The scenario: an alien crew has a shuttle landed on Earth in the 1980's. Their main ship is extremely damaged and beyond reach somewhere in the Milky Way. Their shuttle cannot escape Earth's atmosphere. They are in an unpopulated forested area to avoid encountering the locals, which would be both a galactic crime and unsafe. Earth's gravity is uncomfortable but livable. Their air composition is similar to ours but with slightly different composition.

The shuttle is mainly for scientific observation, transportation between ships and space stations, and emergency evacuations. Its weaponry is limited to its scanners being adapted into energy weapons. It is designed to survive entry into a planet's atmosphere, but it is not capable of escaping its orbit.

The crew has begun transmitting a distress signal, hoping it reaches a stealth satellite belonging to the galactic republic that Humanity doesn't know about. Humanity is seen as a primitive pre-FTL race and as such their solar system is analogous to a nature preserve. Nobody will come save the stranded aliens if they don't make contact. This galactic republic has done some research and common Human languages are in the catalog for the crew's universal translators.

Their level of technology is somewhere between Star Trek and Star Wars - they have FTL travel, but limited replicator technology (it can't rearrange matter at the atomic level) and no transporters.

So back to the question: what would this shuttle be equipped with to facilitate survival? The gear mostly assumes the use of the shuttle as a home base. Here are things I have come up with so far:

  • Training materials. Like videos or holograms with an AI acting as the lecturer. Teaches the crew about survival and the legal ramifications of cultural contamination.
  • The shuttle has various scanners built in to study the surrounding environment. They also are able to get biological samples and have them analyzed, which in turn allows them to create drugs and immunizations.
  • Atmospheric filters, making the outside air breathable to the crew inside the shuttle.
  • EVA suits for the crew and a decontamination area before exit/entry of the shuttle.
  • Various rations (similar to MREs) and liquid filtration systems for food and hydration. Cooking equipment. They also have a decontaminated tent to set up outdoors which has a bioengineered fast-growing nutrient-rich algae to farm if the local vegetation is inedible.
  • weaponry similar to our survival rifles (except energy-based) and knives for hunting and self-defense. Also, fishing rods, slingshots, nets, etc.
  • Various tools like shovels, flashlights, fire-starters, compasses, multitools and the like.
  • Power cells for energy devices and solar energy gatherers.
  • Medical and personal care equipment.
  • Storage and gathering equipment.
  • Climbing gear and harsh-weather clothing.
  • Entertainment sources.

I eventually want the aliens to leave the shuttle and not need the EVA suits while on Earth, so I imagined that being accomplished in one of two ways after scanning the environment: genetic modification or some form of technological enhancement. For the former, maybe the shuttle AI can develop gene therapy and apply it to the crew via some sort of vector (viruses or nanomachines perhaps). For the latter, maybe a cloud of nanomachines fills their lungs and makes the outside air breathable.

Anyway, are any of these ideas too implausible? What do you think would be in their survival kit?

  • $\begingroup$ How big is the crew? Tens, hundreds? $\endgroup$
    – Carl
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ This is effectively self-contradictory: "replicator technology (it can't rearrange matter at the atomic level)" it also contradicts things which you appear to have assumed in comments. "At the atomic level" means rearranging things atom by atom, which is effectively required for anything which one would normally consider a replicator. Such could also be looked at as just an extremely effective 3D printer, capable of working with whatever atoms already exist. What you probably intended here is that it can't rearrange mater at the sub-atomic level (i.e. no transmuting one element into another). $\endgroup$
    – Makyen
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Makyen, yes that is what I meant, no sub-atomic level rearrangement. I want their crafting device to be more limited than the ones in Star Trek TNG, so they can't just make anything they want. Yes, like an extremely advanced 3D printer that can "print" with almost any "ink" put into it, and able to filter out and separate some of what's put into it as well. $\endgroup$
    – Dakacha
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Carl, the crew is a very small handful of survivors from a small corvette or frigate - no more than 5 or 6. $\endgroup$
    – Dakacha
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 6:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Aaron, you're correct, limitations are to make the situation more interesting from a writing perspective. Restrictions require cleverer solutions. So far possible limitations mentioned could be limitations of scale (maybe it can only fabricate on the scale of, say, a small-scale integration {SSI} integrated circuit), limitations of materials (requires a proper semiconductor material), limitations of power (they may need to ration power), and limitations of information (limited by the blueprints on-hand). What else could keep it from being OP... $\endgroup$
    – Dakacha
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 11:04

6 Answers 6


The existence of replicators means you don't need most other tools. They would carry a stock of elements to use with the replicator. If they decide they need ropes, they replicate ropes, etc.

