Suppose there was an alternate reality where humans had focused on their space program and everyone worked together to colonize the solar system all the way out to Jupiter in the 1950s. Many years have passed since then and it is now 2016, earth has smart phones and a the tech you would expect in 2016, but each planet farther from the earth is a decade behind in technology.

Is there a good explanation for the gaps in tech between planets?

additional info

  • when I say colonize all the way out to Jupiter I mean its moons
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    $\begingroup$ Heck, the tech in some countries is a decade or so ahead of others. Why wouldn't it be the same (if not worse) between planets? You have to have the means and the motivation to ship new tech out. Maybe the inhabitants of the other planets are too poor to afford the latest gadgets? $\endgroup$ – mfoy_ Nov 9 '16 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ Just a hint - Check out Asimov's Foundation. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Nov 9 '16 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ You're going to have to explain in more detail what kind of technology is available in this universe. 1950s-level tech simply could not have colonized Jupiter's moons, much less grown civilization in the space between here and there. 2016-level tech couldn't, either. Once you have that sorted out, then a conversation about the feasibility of such a gradient could begin. $\endgroup$ – talrnu Nov 10 '16 at 4:24

If anything, I would expect the tech gradient to go in the opposite direction. Unless you're using the colonies to dump your undesireables, the people going out to each new colony are likely to be the Best and the Brightest. They're also going to be facing potentially life-threatening challenges on a daily basis, so there's a lot of impetus to develop technological solutions to problems. On Earth, the only impetus for that is economic. Earth may well be suffering from 'brain drain', with the best researchers and scientists going out into the wild blue yonder and coming up with their own technology once they're there.

Lack of distribution of this tech could easily be explained by provincialism or political or economic competition between the different worlds.

  • $\begingroup$ No way. Imagine what it would take for a 50s space colony to come up with the modern smart phone by itself. Remember, it's a colony - only a few hundred or thousand people, only the equipment they brought with them, only the resources they either get in periodic shipments from the closest civilization or else what they can gather, refine, and process from their local environment. Unless they brought or can easily make fine research and manufacturing equipment, they'll care more about maintaining the equipment they brought than Macguyvering new tech. $\endgroup$ – talrnu Nov 10 '16 at 4:21
  • $\begingroup$ I'm with you, Werrf. Colonies will need be technologically self-sufficient and highly innovative just to survive. The gradient is likely to run the other way. A backward Earth and the tech getting better all the way out to the Jovian moon colonies. Historical examples include the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Colony nations that have been hotbeds of technical innovation. $\endgroup$ – a4android Nov 10 '16 at 4:49
  • $\begingroup$ @talrnu It depends what kind of colony it is. If the 'colony' is something like McMurdo Station in Antarctica, a research station that requires regular supply from homeworld, you're not likely to see much tech innovation there - but you're also not going to see a regression, either, thanks to regular supply. If it's a self-sustaining human population, then you're certainly going to see tech innovation, since necessity is the mother of invention. $\endgroup$ – Werrf Nov 10 '16 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ @talrnu I'd say that a self-sustaining human population on another planet is by definition going to include the ability to produce high-tech products. Human life on other planets isn't going to be a matter of plonking down somewhere and growing some crops, every aspect of life will be reliant upon technology. If you can't make the computers that control a life support system, you're not a self-sustaining population. $\endgroup$ – Werrf Nov 10 '16 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ Then we need clarification from the asker on details of the technology availalble to the original colonists. Because a Jupiter colony built with near-1950's tech would certainly not have been able to bring along enough manufacturing and R&D equipment and geniuses to be able to eventually invent and mass-produce e.g. computer processors more powerful than those we have on Earth today. Unless that was their sole mission, but then all of their other tech would still lag far behind. $\endgroup$ – talrnu Nov 10 '16 at 19:21

Brief and quite simply,

The same reasons there's difference in tech-levels here on our earth now:
Technological Development, Time & Distance, Society

A bit longer and somewhat more elaborate,

Technological Development:
The different planets are simply lacking the equipment to manufacture certain things, after all: building a factory requires another factory that produces the more basic things. Transporting everything between planets with our current technology-level is simply not feasible

Time & Distance:
Another thing is the actual distance and thus time it takes to colonise a planet. For example the mentioned planet Jupiter is, at it's closest, still some 600 million kilometers away from earth.
At the speed of light jupiter'd then be approximately 32min traveltime from earth (give or take some1).
According to wikipedia, the record for the highest speed relative to earth ever attained by a human being has been achieved by the Apollo 10 crew in 1969 (20 years into the colonising idea/effort); the achieved speed was 0.0037 percent of the speed of light.
So even by ramping up the fastest speed we've attained travel times between systems and thus the time for someone or something physical to actually reach another planet are still tremendously long.

