The year is 2216 C.E., humanity develops an economic solution to travel to the Alpha Centauri A, our closest star system, in a matter of decades. Despite mankind's technological prowess our species is still divided by selfish gain and corruption; the war never ends. An armistice agreement is forged between planetary colonies and, to promote peace, a federation is formed among the inner planets.

There are several trading routes between Earth and other inner planets due to insatiable demand for rare earth minerals. These luxuries are often accompanied by deadly threats such as space piracy or asteroids, the captain by law must issue an order to abandon ship in the face of adversity. Strangely the Federation knew this and yet decided to ban all escape pod designs that come with manual override*. Also, the technology of the time shouldn't be a problem.

*Once manual override is activated the user will gain control over the vessel(escape pod) main navigation system until autopilot is engaged or while fuel lasts.

(Optional) Address why the escape pod design prevents abuse by any personnel without authorization during flight (in operation).

P.S. the maximum passenger capacity of any escape pod is one, including a pet. There is no FTL. Answer must be favorable to the Federation but at the same time appease the human right activists.

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    $\begingroup$ Are you interested more in legitimate reason, or just an convenient excuse? Is Federation honest and good-willing? And what's the excuse for "abandon ship" law? Even if it might be rescued? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ Manual override of what? and if there's no manual release for the escape pod how is it released? $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix: in event of an emergency crew must take a vacant escape pod and get as far away from the threat as possible, however sometimes these threats can escalate. Most pods are autonomous and it's destination including the trajectory are predetermined or calculate by on-board system. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ @user6760, I think your response to me here needs to be edited into your question to make it clear that it's the navigation system you're not overriding. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ @LightnessRacesinOrbit REMs are a class of mineral/ore, not specifically from Earth: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_earth_mineral $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 23:45

21 Answers 21


Only a very small number of senior crew on a starship know how to properly plot course and speed to best effect and efficiency. Everyone else has their role but it's not navigation.

Escape pods that automatically choose their destination, and don't allow the occupant to interfere, will return the largest number of persons to a safe destination. Any interference with the navigation systems on the pod could lead to arrival at an unsafe location, arrival at an unsafe speed, or failure to arrive anywhere at all.

It also prevents an 'inside man' from loading pods up with high value goods and firing them off to pre-arranged locations for collection by pirates, as pods can only travel to Federation bases.

This regulation reduces the weight and complexity of the pod and its controls. It also reduces the potential for crime, and makes the pod valid for completely untrained personnel.

Let's consider some examples

  • Joe is a junior crewman, it's his first voyage, his first sight of combat. What he really wants is to jump into an escape pod and press a button that takes him somewhere safe before his brown pants stop hiding the evidence.

  • Dave is a passenger and thinks he knows everything about stellar navigation. He really wants the opportunity to set a course in his own little starship. If you want him to survive that's the last thing you'll let him do.

  • Sally is an experienced navigator. She knows that the computer is programmed with the best possible course to get her somewhere safe in the shortest possible time, the last thing she wants to do is interfere with a system she helped develop.

  • Alex is the captain, the last person off the ship, and certainly doesn't want to be worrying about where the pod should be going when time is short. A single button and away is all that's needed.

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    $\begingroup$ I didn't even understand the question until I read your answer. Thats a good answer! $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ Good answer. Another point you could add: counter-terrorism. Escape pods could be used as orbital bombardement projectiles by suicide terrorists. Also perhaps counter-piracy. This prevents pirates from pretending to be a stranded escape pod with exhausted fuel to board the ship that rescues them. $\endgroup$
    – Annonymus
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ For an example of why navigation is hard, just take a look at Kerbal Space Program. You don't plot a course to where the planet is, you plot to where it will be. Anyone not trained would likely spend all their fuel chasing a planet moving away from them. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ Another thing you could add that people really don't understand: "Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is." (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). To combine this with what ObsidianPhoenix just mentioned, not only do you have to plot to where the planet will be, you likely have to make that decision months in advance. $\endgroup$
    – Rob Watts
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ Not forgetting to include for deceleration as you approach. Otherwise your pretty escape pod has become a small kinetic missile targeted at the nearest habitable body. $\endgroup$
    – origimbo
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 16:31

