12
$\begingroup$

This isn't about what kind of technology would make spaceflight easier, this is about what kind of a discovery would incentivize world superpowers to aggressively invest in spaceflight.

I'm asking this question because I'm thinking about creating a alternate history setting where the moment humanity goes to space, they just really go for it and push hard for space colonization, instead of just scaling back after the moon landings like in our world. I looked to the closest analogy to it, with the colonization of the Americas, but all it does is point out how un-viable space colonization is. Basically, as I understand it, what made colonizing the Americas viable wasn't because there were natural resources and wealth there, but because there were millions of people who already lived there who made those resources valuable, with the Native American fur traders, the domestication of turkeys, potatoes, maize, tomatoes, and most importantly, gold and silver mines. The initial promises of vast amounts of gold and silver fueled the initial Spanish colonization efforts. And the immense luck, cunning, and perfect timing of Pizzaro and Cortes really sealed the deal with the vast wealth of their conquests inspiring many others to come to the Americas seeking riches. Here's a video by AlternateHistoryHub explaining in detail how important the Native Americans were to "making the Americas worth colonizing."

Now, in space there's good news and bad news. The good news is that as far as we can tell, there are no indigenous Martians or Venusians or Moonies, etc to genocide, so that's always a major plus. The bad news is, without someone to "make it valuable," there is not much worth up there worth colonizing space for. Not in the near term, anyhow, without truly gargantuan investment, which is the problem I wanna solve here. I've got some ideas for how to get spaceflight to happen earlier, and more extensively, such as Tunguska hitting somewhere more populated, ASBs making other planets habitable, or the transistor being invented later, so they have to build transmission space stations instead of small satellites, but in my opinion, that's still not enough motivation to spur on the kind of investment that would lead to a rapid development of space colonization.

Basically, I want to create that gold rush. Give the new space explorers a taste of something so valuable that they cannot resist the temptation to go just a little bit further, and to build all the infrastructure necessary to support that rush skywards. And so the only thing I could think of was little bits of technology left behind by ASBs across the solar system, nothing too revolutionary, but enough to make the powers that be think that there's much more up there.

Just two rules here if I may add:

  1. Not computer/AI related: I'm trying to make a realistic, gunslinging, rocketpunk space opera, and so I want to slow down the development of computing tech as much as possible, so if they discover the alien equivalent of "How to create an AGI for dummies," that kinda defeats the point of accelerating spaceflight technology. Unless the computing tech will lead them down a dead end, and will delay computer tech even more.

  2. Preferably a technology that currently exists the world today: Some kind of technology that was invented after the 1950s/60s that would be revolutionary to them, and very profitable to make. Maybe the ruins of a more efficient nuclear reactor, or insulin if they don't develop it by then?

(Also don't worry about why the aliens dropped this tech here. Maybe there's a logical reason, or maybe they're just messing with the cute little apes from Earth.)

Thanks!

$\endgroup$
3
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ You want an alien technology but it has to exist already in the world today??? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 5 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ Or well, technology more generally then. The "alien" bit is just trying to justify who put it there. By all means, assume it was ancient humans. Or the humans "controlling the simulation." Or God. IDK. You pick. $\endgroup$ Apr 5 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ The answer most likely is: (1) Get incredibly rich to afford such a journey with the option not to loose all your wealth at the end. (2) Get a method to deep-freeze humans for several hundred years and the wake him up again so that the memory is still intact. (3) Get a computer system that will work multiple hundred years without a need of maintenance. (4) get a computer program that will evade all kind of space debris reliably. (5) Find some technology to drive a ship for a few hundred years. (6) Most important: Find someone crazy enough to try that out. -- Quite simple, isn't it? ;-) $\endgroup$
    – U. Windl
    Apr 8 at 12:48

14 Answers 14

14
$\begingroup$

I see you say, "preferably a technology that currently exists" but hear me out: nothing would make us push off the planet like an existential threat.

Maybe, instead of being a tech that incentivizes us off-world, it's a tech left behind by some aliens that we discover in the 1940s-1950s, a planet killer. Maybe they see us as some threat to their society, or perhaps it's a terraforming bomb that will take decades to push our planet past habitability, giving governments (and resourceful individuals) time to get us away from the earth.

