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I am writing a story where humanity has advanced technology, but I want to give a justification for why they are still on their planet. Here humanity has advanced ai, superconductors, laser weapons etc. what excuse can they have for not leaving the earth.

(edit)

Question: what actual constraint, or self-imposed constraint, would a high tech species like humanity prevent from developing space travel ?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Oct 28 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ [review] I've voted for reopen (first time peer mod action ! wow !) and attempted to focus adding a question. This has 23 answers, so I assumed we've all read the remark/excuse for English language. Less relevant now.. thanks @Eddy96.. hope you like my edit, if not, you can restore your text. Please add some more details if you have them. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Oct 28 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies From the help center: if a question has many valid answers, then it's probably too broad for our format. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 28 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies Unless you invalidated the 23 existent answers how did you modify the question to no longer be too broad? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 28 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies "I corrected that by using singular form for "constraint" - too late - let's embrace the broadness and drink that cup until the end, downvote bad answers $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Oct 28 at 19:33

23 Answers 23

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Space is dangerous

Space for humans (and life in general) is dangerous and costs a lot of energy. What we shoot into space requires a ton of safety features, as it needs to be able to withstand a wide range of powerful electromagnetic waves as well as large sudden heat changes. In our solar system we're relatively very well protected. Big planets catch a lot of debris, preventing the debris to reach the Earth. In addition, the make-up also reduces the debris floating around the planet.

As @Thorne his/her excellent answer states, debris might be so much that anything going to space needs ludicrous amounts of armour. This increases weight, making space flight not practical. The rockets themselves are too large to get all that weight into space. In addition, many instruments like solar pannels become unlikely to work and the armour isn't a guarantee to prevent damage. Still I think this answer doesn't go far enough to be fixed with a simple comment.

A planets atmosphere and magnetism protects the surface against a ton of dangerous waves. The star alone can already pump out so much power on every wavelength, from huge radiowaves to the tiny gamma rays. These can scramble, disable, destroy, or overheat spacecraft or simply prevent good communication with anything shot into space.

It might also be that there's too little to see, so they don't realise the full extent the universe might offer them. If a cloud or many strange phenomenon, like time dilation or simply too much noise blocks further view of the universe, it might seem they are quite small and alone. With practically nothing to interact with, they might not realise many benefits of space, or might just have a few niche things out there.

Maybe they could see everything. A single planet around a hospitable star, but anything else has floated away or has been absorbed by the star or planet. You might see other stars, worlds and galaxies, each so far away you know you'll never reach it. Anything they would do in space then seems a useless endeavour. Better to stay on your planet. See what you see, make your lives as best as possible, and don't venture towards the unreachable stars.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just curious, what benefits does space outside the solar system have without FTL? Not criticizing your answer at all, I think it's a great one. $\endgroup$
    – Blueriver
    Oct 26 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Blueriver even without FTL you might travel through such space, especially if they have super advanced technology. The space itself outside a solar system has only a few benefits though. Like clearer signals from anything outside the solar system for research. Still it's rather useless in many terms. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Oct 27 at 6:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Blueriver no immediate benefits probably, but if you wanted your species to survive the destruction of your planet, generation ships would be a means of that. $\endgroup$
    – TKoL
    Oct 27 at 10:14
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Their planet is too big!

Their home contains a mass much greater than our Earth. Getting to orbit is spectacularly expensive and energy costly.

That's just for satellites. Crewed missions require much heavier-built ships for the pressurization, and experiments have proven a zero gravity environment causes them severe health problems. Beyond several hours is fatal.

So why bother? :) As a bonus they don't have a moon, and the next closest planet would be a year's travel with their available tech. Getting there would be a massive "all or nothing" investment which they haven't yet made.

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    $\begingroup$ You can find this link interesting: space.com/40375-super-earth-exoplanets-hard-aliens-launch.html $\endgroup$
    – McTroopers
    Oct 25 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ I love the lethalness of zero gravity. If you make it deadly within minutes (collapsing longs or something) it will almost become impossible to leave the planet. You can make artificial gravity in outer space, but try making artificial gravity while ascending, that would be quite hard I think. $\endgroup$
    – D.J. Klomp
    Oct 25 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ @D.J.Klomp ? Gravity is just acceleration. You literally cannot ascend without making artificial gravity at least equal to the natural force of gravity. $\endgroup$
    – Will Chen
    Oct 25 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ A species who can't breathe without downwards gravity would be interesting - they would involuntarily hold their breath through the scary part of a roller coaster, and could be executed by leaving them hanging from a rope around their ankles... $\endgroup$
    – Robyn
    Oct 26 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ @D.J.Klomp The transition doesn't have to be smooth. There's nothing smooth about rocket rides anyway. It just has to be survivable without injury. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Oct 27 at 13:28
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There's nowhere to go

Our solar system has a whole lot of potential targets of space travel, from the asteroid belt to various planets and moons (and Moon). Those targets also act like potential stepping stones of various degrees of difficulty to reach (Before going to Neptune, you'd probably first test waters with something closer to home, right?).