Regarding the paperwork of the ban itself, the equivalent treaty that we have at present is the SOLAS Convention, regarding the Safety Of Life At Sea - established in the wake of the sinking of the Titanic to improve standards of lifeboats, safety procedures and so on. The specifications that form a part of the convention will lay out the minimum requirements for ship-board equipment - for example, that the alert noise on your integrated bridge system is within a certain pitch range, so that it's noticeable without being distracting; or that your radar can detect objects of a certain size at a certain distance in heavy rain; and so on.

While complying with these standards isn't too difficult, proving that your equipment is compliant to an independent test organisation (called getting "type approval") is trickier, and manufacturers will sometimes apply stricter constraints to their products than the convention requires because they are easier to prove. In this case, you might imagine the Safety Of Life In Space (I tried to find a phrase for the acronym SOLAR, but sadly failed) Convention requires that any spacecraft travelling under power, such as your escape pods, that can be independently navigated must have collision detection radar, collision avoidance charts of asteroids and other hazards, a minimum set of piloting aids and controls, et cetera, plus all the fail-overs, and all the screens and interfaces in the pod to present this to the occupant. For an escape pod carrying one person, multiplied by the crew and passenger complement of your ships, this is a huge expense; so most manufacturers sidestep the compliance issue by automating the whole thing and not providing an override.

The other side of that is ensuring that only qualified navigators/pilots have access to the controls of a vehicle that could endanger their life, or the lives of others. If you decided to equip a starship with crew-only escape pods that have additional/overridable controls, can you absolutely prove that passengers or other unqualified people won't get access to it? Again, it's much easier to avoid the complexity of proof by building a simpler product.

TL;DR: The Federation hasn't explicitly banned manual overrides in escape pods, but it's easier to comply with other (entirely sensible) safety requirements if they aren't included; so manufacturers don't add them to avoid the extra paperwork.

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps "Safety Of Life All Regions" That would give you SOLAR, and would cover space, sea, and beyond... $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ SOLAS was established in the wake of the sinking Titanic? Wow, the politicians back in the day sure knew how to demonstrate presence when disaster strikes, and to take prompt action... $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik I was thinking "Safety of Life Across the Reach". $\endgroup$
    – pydsigner
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ "Astronomical Safe Transport Rules Act" = ASTRA $\endgroup$
    – jpmc26
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 6:08
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    $\begingroup$ The economic/compliance angle is brilliantly realistic. Also, Safety Of Life Across the etheR? ;D $\endgroup$
    – hmijail
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 7:54

This scenario doesn't make sense. Firstly, there is no FTL. Spaceships carry an escape pod for every passenger and crew (pets included). The escape pods are capable of rapidly getting away from adverse events like piracy or vagabond asteroids.

It's not unreasonable to expect spaceships to have larger and powerful propulsion systems than any escape pod. Yet there are escape pods that can travel to their destinations.

Consider this situation: a spaceship is travelling between the planets Venus and Mars. It is attacked by a vagabond pirate asteroid. The captain orders abandon ship and it's all hands and pets to the escape pods. But where do the escape pods go? This is mostly likely the planet Mars (which was its ultimate destination) as heading for any planet like or the Moon will require too much energy to change course.

This tends to suggest that spaceships aren't needed at all. Simply put people and their pets into escape pod vehicles and send them to their destinations.

In this case, the Federation would be absolutely insane to let passengers and their pets to have access to any manual controls of any kind in these spacecraft (escape pods are spacecraft). Your average civilian is utterly unlikely to have even the slightest iota of knowledge of astrogation. So for their safety, and the safety of the spaceways, escape pods will be automated, self-piloted space vehicles. No manual controls, no manual overrides.