In fact, this has several advantages:

  1. Since we're about to run out of all livable land that we've ever known, that makes the valuable resource countries and companies will be shooting for. If you can claim a planet or a moon or a big enough asteroid, you can sell colony space to the highest bidder.
  2. This heightens a possible class vs. class dynamic that drives so much of our good [x]-punk stories, since obviously the ultra-wealthy will be able to get the best places, leaving the asteroid belt something akin to a shantytown. But what better driver of innovation? What better reason to keep pushing to make increasingly inhospitable planets home?
$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ What would be the authority to claim possession of another planet? I thought imperialism is over... $\endgroup$
    – U. Windl
    Apr 8 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ @U.Windl Granted, by international treaty, bodies in space cannot be claimed by any specific nation, but with what enforcement mechanism? Denounced by the United Nations? I'm sure they'll be crying about it on their enormous piles of money they earned from being the first to claim the land and sell it off. Thus far, only two nations have a dedicated Space Force as a part of their military, and might makes right, doesn't it? Also, nowhere ion that international treaty does it preclude individuals from claiming territory... $\endgroup$
    – Amocito
    Apr 8 at 19:49
10
$\begingroup$

Space elevator

There are many things holding space colonisation back, but probably the biggest one isn't a technological one. It is cost. For the longest time the Saturn 5 rockets were one of the better ways to get big stuff into space. If you look at the payload versus the rest of the rocket you can see you need a lot of the most powerful fuel created by man, put into a high tech precision tube that is discarded after being empty. Basically it is throwing away money to get a relatively pitiful amount of stuff into orbit, let alone to some other body in the solar system. The amount of mining to get some costs back will not matter. It is too expensive.

A space elevator is thought to mitigate a lot of these problems. In essence it is a structure, most often a type of thick cable, from the surface to a station on geosynchonous orbit. It stays exactly above that point. Now it is a question from going up via the structure. The structure will support any payload, making any fuel requirement less. Especially if you implement things like an electrified rail which means the payload doesn't need to carry it's own fuel upwards. Any payload can be send out by rocket afterwards for the rocketpunk part.

There is a big caveat. It is uncertain if space elevators are actually possible. We have no current technology that can withstand the forces on a space elevator, at least on Earth. Carbon nanotubes are a candidate to be the wire, but as far as I know ot hasn't been proven. Even if it would work, there's many difficulties to overcome. Weather, radically different temperatures and contents on different altitudes. Wind.

But if it would all work you can drastically reduce the price of each kg you get into space. If it is (relatively) cheap, humanity will scramble to solve any other issues. They understand the possible lucrative endeavours you can get in space. From mining, to housing, to even electricity generation by putting your mined resources in the space elevator and run a dynamo as it goes down. There's a ton of possible options. Not everything will pan out, but I'm sure several corporations and governments will profit greatly. Even if it's only having a space elevator and other's want to use it.

$\endgroup$
9
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Space elevators are literally one of the worst "orbital infrastructure megaproject" proposals. Not only do they have some major unsolved engineering issues, but they're also horrendously dangerous in a failure--worst case one breaks and then wraps itself around Earth multiple times, destroying everything it crashes into. That said, I agree with the general gist of your answer as "infrastructure that cuts cost-to-orbit by a lot". From the recovery of rare materials to more esoteric things like beamed power or military presence, cheap access to LEO would change the game completely. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Apr 5 at 15:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek - It's alien tech. Presumably they've solved the failure cases and engineering problems. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Apr 5 at 16:55
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek all fair points. The reason I ignored them is because the OP wants something in th world different to allow his opera. I felt this was the least 'magic' I could come up with, which would also be the easiest to approach with a readers suspension of disbelief. That being said, downvotes for your points would be valid imo. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 5 at 18:27
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Would suggest: "If space elevators are actually possible on earth". The material constraints get easy to meet as you decrease the surface gravity of the body you're trying to escape from. $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Apr 5 at 19:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @jdunlop Well, if you can solve the engineering challenges associated with space elevators, there are many much simpler and fundamentally safer types of orbital launch infrastructure that you can build instead. Also, it's not just engineering challenges, but also political and military/counter-terrorism challenges that you need to solve, especially on a space elevator which is extremely vulnerable to sabotage through terrorism. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Apr 6 at 10:30
5
$\begingroup$

If you're going for a retro-tech setting, use retro-astrophysics too. Make the asteroid belt and the inner solar system asteroids fragments of a shattered planet that used to orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Modern understanding of the formation of the solar system has shown us that definitely isn't true, but the idea still floats around in popular culture.

