One very common idea in sci-fi stories is ships or 'dwellings' in outer space. It is impossible to create gravity just with a static platform, but one way you could emulate gravity in space is with the Stanford torus. Ideally, an entire population could live comfortably in an Earth-like setting on the Stanford torus, with gravity and an atmosphere.

The original idea requires the torus to rotate once per minute to provide 0.9-1.0g of artificial gravity (actually centrifugal force). So with roughly 10 rotations per minute, we could create an Earth-like atmosphere.

The problem is that the bigger the torus, the faster it would need to turn to maintain the level of gravity we are used to on Earth. Thus, the builders would need to balance between size and speed, which means we could not build a torus big enough for everyone in the world.

In the far future, all the countries' borders have effectively dissolved, and the whole human population answers to one overarching government. Due to the deteriorating conditions on Earth and the increasing environmental problems, this government has the resources to build just one torus that could provide a good living for 1% of Earth's population. This leaves everyone else 'stranded' on Earth.

In a dystopian society, it would probably be the rich, the powerful and the influential who get to bully their way into a better life away from the troubles of Earth. However, this is (not exactly Utopian) a much fairer society, where the government wants to give everyone a fair chance of getting that better life.

How would the government give everyone a fair chance of getting onto the torus, assuming there is minimal corruption? How would they convince the rest of the world, who are still living on Earth, that the best chance humans have for survival would be to let their relatives or friends live safely and happily in the torus, while rest of them slog it out on a decaying Earth?

Basically, I'm trying to avoid the situation in Elysium, where people are unhappy with the arrangement of the lucky few in the torus, and the rest stuck on Earth. They are fighting to get onto the torus, and the best way I can think of so far to avoid this would be to convince the world that they need to stay on Earth, to allow humans a chance of survival from the Torus. But, obviously, many wouldn't get this, and you'd have those who care only about themselves...

Edit: There was one story called Atlantia, by Ally Condie, where the government managed to convince the majority of the population that they needed to allow the minority to live in a safe haven, while the majority worked to support them from a polluted world. And the majority didn't fight to live in the haven. In that case, the haven was in the sea. However, how the government did that was not really explained.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually the larger the torus is better. Check out this question and answers. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/10597/… $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Apr 26 '16 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Apr 27 '16 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ "The problem is that the bigger the torus, the faster it would need to turn to maintain the level of gravity we are used to on Earth" Why can't you just make the torus really long? $\endgroup$ – god of llamas Apr 27 '16 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ *Why can't you just make the torus into a cylinder and make said cylinder really long? $\endgroup$ – god of llamas Apr 27 '16 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ The golgafrinchians put all the middlemen on their space ark and that turned out pretty well for them, until they all died of a disease that infected telephone handles. $\endgroup$ – Azor Ahai -him- Apr 28 '16 at 3:50

20 Answers 20


The best chance for survival means handpicking the one percent.

Certain traits, abilities, knowledge, intelligence, etc... will be needed, and not everyone will qualify.

Hard to completely keep out the influence of wealth, power, and corruption, but the needs should drive the majority of the selection process. Anyone clearly not making the cut should be found out and dealt with.

In order to convince the other 99% not to make trouble, give everyone a vested interest in someone on the torus. Everyone on Earth should have a loved one, or someone, on the torus that they want to see stay there.

Also, make it known that any uprising will result in people being removed from the torus.

Most people would be reluctant to rise up if they knew that their child, or whoever, would be expelled from the good life.


Having one person fulfill the interest of 100 would probably be difficult, and maybe the only bond they have would be nationalism, or ethnicity, or something. How many people take pride in Miss Universe, or something similar?

Also, if your actions were to get someone kicked off, how would the interested 99% feel? Self interest might also be a motivation to quell unrest.

Certainly, there will need to be replacements. Accidents, deaths. As the 1% age, their physical or mental abilities will diminish and they should be replaced. Maybe even have a limit on how long they can serve. If abilities are truly important, than the best and the brightest are always needed.

If the 99% knows that, not only are they interested in a current resident, but someone else could be selected as a replacement, thats more of an incentive to remain cooperative. How hard do some work just to give one of their own a better opportunity. Schools, education, innovation might thrive as people strive to receive a torus scholarship.

Additionally, given enough time, resources could be obtained, and another torus could be built so that the 1% now becomes 2. This might take years, or generations, or never (but don't tell them that). The hope of a better future for yourself or your offspring would help to maintain order as well.

Although, there are still plenty of opportunities for corruption and unrest.