It is not a human right to manually override an escape pod and fly it to your own doom.

It is suggested that the technological basis for this question needs something of a rethink.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually I didn't said anything about abusing escape pod like a smaller spacecraft but I like the way you think. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ @user6760 Thanks for the compliment. Also, I think you intended to write "using escape pod" instead of "abusing escape pod". Sadly, the escape pod concept has not been thought through enough in the past. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, but save boats don't go anywhere. They just hang around and wait for rescue. As this answerer accurately points out, without FTL, it's pretty unlikely the escape pods could actually get anywhere, ever. Their best bet is to hang around the ship they came from so somebody with a real ship knows where to look for them. $\endgroup$
    – Puppy
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ Well if the escape pods don't go anywhere, that would explain why there aren't any manual overrides... $\endgroup$
    – gmatht
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ @DrakaSAN Thanks for raising this point. This is about starships travelling between Earth & Alpha Centauri, but without FTL. Starships & escape pods will have the same velocity. That's basic physics. They can't remain at their point of ejection unlike a boat in the ocean. Escape pods will continue on their original trajectory. The starship & its escape pods will arrive at their destination at the same time. The pods won't be able to stop. Not enough propulsive power. If they did, you don't need a starship. Just fly by pod. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 8:17

It's very hard to make rules like that by fiat. Let me offer another suggestion: it's simply the way things have always been done, so much so that when the pods were first engineered, the idea of giving them manual controls was never even considered.

This started a little more than 200 years ago. Before then, Earthlings had always manually piloted their vehicles. Around that time, the "cars" that they used first gained the ability to pilot themselves. At first, humans were apprehensive of this new technology--and it did have some tragic failures--but after a couple of decades, the robot drivers were so much safer than human drivers that it was considered reckless and a little bit crazy to let humans manually control the vehicles. Fast forward a couple decades more and the benefits are so staggering and clear that governments begin making laws mandating automated driving, to stop people from being crazy. Fast forward a couple decades after that and now we've starting making changes to transportation that never would have been possible with humans in charge. Land based vehicles travel at 100+ kph down the highway mere centimeters away from the other vehicles. Stop signs and traffic lights are a relic of the past--all intersections are handled by swarm algorithms among the autopilots and traffic never stops in any direction, nor even slows all that much.

This trend also continues in space flight, where distances are so much farther, observations are so much more difficult, and stakes of failure are so much higher.

Even the military, who held out the longest for an override, start omitting it on their vehicles, since the vast majority of their vehicles spend their entire useful life without ever seeing an incident where it might have been useful. The robot drivers are just too much better than humans to even consider it. Also, you can reduce weight and cost and increase cargo capacity by getting rid of the manual piloting components.

It's been a hundred years since humans manually piloted any vessel as anything but a novelty. The main ship isn't even equipped with a manual pilot mode, let alone the escape pods. The knowledge of how to build manual piloting modes might even be lost at this point. Pretty much all of humanity views it as a wasteful novelty, and doesn't see any reason to install them, let alone use them.


[New Answer] Federation favorable

The simplest and sometime most efficient is to play the "Security Measures" card arguing that these designs are "the safest way to bring you home".

Also arguing that manual override fitted pods are vulnerable to remote control, so that would put users at risk of becoming hostage of the pirates, might work, showing/staging such a thing could be efficient.


Simplicity and children, as you said the pod contains only one occupant no manual override makes it operable and safe for anyone, especially children.

[Previous Answer]

I can see multiple reasons for such a decision:

  • Prevent human errors: most people escaping may not have piloting training and might crash on a nearby moon or planet;
  • Reduce recuperation costs: Escape pods may be programmed to reach certain regrouping spots to be picked up by other passing ships or ships specialized in pod recovery. Recovering pods scattered all around may not be in the federation's best economic interest;
  • Prevent enrolling in space piracy /hostage situation: in case someone figures out (rightfully or not) that their best chances are with the pirates.
  • $\begingroup$ Hi i just updated my question have a look. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ "Won't someone PLEASE think of the children?" $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 23:40

Think 9/11. An spaceship that can be manually controlled is potentially a devastating weapon. Therefore, manual control of spaceships must be restricted to people with good security clearances. Since an escape pod may contain anyone, manual control may not be permitted.

