should not, however, be viewed solely in terms of impediments to successful space living, for they may also constitute valuable human resources to be tapped in adapting to space. In addition to seeking to promote cultural harmony among heterogeneous space crews, we might also seek out, from the multitude of cultural traditions among the Earth’s societies, those practices and institutions which could best promote harmonious and productive life in space.

As an example, consider interpersonal problems in a space habitat. J. Henry Glazer, an attorney who has pioneered the study of “astrolaw,” warns against exporting to space communities the adversarial approach to dispute resolution based on “medieval systems of courtroom combat” (Glazer 1985, p. 16). In small space habitats, where people cannot escape from one another but must work out ways of interacting peacefully and productively, adversarial proceedings would irritate an already sensitive social field. And how could the winners and losers of bitter courtroom battles live and work with each other afterwards?

One obvious suggestion is that systems which are designed to detect interpersonal problems early and head them off through mediation should be considered for space living. Glazer, for example, calls for a new kind of legal specialist—not an adversarial advocate, but someone who settles disputes on behalf of the interests of all spacefarers on a mission. He draws his model from the Tabula de Amalfa, the maritime code of the once powerful Mediterranean naval power of Amalfi. Their code provided for a “consul” who sailed aboard each merchant vessel with the power to adjudicate differences between master, crew, and others on board (Glazer 1985, pp. 26—27; Twiss 1876, p. 11). In addition to looking to this and perhaps other maritime analogs, it is tempting to suggest that, with an eye to the more distant future of large space settlements, we also examine major contemporary societies in which harmony and cooperation is stressed. The example of Japan, with its low crime rate and relative paucity of lawyers, comes to mind—although its utility as a model for international efforts may be limited in that Japan is such an ethnically homogeneous society

Once we have learned how to live together amicably in space and to work safely and efficiently there, once we have developed ways of avoiding the health problems of ionizing radiation, microgravity, and other hazards of nonterrestrial environments, and once we have learned how to grow food in space and to produce air, water, and other necessities there, then humankind can actually settle space, not just sojourn there. New cultures and new societies will then evolve as people seek to adapt to a variety of space environments. This process of building new cultures and societies will undoubtedly contain many surprises. Yet, all the resultant sociocultural systems must provide the basic prerequisites for human existence if they are to be successful.
Bluth, B. J. 1981. Soviet Space Stress. Science 81, vol. 2, no. 7, pp. 30—35.
Carr, Gerald Paul. 1981. Comments from a Skylab Veteran. The Futurist 15:38.
Glazer, J. Henry. 1985. Astrolaw Jurisprudence in Space as a Place: Right Reason for the Right Stuff. Brooklyn J. Int. Law 11 (1): 1—43.
Grigoriev, A. I.; O. P. Kozerenko; and V. I. Myasnikov. 1985. Selected Problems of Psychological Support of Prolonged Space Flights. Preprint of a paper delivered at the Int. Astronaut. Fed. Congress, Stockholm.
Helmreich, Robert L. 1983. Applying Psychology in Outer Space. American Psychologist 38: 445—450.
Oberg, Alcestis R. 1985. Spacefarers of the ’80s and ’90s: The Next Thousand People in Space. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
Twiss, Travers. 1876. The Black Book of the Admiralty, Vol. 4. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office.
From Space Migrations: Anthropology and the Humanization of Space by Ben R. Finney. Collected in Space Resources NASA SP-509 vol 4


'An entirely old one, rather. The Tyranni are destroying the right of twenty billion human beings to take part in the development of the race. You've been to school. You've learned the economic cycle. A new planet is settled' — he was ticking the points off on his fingers — 'and its first care is to feed itself. It becomes an agricultural world, a herding world. It begins to dig in the ground for crude ore to export, and sends its agricultural surplus abroad to buy luxuries and machinery. That is the second step. Then, as population increases and foreign investments grow, an industrial civilization begins to bud, which is the third step. Eventually, the world becomes mechanized, importing food, exporting machinery, investing in the development of more primitive worlds, and so on. The fourth step.

'Always the mechanized worlds are the most thickly populated, the most powerful, militarily — since war is a function of machines — and they are usually surrounded by a fringe of agricultural, dependent worlds.

'But what has happened to us? We were at the third step, with a growing industry. And now? That growth has been stopped, frozen, forced to recede.

It would interfere with Tyrannian control of our industrial necessities. It is a short-term investment on their part, because eventually we'll become unprofitable as we become impoverished. But meanwhile, they skim the cream.

'Besides, if we industrialized ourselves, we might develop weapons of war. So industrialization is stopped; scientific research is forbidden. And eventually the people become so used to that, they lack the realization even that anything is missing. So that you are surprised when I tell you that I could be executed for building a visisonor.

