Science Fiction forays into the inherent problems of Interstellar Travel

Christopher Overton
8 min readJul 9, 2020


Delving into the realm of science fiction and, namely, the problems with long range travel encompassing sub luminal velocities necessarily deal with time considerations. The nearest stars are light years away, and those star systems potentially harboring life meriting exploration could be greater distances. Although if there is evidence found in our solar system, even travel to the nearest star systems could prove valuable. What could merit a journey, however, encompassing greater distances relative to a handful of light years? All of this seems, broadly speaking, given by many culminating factors. This neither say conceived on the basis of discovery on another Intelligent civilization alone, but given by technological and economic growth. That is, where likely greater assurance to successful venture appears possible. Beyond engineering today, one could imagine, for instance, that travel to the furthest reaches of the solar system are as likely, and that economic systems are well conceived beyond planet Earth.

The economics of interstellar travel.

Beyond pure exploration, there is likely system and operational scale transferable mechanisms that push frontier boundaries. That is, likely in the goal of expansion of acquisition of resources, there is, exploratory ventures. Notwithstanding, that such resources are likely rarer commodities relative to those found terrestrially on Earth. Suitable industries utilizing such materials for likely broad economic purposes. Known proposals, today, for instance, suggest the possibility of lucrative belt mining, and the more outer regions of our solar system, would include ice composite objects whether for added study specifically for rare compounds, and potentially purposes of extraction and additionally refinement. While it is easier to imagine, in the vein of science fiction, manned outposts, perhaps, the more likely scenario is that outposts are generally sparsely manned and more suited to purposes in overseeing automated operations. I would offer that increasingly as expansion of utility in intra solar system networks results, the probability of exploratory operations beyond increases.

What additionally needs to take place for in catalyzing expanding intra solar system operations?


Starting, Earth terrestrial lift to orbit expenses further decline. At present while payload expenses have declined dramatically in recent times, expanding operations as costs declines would further continue. Beyond this where it may be possible to operationally expand extraction, for instance, of mining materials, the creation of low to zero gravity refinement (localized more to site operations) and production facilities complimentary to travel would increase the likelihood of investment and production. If it is cheaper to manufacturer space faring vessels in space, terrestrial lift expenses are further mitigated. Fortunately with new technologies using low mass materials might focus vessel construction operations not on likely rarer compounds or elements but abundant ones that should be found in target mining asteroids reducing extraction and lift expense. C-type asteroids could be utilized in the extraction of carbon which could produce carbon nanotubes for example. Whatever the case, abundance of resource and subsequent integration into vessel production likely outcomes production adoption. On the other hand, rarer materials while having commodities benefit, may be subsidiary relative to a goal say of on site, or centralized site production. Fuel resource production may likewise use similar operational means. This is produced directly from asteroids or water ice composite materials for traditional fuel sources if, for instance, traditional chemical rockets or ion propulsion systems used.

The biggest driver to economic viability, however, in so far as terrestrial or muti terrestrial considerations is aimed at relative expense of importation relative to native extraction and production, and given by relation of local depletion of materials as well as vested interests beyond. That is, if there are any number of manned stations, bases, outposts, and so forth, importation is a necessity and the cost of terrestrial exportation is exceeding to the cost of exportation relative to say belt mining or ice composite mining operations. In all of this, there is lifetime of operations (viability of materials to be extracted), risk loss management, discovery and exploration costs, and so forth. This applies not only to processes of resource extraction but also refinement and production. There is also furthered possibility of research given all infrastructure once set in motion making likely more prolific exploration and discovery. That being said, the precedent of viable economic establishment is likely well exceeding relative to the scale and scope of exploratory mission planning today.

Holistically, there is chain of connectivity in the economic model of such driving said operations above. Much mentioned seems less likely if it is given solely for strict raw materials purposes alone and that given for Earth terrestrial importation purposes alone, especially given high cost of exploration, site planning, and raw resource extraction, and importation logistics. Irrespective of model and means that apply, it seems there is likely a high investment cost, and initial returns could be very low to negative. This leads one to offer that perhaps, the notion that establishment of operations is as in any other case, a longer term investment strategy that is calculated to bring something in return down the road. It suffices offering that perhaps early investment models pilot given projects of this type. Namely that such operations are pursued on the point of feasibility with lower cost investment in pursuit of larger operational goals.