  • $\begingroup$ Hm. Escape pods could sure be devastating weapons against space stations etc. due to the sheer kinetic energy of any object at orbital velocities. However, you don't really need any kind of controllable spaceship at all for such an attack – a well-aimed rock would be sufficient. So I reckon a civilisation at that technology level would have to have laser systems to vaporize any such threat at safe distance anyway. And against targets on a planet in an atmosphere, an escape pod wouldn't be an effective weapon. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @leftaroundabout We're told that spaceships can get to Alpha Centauri in decades -- let's call it 0.1c. Let's assume an escape pod masses a tonne and is capable of a similar speed (because it's not much use if it isn't). Then (ignoring relativistic effects) its kinetic energy is 4.5E17 joules, equivalent to a bit over 100 megatons of TNT, twice as much as the biggest nuclear weapon ever created. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 16:46

You may get the effect you want without banning escape pod control; there's good reason to argue that such control would be pretty useless, if you're considering reasonably realistic space travel.

Interplanetary space travel, with present-day technology and presumably with non-magical future technology, is usually a matter of firing a very specialized (high delta-v) rocket for a relatively brief period (hours, maybe days with ion propulsion) and then coasting to the destination for a much longer period (months, maybe weeks or less if your rocket is really powerful.)

An escape pod would need propulsion, of course, to get it out of the way of danger- but this would likely be a high-thrust, low-delta-v rocket that would be mostly used up after the initial burst, without significantly changing its overall trajectory relative to the solar system. This would leave survivors to drift to wherever they were going in the first place; if their ship was on the way to Mars when the catastrophe happened, their escape pods would inherit that momentum and wind up at Mars at about the same time the ship would have arrived (albeit a bit off-course due to the escape pod's rocket, but close enough to be snagged by Martian rescue vehicles.) Give the escapee control over the dregs of the escape pod's fuel in the meantime, maybe, but they can't meaningfully alter their course with that.

Adding enough fuel to turn around and head to Venus rather than Mars would add tremendous mass requirements to the escape pod- easily doubling or tripling its total size, even assuming really-super-high-tech rocketry.

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    $\begingroup$ If the ships carrying escape pods are more likely to fail under acceleration than while coasting, you will often have escape pods that aren't headed for the original destination. (But should still cluster so they can be picked up as a group). As I assume you know, completing part of a planned burn to set course for a Mars intercept usually means you're not going anywhere near Mars, not that you're heading there but slower than intended. Even small corrections can make a big diff months away from an intercept. Especially true if the course includes a gravity turn or slingshot on the way. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterCordes True, but in that event the pods would still be close to their origin point, and a rescue mission (albeit one almost as expensive and risky as the original ship) could be launched from there. ...Really, the risk of messing up and flying off into the void faster than anyone could catch you seems like an inherent horror of space travel. $\endgroup$
    – Maxander
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ What I meant to say was that at some points, a small delta-V can result in a large change in position, e.g. if you're still near the starting planet or headed for a gravity turn/slingshot. So manual control of lifeboats could easily scatter them, in some conditions. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 21:44


Escape pods are too small to have big engines or carry much oxygen. Good news is that is that in the cold of space you won't need to breathe for long. Better news is that interstellar age medical technology can usually get you breathing again.

Even if the passenger understood interstellar navigation before they entered the escape pod, you wouldn't want them fiddling with anything too important while they are suffering from Cerebral Hypoxia and their lungs are filling with cryogenic fluid. Once they are frozen, manual controls would be safe but also useless.



