Generational ship problem again:

Earth, far future: Generational ship left Earth for 20 generations long (600 years) voyage to another system. The ship is well built and even the people survive on the ship and make it to their new home.

There is one assumption which stroke me: One cultural norm has to be present for the voyage. I call it "Hobbit mindset":

Our ship is the best place to be. Why going somewhere else? We have everything we need. Home is best place to stay our full lives.

The above mindset is best portrayed in first Lord of The Rings movie: The hobbits enjoy being in the Hobbiton and do not care about the rest of the world. I believe that mindset is exactly what you need to sit down on ship and wait to get to your destination.

However, when you arrive, you need sudden mindset change to "Wild West mentality":

Oh the opportunities! The places to go! The resources to use and harness! Lets go face the wild!

Again, the above is best portrayed in most classical Western movies.

The problem is obvious: Is there a way to let people have one mindset for 600 years and then completely ditch that mindset for another?

  • $\begingroup$ Why would they want to leave the ship? Just thaw out the colonists from their 600 year cryosleep and let them land on that nasty infested planet. Then the generation ship can be on its merry way again. $\endgroup$
    – Cyrus
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 11:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Were they sent to colonize the planet ? If yes it is not only changing the mentality from "hobbit" to "adventurous", it is also changing from "heavy birth control" to "spread my people !". $\endgroup$
    – Kolaru
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 14:41

4 Answers 4


For the transit generations the ship has to be enough, they have no choice, but for the final generations there's going to be a mounting excitement. For the first time in 600years something is going to change. A new world! A new home! There's a chance they might stand on a planet, if only they could live long enough.

Many people might not want to actually move off the ship, but then there's no reason why everyone should, as long as the ship is intact. The advantage of a generational ship to a colony is simply that they don't actually have to disembark. The young and adventurous can go off to tame the wilderness, while the old stay home. Growing food, running communications, mapping the planet, running the labs, making sure you can actually eat the local vegetation/animals. There's a lot that can be done from orbit. Even if everyone wants to go planet side you'll probably have to force some people to stay on the ship for another generation just for some of these functions.

The opening of a new world will trigger the wild west mindset in some people, but not everyone, and that's just fine.


This reminds me of a couple I once knew who spent a year traveling in a sailboat. The husband thought the whole ocean was his playground, while the wife just felt stuck in a tiny boat.

The point is, I don't think the Hobbit mentality is necessary for the travellers; the Wild West mindset could work for them, too.. Being confined in a small "home" is only one way to think of their life. Another way is to think of it as being on a lifelong adventure into the unknown. They are not residents of a small metal pod; they are residents of the vast expanse of space, constantly moving forward.

In other words, identifying with their mission is what motivates the intervening generations, as well as those that arrive. I think that this has a better chance of working, since, unlike the Hobbit mindset, it gives them a purpose in life. And it obviates the need for a sudden change.


One way to promote this shift would be media. Imagine you're stuck for generations in a small town. There is an amateur theater troupe at the high school, perhaps someone with pretensions of poetry, but a new blockbuster movie? Forget it.

So the mission planners included a library of culture and media. But even that can get stale. So part of the library is in time-locked vaults. Probably an electronic solution rather than physical vaults. Every week there is a "new" movie, a "new" novel which becomes part of the general archive from then on, every couple of months it is a blockbuster.

There could be a subtle shift in the nature of those releases. At first it encourages solidarity against the dangerous outside, later it becomes going through the dangerous outside to the promised land.


Simple : They won't have any other choice.

I assume, that the generation ship will be designed for this trip. It will be designed to last for 600 years. Maybe +- 10 years. We have yet to make anything that lasts that long. Most of mechanical things we make last maybe 50 years and only with huge maintenance costs. So by the time the generational ship arrives, it will be barely livable and people will give anything to get off of it. Amount of living space will shrink. Dangers of malfunctioning machines increase. No materials to repair with.

So people either adapt or perish.

  • $\begingroup$ Some people choose perish when given that choice. $\endgroup$
    – user16107
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ I hate the idea of designing ship to last exactly 600 (ish) years. I believe the more plausible scenario would be to design it to last as long as possible $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek The problem is that "as long as possible" nowadays means ~100 years. You have to make special design for it to last much longer than that. And usually, dimmishing returns means that adding more years is more expensive as more years is added. $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 20:08

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