Their main provision would be information. Things they don't need to know in normal situation, such as many different ways of making tools and materials with limited and specific selection of local feedstock. For example, they ask for climbing rope, and the regolith outside the door that they shovel into the hopper is completely lacking in phosphorus and nitrogen. It can’t just spit out polymer fibers, but needs a recipe to handle that.

Or, they need rope that works in local conditions of temperature, pressure, corrosive environment, etc. So it needs a recipe that won’t melt in the stuff that falls as rain, get too brittle at night, etc.

They would also have information stores for building up larger scale industry than the replicator can handle directly. The replicator can spit out steel when fed ore, but that’s only a few grams at a time and takes time. They want tons…so it replicates parts for machines to fabricate parts to build a smelting furnace. And the instruction manual of what to do with the stuff and effect the bootstrap process of larger scale machines.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Dakacha Look at the chemical compounds making it up. If you want to go a bit further, look at an image of compound, use a bond-dissociation table (mol/kJ is probably what you want, but remember to find mol/g of the substance too!) to look up the energy required to break it / energy released when making it, then work out how much extra energy you need to turn cellulose (Std enthalpy of formation -963,000 J/mol) into graphene and water (cont.) $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ (cont.) ... and now I realise that Std enthalpy of formation was the wrong number to choose. :-/ But you get the idea - the difference in the energy required to make and break the bonds is what you need to power your replicator - if you feed it something like a methane / oxygen mix that it can turn into a carbon dioxide / water mix, it can use that energy to replicate other things. Otherwise it's left gathering sunlight, which is really slow, or using a cold fusion reactor which is not safe to take to a nature preserve (in case the locals find it). (cont.) $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ (cont.) If you would like me to elaborate on this (perhaps getting my numbers in working order!) we can take it to chat. (Std enthalpy of formation is the difference in energy between the "raw" forms of the individual elements and that of the compound, e.g. coal, O_2 and H_2 for cellulose. The reason I said that it was the wrong number was because I'd inadvertently tried to make graphene and I didn't know how to apply the numbers - I suspect that the Std enthalpy of formation of graphene is ~0 but I'm not sure.) $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ @wizzwizz4 You should post a self-answered question that is a lead in for these detailed notes on practical hard-science replicator limitations and performance. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ JDługosz, I've posted it here. (cc @Dakacha) $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 13:09

An alien survival kit would be stocked in line with the prevailing philosophy of the culture behind it...

Cultures such as those frequently featured in the Star Frontiers RPG or Andre Norton's various sci-fi novels of exploration and discovery (for example, the Solar Queen series) would focus on survival, communication, and trade items:

  • Emergency food and drink
  • Purifiers for local edible materials
  • Anti-poison / fungal medicine plus other common medicines / first aid items
  • Distress beacon and/or communicator of some kind
  • Energy conversion / storage units for powered devices
  • How-to and DIY records for using primitive materials, tools, and methods to survive, should such not be standard training
  • Defensive and/or offensive items
  • Trade items that might catch the attention of 'primitives' (sparkles such as gems, beads, glass, marbles crystals and other non-biological stuffs such as stone or metals that won't cause an allergic reaction, and perhaps a musical instrument, though that can be fraught with social risk)
  • Portable shelter
  • Useful tools

Cultures which follow a philosophy more like Star Trek's Prime Directive (non-interventionist) would focus on different things, depending on to how extreme a degree they took such a philosophy:

  • Hiding and stealth options
  • Items which can be destroyed or decomposed into non-useful and non-revealing remains
  • Suicide / self-destruct options
  • Assassination tools
  • Hacking tools

Finally, a culture that focused on conquest might also provide tools for a forcible uplift of a primitive society:

  • Detailed records on how to achieve a high tech level in the shortest possible time
  • Weapons and armor guaranteed to secure the position of local war-lord
  • Drugs for mind-altering / mind-control

A culture that espoused a Survival-of-the-fittest philosophy might not provide anything in the way of a survival kit at all, expecting that any stranded individual had better make it out on their own, or they don't have the right to live in the first place.

