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If you’re going to move to another star system, you might as well go big. That’s the idea behind worldships — starships that would carry everything you’d need to set up a colony at another star.

Worldships came from science fiction. But a few scientists and engineers have studied how they might work.

They’d carry thousands of people — maybe tens of thousands. That means they’d be many miles long. And they’d carry everything needed to sustain the people on board for the trip.

And it would be a long one. Many concepts of worldships envision peak speeds of maybe one percent of the speed of light. At that speed it would take more than 400 years to reach the closest star other than the Sun, Proxima Centauri.

A ship would need to be shielded from radiation and collisions with space rocks, and it would have to be able to repair itself.

The main challenge, though, might be social. The trip would last for generations — plenty of time for social order to break down. So the way the society is organized and controlled would need a lot of thought and T-L-C.

A recent study said it could be centuries before the global economy could pay for a worldship. And it pointed out a possible problem that also shows up in science fiction: When a worldship reaches its destination, it might find the place already inhabited — by people traveling in faster starships invented long after the worldship left Earth.

More about star travel tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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