'Of course, someday we will beat the Tyranni. It is fairly inevitable. They can't rule forever. No one can. They'll grow soft and lazy. They will intermarry and lose much of their separate traditions. They will become corrupt. But it may take centuries, because history doesn't hurry. And when those centuries have passed, we will still all be agricultural worlds with no industrial or scientific heritage to speak of, while our neighbors on all sides, those not under Tyrannian control, will be strong and urbanized. The Kingdoms will be semicolonial areas forever. They will never catch up, and we will be merely observers in the great drama of human advance.'

From The Stars, Like Dust by Isaac Asimov

Living Systems Theory

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-energySubsystems 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.
Example: scientists
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.
The Appropriateness Of Using The Living Systems Theory By James Grier Miller As A Diagnostic Tool

It is thus important to mention functions that serve as threatening to the system and its survival. LST is not only concerned with the attributes and functionality of healthy living systems, but also with aspects that function as menacing for the system (Tracy, 1992).

Processes that function as menacing for the system must be exposed and outlined, in order to find ways of dealing with them in appropriate ways. These malfunctions can cause the system to go towards states that is pathological. LST makes it possible to determine whether the condition of a system is pathological, by establishing a set of situations that, if not dealt with in time, functions as mortal for the system (Miller, 1995).

Miller & Miller (1991) has identified eight such situations:

  1. Lacks of matter or energy inputs
  2. Excesses of mater or energy inputs
  3. Inputs of inappropriate forms of matter or energy
  4. Lack of information inputs
  5. Excesses of information inputs
  6. Inputs of maladaptive genetic information in the template
  7. Abnormalities in internal matter or energy processes
  8. Abnormalities in internal information processes

Examples of each of these pathological situations are here given from the project management view (since this work is concerned with information systems development processes).

  1. Lacks of matter or energy inputs: The equipment needed for the project did not arrive when agreed upon (computers, hardware, laboratory equipment, etc.).
  2. Excesses of mater or energy inputs: Too much material and equipment arrived and had to be sorted with (equipment must be sent back to the supplier, invoices had to be corrected and revised).
  3. Inputs of inappropriate forms of matter or energy: The wrong kind of equipment arrived for the project (the wrong hardware or software, computers, laboratory equipment, etc.).
  4. Lack of information inputs: The project manager does not get the needed information in time during different phases in the project.
  5. Excesses of information inputs: The project manager gets too much information from various sources and finds it difficult to screen out appropriate information from inappropriate information.
  6. Inputs of maladaptive genetic information in the template: The account manager finds irregularities in the bookkeeping.
  7. Abnormalities in internal matter or energy processes: When the computerised production system was implemented, the system broke down and an analyse shows the new system had some incorrectness in the code.
  8. Abnormalities in internal information processes: A further investigation shows that the incorrectness in the code was due to some misunderstandings in the mapping of the new production flow.
Living systems theory and organizations in games

I have always liked the games which let the player manage people. Most just simplify the process, leaving him with mindless automatons who just follow orders and, sometimes, maybe leave or attack when conditions become unbearable. Very rarely your underlings will have any ambitions beyond serving you and getting paid. Rome and Crusader Kings 2 are precious examples of the game where your vassals may plot against you.

Still, I sometimes dream about a game where the main difficulty would be managing an organization. Dealing with internal backstabbing, competition, disloyalty, corruption and inefficiency. Orders could be subverted, reports falsified, work deliberately sabotaged. I would also like it had some more forms of intra-organizational hostility than outright violence and hard-coded espionage options: AI should be able to see weaknesses in the enemy's organizational structure and act accordingly. Which manufacturing process to sabotage, which underling to bribe to turn a blind eye, which manager to best approach to strike a lucrative deal. Of course, this won't happen nowhere in near future.

One of the things we lack is a nice, simple model to describe an organization. Something standard enough that could incorporate anything from primitive tribal villages to corporations, governments and espionage organizations. Sounds hard, but I think I have recently found something.

Living systems theory is quite old (1978). Its main principle is that all living things operate at least a bit similarly. They need to take matter and energy from the outside any organize it using information to resist entropy, maintaining a stable state. Moreover, they tend to organize in levels: cell, organ, organism, group, organization, society, supra-national system, each level behaving somewhat similarly.

Have you ever criticized corporate personhood? Well, according to this theory, they are at least living beings. The same with nations or churches.

The book has over 1000 pages, so I'm just going to sum up the things that may be useful.

