I had an idea several months ago about a kind of spaceship…
I have been thinking for some time about how it might be possible to build a vessel that adequately reproduces the facilities provided by the planet Earth. That is, that the Earth is itself a space ship, which just happens to be gravitationally bound to the Sun, and which provides the living organisms on it everything they need for life, using only the energy of the Sun to do so. If we ever intend to leave this vessel permanently, we are going to have to find a way to reproduce all of its vital functions. This would include answering questions (perhaps among others) such as:
1. How do we build a spaceship or station which has the necessary redundancy and durability to persist by itself in space?
2. How can the energy of the Sun be fed through an artificial, cyclical system to generate clean water?
3. How can the energy of the Sun be fed through an artificial, cyclical system to generate food?
4. Will fusion energy be necessary for any vessel to escape into deep space, where the intensity of the Sun’s radiation decreases?
5. To what extent is it possible for an organism which has evolved dynamically in response to and within a particular ecological framework, to escape that ecological framework through the use of the substitute systems implied by (2) and (3), without those systems having been subject to the same evolutionary/adaptive processes? (Can we live only on the Earth, by virtue of our having evolved here and being therefore inescapably dependent on its natural systems?)
The suggestion here only attempts to answer the first question:
The solution is an artificial planet, constructed from a collection of identical, or nearly identical modular components, each brought together by their mutual gravitational attraction, and locked in place to form a kind of human-made cellular structure. In space, I imagine that these pieces would move together and coalesce like a flock of birds, or like the rocks that form planetary rings. In this way, it would be possible to have a vessel large enough to support a large community, but at the same time have the kind of redundancy needed for a permanent interstellar presence. At any given time some percentage of the whole collective may under repair, or flown off to orbit some other body; pieces may come and go, but the integrity of entire structure would be unaffected. There would be no centralized, critical components and no risk of systemic failure from such components. Systemic risks may appear though in a kind of viral form, associated with the kinds of connectivity or interdependence that may exist in the system.
1. How massive will the entire structure be? Will it have gravity on par with that of the moon or a large asteroid?
2. How large will each individual ‘pod’ be? Its mass?
3. Will each ‘pod’ be self-sufficient, or will it be more beneficial to adapt some to particular purposes, as cells are specialized in the bodies of multicellular organisms?
4. Will people inhabit the surface of this thing or will they be free to move through the whole structure? Will it be spherical? Are there other shapes which might be preferred for some reason?
5. Interesting n-body questions may arise when trying to describe the formation and dispersal of the structure.
6. .. etc, etc.