Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sailing Distant Seas


Horses have a time-honored place on interstellar colony planets. As with so much involving space, plausible or otherwise, I first encountered this image in the Heinlein juveniles. It probably gained its widest reach in popular culture more recently, in Firefly. I do not recall, now, whether the show explained why worlds settled centuries from now would have people riding around on horseback.

For a Heinlein reader no explanation was needed. Horses, he pointed out, manufactured their replacements, saving the expense of shipping them out from Earth. (Or the Alliance core worlds, or wherever advanced technology is firmly established.)

It was all quite plausible sounding. Which shot two varmints with one gun, because it also made Bat Durston seem plausible. He didn't need to sing to his trusty spaceship, or even give it a treat of sugar, because he could do those things with an actual horse. (Is sugar good for horses?)

Enough about horses. As you might anticipate from the title, this post considers a nautical variation of that trope, the use of sailing ships. My old future history had a colony world named Seychelle, a 'pelagic' planet with most its population living in the archipelago of Myrianesia.

The geology of such a world poses its own questions. Is Myrianesia a nearly-flooded continent, a supra-Hawaii shield volcano system, or some other type of feature not found on Earth. Could a planet with minimal dry land develop complex life, or even be suitable for terraforming?

But given such a world, much of its transport would have to move by sea, even at early stages of colonization. Limited and costly imports of marine technology invite solutions utilizing local materials and power sources - and wind power for sea transport is a technology known to work.

Sailing ships, unlike horses, do not reproduce. (D'oh!) But they don't need fuel, and the power plants presumably won't need to be imported from Earth. Nor require teams of outrageously specialized maintenance techs to keep them running.

Technical considerations aside, when it comes to the Rule of Cool, sailing ships rank very high, and that of course is the real motivation for this discussion. In my future history, Seychelle becomes one of the most important colony worlds, center of a trading empire. By that time it is industrialized enough that sailing vessels are no longer the basis of local surface trade. But the sail seamanship tradition has become part of the culture, and part of the training of University starship crews.

A link to Atomic Rockets for the hell of it, though it has no page on sailing ships, if any mention of them at all.


It all seems rather pretty (for values of pretty that resemble mine), and even plausible. But the inevitable niggles arise. Sailing ships don't require lab-coated techs to keep them going, but they do require rated able seamen, and in substantial numbers.

To put things in historical perspective, steam was making major inroads into ocean trade by the mid-19th century. By the start of the high industrial era, about a century ago, sailing ships survived only in marginal trades. And that was in competition with steam engines that by today's standards were, well, steampunk technology - massive, clumsy, inefficient maintenance hogs.

Which - alas! - makes it hard to believe that a robust young colony would would not be able to find better solutions (cheaper, faster, easier to maintain, etc.) for its maritime transport needs than sailing vessels, no matter how beautiful to the romantic eye and mind.

Backslidden colonies - another popular operatic trope - might be a somewhat different matter. I am not quite sure that even backslidden worlds would simply recapitulate the terrestrial past. If they retain partial knowledge or capabilities they might have an odd mix of techs. If they lost practically everything their eventual rebuilding could be unlike any of our familiar images. (For one reference point, compare Chinese junks to western ships of comparable techlevel.) But backslidden worlds may be a topic for another post.

A more meta response is to say that any setting with colony worlds sufficiently Earthlike for oceangoing ships of any sort is, for all practical purposes, space opera. And space opera is essentially a branch of fantasy with SF trappings. It is not just beyond the Plausible Midfuture: It has no more to do with the PMF than dragons do, and niggles about its technology are merely ... niggles.

The equally meta response to which is that the (pseudo-) plausibility of worlds is part of their essence. A world with flying sailing ships is one sort of beast. A world that purports to have recognizable schooners sets itself a different standard for the willing suspension of disbelief. And having set that standard it must live up to it, or pay the price of not quite seeming believable to the reader.

Discuss.




Via Wikipedia comes this image of an Oracle racing craft of the type I sometimes see training for America's Cup. (Apparently this is the Swedish version of Wikipedia, but the image seems to reference a German prize. Go figure.) To my traditionalist eye the Oracle racers are not things of beauty, but they are astonishingly fast. Modern sailing tech certainly books right along!

85 comments:

Damien Sullivan said...

I don't remember Firefly giving a specific reason, but the Heinlein reason seems to fit. Bunch of worlds got terraformed (including their gravity... oookay, then again "Out of Gas" suggests artificial gravity doesn't need power) and people got dumped on them to scrabbled in the dirt.

"40,000 in Gehenna" comes to mind, and "Cyteen", though the same logic of 'claiming' a world before someone else gets to it doesn't seem to fit. Then again we know nothing of Alliance history, not even if the Independents were rebels or conquered independents or ambiguous.

Damien Sullivan said...

I am not quite sure that even backslidden worlds would simply recapitulate the terrestrial past. If they retain partial knowledge or capabilities they might have an odd mix of techs

I'm pretty sure they wouldn't simply recapitulate and that they would have an odd mix. Starting with retaining literacy and basic hygiene and inoculation, for example.