1. Variables and stresses

You can point out some numeric that a living system just needs to keep stable. A cell needs to keep its cell barrier intact to prevent the contents to spill out, enough food and oxygen to keep its internal processes running, proper temperature, etc. A corporation needs enough workers on proper positions, liquid assets to pay them and buy materials, enough materials to produce and products to be sold. If one of them goes beyond their normal boundaries it causes a stress. Most, if not all, activity of a living systems is reacting to existing and anticipated stresses.

This is important, because it tells a lot how an organization works. They are pretty inactive unless one of their important variables is, or will be, threatened. Even the most benevolent organizations will eventually evolve to care mostly for their own survival mostly, or dissolve. Moreover, they usually tailor their response to the threat magnitude. Until it happens, they are pretty content to just sit there.

Why don't all organizations just focus on gathering resources? Why are there churches, fund-raising organizations, hobbyist groups? According to the theory it is an example of specialization. An organization is composed of groups of people, so it needs to bring them in somehow. Some of them are created by the society (their suprasystem) to perform some necessary tasks and processes. If they cease to be needed, people will leave them and the society will eventually stop to support them. So churches need to satisfy their members' religious needs, soup kitchens need to feed the poor. Otherwise they are maladapted and won't survive.

In short: just stick to what makes an organization thrive. Ignore the rest.

2. Subsystems

Every living system needs to perform some particular functions to survive, so we can expect them to have some particular subsystems.

Obviously they need to react. Otherwise we have no living system, just a lump of concentrated matter. This is where the decider comes handy.

All living systems need to separate themselves from the outside world a bit, keeping harmful matter-energy and information outside. The boundary does that. on higher levels, from groups upward, it is much more fluid, but it is there. A family won't just let anyone into their house or let their valuables to be taken away.

Matter-energy flows in through ingestor, is distributed by distributor, processed by converter and, eventually, producer or stored in matter-energy storage. Wastes and completed products go through the extruder outside.

Information flows in through input transducer or is generated inside with internal transducer, then is translated by decoder into a form comprehensible to the decider.  Channel and net transmit the information, associator and memory make learning possible. Encoder re-translates the information that needs to go out into something else (like speech) and output transducer transmits it outside.

Last, but not least, the reproducer lets the system, well, reproduce.

What's important with these subsystems that they are abstract. The heart, for example, is only a part of the distributor. Lungs act as parts of ingestor (inhaling oxygen), extruder (exhaling carbon dioxide) and converter (binding oxygen with blood cells). Same goes for groups and upward.

Components are probably the most valuable part of this theory. Game AI could be programmed to recognize crucial parts of organizations and act accordingly without hard-coding everything. If a human village needs water to survive, then — in a siege — an obvious solution would be to cut off the stream, or send someone to poison the well. If breaking into the bank vault is too difficult because of the walls, then perhaps entering through the ingestor disguised will be more fruitful. If a nation is bothered by terrorist cells popping out, it needs to learn how they reproduce and prevent that — by arresting potential members or spreading its own propaganda to counter their influence.

There are also various hypotheses about how living systems govern themselves — how power and authority work, what are the most common stresses, how information-processing components distort the information (almost always to maximize their rewards and minimize punishments from the suprasystem), how are the signals encoded, etc. I am currently just walking around the book and thinking, how to best tackle the problem. Matter-energy processes seem pretty simple, but information will need a lot of work.

As all living systems have a genetic code, it seems almost natural to borrow the concept of memes from Dawkins. Decoder would translate gathered data to some simple symbols (hunger, danger, food, peace, etc.), which could be connected by the associator and stored. The decider could make the decision based on symbol being given — an individual who connects "corporation" with "danger", approached by its executive will do something else, than the one who connects it with "money". The main problem is that I'm not really sure how the symbols should interact with each other to even have some semblance of a coherent thought process. I will need to research more.

Tank Crews and Platoons as Living Systems
(ed note: this is an example of applying Living System Theory (LST) to US Army crews of tanks (armored fighting vehicles). This provides useful real-world examples of the subsystems.
Note that this was written before the 20th subsystem (Timer) was added to LST.
A tank crew is a team composed of four soldiers: tank commander (TC), gunner, loader, and driver. A tank platoon is composed of five tanks and their crews.
"Tables" are gunnery qualification tables, a test tank crews have to pass in order to be rated as qualified to operate a tank in combat.)

The target engagement processes of tank crews and platoons are further described below, in the context of the 19 critical subsystems prescribed by LST. The descriptions are necessarily brief, and do not cover all contingencies and details which might arise. However, they do provide an initial framework for understanding all structures and processes of tank crews and platoons; the utility of this framework for guiding research and improving operations is assessed in later chapters.