If your solar system is devoid of other planets and smaller planetoids for whatever specified or unspecified reason - there's no learning curve. The closest goal you have after "get into the orbit" is straight on "interstellar travel". Which is like asking to cross the Pacific right after you hopped over a small creek. So the most that you can do is to host a couple of space stations in the orbit, that would be never of any use beyond some limited scientific or military value - everything else requires experience and practical knowledge that you just have nowhere to obtain.

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    $\begingroup$ This applies even to Earth, if you define space travel as going yourself, rather than just sending robotic instruments. Even if you do go, you have the really significant expense of taking an entire life support system. Imagine how different space exploration would be today, if only Mars & Venus were the habitable planets described in '50s SF. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 25 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ Suggestion of a slight variation: their star is a rogue star, not belonging to any galaxy, and instead floating alone in the intergalactic space. The nearest star to them is BILLIONS of light-years away. Plus, the laws of relativity are found to be firm, so no FTL, period. All they can do is hop around their own back yard. Even if they had a few other planets in their solar system, they're all uninhabitable, and bringing resources back from them is way too expensive, so there's no point in going into space, beyond a few AI controlled probes and such, just to satisfy their curiosity. $\endgroup$
    – Vilx-
    Oct 25 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf: While Mars is not nearly as habitable as the traditional planetary romance genre would have you believe, it is much closer to habitability than any other non-Earth planet you could reasonably target (i.e. not an exoplanet). We are almost at the point where we could have a serious discussion of terraforming it, and frankly the largest barriers are economic rather than technological. I would argue that Mars is the best destination a species could wish for, if we rule out a two-Earth system with real live aliens living right on our doorstep. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Oct 25 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Kevin: Yes, Mars is a lot closer to habitability than the other planets, which are either gas giants, hot enough melt lead, or cold enough to have "seas" of frozen nitrogen. That doesn't mean it's all that close. Yes, it probably could be terraformed (except perhaps for the magnetic field problem), but the economics and inability of humans to undertake really long-term projects make it unlikely. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 26 at 3:40
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    $\begingroup$ You might build somewhere to go. O'Neill colonies. But if there aren't even asteroids out there to mine, the environmental cost of lifting enough material up the gravity well is probably prohibitive. $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Oct 26 at 16:17
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This was the driving force behind the Krikkit, the main antagonists of Douglas Adams, Life the Universe and Everything:

The people of Krikkit were surrounded by a Dust Cloud, their single sun with its single world, and they were right out on the utmost eastern edge of the galaxy. Because of the Dust Cloud there had never been anything to see in the sky. At night it was totally blank. During the day there was the sun, but you couldn't look directly at that so they didn't. They were hardly aware of the sky. It was as if they had a blind spot that extended 180 degrees from horizon to horizon.

The reason they why they had never thought to themselves "We are alone in the Universe," was that until one night, they didn't know about the Universe.

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    $\begingroup$ The Universe "It's got to go". $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Oct 25 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ This is almost the answer I wanted to give, same end result but different cause: Since the universe is expanding, stars are getting further away, therefore dimming. Any civilisation rising in a couple of billion years will only have a pitch black sky. Nothing to see, nothing to inspire people to go there $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Oct 26 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Hobbamok: A couple of hundred billion years perhaps. $\endgroup$
    – TonyK
    Oct 26 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Hobbamok the expanding universe (dark energy) won't actually have this effect. Most of the stars we can see with our naked eyes are within our local galaxy cluster, and those stars are gravitationally bound stronger than the expansion due to dark energy... Something similar might happen when the number of stars reduces as the Hydrogen is used up. $\endgroup$
    – craq
    Oct 26 at 22:28
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Does it have to be our Earth, or can it be an Earth-like planet?

