My story involves a groups of colonists from a near post-apocalyptic Earth settling on a nearby, newly discovered habitable world, each colony separated and unknown to the others initially. Throughout the years, these colonists populate the planet and expand their colonies eventually discovering each other. But not before they have to deal with the challenges of living on a new world.

My first question is this, in detail, Realistically, what would be the initial hardships and challenges they would face landing and settling on this uninhabited new world in the order of survival.

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    $\begingroup$ Even just that one question is still too broad. $\endgroup$
    – Azuaron
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ Good edit, but "survival, growth and technology" still looks like three distinct fields, and "initial and long-term" make this a total of 6 categories, or hidden questions. You might be interested in existing questions such as Would humans be able to derive nutrition from foodstuffs found on alien planets? to see how to ask these types of questions. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ I voted to reopen this question by the way. Keep it up, I hope you stick around! Have fun on the site. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ I've cast the fifth and final reopen vote, but I agree with @sphennings that narrowing it down to one of those categories would still be an improvement. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ You may want to include what technologies available to them. If they are so advanced that they can terraform the planet in 1 day, then hostile environment will be non-issue to them. $\endgroup$
    – Vylix
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 17:03

6 Answers 6


Trying to address the spirt of your question I will make some assumptions please correct me if I’m wrong. I will assume that habitable means more or less earth like, but with different surface features, a relatively benign earth life friendly biosphere where all or most life forms are simply inedible but non-toxic. The technology and distance are such that a trip can be made in less than a year and 10,000 colonists can be sent. I will assume near future.

The initial difficulty would be to introduce and establish viable numbers of earth species of plant and animal. This might be difficult even on a habitable world because the local flora and fauna would be well adapted to live there and even if not poisonous would at best be highly invasive. This should be possible but might not be easy and it would be essential to produce food.

Technological development
A second difficulty would be the danger of loss of technical capability. They might arrive with high tech kit but it would all be subject to damage and might be difficult or impossible to repair. There is only so much repair capability that you can bring and that is itself open to damage and degradation.

So a second aim would be to build basic infrastructure to help provide what was needed, But I doubt they could actually create enough infrastructure quickly enough to support their original level of technology because modern technology includes so many interrelated complex and hard to manufacture parts. So they would eventually loose capability and would start to struggle to rebuild equipment. As an example when they run out of spares and improvisations, any computer screen that got cracked or bulldozer engine ring that broke would put that piece of kit permanently out of operation.

So they will struggle to establish themselves technologically. With luck and provided they still had access to the information necessary to build the technology they once had, they should slowly reacquire it although it might take centuries.

As an example before you can build your first microchip to help return your computer technology you need a vast array of other technologies, each of which themselves require even more technologies, so to mention just a few you would need zone refining of silicon which itself would need vacuum technology which itself would need electrical technology etc.

Social development
Eventually these separate colonies would run into one another probably in search of resources (although it is very hard to believe that so many separate colonise could be established on the same world in the high tech stage without being aware of the presence of some or all of the others).

The mega corporations would be long forgotten and the merits of environmental friendly or not outlooks would be overtaken by events on the ground and the struggle to survive.

The religious cult might well retain its beliefs but naturalistic and harmonist views would probably be amended by the need to survive. The militaristic and isolationist societies’ viewpoint would lose a lot of meaning and potency in a world where the only enemy was nature. By the time other groups were encountered the societies may well have moved on or at least the original ideology might be much weaker.

The various different forms of initial government and world view would in all likelihood evolve rapidly and many changes might make the groups completely unrecognisable after a few decades. Different sub groups might take control depending on circumstances. Mini revolutions and revolts could over throw the historical outlook.

Final out come
At the point of contact I would think the bonds of humanity and a common enemy (the alien environment) would outweigh any vestige of their original purpose / outlook. In such survival situations many things originally intended would simply be forgotten or lost. It is also possible that the ingroup out group type thinking would take hold and fighting would break out.

In fact eventually there would be cause for much fighting, probably over resources or priorities, (or women) but it is impossible to say what would happen eventually as there are too many variables and too much time would have passed. Probably geographical location would play a bigger role than the original colonies ideology.

  • $\begingroup$ np - you might be interested in Proxima by Stephen Baxter goodreads.com/book/show/17983396-proxima this has a vaguely similar story line with multiple colonies, The ending is very unusual as the last apargraph is in latin. I'm just off to the latin SE to get it translated $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 15:04

Edit: I'm referencing groups from an earlier version of the question.

Welcome to Worldbuilding SE. Unfortunately your question looks much too broad. All of these colonies could put their interests ahead of their ideology and fight any rival. That's how the Alpha Centauri game is set up.