1. Reproducer. This subsystem does not exist at the levels of tanks crews and platoons; neither a crew or platoon can reproduce itself. Individual crew members and equipment components can be replaced (as part of the ingestor or producer subsystems), but intact crews and tanks cannot be created. During gunnery qualification tables, crews and platoons which cannot complete the course are rated unqualified. Qualified units cannot be obtained, except through continued training of existing crews and platoons. The reproducer subsystem is upwardly dispersed, at least to the level of division replacement. In the event of war, during the early stages of which it is anticipated that many crews and platoons would be lost, the reproducer process must be performed by the reserve system. It seems probable that a currently significant pathology of the overall military system is the lack of an adequately responsive reserve force. The reproducer process of military units is ultimately upwardly dispersed to the level of society, since Congress and the public provide the manpower and funds for replacement and reserve units. The bureaucracy involved in dispersal to this level probably prohibits the effective performance of such a reproducer process within the time-frames of modern warfare. The fact that this subsystem is critical for survival of the species sufficiently emphasizes the severity of this problem.

2. Boundary. The boundary of a tank crew is easily defined as the hull, turret, and cupola of the tank occupied. During Table VIII, all crew operations are performed within this perimeter. During wartime operations, this boundary may be somewhat extended, since individual crew members may leave the tank to scout, detect targets, or prepare firing positions (the possibility of components leaving the boundary of a system is not specifically addressed by LST). The importance of this subsystem during wartime is obvious, since penetration of the boundary by hostile fire usually means the death of the system. The boundary is maintained by keeping hatches closed, by using terrain features for protection during movement, and by firing from hull-down or turrets-down (partially exposed) positions. For platoons, the boundary can be considered as downwardly dispersed to individual tanks. It could also be defined in a less precise physical sense as the platoon sectors of fire or area of responsibility but the former definition seems to be more appropriate within the strict LST framework.

3. Ingestor. The matter-energy ingested by tank crews and platoons includes ammunition, fuel, water, food, and maintenance items (firing pins, flashlights, cleaning kits, etc.). These items are provided by the battalion supply system (S4) and are ingested (brought across the boundary) by various means. Fuel is ingested through hoses, ammunition is ingested through a hatch by the loader and other personnel, and food and water are brought in by individuals in canteens and rations. This process is thus to a large extent downwardly dispersed to individuals or outwardly dispersed to other personnel. During Tables VIII and IX, ingestion is accomplished prior to the exercise.

4. Distributor. The best example of the distributor process in tank crews and platoons is the stowage of ammunition in racks and the loading of the main gun and coax machine gun by loaders. The type of target anticipated may dictate a type, of ammunition to be preloaded in the main gun (termed battlesight ammunition), and, at the platoon level, anticipation of a variety of targets may dictate the preloading of different types of ammunition in different tanks. During target engagement the types of ammunition to be loaded are specified as an element of fire commands. Ammunition is placed in racks by loaders as directed in anticipation of the types of targets to be encountered. Other examples of the distributor subsystem in tanks include the distribution of matter-energy via fuel lines and electrical circuits.

5. Converter. This process does not occur extensively in tank crews and platoons, since it is largely outwardly dispersed; i.e., matter-energy is provided to these systems in a useable form. Components to which conversion is dispersed include ammunition manufacturers, ration preparers, fuel refineries, etc. Examples of the occasional occurrence of this process at the tank crew level include the setting of detonation time on a certain type of anti-personnel ammunition (BEEHIVE) by the loader, and the heating of rations.

6. Producer. The primary product of tank crews and platoons is firepower (steel on target). This is generally produced using the main gun by the TC issuing fire commands, the gunner laying on target and firing, and accomplishment of the firing sequence by the weapons system (detonation of ammunition charge in the breech). Firepower may also be produced by the TC or gunner firing their machine guns. Other products of tank crews and platoons include smoke for masking movement, and illumination of targets by use of searchlights or flares. Maintenance processes are also included in the producer subsystem; prepare-to-fire checks (sight purging check, computer check, rangefinder check, etc.), misfire procedures, and light maintenance tasks are performed by tank crews, while heavier maintenance tasks are dispersed to full-time maintenance personnel. Individual personnel replacement can also be considered as part of the producer subsystem, and it is upwardly dispersed from the crew and platoon levels, ultimately to the personnel assignment system (Military Personnel Center). The important role of crew and platoon personnel in incorporating and training new members should not be overlooked, however. The producer processes of tank crews and platoons are thus largely either outwardly dispersed or accomplished at the crew level; platoons disperse producing to crews in a coordinated fashion (e.g., one tank may provide illumination while others fire).