Also, the terrestrial past isn't a clean sequence. Even in the European sequence, people tend to forget that the Dark Ages were, y'know, dark compared to what came before them: a far ranging fairly organized bureaucratic empire with taxes and roads and apartments and letters of credit and lower class graffiti. Arguably the default "low tech" past should be not feudalism but a strong if slow empire: Egypt Sumer Babylon Assyrians Romans Parthians China Mauryans Kushans Guptas Islamic empires Mongols...

Sub-Saharan Africa skipped bronze and went straight to iron. The Americas never even did much in bronze, but had advanced metallurgy for gold and silver, zero possibly before anyone else, suspension (rope) bridge, a very very long empire united by runners, terraforming, and agriculture stable for 4000 years without degradation, all without leaving the stone age.

Tech isn't linear, especially when we get into less- or different-material techs, or social organization. Athens had democracy, Sparta had totalitarianism. The Incas had despotism, the Aztecs something complex (also compulsory universal education), the Iroquois had a constitutional republic...

kedamono@mac.com said...

Well, with a pelagic world dotted with small islands and archipelagos, there is no large landmass to stop large, permanent hurricanes from forming in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

Also, depending on how old the world is, you might also run into ice ball world scenarios. There might be vulcanism on this world, so it won't stay frozen for long. Well, long in geological terms.

Colonies on such world would have to deal with high humidity, intense windstorms, and the oncoming hurricane. Life on such a world would be interesting.

Z said...

I think it's actually entirely reasonable to have sailing ships- certainly more plausible than horses. As it stands, there are companies that are seeking to capitalize on high-performance materials and computers to get sails back into the commercial mix- two I know of working with automated kitesails, and at least one prototype ship cutting its fuel burn with Flettner rotors, and interest in high-performance wing sails in the wake of all the America's Cup boats blowing everyone away. Heck, years ago I built a little model catamaran that used a Darrius wind turbine to drive the prop, and then it can drive straight upwind if you like, keep station in any wind, you name it. If we're considering getting back to wind power on this planet, for economic and ecological concerns, it wouldn't surprise me in the least for a planet sans fossil fuels (or where you didn't want to unpack them and head down that road again) or where you wanted to devote your nascent chemical industry to making something besides fuel for engines or fuel cells, to stick with sails from the get-go. Nukes are always a choice, but they're also always a hassle, especially when they are mobile and the middle of a biosphere. I might suggest that oak and canvas might not be quite the speed, but maybe- sails don't take high temperatures, and they have a long history of being built out of easy-to-form, self-replicating materials, which might be just the ticket if the industry is still importing the good stuff at a thousand bucks a kilo.

So yes. And if you have an oceanic, floating tether site for your space elevator, as some as proposed, maybe your visitors can step straight off the ride from orbit and hop on a great winged sailing ship.

Brett said...

To put things in historical perspective, steam was making major inroads into ocean trade by the mid-19th century. By the start of the high industrial era, about a century ago, sailing ships survived only in marginal trades.

Coal-fired steam ships depended on a worldwide network of coal re-fueling stations (Hawaii was one of them for the British). Quite a few steamships in the mid-to-late 19th century were "steam clippers" that combined sails and steam engines for travel. Even then, pure sail-powered clippers didn't really go into serious decline until after the Suez Canal was finished in 1869, and they hung around in certain parts of the world until the end of the 19th century.

If you wanted to keep pure sailing ships in your low-tech, local resource colony, the easiest way to do it would be to give the world extremely limited supplies of coal and hydrocarbons. Since coal mostly came from the "coal forests" of the Carboniferous Period, it's easy enough to postulate a world where it's next to non-existent. Oil and gas are trickier, but you could probably use different ecosystems and the fact that the world is mostly covered by oceans as a means of making it very difficult to extract.

Do that, and you might have sailing ships for a very long time. They might even last indefinitely if your colony has little that can be turned into synthetic fuel (like turning corn into alcohol), or a lack of accessible uranium to power very large ships.

@Kedamono
Well, with a pelagic world dotted with small islands and archipelagos, there is no large landmass to stop large, permanent hurricanes from forming in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

You could weaken the Coriolis forces by giving the planet a slower rotation (like a 35-hour day). That would greatly weaken the tendency of the planet's weather to form cyclones.

That said, I think it would be better to do the whole "partially submerged continent" thing. Have the planet be in a particularly warm period - like the Early Cretaceous - where the sea levels are high and polar ice is non-existent. You could have an Africa-sized continent where all the lowlands have been flooded, creating a maze of islands and shallow seas.

kedamono@mac.com said...

@Brett, yes, slowing down the planet's rotation can help, but that depends on the size of the world's moon and how old the planet is. If it's young, it's a fast rotator. An older world, say 5 or 6 billion years old might not be very nice to live on because the local star, assuming K or G spectral type, will have gotten hotter.

Also, a water world would have much more water vapor in the atmosphere and that's a greenhouse gas. Too hot, you get lots of vapor and a very hot and muggy planet.

And the problem with shallow seas is that they are always warm, and warm water is a hurricane turbo charger. So that large, sunken African sized continent would breed cyclones or supercharge them.