  • A, the first B, C, and E could become expansionist in search of economic advantage, raw materials, and captive markets.
  • D and F could become expansionist to spread their ideology, and to "save the oppressed workers" elsewhere.
  • G could become expansionist to eliminate rivals.
  • If you look at recent events in Myanmar, or the breakup of British India, even your second Colony B could become quite violent.

Follow-Up: The question changed. So how does the situation you describe differ from the Spaniards meeting the Incas, or the Romans meeting the Indians?

  • I would expect that all colonies have maps from orbital surveys, accurate as of the date of the last landing of their group (or even slightly later, if they left sats to update the maps). There will be no surprise that there is a mountain range behind the desert, and a coast behind that. Exploration teams might be surprised that another colony has built a port city at a river mouth, but they would know that the river mouth is a good place for a port city.
  • The last team will know the location of all previous sites. A shuttle is large enough to detect from orbit, and so is a farming village. The next-to-last team might be surprised about the position of the last colony, but not vice versa.
  • The teams will try to balance their colony site between immediate needs (good farming) and long-term needs (raw materials, hydropower, and so on). Afterwards there might be a race to the mining sites. Settlements expand to stake their claim. Read up on the Fashoda Incident.
  • The teams might have databases (or printed books, if they fear that their computers break down) to outline a direct path from blacksmiths to modern industry. There is an entire genre of science fiction books where a hero uplifts a world with the aid of such data, usually without the complication of separate factions.
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    $\begingroup$ If the question is too broad, you should not answer it and rather flag and wait for clarification. $\endgroup$
    – Vylix
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ I dispute that it is too broad of a question. Not trying to sound contrary but these three questions I found necessary to ask have been satisfactorily answered given the conditions I listed. I understand that they may not be specific questions but at the stage I am at, I still am in the need for assistance at developing my story and made that a point to say. I was seeking opinions and realistic examples of how such a scenario would play out and I should say these answers have helped a lot. That's all I want to say. $\endgroup$
    – user43914
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I want to thank all for your answers and opinions. This has helped me a lot. $\endgroup$
    – user43914
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Vylix, I think I gave a partial answer, especially regarding groups that one might assume are inherently peaceful (second B, G). $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ @o.m. yep. But I disagree that you answer while the question is certainly will be closed for being too broad. As you can see now, your answer is invalidated. Can you update it to answer the current question? $\endgroup$
    – Vylix
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 17:01

HUGE question, but lets look at the "threes of survival"; i.e. a human can survive "three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water and three weeks without food" now that's a mix of some best and worst cases but it's a working model we can go from.

So first priority is the atmosphere A. "move in ready", an exact duplicate of Earth that presents no issues, B. "reno ready", close enough to Earth to set up camp and make some improvements like breeding plants that extract excess sulfates, at levels that aren't toxic but are unpleasant C. "bare land", oh look a soup of Ammonia, Methane, Carbon Monoxide and Fluorine time to break out the atmosphere reprocessors. Between the "reno" and "bare" is a sliding scale of progressive nastiness depending where you are on that scale you need equipment etc... ranging from nothing special to rules about exposure times to full-blown hermetically sealed shelters for sleeping and space suits for any outdoor working parties. Special case is hard vacuum but I don't see that being a colonisation target.

Second you need to be protected from the elements, that could mean cold, heat, rain, wind or even meteor swarms. Extreme cold and heat are probably less of an issue than they can be for planetary explorers on Earth, space ships and travelers will, of a necessity, have a lot more insulation and climate control than your average tramper because space is harder to keep a healthy temperature in than atmosphere. Rain is always problematic, due to increased heat loss and degradation of footing and visibility, there's not that much you can do except endure it and try to keep dry where possible to prevent skin problems. Unusual effects may have to be taken into account in light of acidic atmosphere etc... Wind can potentially be lethally strong on an exoplanet, not like a tornado where a weather event might kill you but the basic everyday wind could actually kill you from shear impact force, there are just some situations that you can't know about until you arrive and can't do anything about once you do. Protecting people from the environment is similar to protecting them from a toxic atmosphere and runs to the same extremes of don't go outside unprotected. You also need to protect equipment in similar ways.

Water is probably not that big of a problem if you have good shelter and the planet has a hydrological cycle, one of the things that humans have proven to excel at is sourcing water and building technologies that source water.

Food could be the biggest challenge to the longterm survival of a colony, this has been true on Earth in virgin territory and will probably be just as true outside our own biosphere, only more so. There are two real options, one is to bring a large stockpile, and a gene lab and hope you can solve any problems arising, the other is a large stockpile and a full hydroponics set up to grow all the food you need indefinitely, this may or may not be a practical solution.