7. Matter-energy storage. Matter-energy is stored at the level of tank crews in ammunition racks, fuel tanks, batteries, water cans, etc. No matter-energy storage per se takes place at platoon level; the process is downwardly dispersed to individual tanks and crews, or outwardly dispersed to other units in the battalion. Components involved here include the supply, mess, and transportation sections of the battalion support platoon.

8. Extruder. The principal products of tank crews and platoons are removed from these systems through the main gun tube and machine gun barrels. Extruding for platoons is thus downwardly dispersed to individual tanks and crews (TC's, gunners, and loaders). Empty shell casings and other waste materials are kept on tanks during exercises such as Tables VIII and IX and are disposed of through hatches at appropriate later times. Cleaning of tanks is accomplished by individual crew members.

9. Motor. At the crew level this subsystem obviously includes the tank driver, engine, track, and other parts responsible for the movement of the tank. The TC may also be included, since he provides direction to the driver. The turret and gun elevation system are also parts of the motor subsystem, since they are involved in movement of parts of the tank. Thus all crew members, except perhaps the loader, are involved in the motor process. The motor subsystem for platoons is downwardly dispersed to the level of crews, since there are no platoon vehicles or movement independent of the five tanks. In Tables VIII and IX the primary motor function may be simplified to following a well-worn pathway; in actual combat it is a complex process, involving the use of terrain features for protection and the selection of optimal firing positions. In platoons the motor process must be coordinated among five tanks; for example, bounding overwatch techniques may be used, in which part of the platoon moves while the rest provides protection.

10. Supporter. In a physical sense the supporter process is governed by the interior design of the tank. Each crew member has an assigned position within the tank, and movement is restricted by the limited space available. For example, the loader has a limited operating area and he must stay clear of the recoil pathway of the main gun. This supporter process for platoons is downwardly dispersed to individual tanks. In a more abstract sense, the supporter subsystem is provided by command or leadership. The TC commands crew members to remain at their positions and accomplish specific tasks. One of the most important roles of the platoon leader is to maintain the proper spatial relationships among five tanks. Terrain features also play a role here. In LST the supporter subsystem is described in a physical sense; whether command or motivational support belongs here or elsewhere is a subject of later discussion.

11. Input transducer. Information is brought across the boundaries of crews and platoons in various ways. The TC receives instructions from higher echelons through the tank's radio, as does the platoon leader. These communications are primarily received from the next higher echelon (platoon leader or sergeant to TC, company personnel to platoon leader), but other radio frequencies may be monitored to provide additional information. During Tables VIII and IX, instructions are received from exercise controllers or scorers. Crew members acquire information used to detect, locate, and identify targets by observing the environment, with or without using sights. Each crew member has a clearly delineated sector of observation responsibility whether on a lone tank or as part of a platoon. Scanning is done continuously, first with unaided vision, then with magnified optics, searching strips 50 meters deep from right to left. Target acquisition information may also be obtained from dismounted observers equipped with binoculars and communications to the crew or platoon. The sense of hearing, as well as vision, is important in this process. Targets can be located at night using night vision devices or indirect illumination. The range to located targets can be determined by the TC using a rangefinder or other range estimation techniques, During target engagement, all crew members assist the TC in observing and sensing the effects of rounds fired. Information markers may also be brought onto tanks by individual crew members carrying training aids, checklists, etc. For example, the driver may post a card detailing starting and stopping procedures in the tank where he can easily see it. All crew members are thus involved in the input transduction process, and this process for platoons is largely dispersed to crews and individuals,

12. Internal transducer. The TC has primary responsibility for the process of monitoring information from within a tank crew, but all crew members are involved to some extent. The driver monitors gauge and instrument readings and changes them into verbal form for communication to other crew members or written form for recording in the vehicle logbook, as necessary. The gunner monitors the state of various switches, sights, and other parts of the fire control system. The loader selects appropriate types of ammunition based on shape and color,, and observes for weapons misfires or stoppages. The TC monitors the performance of the other crew members; for example, he observes the route selection and starting and stopping procedures of the driver, the ammunition selection and response of "up" by the loader, and the target acquisition by the gunner. If he observes that the gunner cannot identify and acquire a target or adjust fire correctly, he takes appropriate action to correct him or override his controls. All crew members thus continuously observe the state of each other and the tank and change their observations into appropriate verbal communications or actions. The same sorts of internal monitoring are carried out at individual and crew levels within a platoon. In addition, the platoon leader and platoon sergeant must monitor the states and positions of the other four tanks by visual observation and radio communications.