As for sailing vessels, if you have a pond scum world, with early blue-green algae analogs, you got no oil, no easily gotten to hydrocarbon compounds. Well, actually you do: the pond scum.

The colony would have to process pond scum to make its plastics and lubrication oils. Depending on the efficiencies and the exact composition of the pond scum, it may be cheaper to make sails than to try to make fuel oil.

But would they be "sail" ships, or as Z pointed out, Flettner Rotors or other non-sail based wind power?

Sabersonic said...

Been a while since I posted on this blog....

Anyway, though Atomic Rockets suggests a logical reasoning for horses on other planets, one would also have to take into consideration the chemical makeup and mineral composition of a certain colony world's soil. It would be particularly hard to grow the wheat to feed said horses if the topsoil makes the characteristic "Fields of Grain" economically difficult to maintain at best, let alone feed the rest of the colonists.

The sailing ship concept would seem more plausible in retrospective, especially if the planetary resources limit the amount of industrialization, especially resources that are easier to obtain despite the infrastructure any intelligent and long planning species would bring to a (relatively) virgin world, as many commentators would note.

Of course, this would question the idea of a colony world having a rich history in maritine trading to be the center of interstellar trade and noticeably powerful merchants handling said trade if the local resources severely limit such technological advancement. Though then again, that doesn't rule out the idea that space-supportive infrastructure and industry is imported. Granted, it would probably also be helpful if the FTL drive in question in such a setting would allow for a kind of transplantation between nautical and interstellar navigation.

Then again, it'll probably help if one goes the whole Space Opera route and go with author's fiat.

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Eth said...

As Z points out, it is also possible to use a wind turbine instead of a sail. Some even say that today, it may me more efficient than using a sail. The biggest advantage is that you are less constrained by the direction of the wind. (You are the most effective against the wind, but you can still follow the wind's direction with correct efficiency.)
Wind turbines would probably be quite easy to manufacture for a young colony with limited industrial, technological and trading capabilities than, say, pocket nuclear reactors. On the other hand, sails would be even easier to manufacture.

For a backslidden or poor world, they may have far more effective sailing ships than anything we had on Earth in the past centuries.
Today's sails are created using advanced wind tunnels and computer simulations, making them incredibly more efficient. If the backslidder world still have those formulas, or cheap computers to make them again, they will have effective sailing ships, even if they are not capable to manufacture advanced materials and machines.
Also, they may have kept automation technologies, allowing them to build automated sailing ships, or ships needing only a handful of sailors.

Eth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan said...

While not totoally OT, The answer to the question: Could a planet with minimal dry land develop complex life

Is a resounding 'yes' - complex (a meaningless term) i.e. multicellular life on earth evolved in the sea - plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and pretty much any other major group of lifeforms you can name arose in the sea. Sea-based algae oxygenated our atmosphere; even today 70-80% of the O2 we have comes from the sea.

Life on land is,at least on our planet, an aberration. The first land-based organisms were plants, invading land around 450MYA. Meaning that today, life has been on land for about 12% of lifes history.

On a planet with minimal land, you probably would see some land-based organisms. Assuming an earth-like biology, any available niche would eventually be filled. But you probably would not see the diversity of terrestrial organisms we have on earth.

Bryan said...

I don't think sailing ships would be all that out-of-place on an advanced world. There has been discussions today of shipping cargo using kite and sail and other wind-harnessed (as well as wave-harnessed) vessels. In a new world devoid of readily available fossil fuels (or equivalents), sail may very well be the best way around.

As for human crews, the need for them in an advanced world may be minimal. Some of todays sailboats are advanced to the point where they all but sail themselves - furling and raising of the sails, setting the sails, even optimising sail angles, can all be computer controlled. We probably have the tech already to make it completely automated.

In some ways that may be the ideal cargo vessel - little or no crew (and the subsequent costs - food, wages, etc), little or no fuel expenses, etc.

Byron said...

Sailing ships strike me as plausible for use on mid-range worlds. By that, I mean worlds that are a generation or two old, but not totally self-sufficient in high technology.
As mentioned above, modern sailing vessels are significantly more efficient then those in use during the days of sail. All modern sailing vessels are small and generally recreational. We've never seen a modern cargo sailing ship. Designs aren't hard to transmit, and even if the ship is wood and cloth, it will be much better then what we used to have.

I disagree with horses as good transport. The problem is that making use of them requires a fully-terraformed planet. Horses are big, hungry, and don't understand concepts like heavy-metal toxicity. At least at first, it's far easier to use machines, and by the time it becomes practical to use horses, I think that mechanization will be practical.

Damien:
Bunch of worlds got terraformed (including their gravity... oookay, then again "Out of Gas" suggests artificial gravity doesn't need power) and people got dumped on them to scrabbled in the dirt.
No, the artificial gravity just takes a while to fail. What they actually do during terraforming is downright scary. They literally shrink the world until the gravity is earth-normal, and spin it so that the days and seasons are the same.

Damien Sullivan said...

They literally shrink the world

Is that based on textev somewhere, or is it your gloss/joke?

Brett said...

@Damien Sullivan
Is that based on textev somewhere, or is it your gloss/joke?

