I told you I would be a lying sack of shit if I said I wasn't going to write about Avatar
again. This entry, however, is only tangentially related.
Long before that movie, I was a big fan of the idea of interstellar travel
- the idea of travel between the stars. Not so much in the Star Trek
sense of warp speed leaps in hours between stars, but in a realistic, scientifically accurate understanding of what it would take to get to another star. It's something I've been following since about the age of ... probably thirteen or so, and has waxed and waned over the course of my life from and idle curiosity to a near obsession at some points.
Now, I'm not an expert by any means. I only consider myself to be a well-read amateur on the subject.
For those of you have reading for awhile, my first piece of published fiction (and, unfortunately, so far the only, but more on that at a later date) was a story called Beneath the Sea of Stars
, that ran in the conbooks for Furry Weekend Atlanta 2004 and Rocket City Furmeet 2006. It was set aboard a sub-light starship. While mostly a little slice-of-life romantic story, I added in a few touches of reasonably accurate science (a sub-light starship featuring rotating compartments and a weightless center section, a reasonably close star system
, gravity boosting, etc).
When the first trailer for Avatar
came out about six months or so ago, the first thing I noticed that made me say "holy shitballs, I have to see this movie," was this shot
of the spacecraft seen at the very beginning of the movie. My thought process at the time was: holy carp, a movie about space travel with a reasonably accurate picture of what an interstellar spacecraft would probably look like based on our current understanding. Umpossible! So I was reading a little bit about the ship today over at Pandorapedia
. Once again, I was blown away by how much work Cameron and his team put into getting everything right in their universe, including the science on interstellar travel. Just read the article about a spacecraft that was featured on the screen for about 30 seconds
Anyways. Enough fanboi. Back to interstellar travel.
In reading the article, a lot of the science and engineering work on it is pretty clearly visible. Acceleration, relativistic time dilation, methods of propulsion are accounted for in the article and all, really, are nothing that hasn't been talked about in most of the books and papers I've read on the subject. It keeps within the realm of current thought. So I kept reading.
Further down in the article where crew is discussed, I came across this:
Unfortunately, the cost of shipping back personnel precludes returning individuals still under contract who have medical problems that cannot be treated on Pandora, so they are euthanized there.
But then I paused. And at one moment, I realized that, in all my thinking about this subject from an engineering and scientific standpoint, I realized I had never
considered the ethical, moral, and humanistic aspects of the subject. Even now, considering that this type of research is confined to the bleeding edge of space travel science (and these guys are thinking about it in their spare time), it wouldn't surprise me to know that, probably, not many ethicists, or psychologists, have been brought in to consult on the subject of interstellar travel.
In many ways, people on manned expeditions to another star would be more alone than any human in history. I mean, hell, even the journey of the Mayflower
was about 10 weeks from England to the New World. Under the absolute best of conditions, we're talking years before a person on an interstellar expedition would see home again ... if ever.
So here you are, on a remote planet orbiting a star 11.9 light years from Earth. Even at .5c, it's about 22 years
home. You are a pioneer, on the frontier just like the pioneers in wagons of old. There may be only a couple dozen people on the expedition. In a situation like that, if you are injured or become ill beyond whatever field medicine would be available, would euthanasia be acceptable?
It sure would make a fascinating paper.