13. Channel and net. The primary communications channels in a tank crew are verbal ones using the intercom system; similarly, in a tank platoon FM radios are used. Flares, flag sets, arm signals, or other prearranged communications may also be used in a platoon in particular circumstances. In future warfare it is anticipated that jamming may lead to effective elimination of the channel and net subsystem. Since all subsystems are critical for system survival in the LST framework, alternative means of communication must be found. Platoons cannot be trained to perform satisfactorily in all situations without communications.

(ed note: this paper was written before the "timer" subsystem was added to the theory. I renumbered the items below to match.)

15. Decoder. Information is changed into internal codes or language in tank crews and platoons primarily through the issuance of fire commands by the TC or platoon leader. In general, the initial fire command issued by the TC consists of six elements (in practice, only four elements are frequently used). The first element alerts the crew of an immediate engagement (e.g., "gunner"). The second element informs the crew what ammunition and weapon is to be employed, and if the searchlight will be used (e.g, "HEAT"). The loader loads the specified ammunition in the main gun, if necessary, and responds "up". The third element describes the type of target to be engaged (e.g., "tank"), and the next two elements specify the direction and range of the target (e.g., "direct front, one thousand"). After the gunner has indicated that he sees the target (announced "identified"), the TC gives the execution element ("fire") and the gunner announces "on the way" and fires. The TC may delay firing by announcing "at my command", and he may override 'the gunner and fire the round himself by announcing "from my position". The gunner continues to fire and the loader continues to load until the TC announces "cease fire". Subsequent fire commands may include standardized announcements of sensings of rounds (where round went in relation to target) and corrections of the sight picture (where gunner is aiming). There are many other details and considerations in fire commands that cannot be listed here; the important point is that a tank crew has an extensive internal language primarily controlled by the TC. The platoon leader issues similar fire commands to all tanks in the platoon, with appropriate designations for individual tanks and the entire platoon, and elements for control of the pattern of fire. There are many instances, other than fire commands, of decoding in crews and platoons; for example, the TC decodes information into instructions for the driver, and the platoon leader provides movement instructions to TC's. Crew members other than the TC may perform decoding by announcing observations of targets, sensings of rounds, etc. Similarly, at the platoon level, TC's may decode information and provide it to the platoon leader in a standard format. Decoding is a frequently occurring process in tank crews and platoons, and it must be well enough practiced to occur rapidly (automatically) during target engagement. TC's and platoon leaders have a prime responsibility for decoding, but all crew and platoon members are involved to some extent,

16. Associator. This process of forming associations as input to problem-solving does not occur at crew and platoon levels, but is downwardly dispersed to individuals. Hopefully, during exercises such as Tables VIII and IX individuals are learning (developing associations) to perform their duties better and more rapidly. They are also learning to function together as a team, but from the LST perspective this represents individuals learning to work with other individuals, and not group learning per se. The extensive personnel turbulence ongoing in crews and platoons would seem to be a great inhibitor of this associating process. An example of associating during target engagement is target recognition by the TC or gunner; i.e., an object of a particular size and shape is observed and recognized as a dangerous enemy target to be fired upon. The incoming sensory information is thus associated with information stored in the individual's memory, and appropriate responses are made. Other examples include the TC's or platoon leader's assessment of the situation by evaluating target threats, routes, etc.

17. Memory. Information storage in crews and platoons is largely dispersed to the level of individuals; i.e., members bring information into the crew or platoon based upon their past training or experience. Examples of information storage by the crew are the entering of items (zero readings, gun tube wear, vehicle mileage, etc.) in the vehicle logbook and the preparation of range cards. An example of memory at the platoon level is the writing and use of platoon standing operating procedures (SOP's) and platoon fire plans. The platoon leader retrieves the necessary information for distributing and controlling fire from the fire plan. During Tables VIII and IX part of the memory process is outwardly dispersed to an observer or scorer, who records the results of the crew's or platoon's target engagements. Of course, a large portion of crew and platoon information storage is outwardly dispersed to preparers of technical manuals, field manuals, and other documents. Use of such institutional memory hopefully prevents units from having to reinvent the wheel too many times.

18. Decider. While all crew and platoon personnel are involved in making decisions to some extent, primary responsibility for this process resides with the TC and platoon leader. During Table VIII the TC decides which targets to engage in what order. During Table IX the platoon leader decides how to distribute the tanks and how to distribute and control their fire. Gunners may make decisions about adjustment of fire and drivers may make decisions between routes to be taken, but they do so under the direction of the TC, Decision making in these military units (as in most) is thus highly centralized within the component formally recognized as leader. As discussed earlier, the TC's and platoon leader represent echelons of decision making in a platoon, thus leading to its categorization as an organization.