Wow, Some very big questions here. Certainly you are setting up for huge conflict once they do discover each other!

I don't think I can answer all of your question, but I'll have a crack at laying out some of the challenges when they 1st set up the colonies.

  1. There are some basic challenges with colonizing another planet - and the 1st assumption is does it already have life on it?
  2. I'm assuming yes - because if not it's WAY too hard a challenge to get colonies off the ground well enough to survive if they are tech limited in the way you describe.
  3. SO with life already there - there are likely to be be critters and even plants that will be deadly.
  4. This worlds equivalent of Lions & Tigers. They might have 6 legs and teeth like a Sabre Tooth, or they might have poison like a Snake or spider. They could be tiny or large - but they will be there and they will be deadly.
  5. Even some of the normally not deadly animals might go through a phase change of some kind - and turn deadly overnight - either a permanent change - or a temporary one.
  6. There could easily be a mineral in the ground that is slowly toxic in subtle ways - and that might be restricted to certain areas - so you could easily have it affect just one of some of your colonies. It could cause unexpected mutations, the simplest one that would cause huge social upheaval but not be obvious until quite a ways down the road is if it were to affect the Birth rate between Male and Female. It could have an affect as simple as making all female (or male whichever way you wanted to play that) Zygotes split into a twin. Or even triplets. That would force quite radical changes in certain of your societies.
  7. Another way a mineral could have severe toxicity but not be noticed, is if it interacted with the brain in a way to cause Prions to fold - but only after 3 decades of exposure.So you would end up with one of your colonies having pretty much their whole population developing Mad Cows disease, after they turn 30. So they can have kids - the colony could survive, but huge challenges. And not figured out until a LOONG time has passed.
  8. Another subtle effect could be to enhance PSI talents, so Telekinesis, Telepathy, Precognition, Super Empathy, and other kinds of PSI talents all could be useful plot elements, and 1 or 2 colonies getting these at the exclusion of the others is a good conflict point.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas for developing your story lines with some unique quirks...

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. And trust me, this does help. Do you think though that if the colonists managed to start researching some kind of cure or discovering such diseases early on, they could find a way to counter it? $\endgroup$
    – user43914
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ They way I posited things, the easiest cure would be to move away from from the source of toxicity. Of course - if you made there be a general toxicity over the whole planet that would be quite a problem. I did not suggest a general poisen across the whole planet affecting all colonies equally - because your original post said the world was habitable. $\endgroup$
    – kiltannen
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ Of Course - moving away from the source of the toxicity after you've established a colony for 30+ years will be hugely cost prohibitive. Some decent plot points in that! Some further decent plot points in potential territory conflict with other colonies in the new, safe, destination. $\endgroup$
    – kiltannen
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm. Something to think about. Thanks again. $\endgroup$
    – user43914
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 21:41

Assuming that one can find a 'class M' planet, one that approximates the Earth in climate with a considerable water presence, plus an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere and a strong magnetic field to keep solar wind from blowing that atmosphere away, there is still the immediate challenge of food.

First order of business is survival. Feeding a space ship's crew during travel is difficult enough, without also having to transport enough food to keep the settlers supplied for any length of time once they arrive.

Does that planet have life on it?

And is that life edible? It would be unfortunate to arrive at that planet, only to find that the local plants had cyanide in their sap.

Is that life hostile? Would the indigenous life regard humans to be a tasty snack? Are there microbes or parasites that humans would have no natural defense against? The human body has considerable defenses... against intruders found on earth.

Can one introduce earth plants to produce food? And what are the consequences of doing that?

Keep in mind that life on earth has evolved to be optimal for the earth's climate and resources. Life on another planet will have evolved to be optimal for different conditions, and may function in a very different manner. It may well be inedible, and intolerant of foreign intruders: humans, or the plantlife they bring along to cultivate for food.


Your question overlooks a few things. If you're sending colonists to a world then you also send surveying equipment so they know the best sites before landing and committing themselves. In other words the colonists would bring satellites and they would be multirole satellites. They would also be used for communications. Even if the satellites fell into disrepair after a couple of generations the first arrivals on each of the colonies would all be aware of the existence of the other groups. This would be very important information. So even if the colony's hi-tech kit started to break down over the years then that information would be recorded by more durable means, books or even word of mouth.

I just don't see how the colonies would be ignorant of each other.

  • $\begingroup$ The colonists are unaware of each other for the first number of years. Not centuries. That was an error. They all arrived on different ships. $\endgroup$
    – user43914
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ But thank you, I didn't even consider the colonists bringing satellites. $\endgroup$
    – user43914
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 20:57

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