What if we caught up with us?

We’ve been thinking about a “what if” scenario lately, where a space ship of the future is sent out to land on some distant star system. Half way there, say after 30 or so years, it is caught up by a newer, faster ship with a load of new settlers only a few years out from Earth, how might the two populations meet, what technological differences might they encounter, will they get along?

Fast forward 50 years…..

It’s a bright sunny day at the launch pad, so rather hotter than way back in the cold Earth of 2017, and we are waving goodbye to 250 passengers on a spaceship about to depart on a journey to an Earth like planet in the Alpha Centauri system (I picked that one because it’s closest, the above picture is from NASA taken by Hubble Space Telescope). Technology has advanced a lot from 2017 and the ship can make the 4.3 light year journey in 60 years, the ship is set up for a population increase over the journey, as know doubt one thing will lead to another and there’ll be more crew than they started with. They launch the ship and everyone is sad to seem them go, lots of tears, lots of waves, a very emotional time for everyone. It’s not all bad though as families can communicate with the ship as it slowly departs the Solar System. The years go by and it gets harder to communicate as the time lag gets longer and longer.

After about twenty years the ship is doing well and is about a third of the way to the destination, there’s been a bit of a baby boom due to the boredom of interstellar travel so the second generation is growing up and starting to take up roles in the space community. Meanwhile back on Earth scientists have discovered a much faster way to get to Alpha Centauri and are building a ship that can get there 10 years. They are having no problems in getting fare paying passengers, as they know people are keen to get on board as they will want to get there in their own lifetimes and maybe able to come back if they don’t like it.

Fast forward ten years and the new ship has been launched with its crew of 250 and it is already half way to the destination. Because they are nice people they have decided to slow down and check on the original ship that left 30 years ago and give them some fresh supplies, new stocks of movies to watch, and the latest release of Game of Thrones, season 87. On the original ship life has settled in well and the third generation has started to appear, they’re aware of the newer ship approaching and there’s a level of anxiousness building as to what to expect. Communications with Earth are very low bandwidth so there’s only scant information about what has happened back home in the last 30 years. Sure, there’s pictures of the new fashions and understanding the new technology but the resources on the old ship haven’t allowed the crew to advance with the rest of humanity so they are, in effect, a time capsule.

As the two ships get closer they encounter the first problem, the two ship’s computers can’t talk to each other as they’re 30 years of Windows updates behind on the original ship and the new ship now operates the Musk operating system. No problem, as the manual override allows them to move the ships into position so they can dock. The tension is thick in the old ship as they wait for the airlock to open so they can see people from Earth, some of the crew have never been on Earth so they’re very excited about the prospect of meeting some new people from the home planet.

Lucky the new ship’s doctor remembers that the old ship is probably full of the terrible diseases that plagued people back when they launched such as the flu and the common cold, which have all been cured on the new ship via a special nano implant that helps out the immune system. The problem being that they haven’t bothered to take into account any flu viruses as they were wiped out 20 years previous. So as the door was about to be opened the new ship informed the old ship that they were potentially full of harmful infectious diseases that would endanger the new crew. Not to worry the new ship’s crew promise to set up a fully functioning quarantine facility in the Alpha Centauri System so the old ship’s crew can keep their infectious diseases to themselves and not harm anyone else. With that, the new ship waves goodbye and heads off to the destination.

And the story goes on…..

Food for thought when it comes to embarking on interstellar travel as successive waves of new settlers may find themselves catching up with older ships. The issue here is that populations that are separated will become different overtime and historically we’ve not responded well to differences. Interstellar travel will bring with it a whole bunch of issues like these and even closer to home the establishment of a settlement on Mars will also bring with it the building of an identity different than Earth. We will have to figure out a mechanism where we can keep all of humanity together no matter where we end up.