  • $\begingroup$ This is amazing. Simple, and positive. Thank you! $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 28 '16 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know that this would work, in the group of the 99% there will be people who have no interest in the 1%. 1% is just too small a sample. In addition the "needed traits" still favor the wealthy and powerful in most cases. Looking for the tallest person, rich people can afford "make me taller" surgeries. While this may or may not be true, it only needs to "seem" true for there to be a problem. Take " Elysium", their answer (ending) would have destroyed the very society the Earth side people desired. $\endgroup$ – coteyr Apr 28 '16 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ I think this might need a little work. If you are selecting for specific, desirable qualities I don't know how you would also ensure that everyone who is left has a vested interest in the chosen 1%. Especially since for most people anyone outside of immediate family is close enough to a stranger that putting their well being over your own is not likely. Altruism will only get you so far and as the conditions on Earth worsen the people left behind are going to have less and less reason to accept their fates $\endgroup$ – D.Spetz Apr 28 '16 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ Even if you could carefully pick the 1% so everyone has an interest in their survival. How many years will that last? At most a couple of generations and that is really stretching it to the extreme. $\endgroup$ – Dunk Apr 28 '16 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ Finding one person to fulfill the interest of 100 may be difficult (who said this would be easy?) and maybe for many that tie would be nothing more than nationalism or an ethnic bond. How many people take pride in Miss Universe, or something similar? And how would the other interested 99% feel if your actions got their candidate kicked out? Self interest might also play a role in preventing rebellion. $\endgroup$ – GRW Apr 28 '16 at 17:40

A lottery.

If people trust the government then they will accept the results.

Of course you may want to give the top scientists, artists, and other people deemed necessary for the survival of society a better chance to win, or, if you're not completely silly, reserve their places.

The problem is that when you're making decisions for the survival of mankind being fair doesn't really fit into the equation.

You're sentencing billions of people to a slow death. Many, maybe even most of them are good people. But is a "good" person more worthy to survive than an "evil", but brilliant scientist who might invent technology which will advance mankind to the next level of our civilization?

I would argue not, although some others might say that being "ethical", and "a good person" are traits that trump everything, and should be the defining factor.

The problem at that point is that ethics and morals are highly subjective.

And so, I would suggest that your government look at giving mankind the best chance to survive, which is completely unrelated to being fair, or even ethical.

Because there is no way that you are going to convince everyone chosen to stay behind that they are not being treated unfairly. No. Way. It's in our nature to want to survive, even at the detriment of others.

As high minded as your government is, I doubt that you'll be able to convince everyone to simply accept their faiths. At which point you'll need a highly dedicated armed force to put down the attempts against your space station, and none are more loyal than robots. Welcome to Elysium.

Question: have you considered setting up a Mars colony and transferring people from the station to that colony, thus constantly bringing more people up from the planet surface as the colony grows?

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Apr 28 '16 at 15:41

Just advertise the very real dangers involved in living in space and you will decrease the population percentage who want it. For example...

Public Announcement : To offset the potential threat of death from asteroid strikes, radiation and exposure to the vacuum of space, every brave volunteer who joins the Torus will receive increased rations, free medical care and the best living accommodations possible while aboard. Thank you for your courage and patriotism!

Then to imply that the government officials are staying behind where it is safe, add...

We will miss you!

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    $\begingroup$ People will only "see" *** increased rations, free medical care and the best living accommodations possible***. Everyone will think you're building some kind of utopia up there, and want a piece of it. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Apr 26 '16 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM, Then arrange for a pressure leak during one of the initial recruiting tours. Loose a hundred residency applicants and a hand full of the existing staff. Have the newspapers cry for justice, threaten to close the whole thing down as "just too risky". Then, under continuing protests and talking-head warnings, reopen the residency application process. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Apr 26 '16 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ @ASH-Aisyah - that's the problem, my friend. You can't. That's simply not how humans think/work. The second you implement one solution your political opposition will claim that you have some ulterior motives. Groups will form which will try to take over your project, even by military force, etc. There is no such thing as a self-less society. Individuals, maybe. But not enough of them. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Apr 26 '16 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ I still think that implied danger could be enough of a control. We aren't just selfish. We are also cowards. What if you let all the powerful people bully their way onto the first torus, then blew it up. Then, since your planet is still dying and you have no other choices, you build another torus and ask for volunteers. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Apr 26 '16 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor If the torus is cheap enough that you can build multiple, just build multiple toruses. $\endgroup$ – Taemyr Apr 27 '16 at 9:09

Life aboard the Torus is a hardship.