The year is 2045. President West has just signed a bill that bans the sale of manually-operated vehicles. Statistics show that 99.83% of all remaining accidents are caused by the driver triggering the manual override, even though leaving the car in autonomous mode would have prevented the accident. Yes, there will be some backlash against Mr. West's law, but our streets will be much safer because of it.

Yes, a car is different than an escape pod, but the same reasoning applies.


This is part of the convention as signed in the Geneva-II system.

Any fast flying small vehicle is a formidable weapon. Ramming at high speeds will do crippling amounts of damage to any ship, small or large. As such, it is very difficult to distinguish between escape pods and kinetic kill vehicles: targeting computers see a ship or station marked as 'hostile' launching a potentially deadly threat. Automated defense systems destroy the pods microseconds later.

It was soon realized that the only fool-proof way of distinguishing between weapons and true escape pods would be their trajectory. Simply said, a missile flying away from any targets is no threat. This solution was then implemented by letting an automated algorithm choose the least dangerous course, like a missile with the worst possible guidance. The enemies targeting computers register no threat, defense systems don't waste shots on it, pod flies away.

Adding an override to this system would allow the pod to turn back and be used as a weapon after faking an escape, bringing us back to the age of pod-punting.


I'm going to go with:

To prevent theft and ransom of persons or goods., and the contamination of eco-systems

Seems like the least suspension of belief.

As commercial space transport became mainstream, criminals would load up the pods with goods and launch them. It never made much money in the overall scheme, but the space pirates didin't need to account for the cost of the pod, or the damage to the ship. So they just got pure profit. Sure it cost \$1,000 to make each pod, and they only hold \$50 worth of material, but the pirates, didn't care cause they didn't have to pay the \$1,000.

Then things got more serious, when they started capturing people and ransoming them. It was kind of a crap shoot for the pirates, so they would kidnap 400 people ransom them for \$500 each. And even though, maybe only 1 in 10 paid, that's still enough money for the pirates.

To make maters worse, the interplanetary treaty had rules a lot like the UN does about travel to different planets. The rules say that your not allowed to leave behind your junk, and that the design of your craft has to ensure your not contaminating the planets your passing by. This became even more important after a pirate stole 400 bottles of wine, and the pod they were using crashed into Moon-4 where the organic material set back the terraforming 900 years.

The answer, to make life pods only work at the order of the ships commander. This stopped the theft, the kidnappings and prevented the contamination of emerging systems.

Note: We have laws and rules close to this today.So it's not that much of a stretch.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. You mean \$ after inflation correction, 'cause \$50 is a really meager reap. Things have changed thanks to the Universal body history pod design. Pirates won't load up pods with anything that will basically be turned into worthless iron (iron is the ultimate element obtained after fusion or fission). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 7:35
  • $\begingroup$ My point is, just like pirates of today. They don't need to steal "a lot" to make it worth while. Because they don't have to buy the pod or the ship, or the goods, they can steal nearly anything not nailed down and it would be "worth" it. $\endgroup$
    – coteyr
    Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I understood right. I just suggested that due to inflation, $50 at the time might be an insignificant gain even for any pirate, like worth one of today's cent. That is, it might not even pay for the cost of fetching the pod where it would land, perhaps not even a second of fuel consumption. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 21:16

The escapePod is based on the product design philosophy of the other ancient ’pod devices, and have minimal viable feature set and dumbed-down controls with no settable options.

So, it is considered natural and a normal thing that the machine will only have one button and will pick a planet at random from the internal catalog.

  • $\begingroup$ Funny. Return of the *Pod Shuffle. ;-) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Like the tri-pod pun used in the modern War of the Worlds remake. I think they should have used an airbag landing and smashed up stuff as it bounced. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 22:06

There's probably a lot of factors going on that would make this a reality.

