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I'm writing a game script at the moment that involves the protagonist exploring various planets in several solar systems. The character starts the game with nothing to their name, but I want them to get into space with relative ease yet not encounter any other people on the planets they visit.

Seems to me the only way that these conditions could be met is if space travel was at one point a commodity that many people were able to afford (such as small personal ships capable of space flight that could be commandeered as easily as stealing a car) but something has caused mankind to lose all interest in leaving the planet.

I'm trying to come up with a sensible reason why this could happen and I'd love some input.

My best scenario at the moment would be that during a time of relative peace on Earth, public interest in space travel increases and a political party capitalizes on this interest to bring themselves to power, promising research into space travel and all the promises it brings: more materials, new places to colonize and live etc. The party is aware that what can be gained from space is not as much or as cost effective as they are making out but as the public love the idea, they continue to pool money into the space travel and perform "stunts" to keep interest high such as sending probes to far away solar systems and even dropping supplies on potentially habitable planets ready for a colonization they know will never happen.

Eventually of course, people work out that space is mostly empty and fairly dangerous to traverse. Angry and disappointed in their government for deceiving them in this, the party is voted out and a new group are elected who promise to concentrate taxpayers money on matters closer to home. Funding is cut from all things to do with space travel and public interest moves away from it, possibly onto some crisis happening on earth such as a war, famine or natural disaster.

I'd love people to find issues with this idea, suggest ways it could make more sense or consider other events that could lead to this final situation.

First time posting outside of the programmers stack exchange, nice to meet you all!

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  • $\begingroup$ Asimov's Caves of Steel comes to mind. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jan 11 '16 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ What if the travel is cheap, but merely unpleasant? People are less likely to vacation to certain areas, given how annoying airplane travel is on most airlines. $\endgroup$ – Nate Watson May 20 '16 at 21:13
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Larry Niven purposed a very plausible explanation for such behavior in his Pierson's Puppeteers race. The Puppeteers had scientific proof that (atleast for them) there was no afterlife. They also had developed extremely advanced life extension techniques which allowed them a very long life, but only if they avoided fatal accidents. Given these insights and opportunities, the Puppeteers chose to become extreme cowards, with only the most insane ever leaving their home planet.

[Edit] I neglected to mention that the Puppeteers also had extremely advanced technologies of all types, making space travel easy for them; just not very popular among the sane.

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My guesses are:

  • pretty good and stable conditions on earth (no refugee crisis, either triggered by economic, political or environmental issues)
  • lack of habitable earth like planets that are reachable with the currently available technology.
  • a chain of accidents on terraformed planets or planets with a closed artificial ecosystem
  • a chain of space traveling accidents.

The loss of lives, backlashes while trying to establish Earth colonies or star bases and the realisation that you still can't make a single error while in space, might suffocate the interest in space travel.

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The easiest way to make such a thing happen is to have a decline in civilization. Its popular to assume that you own civilization will never stop growing, but realistically, they don't.

It would be easy to have humans on the verge of commercializing space, only to have humanity have a collapse which redefines peoples goals. There are always people who want to go to the stars, but if they are more likely to achieve their goals planetside, nobody will ever leave.

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One way is if colonies keep failing because of something on the planets.

For instance, the colonists could arrive on planet only to find there is low level biological life (like prions) that is able to colonize the warm, salty fluids in our bodies. It wouldn't act like a virus of course, more like a parasite, but on a microscopic level.

It could also be just to hard/long of a process, to the point where people don't see the profit in spending their whole life on something that's going to take 3000 years to finish.

If every planet we tried to colonize was inhospitable to our kind of life, then people might just get tired of trying and stay home.

Also, at some point it would become political suicide to propose wasting more money on something like that, when we have enough problems here at home.

Look how the US space program languished for so long.

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Generally people respond to incentives, and have at least some idea of the "risk to reward" ratio of activities. With sufficient incentives, they will engage in risky behaviours (financial speculation such as the ones which helped trigger to 2008 debt crisis were incentivized by the implicit backing of sub prime mortgages by the us Government, for example). A good example of flawed "risk to reward" analysis is the fact that more people are frightened of flying vs driving, despite the far higher statistical probability of being killed in a car accident.