Living for the sake of the species is a totally different ballgame than traditional human lifestyles. When you represent humanity as a whole, you have a responsibility to put the species before yourself. This will make life very un-fun and quite controversial by most modern standards.

When you’re living aboard the Torus, you have the following enticing perks:

  • Adequate rations
  • Security (both from crime and a deteriorating Earth)
  • A future for your children
  • The pleasure of dedicating yourself to humanity

Unfortunately, you’re also going to be subject to some controversial (potential) negatives:

  • Your training and future career will be determined for you based on the station’s needs
  • You will follow a rigorous schedule and pre-planned diet with no exceptions
  • You will reproduce with a pre-selected candidate at a time specified by the station’s health team
  • At such a point that you are no longer physically or mentally capable of contributing to the station, you will be banished to Earth
  • Violations of laws result in banishment to Earth

Trading your personal rights and human freedom for the betterment of the species is unlikely to be attractive to many people. Dying with dignity or at least some semblance of self control at home on Earth is starting to sound more enticing.

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    $\begingroup$ Also add the fact that for many people, living on such a torus (unless it's near Ringworld size) is just not going to be "better", unless the alternative is actually dying (and maybe not then). It's going to be crowded, claustrophobic, with no access to nature, and I bet I wouldn't be allowed to bring my dogs & horses. Sounds even worse than Manhattan :-( $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 27 '16 at 4:30

Sometimes the truth hurts. In these situations, I recommend lying. -- Michael Westin

So, you get people to accept it by lying, of course. Same trick politicians have been using for thousands of years, and there's no end to sight to that, so why change what works? (Seriously, think about democracy for a minute - every few years, countless millions of people not only accept, but actively support a politician based on promises that can't possibly be kept and which are inevitably broken. And every few years, we all do it again. Seems like there's a lesson in there for anyone planning a long, complicated planetary evacuation.)

You could lie about everything, lie about some of it, whatever, but the answer is to lie. Figure out what lie you want to tell (probably that everyone, or all the "good people" or whatever will be saved) and tailor your plan to that. Probably, first off, you'd want to lie about the odds and the time table. People don't want to hear that they've got a 1% chance of a better life, so don't tell them that. And since it's obvious that this wouldn't happen right away, all at once, lie about the timetable.

Since you're not going be sending everyone who's going to be saved up in one trip, you do triage and get the most critical people up first. And you tell the public that's what you're doing. "Well, obviously, we need people to make sure it's up and running for us, that's who we're sending up now."

And you use this logistical reality to your advantage and draw it out. "We're getting to everyone just as fast as we can, but this actually is rocket science, it's going to take time. Be patient and don't lose hope." (The best lies have an element of truth.) Lead them to believe that they'll get there, they just have to wait in line for their turn. You could even include and publicize some token members of the unwashed masses in your regular relocations. As has been suggested, a lottery of some sort would probably play well with the general public, so do that for the vast majority of people.

Gives you plenty of time to get the cream of the crop relocated, while all the dead weight is waiting for their ride that will never come. (And of course, to keep them from figuring that out, you lie some more - "criminals are slowing us down by trying to jump the line", "ZOMG terrorism!", [insert scapegoat here], etc.)

  • $\begingroup$ Hahaha surprisingly, this seems like it would work (at the very least in the short term), except for the moral scruple about lying ^^ $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 27 '16 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ @ASH-Aisyah government? crisis? scruple? moral? not together in the same sentence without some sort of negative connectors. =) $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Apr 28 '16 at 12:27

Instead of telling people that those on the Torus will have a better life, you tell them the opposite. Tell them that there are too many people for Earth to sustain, and so as an attempt to alleviate some of the pressure you'll be sending 1% of the population to live on a space station where they'll have cramped quarters, crappy food, few entertainment options....

Basically, make it seem as though the 1% on the space station have a worse life than the 99% on Earth.

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, the old Greenland/Iceland ploy. Nice. $\endgroup$ – Martin Carney Apr 26 '16 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ What..... The map says "Green Land" Where's all the damn green.... Don't worry, it will be here in the summer.... Just hang on. $\endgroup$ – coteyr Apr 28 '16 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ @coteyr: Actually Greenland is quite green around the edges, where the Norse settled. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 28 '16 at 17:26

This is a variation of "lifeboat ethics", but ethics change a lot with culture and circumstances.

