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So I'm thinking here about the sort of setting like Eclipse Phase, in which virtually all of humanity lives in a wide range of space habitats because of an apocalypse on Earth. I am imagining a variation of this without the apocalypse on Earth.

What could serve as a valid motivation for so many people to live in space without this apocalyptic assumption? Why might most of humanity abandon a viable Earth?

I'm assuming technology including fusion power is possible, as it would virtually be a requirement for stations like this. Eclipse Phase also uses transhumanism to justify some of its habitats but that isn't really a requirement for this, as you can just use O'Neil Cylinders instead.

My idea here is a sort of space opera setting that has a wide range of space habitats as the main setting, so that you can have a range of interesting conflicts within the solar system while also having reasonable travel times between things most of the time, with longer travel for stations orbiting different worlds.

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    $\begingroup$ Uh... besides that the planet is inhospitable, for any number of reasons? I immediately thought of Grayson, although in that case it's their agriculture that is mostly in orbit; the people still live mostly on the planet, albeit only due to theological reasons. (Honor notes at some point that, practically speaking, living in orbit would be much more sensible under the circumstances.) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 30 '19 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ I'm honestly thinking about down-voting this. Your phrasing implies we aren't talking about Earth, but if that's the case, "it's easier to build space habitats than to terraform planets" is really obvious. Unless you also explain what's wrong with that answer, I don't think we have enough context to give you a meaningful answer besides the blatantly obvious. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 30 '19 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ Is your question "What is the most plausible apocalypse that would make Earth unsuitable to humans?" or "What can motivate people to leave Earth even it is still livable?" $\endgroup$ – Alexander Dec 30 '19 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander asked my question. I vote to close this until it is clarified. $\endgroup$ – SRM Dec 31 '19 at 7:47
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM-ReinstateMonica I thought OP was reasonably clear. I edited question to hopefully help and voted to reopen. $\endgroup$ – TitaniumTurtle Dec 31 '19 at 18:46
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Earth is a nature preserve.

Horrified at the destruction their ancestors inflicted on Mother Earth, humanity has moved aside to give her room to recover. Earth is a popular vacation site but is handled gently by these future humans, who marvel in natural processes and the ecosystems that have restored themselves without human meddling.

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    $\begingroup$ I love this answer, and it is what I would have answered had you not beaten me to it. However, it ignores an important detail that people often forget about space living: You have to be so good at recycling that you probably could have lived on the Earth with no ill effects anyway. $\endgroup$ – Muuski Dec 30 '19 at 20:36
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Simple economics.

The moment we can build generation ships we have the technology to keep pretty much permanent stations in space.

Now getting on and off a planet is expensive and time consuming. You also have less control over the weather and such. So where are you going to build your industry? On a planet where you have extra costs getting things in and out of the gravity well, or in a space station without those costs and where the 0 G portions could allow you to transport things without a need for additional arms or conveyor belts.

The population will also slowly go up to the station. Why pay for the ride up and down each time? Why even waste your time on a planet where the weather changes and natural disasters could damage your home or threaten your family?

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    $\begingroup$ ...because space is an unforgiving, er, mistress. Also, because planets tend to have a lot of, ah... spa^Warea. If nothing else, planets need less maintenance. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 30 '19 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew at some point the unforgivingness of space recedes when you find that a space station and the surrounding area are far easier to control than the full scale of a planetary weather system, ecosystem and its crust. That is kind of the entire point of a space station, control over your environment. And since space stations can grow in number and size through the materials gotten in space itself they'll out-space the space on planets. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Dec 30 '19 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ You make it sounds as if building Ringworld, or even just Halo, is easy. Somehow I find that hard to swallow... and it's hard to beat a gravity well's ability to retain an atmosphere. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 31 '19 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew why build a ringworld? Why not build a thousand smaller stations? If you have the technology and its efficient then go ahead and build a Ringworld and entire dysonswarm while you are at it why dont you? This isnt about the difficulties of production, its about the advantages of permanent space stations versus living on a planet. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Dec 31 '19 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ I still think you are suffering from SFWHNSoS. A space station with a habitable area of 1km² is not exactly tiny. Earth has a surface area of 510 million km². Even if you consider only 1% of that to be useful, that's still 2,000 Ramas. Somehow, I have a hard time believing that, by the time you have the technology to build those without blinking, you still care about piddling little things like gravity wells. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 31 '19 at 21:53
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Short answer: Over population and gravity.

This is actually considered a genuinely plausible future.

The assumptions would be that actual planets may not be hospitable enough to survive on. Despite the obvious advantages of stable ground and a possible atmosphere, most people never consider the affects of gravity on the human body. We can't just live on any planet we can build a habitat on, because regardless of how efficient the life support systems are, gravity could kill us anyway. The human body has its own Goldilocks zone for tolerable gravity, to much and the body can't support itself, too little and it starts to breakdown. This is evident by the fact that astronauts have to spend weeks or months in rehab after returning to Earth from long missions (the longest of which has only been just over a year if I remember correctly) primarily to re-acclimate to Earth's gravity.

As such, it makes more sense that we would live in habitats with rotating drums to simulate gravity to prevent such issues. As for why they don't live on the still-habitable Earth, over population is a simple enough reason. Then, if we rarely( or never) find another planet with appropriately habitable characteristics, then the only other place to go is space itself.

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    $\begingroup$ "May not"? I'm pretty sure the chances of a planet, at least initially, being somewhere we'd prefer to live are, ahem, astronomical. Granted, we'll probably only go where we expect this to be otherwise, but stuff like Grayson can (and probably will) still happen. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 30 '19 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew my wording is to avoid assuming the scope of OPs space travel capabilities. If they are writing in widespread FTL, then number of habitable planets is up to personal decision. It could be frequent, none at all, or anywhere in between. So, yes, 'may not' is the appropriate wording. We can find a million uninhabitable worlds, but if none of them are sufficiently hospitable, then what do we do? $\endgroup$ – TitaniumTurtle Dec 30 '19 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, I think I see what you're saying... you're saying that, even if we can explore millions of potentially habitable worlds (i.e. really good FTL travel), we might not find any that we want to live on, i.e. the opposite assumption as most Space Opera (in which "cozy" worlds are plentiful and/or terraforming is easy). And... I'm agreeing. Emphatically, even. That is, I'm arguing that your "maybe" is really "certainly", especially in the absence of FTL travel. Most authors won't let that get in the way of a story, but in this case, reality is useful. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 30 '19 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ But since five out of eight planets whose surface gravity (or at least cloud-top gravity) is accurately known have something very close to 1G, it seems likely that 1G planets are very widespread. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Dec 31 '19 at 11:56
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeScott Where did you get that 5 out of 8 number? I'm genuinely curious. If you are simply referring to the planets within our solar system, then there is absolutely no guarantee that other solar systems will have anything close to ours. Also, living in a cloud top habitat (I'm assuming you are referring to Venus) is still pretty much a space habitat, except now you have gravity and a magnetic field. $\endgroup$ – TitaniumTurtle Dec 31 '19 at 18:33

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