The Social Implications of Interstellar Travel

Artist Representation of what it might look like to move at warp speed.

It is likely that all of us have grown up with at least one media account of the final frontier, be that Star Wars, Star Trek, Martian, or even Men in Black. Because of the inherent human fascination with the notion of interstellar travel, with arguably the greatest (presently) unanswerable question known to our species, we grow up inundated with creative, and scientifically unlikely representation of what it is like out there, how they are going to get here, and everything in between. However, in Cosmic Perspective’s chapter “Life in the Universe,” a question was posed which was new to me, which both fascinated and alarmed me.

“What are the social implications of interstellar travel?”

The text assumes that someday mankind could create a mechanism which could travel at (or near) the speed of light. Within this assumption, the text also assumes that with this technological advancement mankind would also have created the proper protection mechanisms so that the astronauts, space-travelers of our descendants would be able to survive the trip through seemingly life-destroying speeds. With these ducks in a row, our astronaut-descendants rocket through time and space. They now, also, rocket into a huge problem. Because of the nature of time, and the passage of it on Earth versus in our super interstellar rocket, being in that rocket would be like being in a time capsule. Traveling a two-year journey on that rocket (two years of provision, of cellular aging of the astronauts, of existence and life) would mean that 50 or so years had passed on planet Earth. Husbands, wives, children, family members, would have lived five decades whilst you travelled to Alpha Centauri and back; and you would now be 48 years younger than someone who was born the same year as you. This might be doable for someone without family, friends, or close connections, but how many of those people exist?  And what are the chances those people would be the astronauts sent through space and time?

Though these problems are not relevant now, they are something which need to be seriously considered as the technology develops to potentially make this dream a reality. What trade-offs are worth the opportunity to travel amongst the stars?

Read more about the physical limitations of warp speed here.


One thought on “The Social Implications of Interstellar Travel

  1. This is a really interesting topic and it’s strange to think about all the different questions you posed. I think it’s also strange to think about not only how people’s individual lives would be affected by aging two years while their family and friends age 48, but also how society would change because of it. I really enjoy seeing how movies and TV shows portray that side of things such as Interstellar and Passengers. You bring up a lot of good questions and problems though that we will have to deal with if/when we ever manage to travel to other stars. I like your point about how many people actually have no connections and are 100% okay with leaving the Earth as they know it.


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