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In various science fiction works, we see our plucky heroes beaming down to, or flying down to planets other than their own. They meet with the inhabitants there, be they human or otherwise and then they just go back on their way without incident.

Given the situation the world finds itself at the moment, this has me wondering what would be the mechanism that would allow travellers to visit other planets (or countries?) without becoming infected, infecting those they meet or otherwise without suffering the consequences of infection/quarantine etc?

Imagine right now, if a human from (say) the ISS beamed down to the surface, met with a few people for some intergalactic peace conference and then beamed back up again. There's a reasonable chance they'd take Covid with them, with all the consequences that entails.

Should they have some sort of tox-screen in their teleporter that filters out the bugs whilst in transit? Such a solution might mean they infect the locals with something they already have (and possibly need). Should they wear some sort of bio-forcefield that blocks the bugs but still lets them breathe the air? Should they have some sort of "universal immunity" before they travel? What about the locals?

How might some future people solve infection issues when visiting strange new worlds, or seeking out new life? I realise we're talking about future-fiction here, but which would be the most practical/socially acceptable/physiologically acceptable etc?

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    $\begingroup$ Relevant: memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Biofilter $\endgroup$ – user535733 May 15 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure all real spaships have an entrance that neutralizes everything on your body $\endgroup$ – user75689 May 15 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ Relevant: asimov.fandom.com/wiki/Melpomenia $\endgroup$ – user535733 May 15 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ "There's a reasonable chance they'd take Covid with them, with all the consequences that entails."... which might well be nothing. Keep in mind that plenty of people get COVID and don't even notice. Given the small number of people on the ISS, they might actually have pretty good odds in that respect. (OTOH, they also don't get exposed to as many bugs up there, so their immune systems might not be as strong. Incidentally, I've heard arguments that all this isolation isn't doing us any favors here on Earth in that respect, either.) $\endgroup$ – Matthew May 15 at 21:09
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If you wanna be smart, you do it like we do in real life: send a probe instead of a person.

Probes are more resistant than humans to:

  • Radiation
  • Dehydration
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Extreme G forces
  • Hard vacuum, or even mere oxygen deprivation
  • Tide pods
  • Concussion
  • Starvation
  • Loneliness
  • Infectious diseases, such as salmonella, COVID-19 and syphilis [citation needed]

They are also cheaper (they don't unionize), and generally won't require a visit back to their home every once in a while.

If you really must shake a friendly tentacle, make the probe humanoid and able to sync with someone else's movements. That someone else may stay in an orbiter for low latency of the signals involved.


Per Willk's request:

There are billions of worlds
In the Milky way alone
But getting to any one of them
takes just way too long
And if you go you prooooone
To get [redacted] by

Try to sing the next part as fast as you can

Radiation
Dehydration
Loneliness and starvation
High G forces! Asphyxiation
By oxygen deprivation
Each challenge a tribulation

Back to regular tempo

So what is an explorer to do
If I want to claim a new planet or two?

Send a probe! Send a probe! Seeeend a prooooobe!

Send a probe, send a probe
To Uranus and to Jove
Send a pretty little drone
And it gets your job done

Send a probe, send a robot
It can go where you cannot
You can do some exploration
Through the joy of automation

Send a probe! Send a probe! Seeeend a prooooobe!

Send a probe, send a rover
You don't have to come over
If the landing you get to botch
Well no human life is lost

Send a probe, send a lander
From the station, be a commander
And when the mission's done
There's no need to bring it home

So send a probe! Send a probe! Seeeend a prooooobe!

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    $\begingroup$ Can you make this into a song? Send a probe! would be the chorus. The bridge could have heartfelt musings on the value of probing. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 15 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ You are a regular Tom Lehrer, Renan! $\endgroup$ – Willk May 15 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ I love this so much $\endgroup$ – ProjectApex May 15 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ Great song - one to sing on the journey, perhaps. Though if I said to you "would you like to walk about on the moon?" or "would you like to control a robot on the moon?", which would you choose" ;-) $\endgroup$ – Ralph Bolton May 16 at 7:25
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    $\begingroup$ @RalphBolton my wife would kill me if I went myself, so... $\endgroup$ – Renan May 16 at 12:28
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Full body suit with filters or canisters for respiration