One good way to trap a species on a planet is to make the planet just a bit heavier than Earth, thanks to the tyranny of the rocket equation (NASA):

If the radius of our planet were larger, there could be a point at which an Earth escaping rocket could not be built. Let us assume that building a rocket at 96% propellant (4% rocket), currently the limit for just the Shuttle External Tank, is the practical limit for launch vehicle engineering. Let us also choose hydrogen-oxygen, the most energetic chemical propellant known and currently capable of use in a human rated rocket engine. By plugging these numbers into the rocket equation, we can transform the calculated escape velocity into its equivalent planetary radius. That radius would be about 9680 kilometers (Earth is 6670 km). If our planet was 50% larger in diameter, we would not be able to venture into space, at least using rockets for transport.

It really is tyranny. Building a rocket with 96% fuel seems like a stretch to me personally, so perhaps less than a 50% increase could be enough to trap us. At least until we create nuclear-powered spacecraft.

If you cannot make the planet heavier (or the fuel less efficient, or metals weaker), then Kessler syndrome would be a very realistic trap. Note that you don't have to get there gradually - some nation may have intentionally triggered Kessler syndrome in a past conflict.

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Space Junk

Already the Earth is surrounded by thousands of pieces of space junk, each one capable of knocking a hole in satellites and spacecraft.

If a series of disasters caused a cloud of space junk that would destroy any spaceship trying to leave the planet, people would have no choice but to stay planet bound until such a time that the cloud cleared enough to reach space.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_syndrome Though it'd have to be a pretty extreme case to make all space travel infeasible (not just long-term satellites). $\endgroup$
    – Ajedi32
    Oct 25 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ This is actually not nearly as big of a problem as SciFi likes to make it out to be for 2 reasons. 1: Space junk rarely has a stable orbit. Most space junk falls back into the atmosphere within just a few years tops. Solar radiation and slows down small orbiting stuff and atmospheric drag contributes to low orbit degradation too. 2: Nearly all artificial orbits move in the direction of an Earth assisted launch. Since you are moving in the same general direction and speed as space junk, collisions with big stuff is very avoidable and hitting small stuff will be at low relative speeds $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 25 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ We have a problem with it because we are actively adding so much new debris each year, but a world without an active space program will fix itself. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 25 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ It's also worth noting that space junk is a solvable problem. If this civilization has advanced AI, super conductors, and lasers as posited, cleaning up junk is not a challenge beyond them. $\endgroup$
    – NPSF3000
    Oct 25 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Ajedi32 the sort of thing that might happen in the aftermath of a war, where one side decided to deny space to everybody (with clouds of orbital "shotgun pellets" of the worst possible size. Crazy? Yes, but people who start global wars and their ideologies do tend to be crazy. $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Oct 26 at 15:54
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The idea you are working with is something that is in line with an idea called The Fermi Paradox - basically, if the universe is as old as it is, and if we believe that Earth and life are not uncommon, why do we not see evidence of aliens all over the place?

There are a number of solutions to the question, but one is that other civilizations do not engage in space travel, and hence do not have a large influence beyond their own planet. A further sub scenario to that solution is that the civilization feels no need to travel in space. Perhaps all of their needs are met, and they don't see why they need to make life more difficult by traveling in space.

You can also go the more realistic route that things just get in the way of traveling in space. Although at first glance it may not seem too difficult to justify that people just didn't find space important - after all, many in our world think that space exploration is unimportant -

There are many converging factors that have led to space exploration, or would have led to it eventually. They are as follows:

  • Rockets, the easiest way for us to get into space, are also a way to effectively deliver weapons without the risk of having a plane shot down. However, for missiles to be useful at the range where they can be adapted into rockets, you need warheads as devastating as nuclear weapons, otherwise, ICBMs may not be developed.
  • Space is useful. Satellites have done a tremendous amount of good, especially when it comes to communication. Keep in mind that without space, your world cannot have GPS, it won't have satellite mapping and other imagery, etc. Many technologies such as computers, solar panels, etc, were also improved by the demand of space exploration.
  • People have dreamt about space for all of time. In the ancient past, thinkers of all kinds wondered about the Moon, the stars, and the planets. They wanted to know more about them. When we reached the modern era, people like Jules Verne, and later Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Robert Goddard began to think of using technology to accomplish space travel. Our ability to go into space was hastened by missiles created in WWII, and later the pressures of the cold war, but I am very sure that had neither happened somehow, by the present we would still have been able to send things and people into space.

So it is a complex question. Your society needs to have reasons why it pushed to get super conductors and energy weapons but did not choose to go into space. If you are striving for realism, you will want to look into what technologies and societal impacts have come from space.

