Building from this and this, given an aquatic civilization somehow manages to forge tools and build computers, could it build space-faring devices?

Also another development that would come earlier (if at all) would be satellites. Could the civilistaion somehow manage to build, launch, and operate satellites? There are three main points to this, as the question states:

  1. Build: Given that the civilisation has managed to build tools and computers, it should be pretty straight forward to actually build the satellite. (Correct me if I'm wrong)

  2. Launch: Since the civilisation is an underwater one, how, if in any way, would they launch the satellite into space?

  3. Operate: This is the most basic question, since they wouldn't build the satellite if they can't use it/don't need it. Could they somehow find a way to transmit signals deep underwater? (If it isn't already possible)

(Tell me if I've missed something else that should have been there.)

Also, regardless of whether they need/don't need satellites, could they build and operate a spaceship? I think the same points given above should apply to this, except one addition being how would they control/run the spaceship once they are inside, since they have to be in water all the time?

The species doesn't necessarily have a definite physical configuration (hands, legs, etc) so don't let that limit your answers, however, do mention any special requirements.

  • $\begingroup$ P.S. I'm new to this site, and am finding that most questions get opinion-based answers (including this one). So how do I select a 'right' answer? $\endgroup$ – SaintSix_ Nov 8 '14 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Select the one that's most useful for you, upvote any that you found helpful. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Nov 8 '14 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, thanks! (I just found out that an up vote requires 15 reputation, so will do that once i have enough :) ) $\endgroup$ – SaintSix_ Nov 8 '14 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ There's a neat short story that briefly deals with underwater civilization and space travel. It doesn't quite address what you're asking, but it's a fun read. You can find it in Galaxy Magazine (August 1952). $\endgroup$ – ankh-morpork Nov 8 '14 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ My big question is that in order to develop a civilization needs topass from stone age to metals and how would a civilization under water discover fire and more how would be able to use it to melt metals is a hard question to reconciliate. $\endgroup$ – Barnaby Feb 10 '15 at 16:11

Once you reach a certain technological level the water is not a barrier and they would have no problems developing tech to our level and beyond. Most likely the craft would be developed underwater and then lifted up out of the water to launch, although even that is not required as they could either launch underwater or even construct it above water using remote control.

The controls and technology would all be adapted for underwater use in order to reach that technological level in the first place so there would be no problems there.

Your main downside is that water is heavy. A cubic meter of water weighs a tonne so carrying enough water for a decently sized living area would both be heavy to launch and make maneuvering harder once launched. They would be far more used to living and acting in a 3 dimensional zero gravity environment than humans, although the odd effects of orbital dynamics would still not be intuitive to them.

The following quote from Lary Nivens Smoke Ring series covers that:

East takes you out

Out takes you west

West takes you in

In takes you east

Port and starboard bring you back

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    $\begingroup$ Hahaha the quote xD But given that water is too heavy, how would the spacecraft manage to take off with all that weight? Or could they develop some lighter psuedo-water like substance? $\endgroup$ – SaintSix_ Nov 8 '14 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ They would need to develop a lighter substance, use survival gear (for example water filled respirators), or just use more powerful lifting engines for the extra weight. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Nov 8 '14 at 15:09

I would say it is fair to say that going from aquatic to aerial is a comparable change in environment to our change from aerial to space. If you're assuming a level of technology comparable to what we used to send something into space, it seems reasonable that that level of tech would be enough to breach the surface of the water and fly in the air. If you can fly in the air, now its exactly the same sized leap to get into space!

And to point out Pavel Janieck's comment: we do indeed launch nuclear missiles from underwater, so the technology is absolutely feasible.

The real question might be why? What psychological or social forces would you like to see in your world that would cause someone to look to the stars (especaily when you usually can't see the stars from underwater).

  • $\begingroup$ Good point. It could happen though that they are curious to explore land, and while exploring, they see stars, and wonder about them. It could take decades for the wonder to evolve into genuine curiosity and the will to fund out more, but eventually, they will. If there is land, of course, and if they indeed are curious about it. $\endgroup$ – SaintSix_ Nov 8 '14 at 16:20

I will focus my answer on actually operating a spaceship. With the caveat that your creature is not some enormous whale but something more average human sized.

I think your initial assumption that this underwater creature would need to swim while they were in their spaceship is causing you unneeded issues. There are 2 properties that an underwater creature would need to simulate to live outside of the water: hydration and respiration. Once these are simulated your creature would be able to live in some kind of gaseous environment, which would drastically lower the mass costs to escape their planet. Now that a need for a water environment is removed from your space ship the issues your creatures face are no different than humans.

Hydration. Your creature would need to make sure that they wore some kind of "wet suit" that prevented them drying out in their non-water environment. This does not have any need to be a "space suit" just a thin layer analogous to human clothing.

Respiration. This could be a re-breather apparatus that would oxygenate a small amount of water that the creature would then breathe. If designed in combination with the atmospheric mix in the craft the re-breather could actually use the oxygen in the air to oxygenate the breathing water.

Once these properties are simulated the issue faced by your creatures operating a modern spaceship should be fairly similar to the issues human currently face.

There are even some advantages that your creatures would have in space. One of these would be that they would not need to build up the same type of gravity simulation as humans. Based on the inherent buoyancy of water the creatures would be much more at home in a micro-gravity environment. They might even skip populating the dry land and move straight to space.

