A little while back I asked why a crash landed generation ship would fall back to the stone age, but now I realize that I had the exact opposite problem. Without advanced technology, and stuck on a pretty much alien world, these people are unlikely to survive period.

Without the use of advanced technology, how can the crew of a generation ship survive?

  • $\begingroup$ By being rescued, located next to civilization, or perhaps communication are out of the question? $\endgroup$
    – tuskiomi
    Nov 29, 2016 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ Out of the question $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Nov 29, 2016 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ And salvaging parts from the vessel? can they do that? $\endgroup$
    – tuskiomi
    Nov 29, 2016 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ It strikes me that 99.999% of this scenario is dependent on the particulars of the planet, and 0.001% of it comes from whatever plans we can provide. Can our answer include specifications of what the planet must be l ike? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 29, 2016 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ @cybernard the linked previous question says 8000 people were on board, presumably some of whom are not healthy adults, and they have been on board more much more than 46 generations. There are two dangerous sentient animal species on the land. All potential rescuers died eons ago. It is Earth or at least Earth-like but with human civilization that is millions of years old removed in the past and all other humans dead. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 29, 2016 at 18:50

4 Answers 4


Technically speaking humans could have survived without high tech... that's how our ancestors did.

OK, but if get it right... how not to die while learning the hard way survival skills? (Quite honestly, I think that even moderately hostile environment would not kill them so all easily)

OK, so to increase their chances put them:

In warm environment, like for example Mediterranean climate

Leave some wild species that can be hunted / some fruits that can be picked... whatever... unless the other sentient species managed to eat everything then there should be something left. Damn they have a while to learn hunting and gathering the hard way... a week or two without food would not kill them...

In are not seriously utilized by local sentient species... as long as they do not enter open confrontation both sides may watch each other with high suspicion but not enter open confrontation. With limited luck they have different ecological niches.

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    $\begingroup$ Presumably the generation ship has a library. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 30, 2016 at 0:13

Beyond anything else, provide access to a limited store of information. Information is the number one tool humans have, and access to a pre-existing supply of it can overcome a lot of disadvantages.

This is a scenario that was likely predicted, and would have been planned for in advance. Provide some source of survival information - an emergency solar-powered PDA for each crew member, for example, or a ship's computer in emergency mode - to help guide the survivors in establishing a colony.

The ship they crashed in is going to be a massively useful resource. It may provide power, shelter, possibly water decontamination, and information. If it's too badly damaged for any of that to work, it's going to be a source of raw material for tools (it can be both, of course - you can repurpose engines, for example, into tools once you're on the ground).

With some basic instructions on how to hunt, how to tell if foods are toxic, how to purify water, how to build fire...etc could keep your people alive for some time. Add more instructions on building up basic agriculture, and you're laughing.


So really you want at least one hardened mainframe computer for bulk data storage with several means of supplying power, thermocouples may be your best bet, solar and nuclear isotope are both nice extras but they have shelf life. , The PDA's are a great idea, thumbs up @ Werrf, more information access is what you want.

After that supplying some basic tools and seeds will go a long way, they would be fairly easy to salvage as you would expect the ship to have a good supply of them, if there are a few weapons and some good antibiotics (or an organism to grow them) even better.

One good fabrication system ( a fabrication lab or automated fabrication factory) could also go along way and you would expect a generation ship to have at least one. They can use it to make the most useful things even if it is running on limited power it would let them make things like solar cells, medication, or defensive weapons. It will wear out eventually but will give a solid head start. You could have some types of fabrication units survive and not others, maybe they have a pharmaceutical/chemical one but nothing for metal working or vice versa. Leave out one for electronics and you have a solid tech limit built in.

If some dogs survive that will help out a lot too, dog's senses complement human senses really well and will help with hunting, defense, and moral. A human colony with spears, bows, and dogs will be almost as well defended as one with guns and only humans. Plus they can be used as livestock in a pinch.

Consider moral will be a very important factor after something like this, many will want to give up and depression and frustration will be widespread. with 8000 people you will also need a political system, too many people will be total strangers. Although if you have the PDA's you could have a fairly simple representative democracy with direct democracy for big decisions.

One consideration is the climate of the region, if its temperate or cold some livestock will be important, becasue they will not have refrigeration, and crops will not be able to be grown year round. goats would be best, they survive in a wide range of environs and produce many useful products, you could even make a joke of the goats being survivors from a genetic research lab on the ship, maybe there is spider silk in their milk. (yes people can drink that just fine) This is less of an issue if the survivors can find a domesticable native animal but that will take a great deal of time. If it is desert, arctic, or ocean your survivors will have to consider abandoning much of the ship remains to move to a place with soil, wood, and water.