If society does progress along the same ways it did on our earth, then Planets might as well be regarded different nations.
Patent law and patent infringement will be a big thing and the planet might simply not have the money or lawyers... After all they will likely still need to rely on earth for things that cannot be made/grown on other planets due to radiation and other concerns.

So here's some reasons for you based on distance and enviousness

1588'000'000'000m / 299'792'458m = 19612s = 32min
2funny enough, this is also the year that JFK became president

On the Issue of Distances:

As mentioned we could probably send a single signal to Jupiter in some ~32min (with lots of leeway). Thus a signal roundtrip and thus the span between two messages of a fluent conversation would be some 70min (give or take).
Now we know, we could send the plans for a new coffee-maker and other technological novelties in a negligible span of time.
So what's the issue?

They can't build the coffee-maker... All the computers and tools we sent with them are decades behind everything we have on earth. Even if every new ship we send with supplies, crew, and materials will be some 10%1 faster than the previous ones they'll still be on their way for years.

But they could build machines to build newer machines, that's after all how it works on earth, doesn't it? - You're right there! But that isn't going to be that fast a process, they'll still need raw materials, many of which they will need us to supply them with (e.g. plastics). And they will likely not be able to build any factories that create large amounts of parts, so their production facilities will be occupied for producing basic parts and machinery to make repairs and replacements of their habitats/spacestations/wherever-they-live.

1The number of 10% is highly fictional and will steadily decrease to a point where improvements over previous speeds will have to be measured in the area of 10-3% and less

On Technological Development:

All the above does not mean the technical development of earth and its colonies will be the exact same as in our universe. The act of colonization will likely lead to a science-/technology-boom in areas such as Environment Control & Manipulation, Isolation, Thermal & Solar Energy Production/Recovery, Robust Electronics, Rocket Science, and many more.

It will also be likely that our mars habitats actually have technology that has roots in our smartphone technology (our rather the other way around if we're looking at it more closely). But that colony we've established on Io 5 years ago pretty much will still be on the tech-level of the late 60s.

  • $\begingroup$ first cause is ok. distance is not if they have radio. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Nov 9 '16 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg electromagnetic waves can carry information, true; but they still cannot carry anything physical - the fact that you now know how to build a 1nm transistor doesn't change the fact that you're missing the equipment to build one. As well as the equipment to build the equipment. And that a few iterations down the line $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Nov 9 '16 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ true. But first tool we had was a stick, and take look now, what we have. Theory - there is a path from a stick/rock to any currently existing technology. They need energy, materials, humans and knowledge. without first 3 things they will die and we will have nothing to discuss(colony is not possible in that situation), also without some knowledge it is also not possible (to keep their tech working) so they do not start with stick and rocks, they start with technology which allows them survive in space. So it is matter of updating their knowledge and having E-M-H in enough quantities. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Nov 9 '16 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg energy and materials are exactly what I am saying is the showstopper. If you want to continue this discussion let's switch to the chat $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Nov 9 '16 at 16:30

It's not that simple

I think you are misunderstanding the basic concept of colonisation. It is extremely unlikely that in such a short time span there could be significant populations outside of Earth, add to that the deleterious effects of living extra-terra, even if you live in a rotating space-station for gravity. When things break, what then? If the oxygen levels get too high, what then? If your batteries lose longevity, if your guinea pigs get sick of spending their entire lives just repairing equipment...

Ordinary supplies would have to be constantly brought into the colonies, as the creation of biospheres is incredibly difficult, let alone one with a large amount of cattle.

How are you going to get medical equipment? Food? Toilet paper?

The most likely scenario is that those colonies have extremely advanced technology, while lacking the basic infrastructure that keeps a society afloat. In fact, the most likely scenario is a bunch of corpses cocooned in a high-tech facility.

But sure, they wouldn't have cell phones, pretty useless without cell towers.


I'll keep this brief since the other answers cover it nicely. I'd expect you'd have two gradients going in opposite directions depending on what the technology is used for.

1st gradient:

The far off colonies would need highly advanced tech just to stay alive. Space is very inhospitable after all. Surviving on Mars or Jupiter would require a lot of technological innovations just to keep the colonists from dying. Since the Earth is hospitable[citation needed] there wouldn't be much of a market for that type of technology. Any that exists would be in small quantities or on its way to the outer solar system if manufactured on Earth, or already there if manufactured there. The high tech stuff would exist mostly in the solar system, especially where it aided habitation and exploration.

