Expanding upon this answer.


Assume some forward looking and rich person realizes that some day humanity will go to the stars. However, with human life expectancy so low, generation ships possess too many potential sociological pit-falls. This forward looking individual begins a completely voluntary and secret selective breeding program to increase human life expectancy. I imagine it would look like the one in Methuselah's Children.

The essence is, a well-endowed foundation researches living people's blood lines. They look for people with extremely high percentage of very long-lived ancestors and that those ancestors remained "vital" for all or most of their lives.

When they find candidates, the candidate receives a letter indicating they've been selected and it provides details on how to pursue the matter if they are interested.

Male and female candidates receive money for reproducing with another candidate identified by the foundation. If the couple elects to remain together for forming a family and having more than one child, then the financial rewards are much higher than the compensation for simply producing one baby.

Children of such couplings are automatically considered for future pairings and support by the foundation.

You can couple the ideas from Methuselah's Children with those of Richard Dawkins to get your program going faster (basically couples must have their kids after a specified age).

The Situation

The foundation has successfully produced humans whose life expediencies range from 500-1000 years.

Human space travel technology has advanced enough to contemplate sending a ship to another star.

The Question

How does this wealthy, secret, extremely long-lived society of people get invited to fly in the first ships to the stars?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Interesting setup. On hint, though: Keeping them secret might be difficult. People who live substantially longer than their fellows will surely stand out, unless you hide them somewhere? $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Oct 30, 2015 at 10:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A few problems: (1) Simply mating long-lived individuals is very inefficient. If it worked at all, it could take tens of thousands of years to produce the results you describe. You'd do much better with deliberate genetic manipulation. (2) The key to increased lifespans would be fantastically valuable, it would be difficult to avoid it being stolen from (or sold by) one of the Methuselahs. (3) Nitpick: I think you mean Charles Darwin, Dawkins did not invent the theory of evolution. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2015 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ 3) No, I really meant Richard Dawkins - a contemporary scientists who wrote several influential popular books about genetics including The Selfish Gene. In one chapter he discussed genengineering a long-lived human. 2) I intentionally didn't mention the origins of the society. In another answer, the guestimate was a minimum of 800 years from the start for this feat (you'd have to start before Mendel's experiments :( ). 1) yes, in the other answer it was mentioned that it is difficult to select directly for longevity. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Nov 2, 2015 at 4:12

3 Answers 3


As the comments pointed out, there are a few flaws in this setting. Nevertheless we might attempt to provide a reasonable path.


  • Evolution is not so fast. The plan to select individuals to with particular family history to reproduce, and gradually increase the lifetime expectancy of the new born is slightly unclear ground. But I'm not a biologist. Even if we assume that it works, I'm pretty sure that a life expectancy increase of 5 years per generation is more than optimist. As in the linked post, a generation would consist of 30-35 years. On that basis, to go from a life expectancy of 100 years to 500 years, that would be 80 generations, so with 35 years in average (probably earlier for the first ones and later for the later ones) you need 2800 years of careful selection. And this is very optimistic.
  • You need a rather large group. Life expectancy depends on a lot of factors, but even people with the rights genes for longer life aren't free of other risks. In particular a genetic diversity prevents you from getting everyone wiped out with the first virus. It would be a pity to go on for 1000 years, spending a lot of careful attention and secretive actions to get your 5 families wiped out by the latest flu streak, because they were genetically unprotected. And you need to consider the other risks of a very limited pool (I won't come back to that, some others did it much better than I would on other posts around).
  • Hard to keep secret. A few thousands individuals living a few hundreds years, with on the whole several hundreds of thousands of people involved. Good luck keeping it secret. You can hardly get 50 people involved in something without having one of the babbling about it. The amount involved is just beyond what is plausible. The one way to do it would be to separate the whole subjects from the rest of the society. But again, careful to the evolution strike when you get out of your protective hide-out.
  • This point is linked to the previous two. Old Age isn't the only cause of death. Just living longer does not exempt you from dying in another form. Accidents, injuries, illnesses, etc. you name it. Even if you get them isolated, they might fight against each other. And you might end-up in exactly the same problem as generation ship. Worse still, even their families are programmed. And it's lasting much longer!

You essentially have similar problems than generation-ships, but for longer time. And considering that the long isolation, you might have people that could make the trip, but I'm not sure they would be considered humans anymore. I think you'd be on much better ground investing on cryo deep-sleeps and AI to fly the ships.

How to get on-board

Now for the following, will hand-waved away the previous objections. Let us assume that somehow, you manage to get a few hundreds of people living up to 500 years.

You want them to be kept secret and living in the middle of the population. Due to their extraordinary longevity, you need them to move on regular basis, to avoid raising suspicion. This implies some logistics, and money, but you mentioned money wasn't an issue. However, the organisation has to be closed to the political powers on their countries. You don't get to change the identities of a few thousands people without attracting some interests by the government. And the best way to keep it silent, is to make sure that the people who's job it is to check that are looking away.

Another reason to keep close to power is that while you concentrate on building a crew for the ships, you need to be involved in any space exploration program, to be ready at the right time, prepare your crews for the specifics, and at the same time orient those projects in the right way.

These points indicates that you need some hidden, strong and continuous lobbying in the political, economical and scientific leading circles. It is preferable not to bring your new humans on the post. Those groups are usually too exposed to the public opinion to actually hide. You need to form some illuminaty-like group which coordinate the lobbying and implications. And you need to carefully avoid being identified as a united group. If you want to be in the USA, you'd probably do well to have some politicians on both side. And many people involved in your cause without knowing about it.

When the time comes, many leaders are working for you, and most probably you were the one creating the final project anyway.


How does this wealthy, secret, extremely long-lived society of people get invited to fly in the first ships to the stars?

That is pretty easy. They will be rich and powerful enough using their long lives to actually pay for the ship and control who is going to be on it. Many of them might even have several needed specialties for the trip. Others can spend decades preparing for one. Since the breeding program is started solely for this purpose (and he has a lot of money) I can't imagine that they won't keep their fingers in all the pies controlling the first actual colony ship to leave Earth

  • $\begingroup$ I agree. They would be the one group consistently interested in driving such projects. Given that they presumably would have considerable resources and influence, the odds of them not being a part of any successful project are low. More likely the projects that succeed would have been the ones they initiated, managed and supported all the way. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2015 at 14:17

The long lived group will have the most interest in exploration and colonization of the stars, both because they will have the resources (due to compound interest) and the incentive to leave (since most people will either want to steal the secret of immortality or just their accumulated wealth).

The problem, which most people have identified, is that the long lived people will have to work in secret and carefully make their plans without being discovered. The most difficult stage will be to actually create the starship project; it will be very difficult to hide this (for the most part the project will not be concealable, since using known physics and technology, a gigantic Orion pulse drive or solar sail ship will be needed to survive the trip), and especially the crew selection process will be under a great deal of scrutiny and comment. A bunch of people can't just appear out of nowhere to become the crew of a starship; the people who apply will be under intense media scrutiny and interest (and of course there will be legions of fanboys and stalkers who will also be very interested in the process and astronauts).

I suspect there will have to be a sort of "two stage" process, where the long lived are gradually and over a long period of time moved into space as technicians or colonists, and then after a change of their identities to work on the starship project.


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