So if spaceflight was inexpensive, but people had the idea that it was very dangerous (like airline flight), they would tend to avoid it. IF the rewards of exploring space or colonizing the planets were very low compared to the perceived risk of doing so, then people would also tend to avoid space related activities (especially since high payoff activities with much lower risk exist). This is pretty close to the situation today. Even if Elon Musk were to reach all his goals in making rocket launches cost 100/kg, there are few identified activities in space besides communications and surveillance which have any proven track record or ROI for investors. It would be cheaper, easier and safer to build a luxury resort in Antarctica than in orbit, for example, while McGuffinite like 3He has only theoretical applications (no working aneutronic fusion reactors exist to use 3He for fuel) or require ridiculous assumptions to be considered plausible (Titan has about 100X the hydrocarbon reserves of Earth, but it makes no energetic or economic sense to go to Saturn to extract the oil, even at $100/bbl).

Finally, WRT space hardware, the rocket punk assumptions that a person or crew was needed to maintain long duration space platforms and ships, or undertake complex activities has been overtaken by technology. Instead of a crew of comm techs to adjust antenna and change vacuum tubes, communications satellites are compact, solid state devices powered by solar panels with a lifetime measured in decades. Space bombers don't need human pilots and bombardiers to drop H Bombs on targets, ICBM's have been controlled by micro computers since the late 1960's. Even deep space probes respond brilliantly to reprogramming from ground based teams millions of miles away on Earth. The incentive to develop advanced long range manned spacecraft really isn't there. In this sort of background, there would never have been a reason to build an interplanetary manned spacecraft, so no "surplus" ones would exist, and few systems needed for long range manned spaceflight (such as closed life support systems) would be perfected.

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A simple answer would be to make it dangerous. Space around stars and planets is Riddled with Debris and asteroids, Earth had hundreds fall on it every year, and one unlucky impact on a ship means destruction. The idea is that you need shields to have the odds of survival in space around these planets to be even reasonable due to armor not being strong enough to absorb hits.

Just up the Asteroid count naturally and/or artificially (like through Asteroid Mining fragments, or maybe a Nuke went off in the asteroid belt and caused a chain reaction), throw in some propaganda due to a few accidents in a short period of time due to the asteroids, and make the only safe way to deal with the impacts (shields) and suddenly almost everyone without shields is a coward who does not want to go into space due to the dangers of even passing the moon. Put up some kind of asteroid defense system with limits that make it not good for travel, and the only way to safely go anywhere is with Shields.

There is only one last thing, make shields hard to get/use. Maybe they require a lot of energy or are barely in prototyping stages. Somehow, almost no one has them or almost no one can practically use them, Except your main characters who have a Super Advanced ship that has one and is able to use it thanks to an extra generator or a really good tech guy who found a scrapped prototype that he was able to repair (a mistake in being thrown away maybe?) that worked. You now have only a few ships that are able to go anywhere past the moon safely in the universe owned by humans, and your Main cast has one of if not the only one.

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What you have now could work to a point. That point ends if living conditions are substantially better "on-your-own-in-space" than they are "back home".

I look to Earth, now, as an example.

In places that are not already populated, survival is a task that takes all of a person's effort. This is true now, on Earth, where people trying to "expand the frontier" hunt for their food and build their own homes, and for the most part repair their own gear and provide for themselves, though occasionally they may go to town for those things they still can't quite get on their own.

Therefore, I think one question that could aid you is, Why don't more people move to remote regions and attempt to survive on their own?

  1. Conditions are such in remote areas that it's a lot more work for less comfort. I certainly enjoy my lazy life compared to the physically demanding (and cold!) work living somewhere such as remote Alaska would demand.
  2. Even if people wanted to move to a remote area and live on their own - there is a knowledge barrier that may prevent them. If you don't know how to hunt, or build a shelter, or repair your vehicle when it fails hundreds of miles from civilization, you have a much higher risk of failure (which means death).

Compare that to the colonization of the Americas. People who wanted to go generally already had to physically work hard regardless, already were confident in their survival abilities (even if their confidence was a mistake at times), and it was an opportunity for better living as well as potentially gaining wealth. Land was cheap and free, and land-ownership at this time provided status and some rights such as voting. Others wanted to escape religious or other persecutions that were happening at home.

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