2nd gradient:

However, I think there would be a gradient going the opposite direction for high tech luxury items. Smart phones exist in a grey area between strictly useful and strictly luxury. If you are spending all your time, money, and resources trying to make sure micrometeorites don't cause a massive depressurization event in your habitat, or Jupiter's radiation belts don't give everyone cancer, you won't have resources or time to devote to luxury goods. To pick an example less ambiguous than smart phones, take your pick from the Sharper Image gadgets or Think Geek electronics catalog. Any technology used in those that isn't also useful for survival will exist in small numbers in the outer solar system.

Another easy explanation for it is travel time. Juno took 5 years to travel from Earth to Jupiter because it had to get lots of gravity assists along the way. It is very straightforward to use that as an explanation for why stuff like that hasn't made its way out there, coupled with my explanation in the "second gradient" paragraph.


I don't think so

Once you've put the effort into travelling to and colonizing the first planet, the next ones will simply require:

  • More fuel
  • More supplies (food for the journey)
  • More patience
  • $\begingroup$ patience of whic kind, can you elaborate you answer a bit, with maybe an example how it may look like as you think $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Nov 9 '16 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg - Sorry, I thought this was obvious - it takes a bit longer to go further. Unless the assumption was that space travel gets faster the further you go... $\endgroup$ – user10945 Nov 9 '16 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ Ah you just mean it took 50 years for voyager to get there where it is currently, ok then. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Nov 9 '16 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ Huh. It made sense to me while I typed that out. Now, reading again, that sentence adds nothing at all to my post. It's now removed. $\endgroup$ – user10945 Nov 9 '16 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ I would say example is kinda valid, why not, it just a question do we transfer technology with those speeds, and do we need any colonies that far, if we can't. At the moment of reading I just didn't get which of possible scenarios you have keep in mind - there are more then only one, and it was just not enough information which one to choose, based on what was written. But you comment successfully made it clear. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Nov 9 '16 at 17:31

Colonies will require tremendous amounts of resources and money and support from earth, until they become self sustaining. They will likely need to produce/mine some resource thats rare on earth to trade with. Trade will be very limited due to cost, meaning the colonies will be utterly impoverished and lacking in basically everything, and may never get out of 3rd world abject poverty situation.


Abundant luxury items and high tech lifestyles require a reasonably stable society, good economy, a thriving middle class and consumerism. Most of those things would be missing initially from the populations at other planets. No amount of know how about how to make an iPhone is going to help if the majority of the people can't afford it and when in this case there are far bigger priorities.

As covered in the other answers, the other planets will be used initially mostly for mining for a long time. People going to live in such hazardous conditions banished from their homes for years will be mostly poor folks migrating for jobs. There won't be a thriving middle class looking to buy luxury items, just lots of miners living a sub-standard lifestyle trying to save money that they hope to spend back home once their contracts are over.

Then the next stage would be most of the population living at the other planets being too busy farming and terraforming for many many decades once enough people living there decide to permanently settle down there and never return to earth. The society would be equivalent to how it was on earth a few centuries ago, in the sense that people's main focus would be on growing food and maintenance/creation of life support systems. Until terraforming is complete and they can walk around without the fear of dying, the society will be consumed in just managing food & life support for the growing population while earth has luxury to discover/invent more and more with the newfound resources.

Then as Mars develops enough, corporations will start eyeing Jupiter and the cycle would begin again and so on. Earth would be ahead of Mars and Mars ahead of Jupiter and so on until terraforming is complete.

This is assuming no ftl travel or teleportation of machinery or other technologies develop. If people somehow figure out how to build large structures, machinery and factories on earth and transport instantly (or cost effectively) to other planets, then they'll develop much much faster but still stay a bit behind. If earth cuts down the time of terraforming from hundreds or thousands of years to a few decades, then all planets would catch up even more quickly and be at earth's level in probably less than a century.


Latest microchips and nanotechnology require insanely complicated existing technology and supply chain, you can get some idea from Intel's example. So the technology gap in these areas could happen very easily if Earth for some reason restricts export of latest technology and know-how, like USA did during cold war.


I agree that scientists would likely colonize, just like scientists are the people interested in visiting space now. Theory and academia is likely to flourish where there is a concentration of like-minded folks, so these two things would be advanced to some degree. There are however two reasons I think technology would be behind in the colonies. Firstly, knowledge would most likely travel back to earth, so the knowledge found with experiments on the colonies is not likely to stay only there. Secondly, a variety of materials is not likely to be found at any one colony, so engineering and manufacturing would be costly.

Possible ways to bring technology back to the colonies:


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