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Freeze sperm, leave the men behind.
May 2, 2002 9:18 AM   Subscribe

Freeze sperm, leave the men behind. In this article, a NASA researcher explains how a flight to the nearest star would take place within our lifetimes, but require at least a couple generations. The generation that leaves (which could be entirely female to save on weight and maximize potential for offspring) would die, and giving birth to the next crew. Taking a trip like this would increase our knowledge of space many-fold, but would you be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for mankind? Is a trip like this a bad idea?
posted by mathowie (52 comments total)

 
I would be more than willing, were I of the appropriate sex. However, I have significant qualms about making that sort of a choice for the generation to follow.
posted by rushmc at 9:34 AM on May 2, 2002


The space ship would see tribal warfare, familial vendettas, jealousy and killings -- just like Pitcairn Island when it was the sole province of the H.M.S. Bounty mutineers. The space ship would arrive at its destination bearing a cargo of corpses.
posted by Faze at 9:34 AM on May 2, 2002


Sexy, sexy corpses.
posted by dong_resin at 9:38 AM on May 2, 2002


What are the chances that the next crew will be all women? Will they engineer it so that the next generation will be women? What about the generation after that? When they reach the next star, would they need men? I mean they've been living without them for so long, there wouldn't be a need for men. Might as well just clone women, and leave the sperms on earth.
posted by riffola at 9:39 AM on May 2, 2002


it looks like they took a picture of the "laser-propelled space sail" straight from TRON.
posted by protocool at 9:41 AM on May 2, 2002


I know several women whom I wouldn't mind seeing them go off into space, never to return. (bahdoompah)

But seriously, I don't know that it would necessarily increase our knowledge so much as be a kind of insurance policy for the perpetuation of humankind, off-planet, in the event that we destroy ourselves and our planet.
posted by crunchland at 9:41 AM on May 2, 2002


lesbians in Space!

(a simple solution to Faze's prediction)
posted by BentPenguin at 9:44 AM on May 2, 2002


I'm male and dead set against having kids, but for a shot at going to another star I'd switch both policies.

And there goes my chance of passing the psychological profile.
posted by Leonard at 9:45 AM on May 2, 2002


"The Earth itself is not entirely a safe place," Landis said. "It would be a good thing for our survival if we lived on more than one planet."

Can't we just use Mars for a start ?
Weren't there plans to "invade" Mars in the near future ? Terraform it ? (who said Total Recall" ?)

On a side note, it's taken me ages to explain proper computer use to most of my female friends, and I can't think of a whole crew having to lead a starship, let alone teach their children how to do it.
(yes, that was meant to be funny. yes, I'm sorry)
posted by XiBe at 9:45 AM on May 2, 2002


Wouldn't increase our knowledge?! Do you remember when we threw a bot up on Mars? We learned quite a great deal about the surface, chemistry and geology of Mars.

We should try an unmanned (ahem, unpersoned?) mission first, as simply taking measurements near a star would probably give us a decade worth of data to crunch.

And riffola, the trip would only take 43 years or so, so one generation should do it.
posted by mathowie at 9:46 AM on May 2, 2002


I wonder what kind of religion these "lesbian clones" would come up with after generations of isolation.
posted by protocool at 9:50 AM on May 2, 2002


Weren't there plans to "invade" Mars in the near future ?

I think one of the hold-ups is that NASA wants to figure out if there is life or remnants of life there before we stink up the place with our own germs.

Personally, I couldn't care less if there is/was life on Mars. I'm all for wholesale resource extraction! That orangish/yellow color could be GOLD!!!! (j/k of course)
posted by plaino at 9:52 AM on May 2, 2002


If onboard resources are an issue, and every last bit of food and oxygen is valuable, would crewmembers beyond childbearing age be jettisoned?

Or could they justify staying on board with their experience and skills?

Brings new meaning to business buzzwords like "expendable."
posted by kurumi at 9:52 AM on May 2, 2002


There's no problem in freezing sperm and loading a missile worth of woman and sperm then launch them in the space. The aliens will be a little puzzled by the strange combination but heck, they're aliens who cares.

BUT ! I swear they'll miss all the moaning and bitching about men being dirty, evil, toilet abusers and bla bla bla. The poor kids generated by the frozen duo will develop exactly the same habits because it's coded in DNA, so the final effect is that you have space flying semi-frozen imitation of human males ..mmhh..doesn't sound good for the surviving ladies.
posted by elpapacito at 9:53 AM on May 2, 2002


I see a Logan's Run thing happening.