19. Encoder. Information is normally prepared for external transmission from the crew by the TC and from the platoon by the platoon leader. This may involve some consolidation of information, but normally little encoding is necessary since higher Army echelons generally use the same codes as crews or platoons. In combat situations TC's or platoon leaders may encode information on fuel status, ammunition status, enemy movements, targets destroyed, etc. In Tables VIII and IX the encoding process is to some extent outwardly dispersed to observers.

20. Output transducer. The TC and the platoon leader normally use radios to output information from the crew and platoon, respectively. The types of information output in combat situations are generally those listed under encoding above. Output transducing is not an important process during Table VIII, but reporting procedures are evaluated during Table IX.

From Tank Crews and Platoons as Living Systems by Billy L. Burnside (1979)
A General Theory of Living Systems

Dr. Miller lists nearly two hundred cross-level hypotheses of possibly general validity. Most of them have been discovered on one particular hierarchical level, and have then been tentatively extended and at least cursorily checked at two or more different levels. I cannot possibly list and discuss all of Miller's propositions here, but a few of my favorites include the following:

Hypothesis 3.3-1: Up to a maximum higher than yet obtained in any living system but less than one-hundred percent, the larger the percentage of all matter-energy input that it consumes in information processing controlling its various system processes, as opposed to matter-energy processing, the more likely the system is to survive.

In other words, a system cannot be "too smart." It is probably true that more complex species devote a larger fraction of their total cell mass to information processing than lower species, and no one has yet discovered a species that failed to survive because too much of its body was neural tissue. Modern organizations and advanced societies are committing continually higher percentages of their available matter-energy to the communications media and other forms of information processing, vastly more than "primitive" societies do.

Hypothesis A system which survives generally decides to employ the least costly adjustment to a threat or a strain produced by a stress first and increasingly more costly ones later.

This is a restatement of the principle of least effort. Amoebas, for example, will eat nearby food first before swimming to engulf more distant morsels. Artificially-increased acidity in a dog's bloodstream will be compensated first by hyperventilation or "overbreathing" (an attempt to produce alkalosis), and if this does not work, then by increasing the rate of chloride excretion into the urine (a more complicated adjustment). When goals are frustrated, people resort first to goal-shifting, then to rationalization, then repression, and finally psychosis if all else fails. An army, in order to repel an attack, may sacrifice first a squad, then companies of regiments, and finally, if still unsuccessfull, entire divisions may be thrown into battle.

Hypothesis Systems which survive make decisions enabling them to perform at an optimum efficiency for maximum physical power output, which is always less than maximum efficiency.

In other words, surviving systems are designed for peak loads, not normal loads. The most efficient system survives only if it can also put out maximum physical power when needed, especially in combat or competitive situations. The "fight-or-flight" response of many animals diverts blood from the gut to the extremities, enhancing fighting energy and providing faster clotting to seal wounds. The cooks in an army under attack are allowed to leave their camp stoves and pick up rifles to participate in a maximum defensive effort to preserve the organization. In wartime, a society may conscript soldiers, increase taxes, commandeer vehicles and living quarters, and divert industry to the production of specialized war material.

Hypothesis 5.2-8: A system usually associates with other systems which have arisen from similar templates rather than with those derived from dissimilar templates.

That is, "birds of a feather flock together." There are many examples at all levels of living systems. When different types of embryonic cells are mixed together randomly, they sort themselves out and grow together only with other cells of the same type. Organ transplants tend to be rejected by the receiving organism. Family members often keep non-members out of personal relationships. Ethnics arriving in the United States for the first time tend to live near others of the same ethnic group. Companies doing business in similar fields meet in conventions among themselves more often than they meet with other types of companies. Nations of comparable origin and heritage tend to vote together in the United Nations.

Hypothesis 5.2-13: Under threat or stress, a system that survives, in the common good of total system survival, temporarily subordinates conflicts among subsystems or components until the threat or stress is relieved, when internal conflicts recur.

In other words, external threats unite warring factions. If a man and wife are having an argument and a well-meaning neighbor tries to intervene, the pair will temporarily suspend their differences and join in the ejection of the interloper. Public opinion is less likely to support an employee strike in organizations that provide essential services (hospitals, police, fire departments) than in organizations providing less-essential services. During war-time or periods of national disaster, societal, economic and social differences are often submerged in an attempt to meet the common threat—or the society may not survive. Supranational systems may close ranks in the face of a perceived threat to global stability, as for example the United Nations peacekeeping forces stationed in and around the Middle East and elsewhere.