Consider in the late Edwardian period, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. The code of ethics demanded "women and children first", and to a very large extent, this is what happened. The men and most of the crew stood aside and allowed the women and children to board the lifeboats and remains aboard to a certain death by drowning or hypothermia.

Fast forward to 2012, when the cruise ship "Costa Concordia" hit some rocks and sank. The captain was apparently one of the first off the ship, and only the action of some brave junior officers kept the situation from being a complete disaster.

In a dystopian environment of depleted resources, the struggle at all levels of society will be to somehow access resources for your own survival, so the situation will be closer to the Costa Concordia than the RMS Titanic. People will struggle to be part of the 1% that get aboard the lifeboat (because that is what the torus actually is). You will see fraud, bribery, coercion, violence and even outright war. For people who realize there is no possibility of getting a seat on the lifeboat, it may become imperative that they do everything to prevent anyone else from getting a seat either.

Building the torus might actually be easy to do in secret, if the construction crew is sent to the Moon and asteroids and assemble the object far from the Earth (L4, L5 or perhaps High Eccentric Earth Orbit [HEEO]) where it won't be spotted too easily. Then the people who are chosen (and this cannot be random if you want the program to have any chance of success) quietly "retire", are reassigned to new jobs on the coast or interior or if military personal are "posted" to Diego Garcia. Really the major bottleneck isn't going to get the people and materials, but getting enough rockets to boost them off Earth and to the lifeboat in the first place.

In order to ensure success, there needs to be a lot of genetic material brought up as well, so piggybacking mandatory DNA sampling (for your identity card, of course....), securing seed vaults and even closing zoos (maintaining the animals takes valuable resources from the population, they are being secured in a new location....).

Of course, building a single torus is both dangerous and counterproductive. A single colony is a single point of failure, so at least two (L-4 and L-5) should be built. As an incidental, the various workstations and crews on the Moon and asteroids are also survival colonies of sorts, and could continue to build new torii for as long as required. A secondary issue is the work crews both on the Moon and Asteroids, as well as the the support personnel working on the torus to keep the life support systems working will actually become the new "aristocracy", since literally nothing can work without their cooperation and expertise.

  • $\begingroup$ Ethics change from person to person. Judging a whole society by the actions of one individual (viz., the captain of the Costa Concordia) seems a bit premature. For example, the British officers of the S.S. Jeddah in 1880 apparently were not as gallant as those of the Titanic: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Jim#Inspiration $\endgroup$ – David K Apr 27 '16 at 11:37

The problem is that the bigger the torus, the faster it would need to turn to maintain the level of gravity we are used to on Earth. Thus, the builders would need to balance between size and speed, which means we could not build a torus big enough for everyone in the world.

Don't make it farther to the center. Make it wider. This is part of why many systems describe such population centers as cylinders rather than tori. And if you really need more space, just make another one.

A torus is only used because you don't want to make a full cylinder. But if you need more room, you can always add sideways on a torus. Eventually you'll have a cylinder.

Basically, I'm trying to avoid the situation in Elysium, where people are unhappy with the arrangement of the lucky few in the torus, and the rest stuck on Earth.

The problem with Elysium was that those in space had a higher standard of living than those on the ground. Reverse that. In space, you have smaller quarters and cheaper supplies. Also, reduce the amount of elder healthcare in space. Once someone's done reproducing, they're redundant. Let them die naturally. Long term, the space habitat needs to be self-sufficient. Go ahead and do that immediately. The advantage in space is that your children are guaranteed a place.

On the ground you have more space. You take first choice of foods, etc. You get the latest medical and health care. But your children may not be able to find a place on the space habitat. In the near term, the ground is clearly better.

That was the fundamental problem with the Elysium concept. If Elysium had such advanced technology, why use ground labor? Automate in space instead. It's cheaper to mine in the asteroid belt and ship into Earth orbit than it is to mine on the Earth and lift out of the gravity well.

  • $\begingroup$ Question: would a full cylinder require the same force to turn at the same speed in space as a ring? As in, would I need more boosters to turn the full cylinder the same number of rotations per minute? $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 27 '16 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ The force needed to get it up to speed would depend on the rotational inertia, which in turn depends on mass & distance from the axis of rotation. (See e.g. any basic college physics text.) Once it is rotating, it will keep on rotating without need for further applied force, just as the Earth does. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 27 '16 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree that once one stops reproducing they are obsolete. I'd put the point of obsolecense when an individual has transferred all the knowledge it has (either in writing or by training an apprentice). Some elder professor may have closed his reproductive shop decades ago, but still hold necessary and unreplaceable knowledge. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Apr 28 '16 at 12:32

If you're talking about a more fair society, that isn't just intent on making this a "screw those people" action, then two things would have to happen as part of this.