Consider what a generation ship would already have on board, especially if it was intended to help colonize a world eventually anyway, much of this material would not survive but some of it should.


Extreme amounts of planning and redundancies for every system and contingency.

Unless your ship is truly massive you will already be growing food aboard your ship. Even the weight of cryogenicially food would require tons of extra fuel. Your ship would still have to stop from time to time to harvest minerals from space in generally. To provide for repair and supply of the ship.

The ship would also need an many 3d printers and/or star trek replicators even if only to make parts for the ship. Given the many generations involved maintenance and food would have to be a top priority.

You would need to have the ship assisted pregnancy tech(think quadruplets all the time) in order to have the most amount of children in the least amount of time.

Extremely advanced teaching machines capable of implanting memories and/or abilities in months instead of 18-25 years common today. Each person will have to learn several disciplines, if not all, for redundancy.

Advanced maturing tech to help them become physically fit for duty, whatever age that might be. Initially probably 10 or 12 yrs old, maybe less for trivial duties, mop the floor if that is even required.

Eventually as they got close to the planet the ship and people would have to prepare by roughing it more and more so they were ready for the planets surface. More and more automatic systems would have to shut off so the people would learn to do it themselves. This would also help prepare them for the ship being damaged. The last 3 or 4 generation would have to be all about contingency planning and prep.

If you want enough people your ship will start experiencing over population for the size of the ship in the last few generations. Including structures/housing they can eject from the ship before it crashes so it survives basically intact.

So now they have near the planet, and for whatever reason we are about to crash land. The ship is on the ground, presumably holes in the hull, and advanced systems would have to be damaged. In all likelihood the crew of the ship would probably choose not to use it especially,weapons,shields, and engines which would use tons of fuel. The fuel it takes to power the ship for a year could probably off shelter and basic tech for a decade or more. In addition, rare elements which are common in outer space probably won't be readily available on our planet for years/decades.

Having prepared and trained for this thoroughly, they would initiate the plan. Walls and defenses of some kind would be constructed immediately even if the walls were wood and/or stone and bows and arrows. They would have to begin farming within days. Hopefully you ejected some farming equipment/supplies in crash proof containers before you crashed, or you will have to manually plow the ground and plant seeds from a store house or your greenhouse depending how your getting food now.

As your population and need for food increases so does the land you need and the chances you will get noticed by natives/aliens. (worst case)Your highly skilled crew will have to start genetically modifying the plants so you have food that is non toxic to you and grows on the surface.

The whole area will have to be surveyed to find suitable areas for farming, production, defense, and all the other things a society needs. They will need to mark out and area many times what they need for future expansion.

Like others have said basic devices like tri-corders and smartphones/tablets would be indeed be handy for surveying without being noticed. Also they could aid in learning the natives language(s) if their is any intelligent life. It would be best to covertly fly in drones, and drop out listening devices to aid in learning the language and the government political structure. Then you know who you will be able to ally with, and who needs to be wiped out.

This is where playing generation of virtual war games on the ship will be handy so you are ready to defend yourself. Have enough defense, but not so much as to take over your economy and resources.

If your advanced learning machines stop working, you will have to have already planned for that as it will take years to learn a single skill.

Once the crops are growing in the native soil and you have shelter you biggest problem would probably be the natives. They probably number in the 100,000's of thousands and could probably wipe you out in an all out attack.

A lot of this is contingent on having scanned the surface and crash landed near land suitable for farming and water. Also hopefully an isolated area with minimum natives to worry about.

Then you need to advance yourself by building equipment to start mining. Then factories, production plants, and so forth as so on until you have a thriving culture. Each stage will take years, but eventually you will get there.

  • $\begingroup$ Your ship would still have to stop from time to time to harvest minerals from space in generally. - not how it works. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Nov 30, 2016 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg Not how what works? Are you suggesting that generational ships are supposed to go that long without needing anything? $\endgroup$
    – cybernard
    Nov 30, 2016 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ without stop for sure. But generally yes, without needing anything. Why should it, if it leaks, it is a problem which should be fixed asap. If it need to replenish lost matter from leaks, let it use Bussard ramjet scoop to get matter from interstellar media. It is just way too expensive to slowdown the ship - you will loose way much more matter as reactive mass for engines, than you may loose by other possibly causes. Just take some surplus if you think leaks are there by design. No, just do not works, makes no sense. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Nov 30, 2016 at 22:43

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