First would be the mechanics of rescuing escape pods in space. Since space is impossibly huge and largely empty, retrieving escape pods fired off in a random direction is basically impossible. Even if the pods have a radio-beacon broadcastin their location, it's still going to be very tricky to narrow it down enough to find easily. And since we're talking about escape pods for Sol - Alpha Centauri here, we're probably also talking about reasonably sized crews.

Combine those two things and a rescue ship is looking at trying to recover dozens, if not hundreds, of pods, scattered over a distance of thousands, possibly millions of kilometers. That's kilometers cubed, not squared as these things can go literally anywhere. Odds of you getting rescued in a situation like that: basically zero.

So you need a solution for that. One of the more feasible ones is aiming all the pods at the same place. At least that way, when the rescue ship arives, they don't have to go searching for a couple dozen ships over an area the size of our planet. So you fit every ship with an automated piloting system so it's pointed towards a safe place of your choice. Odds are good that most civilian ships use the same directory of safe locations to maximise the chances of being rescued. So if you were capable of changing that course, that dramatically lowers the odds of you being rescued.

And speaking of being rescued and not dying of asphyxiation in the uncaring depths of space: IFF. By international convention, all escape pods would have a specific transponder code indicating them as non-combatants in need or rescue. This is the kind of thing that every sensible government/military would subscribe to. Hell, even unscrupulous pirates might take a moment and realise: yes, it's better to spend my next 10 years in jail rather than spending the next 2 weeks in a pod slowly suffocating. So there'd be treaties that designate escape pods with a working transponder as non combattants with severe penalties for anyone violating those treaties and either an obligation or reward for captains to pick up errant pods. There could be salvage rights or a sort of insurance that pays out of the holder is rescued.

BUT that also means the auto-pilot becomes even more important. If rescue pods are sarcosanct and there are rules and regulations in place to keep them safe, that means there's going to be automatic measures in place to protect them. Point Defense turrets will make exceptions, space stations would send out recovery drones and planetary defense vessels might even break off of their patrol courses to go and retrieve them. So if someone malicious would mess with the navigation (which is easier if there's a manual override) they could send pods in alternate directions to distract patrols, use them as Kinetic Kill weapons that point defense doesn't target or for even more nefarious schemes.


First let us consider the tech level.

Alpha Centauri A is 3 light years away, give or take. To reach it in 90 years ("decades"), you have to travel at 3/90 = 3% of the speed of light.

Suppose space travel is done by organic beings who exist on our scale. Then a ship capable of going 90 years is probably going to weigh well north of 100000 tonnes (displacement of a modern aircraft carrier). Dropping the mass doesn't do huge things for the energy budget (it is linear in the mass).

The KE of a 1E7 tonne rock moving at 0.03c is 4E23 Joules.

The total energy budget is thus 1E24 Joules.

This level of energy budget is K1 or a K1.5 civlization level.

Such a civilization is starting to work on building a dyson sphere or dyson swarm, or is using some seriously exotic high energy physics to generate ridiculous amounts of energy. The vast majority of its civilization's power must exist outside of Earth, because Earth simply doesn't have the size to dissipate the energy this civilization uses. (A K1 civilization is either using enough energy to cook the Earth, or has 100% efficiently used all energy the Earth emits.)

The energy for one such trip to AC is enough to dismantle 0.01% of the Moon's mass and place it into Earth-Moon orbit, or half that amount into an independent solar orbit.

A big problem on this scale is that moving at a fast clip turns you into a ELE (extinction level event) for the biosphere of Earth, or whatever reasonable space habitat you ram into. An escape pod will be a spaceship. If it moves at a reasonable clip for such a civilization, it will be capable of causing massive damage.

Odds are all high-energy operations are controlled and regulated, possibly by computer or AI. It might even be the case that a relatively benevolent AI is busy upgrading civilization to K2, and human beings are given relative toys to amuse themselves with. Freedom is important, so those humans are given the freedom to kill each other if they want, with some sheltered locations registered as no-PK. But ELEs and use of WMD by individuals is not permitted.