It was in the data file thing that came with the Complete and Official Map of the Verse. This is the direct link, although I'd be careful - it's a pretty big PDF file.

Shrinking the world sounds like a bad way to terraform it, though. Wouldn't that release a ton of heat, which would show up as a molten surface? You'd need to wait for the planet to cool down.

Trying to rationalize the 'Verse is generally impossible. The whole system is built around a white A0 star that probably wouldn't live long enough for terrestrial planets to completely cool down.

kedamono@mac.com said...

@Brett, even there it's not quite clear. In the show, they never ever said that it was just one star system. It was left open. I think Joss Whedon later changed his mind and retconned it being a single system. But, for the movie, they changed it to a multiple start system:

http://www.fireflyshipworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/verse-frontbig1.jpg

How many stars? 14 based on this official poster:

http://www.fireflyshipworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/verse-backbig1.jpg

They must be in a small cluster of stars for this to exist.

Rick said...

Milo isn't able to log on at all now, so he asked me to post his comment. So ...

Milo =

A question I have recently found myself wondering about (not related to the subject of this blog, obviously), is how sailing ships would stack up to motor ships if you had access to weather control magic that ensures you always have favorable winds.

My cursory research suggests not that well. Even fast sailing ships (clippers, windjammers) with tailwinds clock at around 30-40 km/h, while modern destroyers and passenger liners can go around 50-60 km/h. Better winds might give you more, but make them too strong and your ship capsizes. Meanwhile modern cargo ships are slower, but can carry tens or hundreds of kilotons, to the windjammer's 2-5 kilotons. Plus sails are fragile.

If you compare to early steamships rather than fully modern ships, the windjammer would do somewhat better. Which is fair, since that's what it existed alongside.

(Don't ask why the magic isn't just used to propel the ships directly. It's magic.)



Rick:

"Could a planet with minimal dry land develop complex life,"

Well, life originally evolved in the sea, so yes... kinda.

The question isn't how much dry land you have, but rather how shallow or deep your seas are. What you need for a healthy planet is widespread shallow seas. Since shallow seas are normally around the outlines of landmasses, having few landmasses is bad news in this regard.

However, there are probably other factors you could handwave to keep your seas relatively shallow in many places.


"or even be suitable for terraforming?"

Sure, why not? It'll support a fairly low human population, but in principle it should be no harder to terraform than any other planet.


"But the sail seamanship tradition has become part of the culture, and part of the training of University starship crews."

What. Why?

Are they worried that starships might crashland on the ocean and need to use sail-powered lifeboats or something?

Or is it just an "all civilized gentlemen know this, even if it's completely useless" kind of thing?


"A link to Atomic Rockets for the hell of it, though it has no page on sailing ships, if any mention of them at all."

It has some discussion on solar sailing, though!


"Sailing ships don't require lab-coated techs to keep them going, but they do require rated able seamen, and in substantial numbers."

Windjammers are noted to have "surprisingly small" crews, which, after a little more digging, are comparable to those of modern bulk carriers. Of course, bulk carriers are much bigger.


"A more meta response is to say that any setting with colony worlds sufficiently Earthlike for oceangoing ships of any sort is, for all practical purposes, space opera."

Yeah. I really shouldn't need to explain this, but sailing ships only work if you have an atmosphere. And preferably a breathable atmosphere, since it seems kind of silly to be able to build airlocks but not motors. Plus you don't want to wear spacesuits while climbing around on the rigging and hoisting the sails.

Rick said...

More forwarded from

Milo =

kedamono@mac.com:

"Well, with a pelagic world dotted with small islands and archipelagos, there is no large landmass to stop large, permanent hurricanes from forming in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres."

Bad for all ships, methinks!



Z:

"Nukes are always a choice, but they're also always a hassle, especially when they are mobile and the middle of a biosphere."

The problem with nuclear-powered ships is moreso expense than environmental effects. It takes a robust industry to manufacture nuclear reactors.



Brett:

"Do that, and you might have sailing ships for a very long time. They might even last indefinitely if your colony has little that can be turned into synthetic fuel (like turning corn into alcohol), or a lack of accessible uranium to power very large ships."

So here's a question: does your colony have electricity? Powered by what?



kedamono@mac.com:

"If it's young, it's a fast rotator."

Say what?

I don't think rotation speed is highly predictable by age - it isn't in our solar system. Though admittedly, Earth and Mars are actually very close, and Mercury has the excuse of being semi-tidally-locked, although Venus just seems weird - it's even rotating retrograde.


"An older world, say 5 or 6 billion years old might not be very nice to live on because the local star, assuming K or G spectral type, will have gotten hotter."

So put the planet farther out so it started off cold and warmed up to human-comfortable temperatures.

Or live in the polar regions. (If that's where your few islands happen to be...)


"But would they be "sail" ships, or as Z pointed out, Flettner Rotors or other non-sail based wind power?"

This comes down to the rather simple principle that wind turbines are ugly.



Sabersonic:

"Granted, it would probably also be helpful if the FTL drive in question in such a setting would allow for a kind of transplantation between nautical and interstellar navigation."

FTL seagoing ships? For our next trick: crossing the Atlantic Ocean in under 30 milliseconds!