First, they don't build the largest torus they can. If the resources are that tight, you don't go for maximum population in space unless you've completely written the Earth off, entirely. You keep some of those resources in reserve in case you can find a way to build some sort of technology to help deal with the pollution issues instead.

Second, your primary goal is developing the tech to save the Earth. A fair-er society is not building the space torus as a means of giving up, but a last ditch means of keeping the species alive should all other means fail. Much in the same way we currently have seed vaults in the event of catastrophe, that torus would be aimed for the same goal. A significant portion of the space station would also be research facilities to try to develop things to help "terraform" our planet back into shape - the pollution on Earth may require very isolated clean labs for genetically modified plants, bacteria, etc.

This assumes your government is actually fair in the sense they give a damn about this problem and aren't just going to say "oh well, too bad".


People can accept nearly anything if you take long enough to inculcate it. Consider things like the history of child sacrifice, or in modern terms, the idea that domestic violence is justified. However, if you have enough time to make an idea part of a cultural background, you probably have had more than enough time to fix the problem. (N.K. Jemisin's Fifth Season has society built around surviving disasters, and they accept a caste system and ruthless laws, but on the other hand, their culture has survived multiple mass extinction events probably caused by psychic/magic powers...)

Shorter term, there's nothing that would make 100% of everyone ok with the selection. Your overarching government will be spending a lot of time and energy dealing with dissenters, and probably out and out rebellions by some people once the news gets out. Keeping the various parts and materials for the space station from being sabotaged would be a lot of effort as well.

The large bureaucracy to run this world government may find a lot of people deliberately misfiling things to slow down or stop the building of it as well. That kind of sabotage will be nearly impossible to detect if you get enough people doing it, plus the normal problems you'd have with such a large, unprecedented project.

If the station is mostly used as a research station, then people are more accepting of the process - "We're sending up scientists to figure out how to fix the problem" means everyone understands that there's pretty high prerequisites to meet, and it's a job. If this is true, it's mostly fine and dandy. If this is a lie, or the evidence of who they're sending and the resources doesn't seem to add up to the reality, it could spin out of control pretty quickly.

The larger logistics

All that said, if we could build a fully self-contained space station that could survive indefinitely, we probably could build underground cities, domed habitats, or underwater cities that would survive just as well, except we wouldn't have to worry about resources to keep launching stuff up into space, radiation shielding, or the gravity issue and bone loss.


How can I make my deteriorating world's society accept that only 1% can have better living conditions?

Make people believe this.

The problem is that the bigger the torus, the faster it would need to turn to maintain the level of gravity we are used to on Earth. Thus, the builders would need to balance between size and speed, which means we could not build a torus big enough for everyone in the world.

10 rotations per minute are for a specific radius. Larger radii need fewer rotations per minute. and larger diameters work better for people. This question deals with the speeds needed. Circular space station - what's the rotational speed to achieve earth-like gravity?

So just getting people to believe in physics and economics that are not real should be enough. And if you look how many people today believe things like trickledown economics, or even pure communism or pure capitalism, still to this day, you will see it really isn't that hard to bamboozle the masses.

Edt: After reading the question again, I felt I should add some more.

If you don't want people fighting over who 'gets' to go and who 'gets' to stay then you need to start the campaign early. Why are you building this in the first place? Because those left on Earth are headed for a doomed future? Then people will not stay quietly behind.

In that case the space explorers will have to be billed as a risky adventure (which in all honesty it likely is) and broadcast looking for hearty souls willing to volunteer to be on the ship.

Of course all those people actually working on the ship have to be given first dibs, since you don't want disgruntled people building something that will hold millions of peoples lives in the balance. If their lives and those of their family are going to be in the balance they will be much more diligent.

By making it seem just as dangerous as staying, the rich won't all press quite so hard to bribe their way on. Also by putting an age limit "no one over x age" will be allowed on, etc. Will also help. Everyone being selected should generally be of sound mind and body as well.

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    $\begingroup$ It's fewer RPM, but it's still faster linear speed, and (IIRC) more force on the structure. $\endgroup$ – Random832 Apr 26 '16 at 19:32

How can I make my deteriorating world's society accept that only 1% (fairly chosen by the government) can have better living conditions?

