Space Ark

from Rendezvous with Rama (1973) by Arthur C. ClarkeRating: 3.9     (33 ratings)

Yes, Mr. Ambassador, I think I have some information of interest. What we have here is undoubtedly a 'space ark.' It's an old idea in the astronautical literature. I've been able to trace it back to the British physicist J. D. Bernal, who proposed this method of interstellar colonization in a book published in 1929 -- yes, two hundred years ago! And the great Russian pioneer Tsiolkovsky put forward somewhat similar proposals even earlier.

If you want to go from one star system to another, you have a number of choices. Assuming that the speed of light is an absolute limit -- and that's still not completely settled, despite anything you may have heard to the contrary... you can make a fast trip in a small vessel, or a slow journey in a giant one.

There seems no technical reason why spacecraft cannot reach ninety per cent, or more, of the speed of light. That would mean a travel time of five to ten years between neighboring stars -- tedious, perhaps, but not impracticable, especially for creatures whose life spans might be measured in centuries. One can imagine voyages of this duration carried out in ships not much larger than ours.

But perhaps such speeds are impossible, with reasonable pay loads. Remember, you have to carry the fuel to slow down at the end of the voyage, even if you're on a one-way trip. So it may make more sense to take your time -- ten thousand, a hundred thousand years.

Bernal and others thought this could be done with mobile worldlets a few kilometers across, carrying thousands of passengers on journeys that would last for generations. Naturally, the system would have to be rigidly closed, recycling all food, air, and other expendables. But, of course, that's just how the Earth operates -- on a slightly larger scale.

Some writers suggested that these space arks should be built in the form of concentric spheres; others proposed hollow, spinning cylinders so that centrifugal force could provide artificial gravity -- exactly what we've found in Rama."

- Dr. Carlisle Perera

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Rendezvous With Rama (Macmillan Readers)