In the movie Gravity, gravity embodies the persona of the film by virtue of its absence. It purportedly leaves the audience with a sense of fear of the chaotic zero-G environment and likewise leaves them with new respect/appreciation for our gravity-exerting Earth. In stark contrast, I would like to portray a utopian zero-G environment where the space farers are floating about merrily without a care in the world. Gravity in my setting is actually the source of conflict.

In my futuristic setting, humans are colonizing space. Here is some basic info:

  • Number of supply ships: 5
  • Average supply ship population: 2000
  • Purpose of mission: supply vital resources/human capital to fledgling colonies
  • Length of voyage: 400 years
  • Crew survival method: genetic longevity and new generations (no fancy hyper-sleep)
  • Flight path: computer navigated, predetermined, unalterable
  • Landing: can be over-ridden by pilot
  • Ship Fuel: Limited
  • Edible Food: Unlimited

These ships do not have artificial gravity. Instead, the space farers in my setting are utilizing future technology: genetic modification such that humans are not prone to muscle atrophy or any other adverse effects of extended zero gravity habitation (calcium loss, vision loss, etc). However, as a double edged sword, this futuristic zero-gravity setting also sets the stage for a dark and unexpected outcome. Namely, extreme barophobia (fear of gravity) has manifested itself in the minds of the crew in all five ships. There was a small gravity chamber to acclimate the crew for when arrival day was near, however it has since been destroyed in a fearful rage by the crew.

The potency of the barophobia is extreme. The crew drifts about in a fantasy-like existence, floating around the supply ships happily at times. However, dark, disturbing conversations take place amongst them about what happens when the ship arrives and a gravity-exerting planet will be close to them. The captain said:

"Fear not, I am the captain. Though I cannot plot my own course, I can over-ride any landing commands issued remotely by a computer. I can definitely keep us from landing on the planet."

The exact cause of the barophobia, the degree of the phobia's potency as well as prevalence all remain unexplained. Though speculation about the relatively new advent of increased human longevity and its effect on the human psyche (especially on an extended space flight) are much debated.


When the colonists on the destination planet excitedly made contact with the arriving colony/supply ships they were mortified to hear that:

"We, the supply crew, have no intention of following-through with the re-supply mission, nor do we plan to cooperate in any facility. Furthermore, we do not plan to step one foot on your planet."

After spending incalculable amounts of fuel, resources and time, the supply ships' crew's crippling fear of gravity is jeopardizing the mission's directive as well as endangering the lives of the colonists who are planet-side and in dire need of the supplies.

It is at this point that the colonists on the planet realize that their lives and even the future of the colony itself is at stake. There were no contingency plans for such a seemingly absurd turn of events, but something must be done. They try to formulate a set of protocols to weigh the options.

Question: What protocol could be brought to bear to save the fledgling planet colonists? They need the supplies to survive, but the supply crew refuses to help due to extreme barophobia. The supply crew refuses to land on the planet.

Question Rephrased: To reduce the "story-based" dimension, you may boil the question down to: What protocol could be brought to bear on a supply ship that is not cooperating with colony supply? (But bear in mind that barophobia is the cause of their lack of cooperation).

Further Clarifications

  • Success metric: survival of the planet colony
  • Timeline: 5 years max (the supplies are direly needed, some colonists will die after 1 year)
  • Planet's military: Non-existent (they are fledgling in nearly every aspect)
  • Planet's Ships: Non-existent (they bought a one-way ticket. Their original ship has been converted to a building in which they find refuge from the planet's atmosphere)
  • Prevalence of Phobia: Everyone, all supply ship space farers are super barophobic.
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    $\begingroup$ Why does the supply crew need to exit the ship? Can they not just park it in low orbit and drop the supplies to the surface? $\endgroup$
    – Chris M.
    Mar 27, 2018 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ Why is there a crew on the supply ship at all? The society is sophisticated enough to create a ship that autopilots all the way to it's destination, why put 2,000 humans on it? $\endgroup$
    – dwizum
    Mar 27, 2018 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ I find it odd that a trip that takes 400 years has such a small window to arrive on time that a 1 year delay will result in deads. $\endgroup$
    – Robin
    Mar 28, 2018 at 7:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Robin I feel like this could easily be explained away by the resupply already being heavily delayed, to the point where its pushing right up against the window in which it is required. $\endgroup$
    – James T
    Mar 28, 2018 at 8:14
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    $\begingroup$ [SCIENCE-BASED] Means some holes in your plot. 1. Big Interestelar ships are not suitable for take-off or landing, they orbit and de-orbit.(you do need drop pods or a shutle) 2. lacking gravity is extemely harmfull to the body in the long term and in no way generations of micro gravity adapted humans will be able to survive in a earth like planet. 3. Gravity is easy to "emulate" withbig spinning whels so no need to crew to adapt to micro-gravity $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Mar 28, 2018 at 11:26

8 Answers 8


I see an interesting way of dealing with this (other than the excellent answers so far!). If the supply ships arrive all at once it would change the answer a bit, but it seems like the question asker and many answers here assume that it's not a simultaneous thing.

The OP states:

The crew deviate into a fantasy-like existence... [h]owever, dark, disturbing conversations take place amongst them about what happens when the ship arrives and a gravity-exerting planet will be close to them. [Emphasis mine]

Over the generations, this sort of phobia – where the crew is concerned with even being close to a gravity well – would turn into almost a religion. An ark ship travelling for generations could develop its own lore, traditions, and faith... meaning that arriving at the planet would be Armageddon, and the colonists would be the anti-christ(s). The (prophesied?) Captain, in turn, would be a sort of Messiah, or, at the least, the Pope.

The colonists, then, must break this unified front into smaller groups.

Fanatics are obsessed with purity. It's not enough to know who is opposed to gravity – everyone is – you need to know how tainted people are by gravity. How many people have passed through the parts of the ship that were able simulate gravity? Whose ancestors used those gravity simulators? Whose ancestors boarded the ship last (and were in a gravity well longer than others)? Alternatively, genetic enhancements probably were unevenly expressed – so who shows signs of muscle loss, weak bones, etc? Purity becomes paramount, hereditary even, and potential traitors are everywhere.

The colonists can play on these tendencies. First, they should broadcast a series of pleas from families desperate for supplies – begging, please won't you send us the food/medicine/technology we need to live? Make the stories as sob inducing as possible – really ham it up. Next, broadcast a message (ostensibly addressed to the captain) saying:

We understand your plight, we are sensitive to your beliefs. We would never ask the purest of you to come down... but what of the impure? What of the criminals? What of the malcontents? We've received messages from some on your ship saying that they long for the pull of gravity. Why not send us those?

As you can imagine, the message sends the zealots and high priests into a frenzy. Cries of 'HERETIC!' echo down the ships halls, neighbors rat out neighbors, minor scuffles break out ship-wide... The crew would review who tuned in to the sappy pleas from the colonists, and soon the saintly Captain (betrayed by his people's the lack of faith), must, with a heavy heart, sentence these sinners to the ultimate punishment: being sent down to the planet.

How do the colonists convince the crew to send supplies with the sinners? Offer the ship an out. The ship's problem is twofold: they can't escape orbit because they can't set destinations, and they can't go on forever because they don't have fuel. The colonists probably don't have the answer to either of those problems... but the crew doesn't know that. The colonists can just lie:

We're all reasonable people, and both of us want things. Send us some supplies with the heretics, and we'll load the shuttles with fuel so you can be on your way. When the shuttles return to you, we'll transmit the access codes to reset your ship's destination.

If enough supplies are sent, they can stiff the crew and just let them die in orbit. If those supplies aren't enough... well, more strife, as they say, must be stirred:

You didn't send enough supplies for us to give you the fuel and the codes. We want to help you but we need more (for our children!). What of the people on the planet side of the ship? Surely they've already been tainted, they've... Felt The Pull. They deserve to be here anyway.

An itching sensation in the back of the planetsiders minds will stir, a concern they weren't even aware of before. Families will pack small bags of the essentials, and calmly but quickly move towards the space side. Soon what started as a few people will turn into a zero-g stampeed. Everyone planetside will scramble to get to the space side of the ship. Riots and desperate pleas of at least take my children! abound as The Captain declares martial law.

As this is going on, the colonists load the shuttles with their police force, armed with what game-hunting projectile weapons they can muster, and head back to the ship... where the docking bay is planetside. With martial law declared and all the ship's security occupied with holding back the planetside exodus, it takes some time for the crew to realize they've been boarded. Confusion reigns. Blockaded doors. A shootout outside the bridge. And at last, silence settles as a ship-wide announcement from the colonist commander crackles over the speakers:

Your religion... was right.

This is Armågeddon... and you lost.

Prepare ỷourselves, oh ble̐ssed peo̅ple, prepare to Fe̲e͋̃̾l Th̖ͧe̙̝̫̻͔͇̐̐̎̂ P̿ͨu͌ll until the last day of ¥our genetiĉally lengtheñed lîves. We are the f̝̋a̚l̯̿ḷe̒nͨ.

And we're here to take you to hell.

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    $\begingroup$ holy crap, this is insane $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2018 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Elliot Schrock Paranoia, heresy, deception... perfect! $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2018 at 3:15
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    $\begingroup$ This is like a complete story in itself. +1 $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2018 at 7:01

Part of the plan.

The sponsors of the mission knew that the descendants of the original crew would go insane. In fact, the genetic modifications made to the original crew combined with subliminal prompts built into the ship and living quarters guarantee that this particular phobia will emerge. Prior supply missions of this sort ran into all sorts of spontaneous, random mental illnesses and phobias. Some of these were extremely disruptive. By channeling the predisposition to phobia into this one particular phobia, solidarity and unity among the crew is maintained.

When the colonists make a credible threat to claim the ship and supplies on board, the desperate and terrified crew responds with force, wiping out the colony and themselves in the process: this was the intent of the persons sending them in their surprisingly heavily armed cargo ship.

A distance of millennia and generations make it difficult to sustain a willingness to kill our fellow humans. But the possibility to fear the unknown is hardwired in us.

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    $\begingroup$ That's an epic twist, and very thought provoking. So they might have a few protocols enacted, but in the end they fell victim to a master plan... The notion of fear of the unknown adds to the phobia theme, which is cool. $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2018 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ Why can I sponsor this madness? If I sponsor something I want to profit from it and I don't see how can I do that unless the colonist began to fight for independence in a rich in mineral resources planet $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Mar 29, 2018 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ One more plot hole: Acceleration/deceleration of the ship will "emulate" some "gravity" anyway $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Mar 29, 2018 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Willk My good sir, this was the toughest choice as to which answer to accept ever. I had yours in mind for a solid two days, but alas... Anyway, I wanted to give you props for thinking outside of the box on this, and thank you for an excellent answer. $\endgroup$ Mar 30, 2018 at 15:51

This is a supply and demand problem.

The planet dwellers have a supply of humanity and pleas, but the ship crew does not have a demand for those, as stated in:

"We, the supply crew, have no intention of following-through with the re-supply mission, nor do we plan to cooperate in any facility. Furthermore, we do not plan to step one foot on your planet."

The planet dwellers have demand for a missile to shove up the ship crew's exhaust ports, but they have no supply for it as stated in:

Planet's military: Non-existent (they are fledgling in nearly every aspect)

As it stands, the planet dwellers have nothing that the ship crew might want. They are as entitled to getting supplies from the ship crew as a beggar is entitled to alms.

They better come up with something to trade that might be interesting enough to overcome the ship crew's fear of gravity. Out of my head I can think of a few things:

  • Drugs. Habitable planets in sci-fi settings usually have arable lands, which are a major part of the production chain of cannabis, poppy, and psilocybin. They can also grow coca plants, which are used to make crack cocaine. The latter is specially addictive enough that junkies will usually overcome whatever fears they have in order to get a fix.

  • Sex. Yes, I know this is mean.

  • Treasure. Some things are just more valuable than money. The planet might be the location of the secret codes needed to destroy the Death Star equivalent in your world. Or it might contain a portal to Shangrilah, or an infinity stone.

  • Control of the ship. If the planet dwellers have hackers among them, they might be able to compromise the ships' drivers somehow through ransomware.

  • Fuel. As stated, the ships' fuel is limited.