The usefulness of a shattered planet is that you have chunks of its core readily accessible. When a terrestrial planet forms, it tends to melt, as heat is released by smaller objects colliding with it, and from radioactivity. In a molten planet, the heavier elements sink under the planet's gravity. That's why the Earth's core is mostly iron and nickel, while the crust is mostly silicon and oxygen:

The rarest elements in Earth's crust are not the heaviest, but the ones that readily combine with iron, which largely sank into the core when the planet was molten. The limited supplies we have of them now seem to have arrived in collisions after Earth solidified.

But if you have a planet conveniently broken into chunks, you just have to locate the ones that used to be in its core, which you can do via spectroscopy, and then travel there and chip bits off to take home. Technology is liable to be revolutionised by gold as cheap as copper is now.

Your alien technology is zero-G mining equipment, left behind in the asteroid belt because the group of aliens who were mining there heard of a richer asteroid belt elsewhere. Up to you how many clues to interstellar travel were left behind.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

Fusion Reactor + Lunar Helium-3.

When the chinese mission Chang'e-5 discovered helium-3 on moon in 2020, it changed the mindset of some governments making them pay attention to moon exploration again. Why not get the same reason that spark the timid current space race revival and throw it back in time 50 years to the climax of cold war?

Lets just say Neil Armstrong landed in a area rich in helium-3 and brought some samples back to earth, and about the same time someone discovers how to use H3 to stabilize a fusion reactor and generated seemingly unlimited clean energy. How they discovers it is a subject for you to wonder. Maybe they could found an alien reactor on the moon... Or else a random scientist (maybe a fictional character) came up with this idea, which is plausible since the researches about fusion power began during World War II.

This won't make space travel instantly more efficient, but will justify the necessary investment. The cold war created the justification to get there, but since there was nothing valuable there, not for come back. This early discovery mith change it, especially when the concerns about climate change arise, because they will already have the answer.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Climate change was already a concern halfway in the 1900's. Even some gas and oil companies were openly concerned. However companies like Shell later even had damming reports for climate change if they continued, and they successfully buried it for decades. So it is entirely plausible that other conclusions and concerns about climate change might fuel a race to get less dependent on it and the unstable countries connected, getting H³ from space. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 5 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ I wholy second this. Our "space race" faded out so insanely quickly because the goal was just to demonstrate military capability. Once all the categories here were shown off, there was no justification for the multi-billion budgets $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 8 at 11:03
5
$\begingroup$

In order to turn this into a fun game, here are some rules for me to play by...

  1. It fails safe. No one failure or intentional misuse can cause thousands of deaths or massive ecological damage all by itself.

  2. It is a black box technology, but nothing the black box does violates the laws of physics.

  3. Everything the black box does can be replicated by 20th century technology except for the size, mass, and temperature of the black box.

  4. It is impossible for humans to make more of any permanently attached part of it.

  5. It is easy to find from a long way off.


5 has a pretty easy general solution: put a big radio beacon on it and park it in a bunker somewhere. I'll leave 5 out from now on.


And here are some problems to solve and technologies that solve them:

The Rocket Equation Sucks

Getting chemical rockets into orbit - or up to escape velocity and beyond - is too expensive, mostly because you have to pay to lift and accelerate the fuel, as well as the payload. We want a space elevator as Trioxidane says, so that we can pay only for the energy of the payload.

The counterweight is easy, but the cable is a problem. Space loot 1 is therefore a giant spool of ultra-light, ultra-strong cable.

1 - Fail safe: after tensioning, the cable has such material qualities that it disintegrates if tension is released. It is also relatively weak to shear forces and thick enough to not be especially sharp, so you can't string it up between two trains and use it as a giant knife to cut cities in half.

2 and 3 - It's just a cable. We can make arbitrarily strong cables, they are just too heavy.

4 - The arrangement of molecules in the cable cannot be induced in a terrestrial laboratory, let alone a terrestrial industrial setting.

The Rocket Equation Sucks Part 2

Chemical fuel sucks. Nuclear bombs for fuel suck because you need an excessively large space ship and nuclear bombs. Radioisotope decay for fuel sucks because the acceleration is too tiny if you want to get anywhere fast. Just giving the humans a better fuel source sucks because good fuel = lots and lots of energy really fast = kill lots and lots of people.

Space loot 2 is therefore pre-fabricated thrusters that convert matter directly to energy and output reaction mass as an ultra-high velocity particle beam - exactly like a modern long-range radioisotope powered rocket, but you feed in 1 gram of iron and a few ounces of hydrogen and you get out a few ounces of hydrogen plasma with 1 gram times the speed of light squared of kinetic energy.