Personally, unless your story is more focused on stuff surrounding space, I wouldn't sweat too much over it, mentioning only something like "it's arrogant to raise yourself to the heavens" or "space travel is considered impossible, or dangerous" will probably be enough to justify your choice.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like your comment that Space Rocketry required the idea of ICBMs, which required a warhead powerful enough to make it worthwhile. A more peaceful civilisation (or one with closer neighbours) might not choose to develop nuclear weapons at all, cutting off that branch of technology and never going to space. That said, there have been stories of rocket-powered attempts to reach space far far older than the 20th century. Wan-Hu apocryphally built a primitive rocket based on fireworks and attempted to reach space with it back in the 16th century. So ICBMs may not be the only path there. $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    Oct 27 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Ruadhan I said that spaceflight was connected to ICBMs. Prior to World War II, there were people like Robert Goddard that both knew that rockets were needed for spaceflight, and were actively launching them. So I think that we could achieve spaceflight without missiles - perhaps in a world where missiles were considered extremely taboo, or where an initial failure in combat considered them unsuitable for war. However, I think that rocket technology will naturally lend itself to combat, and thus, in a world where spaceflight exists, missiles probably do as well. $\endgroup$ Oct 27 at 18:09
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Their past space missions went badly, and so they mostly stick to orbital missions.

It's fairly hard to justify them having zero interest in space at all. Satellites are immensely useful for studying weather, communication, and lots of other things.

But beyond that? We don't need to go further.

There's lots of minerals on earth, lots of resources and people. Space is barren and dangerous.

Perhaps they sent several missions out, and did a routine, land people on neabry planets, but long term missions resulted in accidents that killed everyone involved, and were extremely expensive. Space is dangerous.

As such, nobody wants to invest billions of dollars in missions beyond the planet. They can continue to tech up, and advance the planet rather than wasting billions on speculative missions into space which may well go badly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually a species in a water world with a thick shell (like Europa) might be hard pressed to come up with a use for a satellite, even if they knew it was possible. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Wise
    Oct 25 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ Being able to monitor the tides andweather and communicate across the world is useful even on a waterworld. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Oct 25 at 14:11
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Why should they?

There's no guarantee that any particular world they would want to colonize would be habitable. Not only are Goldilocks-Zone worlds extremely rare, they're also probably not going to be habitable anyway.

You see, elemental oxygen has extremely round heels; it's always looking to hook up with another element. As a result, you can't have free oxygen without something to free it (i.e. life).

As a result, if a Goldilocks-Zone planet is habitable it's practically guaranteed to already be inhabited. Ethical issues aside, the natives (intelligent or otherwise) are probably going to react rather badly to colonization efforts.

As a result, nobody wants to face the possibility that their extremely dangerous voyage to the stars will end in disaster.

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Technological advancement in many areas need not equate to the same pathways of technological advancement nor pursuit of the same technologies we have historically produced. There is a lot of, call it luck, in the advancement of any given field of science, many discoveries are made by individuals who refuse to take no for an answer and others due to happy accidents.

We owe much of our rocketry technology to one scientist who took Nazi money and worked through a series of near continuous disasters because he had a dream to go to space. He perfected a technology that very few people around him thought could ever be successful only because of his personal obsession. Without someone in his position, with his drive, proving that it could actually be done space rockets may have been consigned to history's giant list of "stuff that would be great if only it worked". Once there was a consensus that the technology didn't work more reasonable governments wouldn't throw good money after bad chasing it. Especially not in a history burdened with a staggeringly expensive development program that went nowhere and no example of what a working ballistic missile can actually do as a weapon beyond exploding on the launch pad.

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  • $\begingroup$ "only because of his personal obsession." Ummm... I think being somehow noble and being coopted and financed by Nazis early in his professional life (he was born in 1915!) may be the actual cause for his obsession. But your argument of "the role of chance in sci/tech evolution" would still stand on its own (if that's the argument you want to make) $\endgroup$ Oct 25 at 7:04
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    $\begingroup$ "To the point that is was my understanding he voluntarily moved to Germany...he was born in the US." Are we speaking about the same Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun, born (in 1912 - my bad) "in the small town of Wirsitz in the Posen Province, then the German Empire and now Poland"? I think you compounded Goddard and and von Braun in the same virtual person. $\endgroup$ Oct 25 at 7:24
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    $\begingroup$ That's like saying that we wouldn't ever discover relativity if Einstein weren't born. Science and progress aren't defined by individuals. $\endgroup$ Oct 25 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @AdrianColomitchi Oops no it was the fact he was listed as German-American and I read the birth and death notices backwards without noticing the dates. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Oct 26 at 3:46
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    $\begingroup$ @DarthBiomech on long term, everything that is to be discovered will find individuals to discover it. However, nobody guarantees a certain time when they'll actually happen (In the case of rocketry example on the real Earth, von Braun wasn't the only one to work on it, so probably it would have happened anyway, maybe just a tad later. $\endgroup$ Oct 26 at 5:36
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What for ?