Your premise is flawed. Considering everything done in government is motivated by self-interest, there can be no "fair choice" made. The 1% ends up being the members, friends, and business partners of that institution. It's happened that way with every government entity on the planet since its inception, and will continue on in the same fashion.

Your best option for a fair choice would be to pick your 1% via a lottery system, with each of those numbers being (unloaded) dice rolls, with the government not involved in the process(HA!).

Failing that, the masses would start howling for blood.. I think the best thing to do would be for the torus inhabitants to leave without telling anyone. If the rest of the populace caught wind of who was going, the chosen would likely not make it off the planet anyway.

  • $\begingroup$ I like this point. You have essentially required the reader to make a ginormous, infeasible, utterly fantastic leap of faith that a world government could be driven by anything other than self-interest. Anything else you say after that point, whether it's "and then space pixies made everyone OK with that" or whatever, is just a relatively small leap. $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Apr 27 '16 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm oh dear... I guess a non-self-interest-driven govt. does seem a little unrealistic... Some countries do have it to some extent, though? Thing is, I wanted the govt to be on the 'same side' as the people, when the outside attacker comes... $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 28 '16 at 13:23

Make it a coliseum/hunger games/Running Man style lottery. You have to compete in a horrible/deadly/torturous competition. If you win your round, you get to the station. Anyone can volunteer. You can stack certain rounds. Round 3 only engineers. Round 4 Sanitation workers. Round 5 physicists.

In addition to discouraging the populace from entering, you also get a circus to distract the masses with.

Alternative option.

"In the year 3535 Ain't gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie Everything you think, do and say Is in the pill you took today"

Drug, brain wash, or mind control the masses.

  • $\begingroup$ Whoa... That last bit... Gahaha... Upvote just for that $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 28 '16 at 13:26

The way you have described the situation (life sucks on earth, and everybody needs to know that life in space is better and only a few people can go) makes it look like (to me) that unless the people in your story are much more docile than the people in real life, it will lead to war. Anybody who has any power on earth will want to be on that space station and will fight for that privilege.

So there are a few options that I see:

Why do people have to know at all?

Plot holes notwithstanding in Interstellar, it had basically the same plot point. Life sucks on earth, anyone who can extrapolate can tell that people will be starving, yet there aren't riots at the NASA facility.

Because people don't know about it. It isn't terribly difficult for the government to keep things secret, especially in a fictional world. Even in real life governments spend much more money than you and I would care to think about on things we don't think about. The overseeing organization could then select whichever people it wants and, if they accept without knowing too many details, those people will just disappear from normal life, or go on a "government mission," or something of that sort.

Why should people care, either?

Propaganda can have a very strong effect.

Again, from Interstellar, we see examples of this.

Murphy gets in trouble at school for not going along with the propaganda (spread by the government, most likely) that the Apollo missions were fake, that space is boring and not worth exploring even if possible, and that the only useful thing to do for society is to help farm food.

Space exploration doesn't have to be cool and glamorous.

a quick google search for how many people have sent applications for Mars One showed several results with estimates of 20,000 applicants, a couple for 100,000, and one for 200,000.

In current society, I think we can safely assume that less than a million people would, given the chance, even consider a one-way space mission. Why would they? It's dangerous, boring, difficult, requires hard work, and (the most important) life is pretty good here right now.

And yet space research is still important enough that not only does NASA still exist with funding (not enough in the opinion of many people who like science), but several private companies sustain themselves with that too.

Your government could make the project look not very interesting.

'Oh yeah, a space station that can support X number of people, launching for research purposes, nothing new here...'

How dire is Earth's situation, anyway?

Due to the deteriorating conditions on Earth and the increasing environmental problems...

This description is so mild, it could describe Earth right now. I must assume that your world is in much more dire circumstances than we currently have, but how much so? Does anybody really know (can they be convinced or confused otherwise)? Can a person reasonable live out their life and survive? If so, why would more than 1% want to leave this more-or-less guaranteed survival for a dangerous and unfamiliar space mission? If your world is really so disparate that most people would actually do anything to leave their situation, I don't really see a way where people would peacefully relinquish their chance (if they know of one) to do so.

EDIT: Another option I just thought of:

The project could be made to look much bigger than it actually is

Why tell people that it will only hold 1% of the population? If the end goal is really to strand people on earth, tell the general public that eventually everyone will fit. Obviously it will be populated little by little during construction, which will happen in phases, but as long as you wait your turn, you will get a seat.