1 - Fail safe: the thrusters don't work if they're too close to a large mass or another thruster. Space ships in deep space can use them to death ray each other from a few hundred kilometers away with lethal effect... but they can see each other coming from millions of kilometers away, and the thrusters simply don't work near planets, moons, or even large asteroids. Because they do mechanical work at a fixed rate, their output is hot gas, and they can't be disassembled, their energy output can't be repurposed into a bomb or efficiently used to pump a laser.

2 and 3 - In the end, it's just a really fuel efficient rocket.

4 - Everything inside is as incomprehensible to us as the insides of a modern computer would be to Pythagoras. Also it disintegrates as soon as you crack the case open. Did the aliens make it out of the same stuff as the space elevator cable and keep it under tension? Those tricky devils!

Power Generation Sucks

This isn't just a problem for space ships, it's a problem for regular ordinary earthlings, which makes it great for loot.

Space Loot 3: portable 100kW generators that run off of direct mass conversion.

1 - Fail safe: As with the thrusters, the generators don't work if you try to run them too close to another generator, so packing them all together and using them to pump a death ray is not efficient. These ones work near big masses, though, making them great for home use. They output no more than 100kW, no matter what, so they can't be used as bombs.

2 and 3 - 1 gram of iron goes in, 1 gram c^2 of electrical energy comes out. We can make a generator.

4 - Just like the rockets, these run on self-disintegrating Clarkean magic.

Cancer Sucks

Nanomachines are a classic piece of Clarkean magic. The space loot version just needs to be non-replicable. You feed them some healthy cells, then they go into your body, find anything with the wrong kind of similar DNA (they don't care about bacteria), and ruthlessly murder it at the cellular level. Not for use while pregnant or after a transplant operation. This also helps solve the problem of space having a lot more radiation than is good for humans to be exposed to.

Space Loot 4: Big box full of 10 million doses of Cancerphage Nanites.

1 - It does the one thing and then it dies. It cannot survive outside of the deployment container or the initial host. If it doesn't find any of the correct kind of cells nearby, it dies - so even though it wouldn't count as a failure to fail safe in my rules, you can't even inject it in the wrong patient and accidentally kill them.

2 and 3 - It doesn't do anything a virus can't do, it just does it much, much better. It doesn't do anything a blowtorch can't do, it just does it much, much smaller.

4 - It doesn't self-replicate. With sufficient study, we could make individual nanites in a laboratory at great cost, but they wouldn't do much of anything, you need billions of them all at once.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I would have a hard time suspending my disbelief for such a cable. Instead... what about a cable which you cannot cut. It's not so much a nano-carbon cable as, perhaps, a nano-machine cable. They "eat" whatever you throw at them, and repair any damage sustained by the cable. Oh, and the cable came with the space station core, and that damn thing is just as impenetrable. We've got no idea how it works. We couldn't even pick the coordinates: it just positioned itself smack above the center of the Pacific, on the equator line. $\endgroup$ Apr 6 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @MatthieuM. that would smell a bit too much of Trojan Space Elevator. $\endgroup$ Apr 8 at 16:09
3
$\begingroup$

Energy technology.

Something the size of a grain of rice holding the energy of a truck battery could revolutionise the electronics industry/transport/medical devices, make it rechargeable an indefinite number of times then it's even better. (Could make hand-held laser weapons feasible perhaps, Nano-tech - see below)

Solar cells nearer 95% efficiency would be so much better than our current ones topping out at <20%. Give them a long lifetime too as our current ones degenerate fairly rapidly.

Really strong permanent magnets. Very, very strong. This could feasibly enable sensible-sized fusion-reaction power-generator-containment. Make motors smaller and more efficient too. Possibly leading to Nano-tech if combined with microscopic batteries holding hyper-dense charges of power.

Oh, and whilst you're at it - room temperature superconductors that are easy to produce from cheap materials. Always useful.

The promise of even better "stuff" awaiting our discovery.......

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Exotic natural resources could justify spaceflight.

Nuclear Physics has a handful of metastable isomers known. These are materials with unusual nuclear structure that are stabler than you would expect. A nice way to set up your story might be theorize that "There exists a Metastable form of element 122" or perhaps "An exotic shape isomer of Carbon" which has unusual applications (perhaps creating room temperature superconductivity or hyper strong magnets or building quantum memory).