Space has been explored with probes and satellites but people are content on earth, why would they leave ?

"Humans in space" is a pretty scifi dream but there's few pratical reasons to go there. And if your civilization has overpopulation problems, make colonies in the sea or underground, it's far more pratical and cheaper than sending people in space.

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  • $\begingroup$ Few practical reasons $\endgroup$
    – mcalex
    Oct 26 at 9:07
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    $\begingroup$ @mcalex Most of these reasons are bad. How a "cold earth" or a "irradiated earth" or "polluted earth" is worse than space ? Anything is better than space, if we can build strong sustainable colonies into space there's no reason to think we can't do the same on earth, whether on the surface, in the oceans or underground. $\endgroup$
    – Echox
    Oct 26 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ Cool. But sooner or later - whether we've become Morlocks and burrowed down to the core, or the sun goes nova - sooner or later it's inevitable that we get off-planet. Given that, we might as well get out there and get good at it instead of waiting till the very last moment and having to do a rush job. We won't fall off the edge of the galaxy. ;-) $\endgroup$
    – mcalex
    Oct 26 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ The point is to write a believable explanation as to why humanity didn't leave Earth yet. Even if the story happens in 1 millions years (which isn't necessary, even a few thousand could be enough to have "high technology humanity"), I think they still have a bit of time left before the sun goes nova... $\endgroup$
    – Echox
    Oct 27 at 9:08
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The Matrix

Instead of expanding outward literally, they build giant computers and uploaded themselves. They can efficiently house trillions in a virtual world will efficiently siphoning power from their local star. No need to go anywhere for billions of years.

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  • $\begingroup$ space has resources, mainly energy, so it may be useful for your matrix $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Oct 27 at 10:18
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    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg The question as I read it is, "Why would an advanced Earth have not reached out to space even after a very long time?". Which is not the same as, "how would a planet develop such that its inhabitants never leave their planet even unto the heat death of the universe?" $\endgroup$
    – Harabeck
    Oct 27 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ that difference is irrelevant to my comment because of "build giant computers"- here, have it, in space, upgrade to any tech level present at that time and have it. It does not matter how big is your planetary big, it is small. I mean what you say is not so much of a reason, because when there are two options have something 100 or 1000 times more productive than on the planet for the same efforts - where is your reason then. Being in space can be part of what can make your situation possible, at all, in many cases. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Oct 28 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg I don't see your point at all. There are many downsides to having your computer in space that could lead to a civilization doing it dirt-side first. Radiation hardening, cooling, bandwidth to orbit, latency, the utterly tremendous cost of getting it up there in the first place, expense in servicing it, etc. A computer in space is not 100 or 1000 times more productive than on the planet for the same efforts. It is worse in nearly every way for far more effort. The question you link has comments and answers that discuss similar points, don't ignore them. $\endgroup$
    – Harabeck
    Oct 28 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ "bandwidth to orbit" - be in that orbit. "in space is not ... the same efforts" - yeah, then add that in your answer, make the difference in efforts your key argument around which you build a defense for your POV. I mean for a better answer build your stuff around something tangible, which is bound to physics and such - it does not matter if it is wrong or right - at least it would be a good start. Atm what it is is just an opinion, out of air. I do not ignore, I just know it better than them, lol, they aren't experts, I am. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Oct 28 at 14:40
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Lack of motivation.

In 1961 the first man entered orbit, 1969 man first visited the moon. Since then, a little over 500 people have been to space and a dozen have walked on the moon.

Human technology has evolved considerably in the 50+ years since man went to space. Vast improvements in technology have been made, and to be fair that does include space technology, but it seems obvious that space just isn't something that humans as a whole are motivated to conquer. We certainly have AIs, lasers, and super conductors!

Without motivation, humans may find more pressing or interesting problems to work on.