Given well established low to zero gravity production of materials, and product infrastructure, it seems more likely that the next stage of manned exploration takes place. This being said, selection of a target interstellar site likely considered for any number of factors. Maybe a first candidate site, for instance, is chosen merely by distance alone, and one should wonder if this even relates to any manned mission. This seems less likely if it is merely system exploration. Perhaps, a first exploratory mission could conceive itself in absence to requisite conditions, that I believe likely proceed with a manned mission. A first mission of this type maybe purposed on the notion of exploring a system, and given to the notion of successful system injection and establishment of communication. Like present day rover missions to mars, such probe is mainly autonomous given communication latency. Because of distances, involved probes of these type maybe likely quite small, and low enough mass so as to achieve enough appreciably a fraction of the speed of light. There is likely a series of unmanned exploration missions all set in surveying various attributes of a system. Much of this groundwork yielding to refinement of future mission planning and subsequent manned mission planning.

It seems harder to conceive manned journeys to the nearest star systems at fractions of the speed of light without a clearer purpose of some establishment alone, but if it is merely in proving the viability of a successful journey alone, it is not likely a sustainable model of travel and mission planning. It is easier to conceive the establishment of outposts, if from our host system such has taken place already, and given all redundancies, likely success in establishment is a given. The first generation of investments might, for instance, seed autonomous industrial systems harvesting, refining and materials production, and human habitation structures, but not only this ensuring habitation is sufficient relative to long term stays. Likely these pilot missions and establishments are precursory. Not with standing that any exo planetary conditions are sufficient to provide some level habitations, offering some level of basic life support requirements, a terrestrial planet or moon, offers at least some level of exploratory freedom that an orbital outpost would not.

It is harder to conceive of a continuum import and export model of economics with respect to the exchange of interstellar commodities alone when the mass load of goods necessarily increases significantly the cost of sub luminal flight especially as it relates to nearing the speed of light. Most commodities likely to be exchanged is information alone. However, if there is a solution to the flight cost problem here. Perhaps, if it were achievable in transporting more significant mass, one could imagine the possibility of continuum of space barges, or scale haulers transporting commodities in a steady stream back and forth which leads to a new interstellar economic exchange. If travel were at .5c, for instance, to Alpha Centauri, the travel time is approximately greater than 8.6 years for one shipment of goods. This sort of exchange, perhaps, relates more to scale populaces. That is when likely self sustaining colonies have well established existing infrastructure, or at least having well established autonomous resource extraction and production industries. Again much of this is likely only possible given a establishment of infrastructure in our local solar system.

Terraforming and beyond

Creation of law and ethics regarding the suitability of terra forming a host plant in serving possibly our own biological capacity. These are all longer term goals in centuries if not thousands, or tens of thousands of years in the making. If we had the ability of terraforming a planet, it seems more likely Venus or Mars were candidates before ever attempting to do so on an exo planet elsewhere. There will be matters of legality arising where life of a more complex nature is found. In this respect if technologies for terra forming a planet are possible, it seems on the protocol that complex life and native sentient life hadn’t existed serving to be displaced by such efforts. In practice its not hard to imagine, even while some futuristic ventures are seemingly at odds with legal and ethical practice, emerging leave no trace practices are commonplace. This, of course, leaves formally colonist establishments on barren planets, but having enough earth like conditions so as to provision suitably life supporting habitation. Much as it appears that Mars provides some form of water in the form of ice, ideal candidate sites similarly may have water ice or vaporous water that could be harvested, or if terraformed could in terms provide suitably breathable atmosphere. Long term habitation considers the effects on human health especially as it relates to sub and super g factors. Ideal candidate planets are closer to 1 g.

The consequences of not having established intra solar system travel infrastructure.

The longer a manned mission means greater likelihood of failure given all that could go wrong. Perhaps it seems clearer that more materials sourced in construction of such interstellar space faring vessel may have its origins to our Earth. This includes a greater cost in to orbit lifting materials if not entirely the manned vessel. It is a more difficult mission when it is one comprising scale of vessel according to its construction constraints, and likewise, if there is greater likelihood to a one way mission if something should go wrong early, it is when there are less resources for recovery or rescue found immediately. That is with local system infrastructure for rescue and recovery, there is greater likelihood that a point of no return hadn’t existed on or before a point of orbital ejection. Adding to this in all likelihood neither having as much outpost, base establishment expertise leads more likely to program demise. Even a successful manned interstellar mission launched without so much establishment intra stellar context leads to existential problems down the road. A lot of this relates to economic justifications and likelihood of enormous costs in furthering manned mission say for things like outpost or base establishment especially when all materials are sourced from expensive terrestrial lift costs and practical expertise and resources are sourced from a mission alone. Mission failure is also at higher probability. These factors are more likely to jeopardize program planning.