Given your lower-end replicator technology, the following would be critical:

  • a stock of rare and supplemental elements not commonly found in nature,
  • an extractor unit of some kind to collect and sort elements,
  • a detector unit of some kind to find sources of elements and distinguish various grades and concentrations,
  • a power source / converter / collector of some kind which can gather and store power with which to recharge the other units,
  • most importantly, a data unit with replication templates to convert the various elements into. A backup would be wise.
  • some sort of repair unit would also be a good idea to upkeep all the units.

Other possible combinations are possible, as each unique culture would add or omit items based on the predominate philosophy of the culture, or organization, from which the stranded aliens come from. After all, a civilian survival kit would differ drastically from a military kit, which would again differ from a spy's kit.

Of course, it would not do to omit the most universally useful item of any and all survival kits anywhere in the universe...

...The Towel

  • $\begingroup$ A towel and a guitar $\endgroup$
    – Carl
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Carl I'm more of a woodwind being, myself, so I would pack a recorder or ocarina in my kit, personally. ^^ $\endgroup$
    – nijineko
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 3:12
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    $\begingroup$ @nijineko, Nice perspectives! The prevailing policies this galactic republic has for cultural contamination are from their case law of past incidents. They're also swayed by interest groups opposed to "uplifting" or "interfering" with indigenous cultures on the grounds of ethnocentrism, destroying their autonomy and healthy independent growth. Some do believe they have a duty to help them though. They also went to war before with another interstellar empire that freely uplifted & even fought proxy wars with primitive cultures, so they associate the practice as a negative in that light as well. $\endgroup$
    – Dakacha
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 6:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Dakacha Oh! That all sounds interesting - quite the backstory. I'd be interested in learning more, should notes or story be available for public consumption. $\endgroup$
    – nijineko
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ @nijineko thanks! So far everything is in a Scrivener file, but I suppose I could post something online somewhere. Any suggestions? Maybe a wiki format? I never thought of it... $\endgroup$
    – Dakacha
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 11:56

On top of @JDlugosz answer (upvoted) I would point out that, since the aliens are not allowed to make contact with "aborigens" for many reasons, including legal ones, there are a few concerns:

  • Some way to mask their operations from locals inspection (our planet is constantly monitored for anomalies both locally and from space).
  • Better communication equipment than a generic "distress signal" which sounds akin to a message in a bottle thrown int the ocean. If you need them to be trapped for extended period of time, for plot reasons, you should justify why they can't "phone home".
  • If their marooning on Earth is to last they will need some way to interact with "locals" without being recognized, either via effective disguise or via some purpose-built android.
  • Rationale is they might need "refueling" for their replicator or things it cannot produce; chance of this happening (or replicator breakdown) increase with time, of course.
  • Alternatively they could start another wave of "vampires" plaguing some already "infested" region (e.g.: Transylvania) and disguise it as a P.R. trick to attract tourists. Many variations on the theme are available.

As always much depends on your plot needs.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nice ideas! You've touched on some things I've planned for later in the plot. For the distress signal, they may be using advanced alien encryption techniques or another exotic form of communication. There is a stealth observation/relay satellite in our solar system that we humans cannot detect, which is what they are trying to communicate with. Enemy Reptilians that secretly control Earth's governments soon detect and jam this signal. I was indeed thinking they would build an android to interact with the locals, but I'm not sure what materials they would need for an android or a replicator. $\endgroup$
    – Dakacha
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 11:22


I once read a Sci-Fi short story which title I cannot recall and most details are also blurred in my memory. What they did extremely well was the generalisation and multi-purpose use of the tools of a similar escape bot. Actually, the only detail I can recall is a fishing rod nee local transmission antenna nee tent stand nee metal rod for self-defence. What was is really? A telescopic thin tube of metal, similar to a rod antenna, sturdy enough when collapsed, long enough when extracted.

I would guess that all tools in your survival kit would be either this insanely multi-purpose (even if troubling some of the functions) or made on spot with some super-tech.


At least on Earth all survival and tech repair kits are supplemented basing on the experience of survivors. So expect these some items that are not really plausible, but may have helped once someone to survive.