And then when the project needs to end, you just... leave.

  • $\begingroup$ I really like the secrecy and propaganda part. With regards to the situation on Earth, yes people could live their normal life span, but their food and water is scare due to all the population, their standard of living isn't very high, and the Earth's surface temperature has gone up, which throws things quite a bit out of balance. $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 27 '16 at 14:09

I'm going to go a different direction and say don't let the people know that the 1% are going to be escaping this hell-hole of a planet.

Lets start with how do we keep the thing a secret while designing it? Don't let anyone know what's it's true intention is. No one below UltraProject Director needs to be aware that the people on this vessel will not be returning to new Venus. If anyone starts to question what the thing is for, you can offer them a place on your ship; after all if they know about it, they're probably a good person to have on board. If they want to "spread the truth", then kill them. They were already doomed anyway, you're just advancing the time table. Kill their family too for good measure. Reducing living family members to zero also reduces the chances of media inquiry, and again, these people were already dead anyway...

Now, about who we populate this station with. Surely the great thinkers (or at least the highest elected politicians) are reasonably assured a place, as well as few "minor" dignitaries from the third world who we don't vehemently disagree with, all for the sake of appearing diverse. Our families need to have boarding rights too.

The surviving laborers who created the ark should come along to, because routine maintenance and custodial work will need to be done. The Engineers and Scientists need to come, probably several astronomers, physicians, doctors, and computer scientists. Celebrities and media personalities (including celebrity scientists, sorry but Tyson and Nye aren't coming) won't be invited, because we don't want word to spread. Finally, the venture capitalists who invested in this business will come, because they invested in it to finance the building of the thing. They may find their new positions as fry cooks and grill line workers a little bit less glamorous, but that's just how things are on the ARK, we all have a part to play, my part is deciding what functions are useful and who boards, your position is fulfilling the utility you are assigned as payment for boarding.


Make it physically and psychologically so difficult to be an inhabitant of the torus that 99% of everyone will not want it, even compared to the hardships on Earth.

Start by requiring a long and extremely arduous testing and training period that each prospective applicant has to go through in order to qualify to be sent to the torus. Advertise the difficulty in order to discourage too many applications, and use physical and/or mental tests and hardships to weed out all but the most qualified few from those who do apply. This has the advantage of also providing you with a population for the torus who will be most capable of sustaining it.

Don't waste resources making the torus a nice place to live. Maintaining life in space is not naturally easy, and each pound of special equipment you have to manufacture and send up there is expensive. Instead of sending up extra machines to serve everyone's needs and provide luxury living on board the torus, send up more people, naturally putting them all in a situation where they must work hard for their survival. The inhabitants of the torus are there to preserve some remnant of human life and culture from the looming disaster on Earth, not to have fun and enjoy their good fortune.


Lottery + people are paid in "chances to win" - or you can buy as many chances as you can afford.

And roll punishment to it: every citizen gets few thousands of "birthright" chances every year, and if you break the rules, you will lose them.


So far the answer have ranged across the spectrum. We have:

Chance -> Lottery
Propaganda -> It worse up there
Secrecy -> Don't tell anyone whats going on
Survival -> Suspension of Morality and Ethics to favor statistics
Enforcement -> Forces to put down those not chosen.

All are correct and in reality it would be a combination of all the ideas. Even then it would not be guaranteed success. I would posit that "trickle down" would apply here. Many like to denigrate "trickle down" as only benefiting the 1% but that is a lie. Certainly it benefits the 1% greatly, but it is more of a way to control where resources are allocated in a complex society. No matter what systems are employed there will always be a 1% such that they will benefit more from that system than the rest, that is the nature of control over chaos.

In your case you add the trickle down effect where advances are passed down to help those left behind live better. So long as there is hope and progress then most would work to support such a project. If those left behind get no benefit from the project then it would have little to no support. This is of course, negating the survival imperative that this is humanity's only chance for survival which would mean we are screwed anyway since the planet side support would eventually die leaving the station to exists on whatever resources it has. The station would die itself as it succumbed to entropic forces from inefficiencies that would deplete usable resources.

Ultimately the best answer is to not put ourselves in that situation to begin with.