In any case, A civilization with a complete mastery of chemistry WILL NOT be able to synthesize these materials in any meaningful amount even if they can completely harness the power of their sun. If for example a distant planet/asteroid was found that was rich in these exotic nuclear materials that would be an EXTREMELY STRONG incentive to travel out there and acquire these materials.

Some other relevant ideas here are materials from the island of stability.

More unusual ideas here besides exotic nuclear structure in the atoms is to consider muonic atoms and other leptonic atoms, unusual quark matter (such as metastable exotic mesons), or (and this feels a little overdone but maybe it works for you) just an asteroid or planet made of anti matter itself.

For some additional mystery, the existence of this unusual material planet could let you theorize unusual events in the history of your fictional universe. If you want to go Greg-Egan you can suggest some unusual physics during the start of the universe that resulted in this. Alternatively, these "planets/asteroids" could be left overs from some ancient Hyper Civilization.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Technology that is capable to use time as an ally. As in really long term viable, almost indestructible technology.

Your almost solid state space probe is propelled up to speed with a laser driven lightsail. And this is also what slows it down. Midway the first lightsail detaches, forming a hollow mirror, reflecting the light back at a 2nd lightsail, thus slowing your probe down over time. It analyses the planet it lands upon and begins terraforming.

What you would shoot up there to colonize, are basically seed-ships that clone viable organisms from frozen seeds and samples. And then wait. Really really long times in human lifes. But you can rough terra-form a planet similar to venus, if you just use enough time. You gestate plants, insects, animals. Then you gestate humans in a https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_womb . As you can not bring them up traditionally and they have to learn fast- you give them viral memories as a starter for a stone-age culture.

And then you have a "tutor" in the probe that basically educates them about the place they came from and technology - various other topics - and how to establish a connection.

PS: This might be copied in part from the great Alastair Reynolds and his americano settlers.

$\endgroup$
3
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, but stone age memories? Why can't your indestructible space probe teach some more contemporary, useful knowledge than stone-age tools? In fact, it would have to raise people somewhat traditionally, a newborn baby all alone isn't just going to crawl away and thrive all alone $\endgroup$
    – Xen2050
    Apr 6 at 1:47
  • $\begingroup$ That's the crux, but machines can not socialize humans $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Apr 6 at 7:40
  • $\begingroup$ Thus you need to start at the level where human society a natural forms. The creatures have to socialize themselves and then get tech and culture after that. $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Apr 6 at 17:23
1
$\begingroup$

CARBON NANOTUBES.

One day, inexplicably, a gargantuan cloud of nigh-indestructible, diamondoid carbon nanotubes appear around the space between L1 and the Moon. Enough of it falls onto Earth as to kickstart our idea of weaving it into a space elevator....but we do not have enough, only about 80% of what we need.

A breakneck space-race occurs, where everyone starts sending rockets, manned and unmanned, to grab as much of the Yarn (slang term for the tangled mess of nanotubes) and drop it down to Earth. Some sell it to the Space Elevator Project, others sell it for other industrial purposes. Suddenly, the world has impossible suspended bridges, mile-tall skycrapers, near-indestructible seastead platforms anchored to the bottom of the ocean with thin ropes, etc etc. Nanotube-cloth cloth transforms warfare, aviation, even fashion industry. There is an economic boom, and great competition for who gets the most of the fluff out of space, regardless of danger.

Plenty of spacecraft miscalculate, and fly not next to, but INTO a cloud of 50 kilometer long nanotubes, at escape velocity speeds, and slice themselves to ribbons. Sometimes, a bundle of Yarn gets dropped onto Earth, but instead of falling down like a slow, fluffy meteor, it gets caught by the wind, disentangle, and flies through the air, slicing aircraft, buildings and small mountains to bits. Whenever a cloud of nanotubes gets caught in a hurricane.... things get locally apocalyptic.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

1. Already the knowledge that they exist.

Here is the space budget share of each country's GDP. There are the most spending countries, for example my home country is below 0.1%.

Space budget as a share of each country's GDP

Compare this to the typically 1-4% of the military budget (often called as "defense budget" because it looks better).

If the president of the central bank farts once too loudly, that affects the country GDP more as their total space budget.

The common belief is that astronomical money is going into space exploration, the reality is more like "coins", at least measured on the state budget levels.