While filters that can science-finction-nally detect any and all pathogens and immediately remove them from the body might sound cooler, a more practical, cheaper and less risky (preventing rather than trearing) would be to invest in less bulky protective suits, which can create a flexible, yet resistant force field a millimeter away from the user's skin, thus isolating them from the external environment, as well as having a special apparatus that either filters the nearby air or uses a pressurized cannister to allow for breathing sounds like the best approach. While it doesn't sound as cool, it'll protect the user from any possible infections/pathogens transmitted by air and contact, without being as bulky as modern protective suits (at best a small-backpack-sized device to carry the cannisters and mask, as well as to create the force field, since we're going full science fiction here). It won't protect against contaminated food and water though, so offerings of food and water would likely be less common, as they'd be denied until proven safe and served in a sterilized environment (it might sound like too many measures, but remember that, in case any alien virus is compatible with your biology, you'll have no antibodies to fend it off whatsoever, meaning that even what's considered a normal flu might kill you if not treated properly).

But all of this is assuming all lifeforms you're interacting with are somehow so biologically similar to your species that there's an actual risk of their diseases being compatible with your body, and that's a whole different story.

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  • $\begingroup$ This seems a likely solution, but it sure would inhibit the building of friendships with these new lifeforms we've found. $\endgroup$ – Ralph Bolton May 16 at 7:26
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It will be necessary to ware a protective suit and filter the atmosphere to remove chemical and physical contaminants, however it is unlikely in the extreme that there would be a serious biological risk as the planet would have had an entirely different biogenesis and presumably billions of years of evolution that would produce a very alien biochemistry.

It might not involve amino acids or if it did not the same ones we use. The sugars might not be the same or have the same handedness. All the biochemical pathways would be different or hopelessly garbled and the genetic code would undoubtedly be different. So any alien virus would be out of luck trying to hijack our biochemistry to make copies of itself. In fact it would be so different that a good analogy would be trying to get a gramophone record to play on a VHS video recorder. Different technology, different substrate, different coding. Not going to happen.

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    $\begingroup$ Though by the same token, there would be a lot of danger of poisoning. $\endgroup$ – Mary May 15 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ Yes true hence the need for a protective suit and filter $\endgroup$ – Slarty May 16 at 6:50
  • $\begingroup$ Agree there are likely differences, but that almost makes the need for protection greater - we would have no understanding of what might happen, so could not quantify the risk of one choice or another. $\endgroup$ – Ralph Bolton May 16 at 7:28
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Standard pre-first contact protocols require that sterilized flying saucers containing equally sterile biological clones (with gray-skin, thin arms and big black eyes) isolate and kidnap a sample of the indigenous life of any early space flight capable species, for the purpose of taking a full biological inventory of the target biosphere.

This is done so that the first klaatu model replicants who openly visit the planet will already be immunized against all planet-borne pathogens and equally freed of any of our pathogens which might threaten the indigenous life.

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  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget all the necessary rectal probing! Seems to be a real wealth of information for the replicants back there. $\endgroup$ – user535733 May 15 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Anal probes are authorized only until the culture develop "the three seashells" hygiene device after which time, no meaningful data can be acquired rectally. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor May 15 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ Ahh... universal immunity - built up by a generation of testing. Nice one! $\endgroup$ – Ralph Bolton May 16 at 7:26
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Why actually bother going in person?

Use remote controlled drones/robots or other type of machines that can collect samples, interact with the locals, make field tests and repairs to the machinery, build stuff for the locals...etc until you get all the relevant information you want.

All that is controlled from the safety of your ship in orbit. No need to worry about anything at that point.

Also handling sterilizing and disinfection in machines is much easier that doing that for humans. Especially having rigid protocols about it and the machines being programmed to actually follow them. You would be surprised at the number of doctors who might be a bit careless with themselves let alone other types of people.

Also this saves money and people. Say you land on planet A and then the populace decide to burn your guys and gals alive. Well good luck getting replacements. But machines are less difficult to make, we are assuming a civilization capable of intergalactic travel, and even more resilient and non emotional.

It even saves resources on your ships. Say a group of 30 people don't need as much resources as a group of 200 people would. And the group of 30 people can use machines to do a lot of their work for them meaning that, at least, they are as effective as the larger group. And gain training and maintaining such a group of people is way more difficult that having machines do it.

And after you are certain of the intentions of the locals and that there are no chance of infecting either group of anything then you can make contact with them if needs be.

Anyway a rule of story telling of mine is this: "Think lazy" A lot of human advances are just people being too lazy to do something the hard or right way.

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