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  • $\begingroup$ Our motivation ended with the Cold War. $\endgroup$
    – Trang Oul
    Oct 26 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ lack of motivation is a bad reason, if you would spice the same text with space isn't that easy - then it would be much better and closer to reality. There are plenty of people with high enough motivation but the entry barrier is quite high $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Oct 27 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ Humans do tons of stuff just for curiosity. It may be worth saying something about profit motive however. Elon Musk can do it because he has lots of money. Who else? $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Oct 27 at 13:47
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Obvious omissions from the otherwise great existing answers are: political problems, money problems. These are often linked.

No large nations or governments

Maybe no large nations were created. What looks like the USA in our world ends up breaking down into just the smaller, individual states as their own countries. Canada, Russia, China, India, and other large countries never formed or were destabilized and broke down into small, regional dynasties or other governments. Because of this, it would take a large group of these countries to be able to afford a reasonable space program.

A program like NASA takes billions of dollars to fund every year. Without the cooperation of multiple small countries, it just isn't possible, and the lack of trust among these small countries makes it impossible.

No governmental interest

Politicians just don't care about space travel. They don't think their voters know anything about it, so disregard their requests to do anything about it. Russia just wasn't interested, so never launched Sputnik, which never spurred the Americans to reach the moon.

Besides, there's better things to be spending money on, like feeding the poor, education, paying people living wages, keeping taxes low, paying off the national debt, preventing climate change, and more. And in this world, those things are actually being done. With these programs making life better for everyone, there's no pressing need to leave the planet. Asteroids? That only happened to the dinosaurs and in video games. It's not a real threat, is it?

Endemic financial problems

Money is not stable. The stock markets are manipulated by the AI, big banks, and stock brokers so only the rich have any money. They've also manipulated the laws so they don't have to pay taxes and they don't have to pay their workers much. This means the taxes brought in to pay for governmental projects is severely limited.

It's so limited that roads turn to gravel before they are repaired, bridges fall down and have to be replaced with barges, damns burst and aren't replaced, welfare programs are non-existent, and about the only thing the government can manage is to stay out of constant wars for limited resources, including food and water. They don't have time and money to spend on programs that take food and housing away from citizens.

There is advanced technology for the rich, but squalor and starvation for the rest. The world's rich have 90% of the wealth (instead of ~43%).

With this massive wealth gap, and simple short-sighted greed, the wealthy don't care about space. They don't have any interest in leaving the world they run. They also don't care to risk their lives just for a ride, even if it is into the history books. The only thing they want to be known for it being the richest person in the world, and that can change daily, so the longer they remain the richest, the more status they get.

They also don't care about spending the billions of dollars a year it would take to get into space. To them, it's a massive drain that would prevent them from being the richest person, so that's just out of the question. There's no Return On Investment, which makes that spending pure waste, so it goes against everything they've been taught is important by their family, friends/social clique, and world history.

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  • $\begingroup$ this is good - "No large nations or governments", this - "No governmental interest" - lol it is backward, if you take USA senators it rather they not aware about space programs, they are regular folks with a different specialization which does not require that knowledge and understanding of the potential or else we would see different actions from them, so as I have seen&heard one senator discovering this direction he was like a kid in this regard. which can lead to problems and is leading to problems in putting some programs in action - so it is legit. The only answer I upvoted so far. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Oct 28 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg, yeah, if JFK hadn't pushed so hard for a space program and got Congress behind him, NASA wouldn't be as big a thing as it is today. They probably would have folded long ago as just another expense, like people are trying to do with the USPS today. And if it wasn't for constant Congress support (in general), NASA wouldn't be getting funding like it is. In fact, a couple years ago, NASA had to revamp their social interactions to become more visible, probably so they didn't lose funding. cnbc.com/2020/07/25/… $\endgroup$ Oct 28 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ NASA constantly does PR's of all kinds, Marshall center programs, students, etc, and it has constantly to prove and create a notion of its usefulness or rather that they didn't gamble their money, which is even for me is hard to believe sometimes. My take is that current NASA has no goal, at JFK time it had and it was a good move and the second problem is the incompetence of governing body or not being informed - what a goal it can have, what the things it can do - again just another side of the absence of long term goals. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Oct 28 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg, yes, NASA does do a lot of PR, but they have made much more of a push in the past 10 years or so, due to interest fading after the shuttle being retired. And they do have lots of goals, including studying climate change, going to Mars, and more. It's just that they don't necessarily have the same wow factor as being the first to the moon. There's a huge difference between going to the moon and Mars, yet most people don't understand that, so they think "it's just a little harder" and aren't impressed. It's also harder to measure those goals against people's everyday lives. $\endgroup$ Oct 28 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ yes, yes, yes. and this one "It's also harder to measure those goals against people's everyday lives." - is basically my biggest complaint to all space agencies as of now. It is understandably true that difficulty in understanding the connection between science which going on and everyday life, yes that is a fact, but it can be forgiven because ppl are used to that science and tech bring us some good stuff and investment in those are never a loss in long run. Not offering a dream, which can be understood and related to - that is not great. It can be simple as - we will live in space / $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Oct 28 at 19:29
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They have multiple aggressive militaristic civilizations on their planet.