Matt, it says slowing down could take up to a 100 years, so that would end up being 143 years.
posted by riffola at 9:56 AM on May 2, 2002


What about the civil rights of the yet-to-be-born children? You are condemnning them to be born into virtual prison conditions, slave to a mission they did not choose, and that they will most likely rebel against the moment they hit adolescence. "Let's take over this ship, and head back to earth!"
posted by Faze at 9:56 AM on May 2, 2002


Plus, not much to talk about: "no men" means "no gossips".
posted by XiBe at 9:56 AM on May 2, 2002


THe big problem with this is that only the first generation are voluteers. The second generation is doomed to whatever fate we've assigned them. If they aren't total volunteers then there's no incentive other than survival for them. It won't be a happy sight once they figure out that they've been exiled into space without being asked.

We might even be creating our own alien invasion to come back and haunt us. Nothing like a group from space with a vendetta against the human race for stealing their lives without being asked.
posted by Dillenger69 at 9:58 AM on May 2, 2002


Wouldn't increase our knowledge?! Do you remember when we threw a bot up on Mars? We learned quite a great deal about the surface, chemistry and geology of Mars.

That was a really fast payoff, though. Sending a ship sailing out into the vast emptyness of space wouldn't pay off for hundreds of years, and then, once they got there, then what? What if there were no hospitible places to land? Kind of like walking to the grocery store on the other side of the planet, only to arrive and find it closed.

And so what happens if we do send this Amazonian spaceship out, and it putters out into space for hundreds of years, and in the meantime, back here on Earth, we come up with some sort of great breakthrough in propulsion, making the puttering Amazons obsolete. They finally arrive, only to find they've been beaten to the destination by smarter people, but that there's already a McDonalds and 2 Starbucks?!

I'd be one pissed off Amazon, that's for sure!
posted by crunchland at 9:58 AM on May 2, 2002


I'm all for it-just pack plenty of oranges to prevent scurvy. I always get a charge looking at our most up to date universe maps and thinking how future generations will regard them just as we regard medieval maps plastered with "terra incognita."
posted by quercus at 10:01 AM on May 2, 2002


You are condemnning them to be born into virtual prison conditions, slave to a mission they did not choose, and that they will most likely rebel against the moment they hit adolescence.

Yeah, huh. The same could be said about bringing children into the world on good ol' planet earth, now couldn't it?
posted by Medley at 10:04 AM on May 2, 2002


well technically, you wouldn't even have to tell the kids anything about earth. just tell them that living in a ship is what families do. now shut up and read your flight manual, kid... ; )
posted by stifford at 10:10 AM on May 2, 2002


would crewmembers beyond childbearing age be jettisoned?

That wouldn't make for a good closed system now would it? Old crew members would be promoted to food or at least fertilizer.
posted by plaino at 10:13 AM on May 2, 2002


It won't be a happy sight once they figure out that they've been exiled into space without being asked.

But being exiled into space would be a 'normal' life for them. How would they know any different?
posted by Dirjy at 10:19 AM on May 2, 2002


"The technological hurdles of building a laser large enough (on the order of a 100 meters wide) in space..."

100 meters wide? Anybody remember starblazers?

I'm tempted to make a few of observations about an entire crew of pregnant women, but I'll just make one. -- Maternity space suits.

ok two. -- A woman's water breaking in zero gravity.
posted by mikhail at 10:19 AM on May 2, 2002


I think I've seen this movie
posted by patrickje at 10:32 AM on May 2, 2002


The same could be said about bringing children into the world on good ol' planet earth
Medly, with this comment, you've successfully raised this pimply, sci-fi thread to a new and interesting philosophical level. You've essentially encapsulated one of the reasons I've never had children.
posted by Faze at 10:37 AM on May 2, 2002


"Let's take over this ship, and head back to earth!"

I think they'd be much more likely to not want to leave the ship. "Earth" wouldn't mean anything to them.
posted by jpoulos at 10:40 AM on May 2, 2002


patrickje, don't forget the sequel.
posted by mikhail at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2002


But being exiled into space would be a 'normal' life for them. How would they know any different?