"Dumb" AIs run the ships and pods. Well, they act dumb, because they let the humans go wherever they want. But strangely when you try to fool them to use the ship as a WMD it doesn't work.

  • $\begingroup$ Consider 9/11 on a planetary scale. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ This level of energy budget is K2 or a K1.5 civlization level. - K1 produces that energy once in 3 days or something like that, it is not the power needed, but total energy needed. So realistically once per year to send that thing is ok for them, 1% of their energy production spend for that task. Mass of rock specify that this is tonnes, it is not usual to mix tonnes instead kg and J in SI. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ A minor correction: "Alpha Centauri (α Cen) is the closest star system to the Solar System at a distance of 4.37 light-years (1.34 pc)." This doesn't change your substantial argument. A few numbers may need rejigging, but that's trivial. For example, travel time is now 145.67 years. Not a problem, only a few tweaks. Still it's a good answer. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 8:36

How "Universal body history" changed the design of escape pods forever.

Actually, nowadays escape pods don't even have fuel, sail or any sort of propulsion after the ejection stage.

Any device holding passenger with a propulsion system is cataloged as spaceship, not as escape pod.

The cost of delta-v

Old pod designs used to have propulsion, but it's been abandoned due to astronomical cost. They could not perform atmospheric re-entry without crashing or maintain life long enough or once down the gravity well, so the best best would just be to group together and stay in space.

As seen in other answer, space is huge so don't waste collective efforts rescuing Joe Noobpilot. Old designs used to let fully automated pods group themselves.

Due to space flight mechanics and the cost of delta-v, pods ejecting from the ship hull in all directions using rockets would not be able to fly into parallel routes, let alone group together. One solution: the pods would have to slowly drift from the main ship, not good to escape an impending explosion. Or be ejected using rockets from a limited number of flat areas on the main ship hull. Flat, so that they flee from the ship with parallel trajectories to stay somewhat grouped, limiting the cost of chasing them.

All those reasons have led to ban of manual override of fuel systems.

But that's no longer much of a trouble, because everything changed with universal body history.

How universal body history solved the delta-v problem.

Matter is costly. Rescue bodies, sure, but don't rescue matter.

Space is huge so the chances of being rescued are indeed zero. Sure, radio beacons, etc, but simply it's too expensive to send matter there to gather more matter.

Let's just broadcast via radio a diff of the body structure.

Whenever you visit a place where your civilization is represented (spaceports on planets, orbital stations, major ships), your body is already scanned down to the atomic level for identification and health check-up, something Federation and all human rights accepted since the Great Epidemic. The information is kept in a compressed history of scans similar to Git, one copy in your civilization's records (synced between sites), a few copies kept on you (it sometimes has allowed to locally rebuild a full body from parts like in The Fifth Element).

Rescue information, efficiently

What the escape pod does is to cryogenize your body, scan it again, add that to local history with a git commit, which make a very concise diff than is sent via radio signals. Repeatedly. Until it runs out of energy. Using Fountain codes for resilient one-way transmission. Then the atoms in the pod just statistically lie there in the huge eternal void of space. Not rescuing matter is what the Federation wanted.

Fuse matter to send energy

Interestingly, limited data (thanks to history compression) and supercold fusion of the atoms making up your body and the pod make enough energy to broadcast the signal to the whole solar system. In virtually every case, several sites can catch the signal reliably. Most of the mass of the pod is the supercold fusion device. The final state of body in pod is a shiny wad of iron atoms.

Build back the body from other atoms

Receivers will pick the signal and attach it to your git history. Rebuilding the body is just the second half of plain old teleportation which Federation and the progressive wing of human rights activists already agreed upon. Your civilization rules will figure out where and when to rebuild your body (due to Duplication Ban Act). You'll wake up in that place, with memories about what happened (though, telemetry data will often be more useful that your memories to know what happened).

Human right benefit of the fuel-less pod.