Any time and resource spent on interstellar or interplanetary travel could be spent on more advanced weapons.

One can argue that space travel can bring in resources, but they are long term investments especially interstellar travel without FTL, while you divert resources on space travel you enemy will build AI controlled army to conquer you with less time and resource.

update

I took MolbOrg advice and clarified the answer.

Even if a civilization build a spaceship, other civilizations can develop weapons such as rockets to destroy with the small fraction of the cost.

Only orbital devices such as spy satellites or armed space stations would be strategically feasible.

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  • $\begingroup$ Military is one of the steady consumers and investors in space projects and technologies - presidents come and go, but military stays $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Oct 28 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg Yes, but building space stations, spy satellites, orbital weapons is much faster and more cost effective investment than interplanetary travel. The resource to build an interplanetery space ship is way more than developing weapons to destroy it $\endgroup$
    – atevm
    Oct 28 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ okay, interstellar and interplanetary - we do not have it yet, so no need to reinvent the wheel, and because of that I didn't pay attention to those keywords. But all that is big topic $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Oct 28 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ You are right the answer was not clear enough, so I've updated it. $\endgroup$
    – atevm
    Oct 28 at 17:29
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There was an unexpected disaster - Enormous solar flare wipes majority of the life on Earth, destroys most of the infrastructure except for fortified military facilities, where technology survives, cuts off, by destroying orbital facilities, off-planet settlements and causes their demise.

Better yet, let survivors know this happened due to actions of hostile alien species and humans need to lay low for "a while".

There is no way to stop humans from exploring space except for denying them access to resources needed and to the surface. Space junk can be cleared with ease given sufficient level of tech, so by my reckoning only way to get what you need is to force them into underground hiding.

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Branched Technical Evolution

In our world, we went down branches of technological discovery to reach rocketry and space travel with a potential eye to colonization on other bodies. In your world, there wasn't a need or desire to do that.

Likewise, a spaceship or satellite isn't one invention. It is the culmination of many technologies and ideas yeeted off the planet at high velocity for our own reasons. Given the question's statement of having advanced AI and supercomputers and laser weapons, an idea is a lack of easily acquirable structural materials in the quantity needed to actually build a spaceship could be a cause here.

A third option is that it could be that early on the world learned of climate change and renewable energies and moved harder on developing those technologies and leaving the fossil fuels in the ground where they belong. The presence of laser weapons suggest that your world has moved beyond gunpowder and other chemical weapons. Perhaps they have moved from chemical energy fast enough to not develop the ideas to rocketry?

Lack of Pressure

Building on the first point, perhaps there is a lack of pressing reason to develop space travel at all. Lacking world-spanning wars, there might not be the development into weapons delivery systems that would lead to being used to go to space so they went in the computing direction instead.

If they have enough resources for their population, then there might not be the same drive to leave the planet because everyone can have what they need. I would hesitate to call it post-scarcity, more that there isn't the level of scarcity that would drive exploring space for resources

These two reasons are still branches of technical development, but instead of different decisions on how to advance, it is about pressures for advanced caused by events.

I'm Not Going to Say Aliens but ...

For a more sci-fi twist, a more advanced alien species are actively sabotaging the planet's ability to leave it. Why they are doing it is unknown, their motives inscrutable. All those on the planet know is that any travel beyond the orbit of the planet fails for reason.

It's a lot more random sci-fi but it is a more outside the box reason as to why they haven't left the planet.

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Restless Genes

I'm not sure if this is still scientifically valid, but there was a theory that came out in the last decade that genetics may have a heavy influence on the desire to explore. It was theorized that a big difference between homo sapiens and Neanderthals was this gene, and that explains why there was very little migration of Neanderthals compared to humans. It may explain why some people seem to be natural explorers who are willing to sail across an ocean not knowing what is there and some are content to never travel more than a couple miles from their birthplace.

