So for generations a ship has been traveling through space. After reaching their desired destination you are left with a group of people who have been used to their largest spaces being no more than a few tens of meters across.

If I were to suddenly send them out to populate a planet with vast swathes of land where you can see for miles I would expect some degree of agoraphobia.


In my story I want the arriving population to only have a minority without this fear. How would be best to explain/provide a counter measure to the agoraphobia?


The causes of this fear would be, of course, the unknown:

  • Information overload: I imagine seeing for miles rather than only a few meters would be difficult to process if you lived the majority of your developing life on the ship.

  • No fixed paths: The ship would have been huge but to reach somewhere you only had to keep to a (probably well sign posted) corridor. The contrast a planet's surface provides is huge - the fear of getting lost would probably also be so.

  • Routine: I don't imagine there is much variation in where to go on the ship, the change in what you're doing and where you're going is a cause of much distress to most people suffering from agoraphobia.

  • It isn't abnormal: In our society treatment for agoraphobia often includes being assisted by someone who knows and understands your problem but doesn't have it themselves. This wouldn't be possible if you are one of the majority - they may not see it as a problem.

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    $\begingroup$ Are immersive VR-Simulations allowed? You could just make it mandatory for everyone to immerse every 2 to 3 days for at least 6 hours. This way they would get used to this. Of couse they wouldn't be used to it for an extended period of time, but it shouldn't be such a big problem. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Jan 29, 2017 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus A good idea. However I did want a reason for there to only be a minority who are adjusted (so they could be the only eyes and ears the rest of the population has) - I've already come up with subsequent plot points which rely on this being the case. I'm just trying to find a justification. $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2017 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ What is hindering you to restrict access to such a system to the elite people of your generation ship? Everyone else is busy maintaining the ship and the few chosen ones are supposed to train for their time being the eyes and ears of their people. The reason could be, that the simulation is complicated and therefore only a few systems exist, so that only some people can use it at a given time. Then you would make it so that they need to spend a significant amount of time in such a simulation and your problem is solved. Making a system for everyone would consume to much resources. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Jan 29, 2017 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ This borderlines "idea pooling" question. +1, but reluctantly. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Jan 29, 2017 at 16:22

3 Answers 3


Virtual Reality headsets

The immersive experience will prepare your travelers for the tasks and duties they're expected to preform upon arrival. But only if the things they think of. For you and me the sky is so common we don't even think of it. Why would we warn our descendants about it? For people who grew up without one how could they possibly know it's a thing to think of?

It's only the slackers and weirdos who waste time looking up the impractical things like "sky" and who spend hours just experiencing it.

I could imagine people on a generation ship specializing and prioritizing productive survival training. A doctor learns about every known disease and surgical procedure, but what about new diseases? What about previously unknown infection vectors? What about common sense and problem solving in chaotic situations? None of these things would occur to someone rigorously training to be a doctor after growing up in the controlled context of a generation ship.

Most training is solitary (you learn your occupation by listening to lectures and doing VR lab work), but maybe some kids cut class and cobble together games so they can mess around in the new environment. Strategy challenges, capture the flag in an alien jungle. The adversarial experience in the new environment hones problem solving skills in a small group of otherwise incompetent gamers. Turns out these slackers are now the colony's best hope for survival.

I'd expect other neat limitations too. People trained in an immersive VR simulator would have finely honed motor skills and problem solving in fixed or expected situations, but they could fail miserably in situations requiring improvisation or unexpected and novel sights sounds or situations. (What do you do with a snake? How do you deal with rain in your eyes? For that matter how do you know its OK to breathe when the air is full of so much water?)

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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea of those who are better adapted being those who weren't necessarily trained for it but instead a group of people curious enough to reprogram their games to something other than the strict education program thought out by those living on earth before they set out. $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2017 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ This is actually really important. The people behaviorally adapted to life in the controlled and ordered environment of the ship are maladapted to life in the chaotic life of bootstrapping a colony. Those who are behaviorally adapted to colony building will not fit in on ship. It is precisely because they are the misfits that they're the hope of salvation. $\endgroup$
    – jorfus
    Jan 31, 2017 at 0:23

Agoraphobia is generally a defensive mechanism to some trauma. Therefore, aside from a few people who may have had something happen while doing an EVA, there shouldn't be much incidence of agoraphobia. If someone was going to be agoraphobic, they would probably be shut-ins on the ship, not leaving their rooms.

I would recommend that there be photos of the "exotic" home and destination so they can get use to the concept of a sky. Otherwise, there may be a few who can't perceive it through a lack of a frame of reference.

Also, I picture a few people who keep staring up at the sky worried that it might spring a leak (big spaces with no bulkhead doors are a bigger risk on a ship).

Though, from my standpoint, if you have a population that is use to living on a giant moving space station, why are you interested in a planet? Go for the asteroid belt and make more giant moving space stations. That's what everyone thinks of as home now.

  • $\begingroup$ You can't support as many people on giant space stations as you can a planet without having a massive infrastructure of engineers, miners, a dedicated teaching system etc etc...I just felt a planet was more suitable for bringing up a civilisation. $\endgroup$ Apr 28, 2017 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ @LioElbammalf, You are assuming that after generations on a large ship, they don't currently have a civilization. They are likely very comfortable on a giant mobile O'Neil station and would see a planet as a source of resources with a very deep gravity well. And planets tend to have, to quote Garibaldi of Babylon 5, "a highly corrosive substance that just falls out of the sky and gets into everything!" $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    Apr 28, 2017 at 23:28

Actually I don't think you'll have that problem, for a simple reason: It is very unlikely that the planet will be a perfect match before doing some serious terraforming. Therefore after landing, people will likely mostly stay in the space ship and in new buildings on the planet that "extend" the spaceship. Until people can live outside those enclosed habitats, at least one generation, if not more, will have passed, and the new generations will be used to occasionally leaving the enclosed buildings in spacesuits (or, if the match is close enough resp. after terraforming has almost finished, even without spacesuits for short times) from time to time.

Speaking about leaving in spacesuits: I guess that your space ship needs inspections of the outer hull, and occasionally repairs, so at least some people should be used to open space, an experience compared to which standing on the planet should feel rather constrained. If you fear that people might develop agoraphobia, you might schedule regular visits to the space ship's outer hull for everyone during the travel.


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