Will there always be a faster space ship?
March 13, 2014 10:17 PM   Subscribe

My Google skills are failing me. I remember reading something about how there is no point in building a fast spacecraft and sending it out into the universe because at some point in the future we will build a faster ship that will overtake it, so we might as well wait, and wait, and wait, until we have the better technology and we never end up building a ship. Does anyone know what this is called or have any extra information?
posted by UltraFleece to Technology (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

Website Centauri Dreams has a couple of relevant posts, involving the story "Far Centaurus".
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:37 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]

Sorry to not shut up, but here's an AskMe from last year covering similar ground!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:44 PM on March 13

i favorited alvy's "wait calculation" link because it was interesting, not because it was persuasive. it appeared to dismiss the effect of sudden, game-changing tech advances such as ftl travel.

we may have already colonized the galaxy. imagine that 100 years from now, someone builds an alcubierre drive and mounts it on a ship. orion in two hours! relativity suggests that ftl travel through space also involves going backward through time, so our descendants may end up dipping their toes in the nitrogen pudding baths of rigel 4 contemporaneously with caesar crossing the rubicon.

absent such a game-changer, people qua people will never cross the interstellar gulf, it's gonna be gametes, baby, small and easy to cold-pack for the long trip. 50,000 years from now, the computer detects a habitable planet, the sperm gets mixed with the eggs in the base of the fetapod, and nine months later, nuturebots assume the responsibility of raising the baby colonists. with the money we spend on foreign military adventures, we could just about launch these things now, and like dandelion seeds, most of them would land on baking asphalt or worse, baking star, but we only need a handful to survive.
posted by bruce at 3:27 AM on March 14 [9 favorites]

with the money we spend on foreign military adventures, we could just about launch these things now

Except that test tube babies are not even close to being possible.

posted by valkyryn at 3:51 AM on March 14

For an entertaining fictional treatment of the consequences of this, see Allen Steele's novel Coyote. The first colonists leave Earth in 2070 and, travelling at 0.2c, arrive at their destination 46 light-years away 230 Earth-years later.

Just a few months after arrival, another colonization ship arrives. The colonists on the second ship outnumber the first group by about 20-to-1, and left Earth about a century later.
posted by General Tonic at 7:10 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

This should be called "the deflationary theory of interstellar travel" because it's the same basic problem as comes up in economics during times of deflation. People don't buy now because they expect everything to be cheaper next week.

Of course, this attitude leads to all kinds of problems, in both economics and space travel.
posted by alms at 8:06 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Not at all the same thing, but perfectly complementary:

The Effects of Moore's Law and Slacking on Large Computations
C Gottbrath, J Bailin, C Meakin, T Thompson, J.J. Charfman
(Submitted on 9 Dec 1999)

We show that, in the context of Moore's Law, overall productivity can be increased for large enough computations by 'slacking' or waiting for some period of time before purchasing a computer and beginning the calculation.

(This is what we tell ourselves every day. Just waiting for our computers to get faster.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:55 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Another old standard which deals with this situation is Heinlein's Time For The Stars juvenile.
posted by Rash at 9:58 AM on March 14

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