The reason is very simple and, for many of us, really disappointing. Sad truth is that simply there is nearly nothing in the space and absolutely nothing what would worth even these expenses. We might think, "oh, elevating your 0.25% to 0.5%, dear USA, you could save the world in the decade", and this might be right - except that Biden see votes at early winter, Biden has to press through yearly budget an ukrainian military expenses on the congress openly disfavouring him, and the last of the lasts will be in his mind, the space budget. Case is similar in other countries, with other presidents or with other years. There is always more important to do, particularly, that honestly we were there already, and we did not find any important.

This attitude would change significantly if only the existence of the extraterrestrials would became known, even if they are known peaceful.

Why?

Because we know each other. And because we know history. The reality is that there is no real chance of a full-scale military conflict among major powers, simply because no one wants it, but we still don't trust each other. Recently a superpower started a war against its neighbor, only because this neighbor wanted to enter a defensive military alliance, simply because this superpower won't believe that the alliance remains similarly defensive even in decade long term.

If the extraterrestrials are not known peaceful, the space spending would probably quickly go to full-scale war level.

We also know history, particularly the conquest of america, but also all cases of the long-term result of a technologically developed and undeveloped population. The result was the destruction of the lesser developed civilization, peacefully or with blood, but always destruction. This is why, for example, the last "uncivilized" tribes in the south american rainforest or in small islands, are forbidden to contact without special permissions. If we contact them, we will quickly lose them, and they are the last. If we lose them, we will never know, how humanity before civilization once looked.

2. From the moment that we know, they exist, space budget will go at least to to the level of the military budget

And that would mean, in the case of the USA, a 20x increase at least... also for other countries.

Now Elon Musk himself solved the problem that soon we will have a clear plan to start permanent, self-sufficient colonies on the Moon or Mars. It is not because he is a savior, it is because he is the first.

Very likely, only the knowledge that they exist, would result that tens of similar project would be started and we would yet see the multiplanar humanity in our life.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Artificial intelligence and light, space-hardened computing might do it. Even if you did expressly forbid computing and AI solutions, bear with me for a bit...

It may be possible to reduce computer components to molecular scales. An intelligent computer may be possible with less than a gram of material. Having less material makes it less likely to be hit by cosmic ray, though perhaps a lot worse if it did.

It is not obvious who long it could survive without power. Between the stars, it would probably go close to the cosmic background 2.7 Kelvin. Matter would be rare. It might be able to sleep for a million years. Or it might go into some very low-power mode, then wake up at intervals to run checksums on everything it knows.

Something like this is light enough to travel between the stars on solar sails. It is long-lived enough not to worry about getting there in a hurry. And it may be patient enough to build everything it needs from raw material once it gets to where it is going.

I haven't made space travel any more rewarding. An intelligence goes space trucking when the rewards (including the reward of doing it because you can) outweighs the costs. I am doing this by lowering the costs for a lightweight and practically immortal intelligence.

But we are not done yet. Now suppose you are on rock number three, and you find that these immortal intelligences are multiplying on the outer planets you weren't interested in a moment ago. They are polite and endlessly patient, but they won't give you all the answers. They are building something out there, but what?

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ I feel that even with the AI explanation the OP can't make a "realistic, gunslinging, rocketpunk space opera". Who's doing the gunslinging? Where is the rocketpunk? How will you make drama for the opera with non human intelligence where people can't relate to? $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 5 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane What about the gunslinging rocketpunk rag-tag bunch of mavericks who swear to kick cyber-ass until they take back our outer planets? Are they cool with this? $\endgroup$ Apr 5 at 13:41
0
$\begingroup$

Anti-gravity pads.

If you had a tech which allowed construction of lift pads, fixed installations pushing things above them into orbit, it could cut the cost to orbit by quite a bit. The pad itself could be very large, complex and draw massive energy, but it's basically a building.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Alien artifacts found in the Solar System, like in the Strugatsky brothers' Roadside Picnic, just interplanetary. Perhaps the artifacts are only in one location which is within reach but poses a challenge, like Mars or a Jupiter moon. The artifacts have made themselves known one way or a another, e.g. by emitting a radio or light signal.

The artifacts are so valuable and powerful (weapons, sources of energy, or machinery, like a cornucopia-like replicator) that any nation not having access to that technology will find themselves in a losing position. All nations able to got to space will therefore participate in this gold rush, leading to a multi-player space race.

The technology is all there or within reach in the 1960s; it is just a question of money and willpower.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

The Spindizzy Drive. This appeared in the Cities In Flight series, an antigravity drive that went faster the larger the mass involved. Originally fleeing the Cold War, the loss of so much manufacturing and customer base would cripple economies with small cities taking to space to find work on other worlds.

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .