I'm writing a story and I was thinking about the ending in advance. I posted a question about how the population would be wiped out. I have developed from that and thought about the virus having no cure, meaning that the world would have to be abandoned. Could the characters use a pre assembled rocket to escape Earth and colonize Mars?

I know this would be hard to do but my protagonist is a software developer who has developed life like AI. So the AI would teach humanity how to fly a rocket or even help with it.

Could the characters go to the space and colonize Mars, or stay in a sustainable orbit around earth?

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    $\begingroup$ If your character want to escape earth surface, it would be much easyer to hide under (eg: a nuclear bunker) than on space $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Aug 8 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ Usually you should wait 48 hours before you accept an answer so people from all around the globe have a chance to answer instead of just those in your timezone. $\endgroup$ – TheDyingOfLight Aug 8 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDyingOfLight Okay I will $\endgroup$ – FluxedScript Aug 8 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ Your title and your question are at odds. The question does not seem to be anything to do with space agencies, but to do with viability of a single rocket load of colonists. You should tidy that. Also, you are asking several different questions. Would a rocket be viable? Could AI teach humans certain things? $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Aug 8 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ Where does the virus come from when you are the only survivor and don’t have the virus yet? You’ll have to explain why staying on Earth invariably leads to infection, while going to Mars, carrying everything from Earth you need to survive, does not imply carrying the virus as well. When you are able to keep the virus outside when building your Mars habitat, you could do the same on Earth too. $\endgroup$ – Holger Aug 9 at 12:39

Could the characters go to the space and colonize Mars or stay in a sustainable orbit around earth?

NO, for several reasons:

  • As of today, we are not yet capable of even sending a human to Mars, let alone keeping him/her alive there
  • Non-military rockets are fueled with highly unstable chemicals. One doesn't simply fill their tanks and leave them parked for months or years like a car. The fuel would evaporate or decompose, in the most optimistic situation. When you see a rocket launch, the white smoke you see leaking from the side of the rockets is liquid gas (see here).
  • Launching a rocket requires a team of highly trained personnel. Again, it is not a car where you turn the key and the engine starts. Proper preparation and maintenance of the rocket is needed.
  • There is no sustainable Earth orbit. If one doesn't have supplies, death is a matter of time, either by thirst, starvation, asphyxia, or infection.
  • A rocket to Mars is not a shuttle bus for the airport, departing every half an hour. It is bound to precise launch windows. Miss them, and you are wandering forever in space.
  • Colonizing a planet alone is unfeasible. Apart from supplies (see point above), on our Earth colonies, hundred of colonists have often lost their lives in a short time as result of the interaction with the hostile environment (example here). A lone man on Mars, unskilled in any art other than software developing, is sure to face death, too.
  • Even assuming the software engineer is able to survive, a lone homo sapiens cannot reproduce. Another individual of the opposite sex is needed. Without reproduction of the population, it is not colonization.
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    $\begingroup$ Not to mention you cannot colonize anything with one person. Robinson Cruzoe was a castaway not a colonizer. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Aug 8 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer, I will mark it correct since I don't think there is any opposition I can give to it. $\endgroup$ – FluxedScript Aug 8 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ @FluxedScript, thanks, but no rush. Wait at least 24 hours to hear also other bells. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Aug 8 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ It's not only unfeasible alone. Current space agencies can't colonize mars. $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Aug 8 at 10:37
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    $\begingroup$ Read Seven Eves by Neal Stephenson for a scenario which (minor spoiler, but the title of the book telegraphs it pretty strongly) reduces the human race to seven females before recovering in a more-or-less plausible way. $\endgroup$ – chepner Aug 8 at 20:18

Could the characters use a pre assembled rocket to escape Earth and colonize Mars?

At best it is very dubious, for reasons that L. Dutch already enumerated. If space travel is much easier in your setting, this might be more plausible, but it is basically impractical from a present-day or near-future point of view.

the virus [has] no cure, meaning that the world would have to be abandoned

Unless your setting already has such things as functional CELSS technology and ideally functional off-world colonies already, the business of setting up a new world is so astonishingly unbelievably hard that it would be a major challenge even for a fully functioning wealthy modern technological society.

A society that has been all but wiped out has no hope. The knowlegde and industrial capacity has gone.

If you do have CELSS technology, then the best place to use it is right here on earth. The gravity and atmosphere and temperature ranges are benign, and all the raw materials you need are readily available (especially air and water!). Set up your sealed habitat where you already live. You might never breathe unfiltered air again, but you'll have a positively relaxed and luxurious life compared to people who tried to migrate to an airless, waterless, lifeless, radiation-scorched, poison-covered rock millions of miles away.

I know this would be hard to do but my protagonist is a software developer who has developed life like AI. So the AI would teach humanity how to fly a rocket or even help with it.

The AI has to learn from somewhere; unless you're positing some kind of strongly superhuman mind that can work out the theory and engineering behind a manned space program ab initio you'll find that your AI is not necessarily going to do a good job of replacing all those human brains that were killed by the virus.

If it were, in fact, a rocketry-focussed AI you might have better luck, but then it won't be able to help you with colonisation. You could handwave a "escape the earth and settle mars" specialist AI, but that's a literal deus ex machina too far for me, at least.

  • $\begingroup$ One thing was settled in the other question I made was the radiation from the nuclear reactors going off, How would the character live in that sort of landscape? Would it turn out like mad max? $\endgroup$ – FluxedScript Aug 8 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ @FluxedScript it would matter very little. The fallout plumes are clearly bad places to live, but they are unlikely to be as bad as Chernobyl's was, and there's plenty of scope for leaving the fallout area or (if you have the wherewithal to colonise other worlds) building sealed fallout shelters and staying in them instead. Remember, if you're thinking about fleeing earth, everywhere else is worse. Radiation on worlds without magnetospheres (like mars, or the moon, or any of the gas-giant sattelites) will be much worse than leaky reactors on earth, and will last forever. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Aug 8 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ I am thinking, might need to take this to the networking part of StackExchange but could the Nasa "mainframe" hold data after years of ruining out of power? $\endgroup$ – FluxedScript Aug 8 at 11:55
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    $\begingroup$ @FluxedScript an AI that can reverse engineer a space program from first principles is a literal deus ex machina. It is of course up to you as to whether you want such things in your writing, but it does just end up being a "solve everything" device, like a battery-powered demigod that's ultimately far smarter and more capable than your meaty protagonists. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Aug 8 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman your examples are things that are easy because there is a massive industrial process facilitating them. Operating a long-haul passenger jet is a phenomenally complex task that requires large numbers of specialist people. Spaceflight is not nearly so easy or safe. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Aug 8 at 20:52

Maybe, it depends on the AI

L. Dutch already pointed out everything there is to say about a lone mans chance for space colonisation. But you mentioned that he has a "life-like AI". I'll assume for the purpose of this answer that it is an artificial general intelligence (AGI) and not an artifical narrow intelligence (ANI) like we got today. The protagonist does not focus on getting of Earth, he locks himself in a bunker with a supercomputer and works on improving the AI. Specifically he teaches it to improve itself so it can make a better version of itself wich in turn makes an even better one.

At some point an intelligence explosion occurs; the technological singularity. The AI has turned into the holy grail of AI research, an artificial super-intelligence (ASI). Assuming the optimistic singularity scenario occurs, meaning the AI is benevolent and cooperative and not nihilistic, hostile and/or suicidal.

Now the protagonist has god on his side. The super-intelligent AI could cure the virus, take them to space (possibly mor in line with its desires as Earths day night cycle and the corrosive oxygen atmosphere will be an irritation for it). Maybe it builds a rockets for the protagonist and drops him of at a huge O'Neil colony it build for him or in a Marsbase. Or it merges with him, turning him into an immortal, godlike, posthuman beeing. Or it transports him to a parralell-universe where mankind still exists. Go wild, the technological singularity makes a lot possible


The general problem will always be supplies. Be it in earth orbit or on Mars, you will need food, water, oxygen, power. In orbit you will also need a supply of mass for keeping in orbit. The ISS for instance is not self sufficient, based on this answer. it needs resupplies about every 120 days. Now that is for a space station with more than 1 person on it, so maybe you would only need yearly resupply missions, but this already outlines the core issue you will have.

Now given the presence of humanlike AI, your story is already reaching towards a sci-fi genre. That means that you could choose to include advanced rocketry technology and an advanced spaceship industry. If these and robotics are advanced enough, its possible that your AI companion could manage these supply runs, although this would require handwaving. At which point you're going to run into the other issues of orbit - namely the effects of living in free fall, and higher radiation exposure. Living in free fall is believed to cause break down in bone density which is really quite bad. Radiation is also bad, the reasons for that being more commonly known.

Now again, these are somewhat solvable problems given advanced enough sci-fi. Maybe there is a bigger and better space station in your story, possibly with artificial gravity via rotation to mitigate the issues of muscle and bone decay, possibly with better radiation proofing. However in order for this to be a feasible escape route there would need to be other big advances in technology.

The Mars case is harder, and in my opinion requires considerably more technology improvements.


The AI and the rocket are both relatively easy compared to making a sustainable colony which isn't on earth.

Regardless of which rock you stick it on, or even if you just put it in orbit, you are looking at building an enormous green house able to sustain a human population large enough to be genetically viable. It would be HUGE. It would also be significantly easier to build in, say, Antarctica, than to build it in orbit. Antarctica is probably safe from the virus, would give you water to drink, and is considerably warmer than the surface of Mars.

You could have the AI knock down the idea of the rocket proposed by humans, using the answers to this post, and propose Antarctica instead. Or maybe a submarine dome?

  • $\begingroup$ Maybe actually, how would I transport material to it? I could easily say that I had tickets booked to go to Antarctica. $\endgroup$ – FluxedScript Aug 9 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I agree. Mars, or anywhere in space, is a totally inhospitable and uninhabitable environment, and to live there requires a fully-sealed, fully-supplied, and fully self-sustaining environment, lasting forever. If you could guarantee enough safe supplies to make such an environment on Mars, you could plop it on Earth with much less cost, effort. If you can't guarantee it's all-fully-separate-everything-autonomous-also-totally-virus-free on Earth, you cannot have hoped to succeed on Mars (or other space habitats). A fault or breech in your Mars protections is not less deadly than a virus. $\endgroup$ – Megha Aug 10 at 4:46

It's a tall order...

Based on OP's description of the AI, it has no prior knowledge of space travel, engineering or how to sustain life. While I believe that this knowledge could be gained over time, it would require extensive human assistance to interpret and filter the available data. The crux of the issue is that the AI needs feedback on whether it did a task well or not.

Thus, its ability to acquire new skills is limited by how quickly humans can guide it through the process, and by the teachers' ability to tell fact from fiction. Training the AI to do anything useful is going to take far too long.

Now, since, in this apocalyptic scenario, humanity's not going to complain, there is the option of hijacking existing infrastructure (aircraft, satellites, factories etc.), which would give the AI an opportunity to gather practice data on its own. For simple tasks, like flying a drone from A to B without crashing it, minimal supervision would be required. Assuming your AI's a master of abstraction, and careful preparation and suitable know-how on the humans' part, it might be possible to automate some of the tasks to, say, execute a rocket launch with only a skeleton crew. You'll need some humans in any case because

  • Suitable robotic chassis for every step of the process don't exist.
  • There will be gaps in the AI's knowledge you didn't think of.
  • You don't get any trial runs. One ready-to-launch manned space mission just waiting for takeoff is already incredible luck.

...and getting there was the easy part

So, congratulations, you got incredibly lucky and managed to launch a handful of people off the planet. Now what? You need to keep them supplied (no matter where they're going), so you have a few months, maximum, to teach the AI how to run an entire planet, from farming and mining to building space probes, on its own. Oh, but first have it mass-produce a humanoid, battery-powered, wifi-enabled chassis that can push all the buttons, move the crates and drive the tractors. You did remember to prepare that, right?


You can make it believable

As a writer you get to make a few assumptions about the environment in which your story happens. Clearly you're not intending to write a futuristic Sci-Fi novel in which humanity has already colonized the galaxy; the question makes it clear that humanity is still earth-bound.

But how earth-bound is humankind's technology? To make the basic story work (single person escaping Earth and settling elsewhere), there must be plenty of accessible resources in the Solar System. And here in 2019, those resources are not yet accessible. They exist - there's plenty of evidence of ice on the moon for instance. They're just not at all useful.

But what we do have in 2019 is robotic space exploration. It turns out robots are the better pioneers, they survive much harder environments. So what if we assume a few decades of slow development towards space mining? Your much-improved AI explains why robots are still preferred over humans in space, and they have a basic off-Earth infrastructure running for basic chemicals such as water, hydrogen, oxygen, steel, etc. Mars can have a robot base with a nuclear reactor in this scenario. But of course, no habitat for humans yet.

No space agencies You didn't exactly say what you meant by "no space agencies". But this is another case where you get to choose what it means, as long as you can make the story believable. So you can just say that the organizations ceased to function as the vast majority of personnel became ill or died, and basic society collapsed so the remaining personnel was no longer funded by the state. But as space mining required a fairly steady pace of launches, this process had been automated to a much larger degree to keep costs down.

Perhaps SpaceX now has rockets that launch and land from underground silo's, where the rockets are resupplied by robots between missions. And without anyone deciding to launch new missions, all rockets have returned to their home silo's and are waiting for orders. Unbelievable? Well, it's the only way in which mining titanium in space could be made profitable, in your story.


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