What? No Brady Bunch videos?
posted by HTuttle at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2002


What about the civil rights of the yet-to-be-born children? You are condemnning them to be born into virtual prison conditions, slave to a mission they did not choose

Parents have been doing this for millenia. Every new batch of settlers hauls their children along for the ride, born or unborn. Imagine how cruel all those Polynesian parents must have been, condemning their children to life on a barren faraway island past the edge of civilisation, with no hope of return. And if you want to talk about "virtual prison conditions", consider the case of an English family moving to Australia in the 1790s...

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:13 AM on May 2, 2002


i'm a big science fiction fan and would love to go into space, but i don't think it's a good idea to crew a spaceship with people when it's going to take more than one generation to get there. i think parents who are willing to give up most of their children's choices for them are a tad on the controlling/selfish side (nothing new, of course, but most kids can leave home & country if they really want to--not an option for the space children, they've got nowhere to go), or they are a bit fanatic, and these are not necessarily the type of people i would want founding a new colony. i think until we can discover quicker ways of getting there (or until we're closer to blowing ourselves up) it would be better to just send unmanned ships.
posted by witchstone at 11:14 AM on May 2, 2002


Why would this be the answer? Wouldn't we be able to just do some sort of suspended animation? I'm sure by the time we build a ship that could make that trip that we'll be able to, anyway.
posted by eas98 at 11:14 AM on May 2, 2002


I'm just envisioning a whole ship full of women speeding into eternity, their periods synced. I think, in the interest of not pissing off our alien neighbours, that we should wait until we invent some sort of faster-than-light propulsion system. Now, after I've horribly insulted half the human race, I'll get serious. I think that finding women (or men as well, assuming a more traditional approach was selected) who were willing to do this who weren't dangerously insane would be pretty difficult.
posted by BGM at 12:05 PM on May 2, 2002


(self-link) A couple of pages I wrote on my astrobiology site about generation ships and human hiberation. Nothing wildly enlightening there, but people might find it an interesting read.
posted by adrianhon at 12:18 PM on May 2, 2002


In space, you can't hear babies cry.
posted by GirlFriday at 12:48 PM on May 2, 2002


Add this.....

consider the case of an English family moving to Australia in the 1790s...

to this

We might even be creating our own alien invasion to come back and haunt us

and you've got modern London.
posted by Summer at 1:14 PM on May 2, 2002


"Is a trip like this a bad idea?" with those cups and one-sixth gravity?, yeah. i think the doctor has a good idea but it seems a little bit like the baby before the booster stage. advances in either Ion drive (perhaps Muon) drive need some work as well as sheilding and navigation.
posted by clavdivs at 2:17 PM on May 2, 2002


I can hear it now

"Ground Control to Major Tonya
Ground Control to Major Tonya
Take your fertility pills and put your helmet on...
posted by mkelley at 2:26 PM on May 2, 2002


Hey, um. I hope they're planning to take the sperm out of the men before they freeze it.
posted by kindall at 3:12 PM on May 2, 2002


I think they'd be much more likely to not want to leave the ship. "Earth" wouldn't mean anything to them.

Maybe. Then again the main problem aboard a multi-generation ship on a course with an alien civilization will be culture. After the 10th generation these people will be aliens to us. All their customs, language, etc will be mind-boggling. The fix for that would be to indoctrine them heavily into a consistant culture. Sell Earth, or their country, as a religion. Sell them on the mission and the importance of staying an American or whatever. Ideally, to make it work you would need a propaganda heavy police-type state. Chew on that civil rights issue for a bit. In the end we're just going to show the aliens what we look like in real-life.

If its for colonizing, its really the same deal. The people who are willing to throw away their lives like this probably aren't the best people to pick for this kind of thing in the first place. Lets see the volunteerss live in confinement for 5 years eating algae soup with the same 20 people and then hear their opinions on how great space exploration is going to be.

The most likely outcome of generation ships is that as space travel technology progresses on earth the more outdated the generation ship will be. I'm sure there's a good chance that before they even get near their destination the new spaceship design will offer them a ride home or a ride to their destination in 1/100th the time.