Bryan:

"Life on land is,at least on our planet, an aberration. The first land-based organisms were plants, invading land around 450MYA. Meaning that today, life has been on land for about 12% of lifes history."

However, Rick specifically asked about complex life, which has been around for only around 540 million years.


"On a planet with minimal land, you probably would see some land-based organisms."

True. Life invades all sorts of marginal environments on Earth.

What you might see is each island having its own land-based organisms that evolved from sea-based organisms independantly.

Rick said...

By the way, if anyone else is trying to comment but is defeated by Blogger's Brilliant New Improvement [TM], please email me!

(My email is lyonesse [at] compuserve.com - do the obvious replacement.)

Rick said...

Welcome to new and 'returning' commenters!

Limited land area (especially if much of it is rugged semi-submerged mountains) might mean a constraint on the available supply of biofuels, considering that much arable land is needed for food.

Whether this would actually limit availability of marine fuels - as contrasted to fuel for personal cars - is another matter.

On waterworlds and life, I vaguely remember reading that terrestrial life might have first evolved along the land-sea margins. But I'm pretty hazy on all that, and sometimes remember stuff I read 30 years ago as 'new' theories. (Aaargh!)

Milo commits some brutal realism:

Are they worried that starships might crashland on the ocean and need to use sail-powered lifeboats or something?

Or is it just an "all civilized gentlemen know this, even if it's completely useless" kind of thing?


Well, for practical purposes the latter. There's probably some general argument that all sorts of Cool Things - sailing, rock climbing, fencing, whatever - teach alertness, flexibility, yada yada. Whether any of them are particularly helpful for space training is a very open question.

But cultures are very much given to the Rule of Cool!

Definitely sails are prettier than wind turbines, and perhaps easier to work with. (Compare helos to fixed wing aircraft - a sail is after all a flex wing turned end up.)

Anonymous said...

I think that the obvious use for sailing ships on Rick's hypothetical colony is that of personel transport; much like the family car, the family sailboat (or small ship), would be used by people for trips between islands; persumably transportation on an island would be by train,cab, or bicycle...cargo and long range passenger transport would go by faster, more efficent means. Sailing might be more important culturally than practically...

Ferrell

Damien Sullivan said...

So I noticed there's no longer an option to subscribe to comments via e-mail; I have to add an RSS for the page instead.

Don't know if sails are easier than turbines. Seem simpler in some ways, and if you have storage (batteries, liquid fuel and generator) you can keep the electric ship going even without wind.

I think the Firefly verse is 5 stars; there's only five names in cursive. The "other" stars might be just showing where the others are relative to the named one on a row.

Complex life with shells is 540 million years old. Multicellular life is somewhat older, cf. Ediacara. No shells, not many fossils.

There's more ways of synthesizing liquid fuel than biofuel. Also, if there's all that ocean, algae or seaweed can provide biomass. Or even "whaling".

Sabersonic said...

Rick:

FTL seagoing ships? For our next trick: crossing the Atlantic Ocean in under 30 milliseconds!

Actually I meant the philosophies (not sure if that's the exact wording) of navigation between surface and interstellar craft. An example would be a hyperspace with "eddies" and "currents" that need to be navigated and utilized for the best performance and speed.

As for locally grown fuels Damien Sullivan suggests for this martime colony world, well it would actually depend upon the amount of industrialization the colonists require and more importantly how easily transplanted industry and derivative engines are. If the local industry is pronounced enough, than liquid fuel would be a strategic asset that might balkanize said colony to higher levels depending upon how it's gathered. If not, sailing would be a more economic alternative.

Granted, it also assumes that the local biochemistry allows for the process and refinement of controlled combustion. Said liquid fuel from biological sources are from our own biochemistry, the local flora and fauna may not be so easy to convert into fuel, or even cost effective enough.

As for the whole landmass vs archipelago argument for many factors including harsh hurricane-like winds (and this is assuming that said atmosphere is compatible enough for terran life to flourish short sleved), why not let there be continental or even microcontinental landmasses that are undesirable to the settlers?

How? Well it could range from infertile soil and/or climate that would be disasterous to terran life, to virtual hell worlds that have the "here there be dragons" warning on maps to even local sapient species that make expansion into the landmasses less than desirable (assuming that the setting in question would allow sapient life forms to exist).

Though then again, the hurricane-like stormsystems would still be a hazzard for sail/turbine-craft, but they would not be so long lived. Unless one wishes for a hurricane analogue to Moby Dick, or even living storm systems if one really wants to take a trip to the wierd side but that's beyond the current discussion as far as I can tell.

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Anonymous said...

Sailing ships? Why not?!

Seriously, I can't think of a reason why an ocean liner of the future wouldn't have a means of harnessing the wind. It might be purely for supplementary power but still...

~~
Samantha

kedamono@mac.com said...

And shades of Seaquest if the winds are too much, then you might want to consider submersibles. Those would have to be nuclear powered. Whether by U235 or by Thorium, subs work best on nuclear energy.

As for the permanent hurricanes, I've done more research on the topic. If there is no ice at the poles, and the temperature differential between the equator and the poles is not very great, then you won't see hurricanes forming. They depend mostly on the temperature differential between the equator and the poles.