This may all be just popsci nonsense, but if accurate perhaps there could exist intelligent life on other planets who are genetically predisposed to not have much interest in exploration -- life is good and they see no reason to shoot rockets up. Assuming light speed is actually an absolute speed limit, combined with a relatively boring solar system that doesn't have much of interest to explore, perhaps without the "exploration" gene they simply don't see the point.

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There's not many places to go. Even the closest solar systems are over 6 light years away, which could take over a decade to reach and might not necessarily have any planets capable of sustaining human life. Even if there was, transporting billions of people to another solar system would be an extremely expensive endeavor, and pointless if the Earth is still habitable.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your first point about distance is very valid. We certainly don't have the technology to reach another star just yet. But even if you can't take everyone off-world, you'd expect -some- space explorers in the local star system. $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    Oct 27 at 12:36
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2001 in reverse

"All these worlds are ours, except your one. Do not attempt to leave it"

Solar activity

Their star is less stable than our sun. X-class flares not once a decade, but several times per annum. Too much radiation for humans in space. Electronics lasts a bit better, but not for very long, and only at great added expense.

Also they cracked fibre optic communications earlier in their technological development than we did.

Exotic variant: there is an accretion disk a long way out there bathing their solar system with hard radiation. Their atmosphere blocks it. You'd have to find a way to get rid of the lethal Nitrogen oxides arising from atmospheric ionization, though.

No fossil fuel

Mined out by a previous civilisation, or different plate tectonics. So they went straight to wind and hydro and tidal power, energy storage and solar panels. One can do most things this way, as we are finding out. But rockets are right at the crazy-hard end of that spectrum.

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  • $\begingroup$ I actually really like that last point. There's a theory that if our civilisation were to collapse, that'd be it. Any successor civilisation wouldn't have the ready access to fossil fuels and hydrocarbons that we do, and would find it far harder to bootstrap up to our technological level again. It may be that this civilisation simply doesn't have the ready resources to spend on space-travel and has become introspective due to a focus on efficiency of resources. $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    Oct 27 at 12:34
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They can't survive FTL travel.

Faster-than-light travel is, according to our current understanding of physics, impossible. That means that if you want FTL travel in your world, then you are free to invent it in any way you want and put any restrictions on it you want.

It might be possible that there is a biological reason why humans do not survive FTL travel, while other species do. Transhumanism might be out of the question, because if humans would use bio-engineering to change the aspect about them which prevents them from FTL travel, they would lose what defines them as human. So that's no solution. That means that they are bound to Earth, and all they can do to project their presence in the rest of the universe is to send automated probes or hire envoys from other species.

If you want to write hard science fiction where FTL travel is impossible and any interstellar travel needs to happen at sublight speed, then the answer to this question writes itself: their lifespan is too short for interstellar travel. As long as humans don't get much older than 100 earth-years, it's impossible to reach any interesting destination within a regular lifespan. But what if this is exceptionally short compared to other species? If the median life expectancy of all other sapient species in the galaxy is several orders of magnitude longer, then spending a couple thousand earth-years of their life traveling through space might not be that much of a deal for them.

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Multiple-Star System

They live in a star-system with multiple stars and few other planets.

Thanks to the dance of their several suns, it's always daytime and no member of their race has ever seen a night.

No planets ever cross their sky that they can see.

At most, they are aware of comets and occasional meteorites and have some interesting (and probably very wrong) theories on the subject.

They never invented the science of astronomy.
They never looked up at the moon and wanted to reach it because they don't have one.

The only way they could ever see a star is by flying to their upper atmosphere and shading a long-exposure camera against the suns. Keep in mind that without having any idea there's anything there, they might never try this!

Theirs is a civilisation that lives beneath a bright domed sky and has no conception of anything beyond it at all.

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Good question ! imho there will be motivation..

Dreaming to fly, be able to fly

Any long term rule not to fligh, or not to travel in space, will be challenged.

People who have discovered engineering and technology also do science. A scientist will want to fly, to see if it can be done, to see what's up there. Many other people just want to fly.. on Earth, we apes had this dream, for centuries. Very hard to invision high-tech society without that wish. In a few centuries, we succeeded, then we wanted to fly really high. Get into orbit. Or to the moon.

.. but religious constraints took over

Earth has some conservative clergies, suppose they take over again. One of the rules of faith would be: "you can't fly, only God can fly and the heavens is God's Domain and you can't enter it, because if you do, you will always fall and die."

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