There was another short story by Divov (Russian Sci-Fi kicks back!) when during a mysterious course of events, astronauts/cosmonauts in a space station only survived because one of them smuggled a sledgehammer (sledgehammer, Karl!) on board. The guy who did it was severely punished. But since then a sledgehammer is an integral part of a tool kit on the station.

So, I would expect things like "why are they packaging hundreds of square meters [insert your galactic units instead] of a thin isolating plastic film that also doubles as a photovoltaics battery, can be used as emergency blanket, and can repair holes in space shuttle walls if combined with that superglue?" Don't we have our super-proton-fusion reactor on board for power? (It was improvised sometimes earlier by a stranded group whose reactor broke.)

  • $\begingroup$ Great! Piggybacking off of JDługosz's comment, I think for simple tools they could rely on their basic replicator (with recipes from past experiences), but it makes sense to have these insanely multi-purpose multi-tools as well. Maybe the replicator can only make things to a certain level of complexity, or needs exotic materials not found in nature, so for those complex tools they have a stock of generalized super-tech tools with many functions. There is a trend even in our modern world to make things multi-purpose (e.g. smart phones) so this makes perfect sense, and it saves tons of space! $\endgroup$
    – Dakacha
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ Even worse: the replicator might break. So you need to supply basic tools just in case in the form of insane multitools. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 11:40

Beyond the obvious rations, weapons, water, medicine, shelter and clothing, you would have to have some means of hiding from the indigenous life like a portable holographic generator, invisibility cloak or better still a SEP field generator.

The other thing you would need is some kind of interstellar EPIRB so you can get help because space is very big and finding someone is extremely difficult.

I doubt they would rely solely on replication because it would require significant energy and would be tapped into the ship's power supply which might not be working.

  • $\begingroup$ good points. I was thinking the shuttle may have some reflective armor (useful against laser weaponry), but that would make it shiny and stick out more (plus, do shuttles need that much armor?)... It indeed should have a type of EPIRB. I like the idea of them being able to camouflage themselves, maybe with an invisibility tarp or something like you suggested. The power supply is a problem. A shuttle couldn't generate power the same way the main ship could so perhaps it works off of a potent exotic fuel source or some sort of power cells... Thank you, this raises new questions... $\endgroup$
    – Dakacha
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ Biggest problem with invisibility or holograms is that it doesn't keep wildlife or natives away. Something might to climb the rock or walk smack bang into the side of the invisible ship. $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 4:27


Supremely competent boy scout aliens are boring. They are well prepared for every eventuality and deal efficiently with their situation, blah blah. Where is the story?

No, these aliens are the victims of a disaster. The shuttle was being used as a storage shed, was not ready to go and the refugees made it away from the ship by the skin of their teeth. The aliens themselves are mostly pure scientists who expected to have a scientifically and professionally rewarding sojurn observing Neptune; they are impractical, irascible geniuses with soft hands. By good luck the escapees include the ship's hydroponics expert and the sexologist, who are a little more capable.

Everything they need must be MacGyvered up from things that happened to be on the shuttle (what's in those boxes, anyway?) and what they can find, steal or trade for on Earth.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think that absolutely nothing is a bit extreme, as even privately owned small boats out on a lake generally have something, but I like the answer nonetheless +1. Both competent-boy-scout-aliens and barely-surviving-scientist-aliens would make for good stories in different ways. $\endgroup$
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Aaron - you are right that nothing is extreme. They would have nothing with that was planned in advance to help them in their current situation. They might have a fair bit of other stuff. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ Coming back to this next-day: having zero emergency equipment would be extreme in a realistic scenario, but as this is for a story it should be fine for multiple reasons. A small dose of suspension of disbelief is fine. Also, maybe these aliens have never had an emergency before; everything else they have ever done has always gone perfect... that could make a good background for a comedy. $\endgroup$
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that if they are insanely well prepared it would be less interesting, but I think if they are too under-prepared they would just die. If the shuttle wasn't intended for the possibility of being an escape craft, it may not have features necessary for their survival - being able to filter a foreign atmosphere, survive entry into an atmosphere, contain EVA suits, contain edible food, etc. I do agree that they shouldn't be supremely competent boy scouts though - they can't technobabble their way out of any situation, and they will run out of resources unless they figure something out. $\endgroup$
    – Dakacha
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 11:11

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