This doesn't mean you get nice weather, you still get circulation patters and winds that blow constantly from one direction. From the East for the Northern hemisphere and from the West in the Southern. The equator is where all the weather comes from, as this is the boundary zone between the two. Making it a place for space elevators problematic.

Still, it would be an interesting world to visit.

Thucydides said...

For fallen cultures, sailing ships would actually be "high tech", and the first sub groups who are able to recreate this would have a big advantage (think of the Vikings, or if you are more commercially minded, the Venetians).

Since we are talking about a world with limited land, there would be no option of retreating to the continental interiors (nor horse empires), although I do recall seeing the pattern of settlement in Cyprus; people lived on the coasts when there was a stable and secure environment (i.e. the Classical Greek era, the Roman period after the pirates had been cleared out and during the period of Venetian rule). During other times, people retreated from the coasts so there would be ample warning when raiding vessels struck, and the raiders would be forced to disembark and move inland against an aroused and mobilized population. If you are looking at a "Sword and Sorcery" epic, or something like "King David's Spaceship", these considerations might come in handy.

Semi submerged continents can host a spectacular ecosystem. North America during the Cretaceous period was essentially submerged between the Rockies and Appalachian mountains yet hosted massive populations of what most people recognize as the climax species of dinosaurs.

Scott said...

Rick, check out the 'Blue Planet' tabletop role-playing game for ideas on how the biosphere of a 92% ocean planetary surface might work. The short answer is highly-active volcanism, because oceans make a high albedo, and then you have lots of 'South Pacific' atolls.

I've been looking at buying a 14 or 18-foot sailboat, and the 'International 14s' or 18s are about the fastest things on the water. They're seriously the sail-powered equivalent of motorcycles.

Geoffrey S H said...

Regarding the notion of backwards cultures devolving to sailing craft for transport- One must remember that any craft whether it be a galley or a Lugger would be a hideously difficult craft to master. Men 'O War from tyhe 18th century are virtually a lost art now. My grandad, who trained on the Wocester (one of the last sailing craft from that period), was able to run rings about experts and naval ratings when he visted the Victory- the way one individual rope was "twisted" kept them occupied for hours.
Thias goes for medieval Cogs as well- they could be quite diffcult and complex machines to create.

Therefore, I'd advise to not expect "Wooden ships and iron men" to be the result of a technology backward oceanic colony- I'd expect something more similar to Phonecian galleys from a colony with minimal infrastructure and knowledge pools.

And as a historian, I'd like to point out that the Dark Ages saw several technological improvements over the Roman Empire- Chainmail armour and Codex books becoming widespread, clinker-built ships becoming easy to manufacture (and a shift from primitive galleys for Northern Atlantic sailing and the development of smaller polities than the sprawling Empire that had had numerous wars and the throne for sale. Not a comoplete improvement, but not the complete step back from civilisation either. YMMV

Rick said...

Welcome to more new commenters!

Actually I meant the philosophies (not sure if that's the exact wording) of navigation between surface and interstellar craft. An example would be a hyperspace with "eddies" and "currents" that need to be navigated and utilized for the best performance and speed.

That's what I thought was intended. (I was passing on a comment from Milo, rendered incommunicado by Google's 'improvements' to Blogger.)

The climatology of Earthlike planets is an extremely interesting subject in its own right. But also (alas!) an extremely complex one. I did a crude climate sim - it's on my old static website - to try and explore the general effects of an eccentric orbit or high axial tilt. But it is crude, clunky to use, and full of guesswork.

In a post-collapse scenario, sophisticated sailing ships would certainly be a product of the recovery process. People who have suddenly lost their industrial tech don't suddenly learn how to build elegant schooners, or for that matter cogs. (Or even Phoenician galleys.)

On the 'Dark Ages,' there were other aspects of progress as well. The Western provinces were certainly literate, but during the Roman period they created practical no (surviving) literary voice - only inscriptions and such. Nor until the early medieval period, AKA 'Dark Ages,' did they produce chronicles and other accounts of their thinking and experience.

British examples are Gildas and - outstandingly - Bede.

kedamono@mac.com said...

And for an example of a water world, here's one from the idiosyncratic Planetcopia site:

http://www.worlddreambank.org/L/LYR.HTM

Stevo Darkly said...

Rick said:
"But the sail seamanship tradition has become part of the culture, and part of the training of University starship crews."

Milo said:
What. Why?

Are they worried that starships might crashland on the ocean and need to use sail-powered lifeboats or something?


A training excursion aboard a seagoing vessel would at least help train recruits in learning the military hierarchy and culture, how to obey orders, etc. And if you're preparing for a life aboard a space vessel, then "boot camp" aboard a seagoing vessel might be more appropriate training regimen/simulation than at a land base. It might be easier to teach -- or enforce -- certain lessons at sea than on land that would be more applicable to space travel: a certain isolation in close quarters with limited privacy (you can't even hypothetically sneak into town when you're off duty); learning to make due with limited supplies (if it's not aboard, you can't get it until you next touch port, if then; again, no town down the road); etc. You might also combine training cruises with exploration of the lesser-known parts of your watery planet; get the recruits used to encountering unfamiliar environments and life-forms.