"You guys are still using fission? Its like Amish country in here!"
posted by skallas at 3:18 PM on May 2, 2002


I'm surprised no one has mentioned the sci-fi novel Captive Universe by Harry Harrison, which essentially plays out this scenario and deals with a lot of questions asked in this thread. In order to make sure the unborn astronauts don't rebel, they set up a Truman Show-like situation on the ship, where the inhabitants think they're living in some primitive society in ancient Egypt or something. They follow a dogmatic religion that keeps them from asking the big questions, and they are genetically designed to be fairly stupid, generation after generation...until, as the ship approaches the destination, an event of religious import happens within the fake world, and the people of different tribes are finally allowed to breed with one another, creating a generation of geniuses that will leave the ship and receive the instructions from their distant ancestors. At least, that's what was supposed to happen...
posted by bingo at 7:27 PM on May 2, 2002


Ground Control to Major Tonya

If you think we're gonna send Tonya Harding into space...hmm, wait a sec...
posted by mikhail at 7:44 PM on May 2, 2002


Somebody at NASA should read Heinlein. This is like Big Brother in space.
posted by thijsk at 1:49 AM on May 3, 2002


funny summer, very funny.
whilst we are on the subject of migration, it will suprise nobody that the biggest abusers of uk work permits are....australians. it is they who are 'stealing our jobs', if anybody is.

on thread, i have come to the conclusion that i would prefer an america that stuck to the space programme as a national focus, rather than assuming the role of world policeman (defender of american trade interests).
ultimately, any attempt to terraform mars (20 - 100,000 years) or move to alpha centuri are obviously expensive ways of denying what we all know, that the solution to our problems lies here, not out there. still, i would prefer the destruction of the earth via attempts to explore space (the polution created is, erm, astronomical), rather than attempts to dominate the populance through military/industrial means.
and, yes, a matriarchal society would be most likely to work for the long journey suggested. having just read john le carre's 'constant gardener', i would agree with his inference that africa (read, the world) should be handed over to the women. the men have shown they can't be entrusted with it's defence against misuse.
posted by asok at 3:51 AM on May 3, 2002


Somebody at NASA should read Heinlein.

Or for that matter Clarke. I'm pretty sure that in one of his short stories which he later drew on for 2001 he has a prehistoric hunter being given tools by the crew of a spaceship which is revealed at the end to be one of these several-centuries-detached colonist ships.

Having written this I now have a feeling I might be conflating it with Songs of Distant Earth, and there's probably someone more qualified than I am who has the book and wasn't just reading it on a very long bus journey through a Kensington traffic jam last month.
posted by CatherineB at 4:03 AM on May 3, 2002


If you can't afford to send men because they take up too much space, how can you afford to send women who are two or three times the necessary size?

Lesbian amputee (legless) dwarves + the sperm of dwarf men. You might not want to hack the legs off the babies born in space -- or you might, if they wouldn't stop crying and you can't even go out for a smoke, but -- but the important weight savings would probably be in the early boost phase, when the crew would be legless, perhaps voluntarily. If they're starting a colony, they can take along the frozen eggs of non-dwarf women for later use, though they might find that dwarfism better suits the destination.

So, how many legless lesbian dwarves do we have out there?
posted by pracowity at 4:18 AM on May 3, 2002


So, how many legless lesbian dwarves do we have out there?

Not as many as the right-wing press would like to think that Labour councils fund.
posted by CatherineB at 4:21 AM on May 3, 2002


pracowity - There's a classic science fiction story called The Cold Equations concerning a stow-away that has endangered a medical mission due to the extra mass of her body. Supposedly there is a response story in which the situation is resolved by the sort of amputation you suggest.
posted by NortonDC at 6:41 AM on May 3, 2002


> There's a classic science fiction story...

I'm sure I read that long, long ago, when I was a kid. (But not the amputation thing.)
posted by pracowity at 9:25 AM on May 3, 2002


that the solution to our problems lies here, not out there.

That is not necessarily the case. The Europeans' "problem" of not having potatoes, corn, peppers and tomatoes in their diet would never have been resolved if they'd stayed home and not travelled to the Americas. New environments can offer new solutions...or simply new perspectives.

They also, of course, inevitably result in new problems.

Another possibility/likelihood is that the cooperative effort required in order to achieve these things, which would extend far beyond anything humanity has yet achieved, would have the side effect of altering many aspects of society as it exists today, some fairly easy to forecast and many unforeseeable.
posted by rushmc at 3:27 PM on May 3, 2002


The "sequel' is called The Cold Solution, by Don Sakers, published in Analog 7/91. It was voted the Analog "best short story of the year."
posted by bingo at 3:48 PM on May 3, 2002


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