  • $\begingroup$ I would just like to add, that as Cort Ammon wrote, the step into air is as big as the step into space so they have two steps to solve unless they don't find a way to go directly from water into space which is unlikely if they don't know anything about space and about the atmosphere. I would even argue that the second step is more difficult as it has to be operated outside their natural environment. Maybe it is like: Now we managed to leave earth for space, now we need to manage to leave our solar system. $\endgroup$ – Olga Maria May 25 '17 at 11:54

Seems to me, launch would be easy, either water pressure or oxygen, taken from H2O and pressurized could launch it out of the water, at which point rocket engines could take over. Much the same as present submarine based missiles work.

Transmission, surface to underwater could be done the same as now.

This, of course, is based on your requisite that they have already developed tools and computers, which of necessity would have conquered the barrier of electronic transmissions.

And I suppose that if we can maintain an artificial oxygen and pressure for astronauts today, the same could be done for an artificial water based atmosphere in regards to space travel.

The relative weight of water has been mentioned, but in that regard, would an aquatic planet have the same gravity as earth has? Weight might be irrelevant in lower g's, therefore the energy required to launch might be similar or less.

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    $\begingroup$ Why would gravity on an aquatic planet be any different than it is on earth, given same mass and density? $\endgroup$ – SaintSix_ Nov 8 '14 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ @SaintSix_ It wouldn't be. Same mass and density implies same size. Gravitational pull is proportional to the masses involved and inversely proportional to the distance between the centers of mass. As stated in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity#Newton.27s_theory_of_gravitation, "Although Newton's theory has been superseded by the Einstein's general relativity, ... [Newton's theory] is simpler to work with and it gives sufficiently accurate results for most applications". I recall reading somewhere that the error in Newton's model when going to the Moon was on the order of centimeters. $\endgroup$ – user Nov 18 '15 at 12:49

I would say no. One reason is that this question on which you build doesn't have a definitive answer that an aquatic civilization can build tools. Even if they could, it's an unimaginable step from that to vacuum tubes and wiring being developed underwater. It would have to be an entirely different invention with an incomprehensible evolution.

But say they did.

If any means of acceleration to attain escape velocity of a spacecraft involved burning fuel, then it can't work, because most fuels need oxygen. Missiles that fly through the air use either rocket engines or jet engines, but neither of these work well underwater. Torpedoes move underwater, but they have either a a battery powered propeller or use a fuel with it's own oxidizer. There is zero chance that a ship driven by propeller can attain escape velocity. It would need to switch to O2 burning fuel, which is hard to imagine being developed by an aquatic civilization.

Given an aquatic civilization, it is more likely that they would find atmosphere a hostile environment to be explored in a limited capacity. If there was land, however, it's possible that they could adapt to some degree and develop the means to access the technology needed for space flight. But then they would no longer be an aquatic-only civilization.

  • $\begingroup$ Good answer from a different viewpoint. Though I disagree with the last part. Like we, humans, have developed tools to go and explore underwater, and get to know how all things underwater work, we remain a land-only species, so the same should apply for them. $\endgroup$ – SaintSix_ Nov 8 '14 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ Also. Nuclear submarines can launch missile from under water m.youtube.com/watch?v=FwV-JucQktQ $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Nov 8 '14 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ Incorrect: There are many oxidizers besides O2, and even our own launch vehicles and spacecraft carry their own oxidizers, rather than relying on our thin atmospheric layer's store of oxygen. $\endgroup$ – feetwet Sep 13 '15 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @SaintSix_ but humans only did so many millennia of developing tools on land, in the air (where you can perform vital early bits of technology like harness fire, make clay molds for smelting, etc. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 12 '17 at 15:46

So, you already have a lot of good answers which I agree with.

If the race is technologically advanced enough & they have the desire, they will have the capability. Not directly mentioned but spaceX has launched a number of it's rockets from a ship on the ocean... Launching from the equatorial region of a planet generally provides a shorter distance from the 'surface' to orbit, even from the ocean.

So here's the part that I thought I might be able to provide additional value.
There would be no need to provide a hull full of water to allow individuals to survive in the atmosphere or in orbit. Simply create space suits (or an equivalent) which are filled with water. Design the interior of the ship so it would be relatively easy for the individuals to move around (likely providing no large open areas, but instead a network of halls which the suits could be propelled through by use of mechanical or electromagnetic mechanisms).

NOTE: for the reason for the race to explore space. Once they discover and are able to explore the atmosphere, they will be at a reasonably advanced technology level. The next & most exciting discoveries would be astronomy & astrophysics. Which may be enough to motivate them to explore outside the atmosphere, (think about the general level of interest and excitement the space race generated, once we realized it was possible to shoot humans into space, now consider the general interest and excitement astronomy has engendered for the previous centuries & combine both into a short period of time with a high degree of technical capability & scientific understanding).


Space-faring is fundamentally a problem of energy concentration. In the most abstract terms: If a civilization can accumulate, transform, concentrate, and control energy, then it will reach a point at which it can through brute-force lob payloads into space (which is what we presently do). All the technology in between is essentially "an exercise for the reader."

For me the canonical foundation for "undersea civilization" questions is this answer.

There are (many) plausible mechanisms by which an aquatic intelligence can accumulate energy from natural sources, practice the chemistry needed to transform, concentrate, and control it. Therefore the answer is yes: an aquatic civilization could conduct space travel.

P.S. Regarding communication: see the various mechanisms our own strategic submarines have used for deep-sea communication.


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