Stevo Darkly said...

Regarding a mostly oceanic planet, I wonder if you might have a variation where most of the planet is relatively deep ocean, but there might be a region that is the equivalent of the Tibetan Plateau -- in this case, mostly submerged, but a relatively shallow sea, with mountainous islands peeking above the surface here and there, the tips of mountain ranges forming archipelago chains ... This would apply less to the extreme forms of waterworld, which could have nothing but ocean tens or hundreds of kilometers deep, than to worlds more similar to Earth, but with just enough additional water to mostly cover all the continents.


kedamono@mac.com said:
And shades of Seaquest if the winds are too much, then you might want to consider submersibles. Those would have to be nuclear powered. Whether by U235 or by Thorium, subs work best on nuclear energy.

I see how fierce hurricanes could be a problem on a mostly oceanic planet. I wonder if a colony with a roughly 20th-century level of technology, but without the means of making portable reactors or mining fissionables, could get by with submersible sailing ships. Wait, hear me out! During fair weather, the ships would travel on the surface using sails or other wind-powered technology. During this time they could also deploy solar panels to charge up banks of batteries.

When foul weather approached, maybe the sails or masts could be stowed. Sails could be furled about (or into) their yards; perhaps upright masts could be telescoped down into the deck, or hinged at their base, to swing down into bays in the deck and covered with hatches. The "kite and sail" technology that someone mentioned looks especially stowable. (I had to Google-image-search that to find out what it was; it looks intriguing.)

With everything made watertight, the ship could then take on water as ballast and sink into the depths, and weather out the storm down there. (A tethered buoy with a fiber optic connection could monitor conditions on the surface.)

While submerged, the ship's systems would run on the stored electric power. It might even be able to make a little way with electric motors. If not, it would just sit things out.


After the storm had passed, the ship could blow its ballast, return to the surface, deploy the sails or other wind-powered systems, and be on its way again.

This assumes:
- That being submerged not-so-deep-as-to-put-a-lot-of-pressure-on-your-hull would in fact provide you protection not just from wind but from huge waves on the surface. I have no expertise on this.

- That the crew would have sufficient warning of bad weather to have time to stow the wind-powered gear and submerge the ship. A constellation of weather satellites in orbit, and communication with same, would help -- assuming the colony can afford such.

Brett said...

@Rick channeling Milo
So here's a question: does your colony have electricity? Powered by what?

Wind, water, geothermal, Solar Photovoltaic, and Solar Thermal energy. If you've got a fair amount of volcanic islands, then geothermal energy a la Iceland is a very good possibility.

@Damien Sullivan
I think the Firefly verse is 5 stars; there's only five names in cursive. The "other" stars might be just showing where the others are relative to the named one on a row.

There are five stars and a number of brown dwarfs, but they orbit around the big white star (Class A0 according to the Official Map and associated material).

That A-class dwarf is a problem. Those stars only live for a couple of hundred million years at best, which might not even be enough time for all the planets to completely "settle down".

@kedamono
This doesn't mean you get nice weather, you still get circulation patters and winds that blow constantly from one direction. From the East for the Northern hemisphere and from the West in the Southern.

That would be great for sailing ships. They could ride the currents in predictable patterns, and you would see trade routes along those winds.

@Scott
Rick, check out the 'Blue Planet' tabletop role-playing game for ideas on how the biosphere of a 92% ocean planetary surface might work. The short answer is highly-active volcanism, because oceans make a high albedo, and then you have lots of 'South Pacific' atolls.

92% ocean coverage still gives you a fair mount of dry land on an Earth-sized world. You'd have about 40 million km^2, which about as much as Europe and Africa combined.

I think Blue Planet's Poseidon had 97% ocean coverage, though. That gives you about two Australia's worth of land.

Stevo Darkly said...

kedamono@mac.com said:
If it's young, it's a fast rotator.

Milo said:
Say what?

I don't think rotation speed is highly predictable by age - it isn't in our solar system. Though admittedly, Earth and Mars are actually very close, and Mercury has the excuse of being semi-tidally-locked, although Venus just seems weird - it's even rotating retrograde.


Well, within our system all the planets are probably all about the same age; the variation found among the inner terrestrial planets just gives an idea of the amount of variation possible. We would have to be able to compare similarly composed solar systems of different ages to get real data. But having said that:

The speed of a planet's rotation is to some degree a random thing: It's going to depend on the relative mass, speed and angle of impact of the planetesimals it coalesced from or was bombarded with during the formation stage, and the resulting momentum they imparted relative to the young planet's existing spin. Did the impacts have the net effect of speeding up the spin in a particular direction? Retarding it? Did they knock the young planet over on its axis so that it now appears to be rotating retrograde?

But it's also probably true that planets will spin slower in their old age than they did in their youth, after being slowed by tides from their primary and/or moons.

So it's a statistical thing: We would expect a rough correlation between the speed of a planet's rotation and its age. However, there can also be a great deal of variation in this, due to random factors in the formation stage. But all other things being equal*, you will be more likely to find fast-rotating planets in a younger system, and slower-rotating planets in an older system. All of this can be true at the same time.