  • $\begingroup$ Not to put ourselves into that situation? As in the situation of needing the torus? $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 28 '16 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, if it becomes a need then it becomes a desperate gamble that is more prone to failure. There is the possible scenario of foresight. Let's say that we know that in the next 100 years this project would become a need rather than a nicety or want. So we could build it and populate it as we see fit while society is still stable. Then slowly convert the society to the needed support configuration over the next 60 or so years. You could avoid that initial shock and have the benefit of having all your intellectual resources together possibly giving a chance to fix whatever is wrong below. $\endgroup$ – Wes Apr 28 '16 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ Ummm I don't really understand. The problem is that the Earth is decaying. The ozone layer problem has gotten worse, pollution has gotten worse, surface temperature has increased... The problems can't be fixed... Or they'd have found a way to do it by now... $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 28 '16 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ So the earth is doomed you say. How will the station maintain itself once there is no ground population to feed it resources. Unless we have solved perpetual motion and the like the station will consume resources even with efficient recycling. So the station is as doomed as the earth. If there is enough advanced warning then the station by design becomes research central. The station would have to do everything in its power to extend the life of its support (ie. the ground population). The question was how do you get people to accept it, the ultimate answer is do it before it's needed. $\endgroup$ – Wes Apr 29 '16 at 5:10

I think your stuck with a pretty horrid answer. There is no way that 99% of the population is going to accept, long term, that only 1% is going to have a better life. All the "it's humanities only hope", "everyone gets a shot" and "we did what we needed to do" is at best only going to last 1-2 generations.

The real truth is that we have this situation today, and we (generally) accept it as the norm. However when the "99%" get upset there are social ways to deal with it via everything from rallies to civil wars. It's the cycle of life. Socialism offers ways around this issue for the short term, and Capitalism for the mid term. However, we see in our own history that the two ideals do not mesh well together and will eventually will cause the need for release.

So in my mind you have two options that will work long term.

  1. People of the Torus get "appointed for life" but their children and so on do not. Children and families of those going to the torus get left behind. Any children born there are deported to earth on there 8th (making up a number here) birthday, where it is well known that because of the lower gravity there going to have a really crappy time on earth. New people are sent to the torus as old people die. This gives the ability for the "Earthers" to still have a shot every so often, and allows for civil wars and what not to change the criteria for acceptance to the torus. The downsides are that the Earth becomes one big last man standing arena, rather it's via combat, economics, or emotions. Family values are further deteriorated. In fact, you may even state that anyone with a family is disqualified from going. This gets us to point two.
  2. Kill em all... You want everyone to accept the people on the torus, well then bust out the biological weapons and kill everyone left on earth. Seems harsh, but for as long as there have been humans there have been those that want what others have. Eventually it will come to this. Someone with enough power and pull will make it on to the torus and will want to stay there. Then your screwed.

I like option 1, it allows for the eventual alteration of selection policy, through means that exist and are accepted today. Those ways suck (war and all) but hey, it's how our society works. At least this way you get to keep the human race going. Option 2 though seems inevitable. Remember the existence of the torus is going to radically change the goals of the people on earth. It's going to become an true last man standing arena.


Make them pay the people on Earth a ton of money

Basically, you send rich people to the torus, and each month, the people on Earth get a lump sum of money from those people to keep them happy. Although being on the torus would be nice, at least its good people up there. We know they are good because they give us money!

At least, until the rich people decide to stop paying $\dots$

Note: Ironically, this is probably worse for society, since it would be better to pay money to the torus makers to make more toruses (or just extend the current torus into a cylinder).

  • $\begingroup$ Yeahp, the cylinder idea was really good. But the thing is, making the torus people give those on Earth money might not make much difference, because it's not like those on Earth can do much with it. The standard of living would still be low, and there'd still be pollution, and less food and water. Having cash might not change that... $\endgroup$ – ASH-Aisyah Apr 27 '16 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @ASH-Aisyah They could use it to pay the torus builders to build more toruses. That would probably break your intended story though. Or you they could buy bread and circuses to distract themselves from their pitiful lives. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Apr 27 '16 at 16:35

Pick 2%, kill half

Claim that you will pick 2% of the population, but sacrifice half of them randomly while in space. The remaining 1% will be the chosen ones. The other half will be killed. Nobody knows how the selection process works and nobody can bypass it in any way.

Of course, it would be a waste of energy to transport 2% of the population and just dump half of it into space. So the bodies would be used as ressources (food, skin into leather, bones carved into tools, etc.) to equip the Torus, instead of spending a lot of money into metal parts or fabric that would cost twice to produce and transport.

Told that way, even the wealthy and the powerful will rethink twice before applying to the Torus. And the population would not consider it a "1% saved versus 99% condemned", but a 50% between life and death, and less people are eager to risk their life at this ratio.


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