  • Silence about the crew's operation. Someone paid to build those ships, to fill them with life support, supplies and fuel, and to dispatch them as couriers towards the planet. The crew will have to face the wrath of those who bankrolled them should they fail their mission. The planet people will rat them out if they don't deliver.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the beggar and alms analogy. Also, these solutions reflect the desperation of the planet colonists quite well. The "silence" solution is particularly interesting. To make it more plausible I can stipulate a technology of faster than light speed communications to increase the threat. $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2018 at 15:56

I can't remember the books, but in several early 19th century novels the fear was pirates, cannibals, or disease. What the characters in these books did was send out a one, two, or three person row boat to explore the coastline, help the shipwreck victims, or deliver the supplies. Alternatively, the crew could just throw the supplies in the water and hope they wash ashore. Another alternative was for a smaller vessel to come out from the shore to the ship to take the supplies, do customs inspection, or collect taxes.

In your high tech world, the crew could deliver supplies with an automated lander, or dead drop supplies, or have a few brave souls deliver the supplies. Have a space station crewed by locals to take deliveries in zero G, or send up a local ship.


Actually, your barophobia may be more than a little justified.

Humans who spend a lot of time in deep space without gravity (regardless of the handwavium used for muscular and skeletal dystrophy and the like) simply won't be used to gravity wells, and would find planetary life crushing for a while at least. Additionally, your space ships (if designed correctly) will want to sacrifice the reinforcement of atmospheric landing capabilities for lower mass to move between the colonies, saving precious fuel for pushing around more supplies.

SO; the answer seems to be shuttles. Each transport ship has their own supply of shuttles (there's your additional mass tradeoff) and they are flown down to the colony remotely full of supplies. They can either be remotely piloted back, have a colonist do it, or left there as a 'gift' to the colony who can use them for their own purposes. Your ship's crew don't ever have to enter the gravity well.

In such an instance, you even save fuel for the resupply phase as you have smaller masses launching from the surface in the form of shuttles, potentially saving the fuel cost of getting the entire transport ship in and out of the gravity well.

If the shuttles need to return (I'm assuming here that the supply ships are not on a one way trip; that wouldn't be an efficient use of the resource) then you're still saving fuel via the rocket equation by comparison to lifting the entire transport out of the gravity well.

As has been said by other answers, this condition has probably been anticipated and this would seem to be the logical answer that ensures everyone gets what they need in terms of both physical supplies and psychological support.

  • $\begingroup$ I've heard of this happening in astronauts that are so afraid of floating up into the sky once they're on Earth again that they have to force themselves to get out of bed. $\endgroup$
    – Pyrania
    Aug 30, 2018 at 21:57

I don't think this would be a problem. At the point in future history and space travel you describe they would have already conquered the hurdle of putting stuff into space cheaply and with ease.

The people suffering from barophobia would never need to leave their ship, because they could easily get re-supplied by drones which bring things up, and could easily send down whatever they have to in drop-pods.

As for the colonists ship: maybe they scuttled their big ship, but surely there were smaller ships, shuttles. They wouldn't scuttle them all. They'd need them. Plus, no colony would ever go to a new planet without having the ability to build things. How would they get started otherwise?

Your answer is drones that bring up supplies, and drop pods that drop supplies.

And maybe a healthy does of Paxil.


You already got some great answers on what to do when it comes to the point where the crew suffers from barophobia.

I'd argue that, depending on how the supply ships got into the planet's orbit, the people on them would probably be quite used to acceleration. I mean, they have to brake somehow, right? They have to correct their course and maybe decelerate for the last leg of their voyage (again, depending on their method of travel). The gravity of your planet wouldn't feel very different. I think, agoraphobia would be a much bigger problem after they'd leave their landing shuttles for the first time.

But if it comes to your situation, your society is advanced enough to genetically engineer people to be more efficient in space. I doubt, they'd want their space mutants subjected to potentially perilous landing maneuvers or give them the possibility to desert on the planet. Maybe the barophobia was intentionally instilled in them by the planners of the voyage. Who's going to fly your ships back for the next supply run in 800 years ? So automated resource drop pods are probably part of the initial plan.


A new Race to Space

What is the makeup of the planet, is it a single colony or has it expanded to separate states; or even just separate factions?

The suppliers may not want to come to the planet, but maybe they are open to the colonists coming to them in exchange for [see @Renan answer]. I would add that just genetic diversity may be a tradable commodity, as both the colony and ship would want to reduce inbreeding.

Regardless, the colonists need to get to space in a relatively short time period, ramping up the needed industry and working with information and expertise provided by the supply ship in order to outpace their dwindling food resources. If there are rival countries/factions, they may each be pursuing their own program or find they need to work together for the common good.


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