Dr. Miller himself has experimentally examined several cross-level hypotheses suggested by the general theory of living systems. His personal interest lies in the processes of the channel and net subsystem and the problems of information overload and underload in living systems. Drawing on his earlier investigations of individual neuron response to data input overloads, and applying the systems approach, Miller formulated the following two cross-level hypotheses:

Hypothesis 5.1-1: As the information input to a single channel of a living system—measured in bits per second—increases, the information output—measured similarly—increases almost identically at first but gradually falls behind as it approaches a certain output rate, the channel capacity, which cannot be exceeded in the channel. The output then levels off at that rate, and finally, as the information input rate continues to go up, the output decreases gradually to ward zero as breakdown or the confusional state occurs under overload;


Hypothesis 5.1-25: Channels in living systems at higher levels in general have lower capacities than those in living systems at lower levels.

Miller set out to verify or disprove his hypotheses. First he checked the published literature at each level and found surprisingly strong support. Encouraged, he returned to the laboratory and set up a number of experiments designed to test the two hypotheses at the five levels of cell, organ, organism, group and organization. (It's hard to perform controlled tests on whole societies and supranational systems.) At each level, the response of the channel and net subsystem to a variety of information input rates was measured and recorded. The median maximum transmission rates per channel were found to be as follows: 4000 bits/sec for the cell, 55 bits/sec for the organ, 4.75-5.75 bits/sec for the organism, 3.44-4.60 bits/sec for the group, and 2.89-4.55 bits/sec for the organization.

These results support the hypotheses. By extending his knowledge of nerve cell behavior to other levels, Miller has discovered what may well be a general property of all living systems: When information input rate goes up, output rate increases to a maximum and then decreases, showing signs of overload. Apparently cells, organs, organisms, groups and organizations each react to data overloads in much the same way, with lower maximum bit rates at higher levels of living systems. Organizations as a whole can process more information than groups or individuals because they can use multiple channels.

From A General Theory of Living Systems by Robert A. Freitas, Jr., ANALOG Magazine March 1980

Other Thoughts

An interstellar domain can have no definite borders; stars are scattered too thinly, their types too intermingled. And there are too many of them. In very crude approximation, the Terrestrial Empire was a sphere of some 400 light-years diameter, centered on Sol, and contained an estimated four million stars. But of these less than half had even been visited. A bare 100,000 were directly concerned with the Imperium, a few multiples of that number might have some shadowy contact and owe a theoretical allegiance.

Consider a single planet; realize that it is a world, as big and varied and strange as this Terra ever was, with as many conflicting elements of race and language and culture among its natives; estimate how much government even one planet requires, and see how quickly a reign over many becomes impossibly huge.

Then consider, too, how small a percentage of stars are of any use to a given species (too hot, too cold, too turbulent, too many companions) and, of those, how few will have even one planet where that species is reasonably safe. The Empire becomes tenuous indeed.

And its inconceivable extent is still the merest speck in one outlying part of one spiral arm of one galaxy; among a hundred billion or more great suns, those known to any single world are the barest, tiniest handful.

From "Hunters of the Sky Cave" by Poul Anderson
Conquest of Space

Sergeant Imoto: Some years ago, my country chose to fight a terrible war. It was bad, I do not defend it, but there were reasons. Somehow those reasons are never spoken of. To the Western world at that time, Japan was a fairybook nation: little people living in a strange land of rice-paper houses... people who had almost no furniture, who sat on the floor and ate with chopsticks. The quaint houses of rice paper, sir: they were made of paper because there was no other material available. And the winters in Japan are as cold as they are in Boston. And the chopsticks: there was no metal for forks and knives and spoons, but slivers of wood could suffice. So it was with the little people of Japan, little as I am now, because for countless generations we have not been able to produce the food to make us bigger. Japan's yesterday will be the world's tomorrow: too many people and too little land. That is why I say, sir, there is urgent reason for us to reach Mars: to provide the resources the human race will need if they are to survive. That is also why I am most grateful to be found acceptable, sir. I volunteer.

General Samuel T. Merritt: Thank you, Sergeant Imoto. You're not a little man.

From Conquest of Space (1955)
The Green Hills Of Earth

Let the sweet fresh breezes heal me
As they rove around the girth
Of our lovely mother planet
Of the cool, green hills of Earth.

We rot in the molds of Venus,
We retch at her tainted breath.
Foul are her flooded jungles,
Crawling with unclean death.

[ --- the harsh bright soil of Luna ---
--- Saturn's rainbow rings ---
--- the frozen night of Titan --- ]

We've tried each spinning space mote
And reckoned its true worth:
Take us back again to the homes of men
On the cool, green hills of Earth.

The arching sky is calling
Spacemen back to their trade.
And the lights below us fade.

Out ride the sons of Terra,
Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps a race of Earthmen,
Out, far, and onward yet ---

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.

Robert A. Heinlein

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