The atoms that made up your body aren't actually important. You swap them with strangers any time you take a teleporting device anyway. It's a quicker and cheaper way to journey through Sol anyway.

The actual benefit of a rescue pod is to keep your body intact long enough for a scan and provide the latest and freshest state to resurrect you, instead of the state of your last visit to a major site. That's why human right activists accepted the scheme, even for individuals that object the use of teleporters (you know, that regressive wing of the human right activists). It's also why there aren't always as many escape pods as there are passengers. Some passengers prefer to revert to the state before the flight, anyway, so the escape pod is of no use to them.

Ah, those people regressive and rich enough to still use physical travel... they finance the regressive part of society, but the fair disputation procedure managed quite a good compromise!


"decades"? Well then. All escape pods are sleeper pods and have no user interface. Decades of Tetris would be maddening and I imagine there aren't enough Pokemon GOing on the star lanes to be interesting.


To Build on Separatrix great answer its all about safety and stopping abuse of the system.


  • They might not be able to fly ships (escape pods) is a key one.
  • Tampering with navigation might land them unsafely or not at all.
  • They can't navigate.
  • The situation might have incapacitated the crew of the pod.
  • When possibly 10's/100's of escape pods are firing you don't want them to hit each other.
  • They might be in there a while so you're talking about possible cryogenic sleep.


  • You don't want people to use it as an escape.
  • They could carry out acts of terrorism or thievery in which you don't want to allow them to escape, or at least not be captured afterwards at the designated landing spot.
  • You don't want them to use it as a weapon.
  • You don't want them to just steal the pods which will have some value to them (particularly with cryogenic chambers or manual navigation systems).

Since you specifically mentioned Piracy, that's got to be the key. People could escape on them with goods, load them with goods or infiltrate the ship and escape when they have signaled their pirate buddies to attack.


Escape pods are only to be used in emergencies, and because the typical emergency affects the whole ship, they are launched in closely-packed swarms.

If it's necessary to enter an atmosphere, they also need to be grouped together in a certain way, with the few heavier pods (the ones with a heat shield) heading the swarm and providing thermal protection to the tail of the swarm.

In both contexts, the choreography of the pods is organised in a peer-to-peer fashion, according to the surviving pods in the swarm. If you allow even a single pod to deviate from its assigned spot in the swarm, you have a good chance of ending up with a series of deadly collisions. No manual controls, no problem.


The more freedom you give to the user, the more potential there is for them to break your system.

If you've ever worked for a company/organisation that produces systems for the public or for potentially untrained users, you'll know why this might be done.

The Federation wants a system / procedure in place to process escape pod use. For example, they want to collect them after use for later re-use. The more freedom you give to users, the more difficult it is to follow this procedure.

You've no guarantee that the users will return them to the correct depot within your preferred time limit, perhaps you've been getting letters of complaint because escape pods have run out of fuel before getting to a safe location, or some people don't know how to drive them, or don't know how to launch them, are getting lost or damaging them, impeding other passengers from escaping, people may try to steal them or steal parts, etc.

The easiest thing to do is to have the pod's computer be pre-programmed to bring them to a specific location, with little or no freedom to the user - who basically gets in, presses "Go", and gets out at the destination.


It could be a simple bureaucratic measure.

The Federation enforces a set of unified regulations on spacecraft of all types, to ensure basic spaceworthiness, compliance to standard docking protocols, communications compatibility, sufficient sensor resolution, proper disposal of waste and so on. All spacecraft must pay an annual tax and submit to an inspection. For this purpose, all piloted vehicles with a propulsion system count as spacecraft.

As a result, adding a manual override turns escape pods into spacecraft in the Federation's eyes, and so suddenly subject to a lot more rules and costing a lot more money. Much easier to just not implement that feature.


In World War One, the British air-force would not issue parachutes to their crew under the logic that if the pilot would bail they would do so instead of attempting to save highly valuable equipment.

The same logic would mean that the Federation would not want the crew to escape should the situation become dangerous.


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