*Addendum: Again, "all other things being equal." And I'm also thinking mainly of a comparison between Earthlike planets in the habitable zone of a Sunlike star. In addition, stars close to their sun will tend to rotate slower due to tidal braking effects. Large planets farther from their star will tend to rotate more rapidly. And even among Earthlike planets, those with large satellites will probably tend to have slower rotations than those without.

Generally! Statistically! With much individual variation possible!

Anonymous said...

Thinking about sea travel on colony worlds has led me to wonder about the nature of navies on these worlds. Barring antigravity surface to orbit capability, it would probably not be possible to transport large ships between worlds, except possibly in dismantled form. Even a shuttle with a hold roughly the same size as that of a C-5 Galaxy would be limited to vessels less than 40 metres long by 6 metres wide by 4 metres tall, smaller than most patrol boats. Colonial navies might therefore only come to prominence once a local shipbuilding industry had been developed.

R.C.

Geoffrey S H said...

@R.C.:

To get a large enough presence into space I imagine the ability to haul thousands of tons into orbit would be a prequesite anyways, so the enhanced magitech propellant that would allow that would probably allow large ships to be sent to orbit to be ftl'd to other worlds. What concerns me more is less the problem of getting such large equipment up, so much as getting it down. Yoou'd need a lot of parachutes to bring down aircraft carriers, even in sections.

That is assuming that regular traffic between worlds (and thus magitch porpellant) would be needed to kick start a colony successfully....

With a little future history I am planning, I tend to try and plan out hypothetical advances in shipbuilding for the next thousand years, and then have colonists on Mars adopt those changes after terraforming.

jollyreaper said...

Cost of energy and materials would be an important consideration.

If your setting doesn't have cheap power, sailing ships could make a lot of sense. Fossil fuels killed the old sailing ships simply because engines allowed for being independent of the wind. But as of today, so many of the cargo ships are running at half power to save on fuel and aren't getting much better speeds than the Yankee clippers.

The only civilian nuke boats on the water right now are ice breakers. It just so happens that the financial situation argues in favor of nuke plants on them. It's not economical to put them on container ships, oil tankers, etc.

If we continue running out of oil and discovered cheap fusion next week, the question would come down to whether it would be cheaper to operate a sailing ship or a fusion ship.

But also as mentioned above, we have new techniques for sailing. I've seen some luxury sailing yachts that are rigged with sails but are all computer-controlled with electric pulleys. One man can sail the entire boat. Other designs replacing the sails with rigid airfoils mounted perpendicular to the deck look nothing like a conventional sailing ship and could also be operated entirely by computer, one helmsman looking it over.

There's a lot of talk about what our own future is going to look like with cheap energy seeming to go away. So much of what we do is predicated on the cost of energy being peanuts. If every watt and erg becomes more dear, economic and financial reality will demand we change our ways. This can lead to some really interesting schizotech. If we look in the third world, farmers can be in touch with the world via cheap cell phones even while driving their produce to market with a horse and cart.

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/

Nyrath said...

On the Atomic Rocket website, AFAIK there is only one mention of sailing ships: the Dutch Fluyt ship, and how it represented the Dutch exploiting the power of wind.

jollyreaper said...

One other thought I had. If you've got massive oceans, there's good promise for floating mats of living material. Seaweed clumps already serve as homes for critters in terrestrial seas. I could see amphibious critters making use of the mats as a way of escaping predation in the sea. "Can't reach me up here!" Until something else decides this is an untapped food source.

Any flora and fauna on the few real islands could result from colonists arriving from the floating mats.

What would be really interesting is if those mats didn't just float but were mobile. There was a super-duper-man'o'war imagined in the show The Future is Wild that could properly sail in the future seas. Imagine if the whole mass migrated from the equator to poleward through the season to stay in the most advantageous weather bands, avoiding equatorial storms in their season.

Depending on the economic activities humans on the planet engaged in, their cities could float and follow the same migration path.

Byron said...

In any sort of foreseeable future, seagoing ships are not going to be transported between planets. For one thing, navies (the seagoing kind) will likely be far more akin to coast guards on most colonies. Even with fairly heavy balkinization, most colonies will be too spread out and too poor to have good navies.
In a navy far more than an army, institutional experience is vital, both in design and operation of ships. Soviet vessels had all sorts of problems that the US didn't, mostly because they lacked that experience.
The other reason is simple. A lot of a naval vessel is simple metal. By the time that anything other then an exploration vessel is required, the colony should be able to produce that simple metal on its own. The vessel might be a kit, with the expensive, complex stuff shipped in, and the hull and furnishings supplied locally.

Nick P. said...

The only civilian nuke boats on the water right now are ice breakers. It just so happens that the financial situation argues in favor of nuke plants on them. It's not economical to put them on container ships, oil tankers, etc.

It's also the case, at least here in the US, that the NRC considers a 50MW naval reactor and a masive 1.2GW power reactor the same thing regulation wise thus automatically making it an economic impossibility due to burecratic overhead if nothing else.

On the technical side I'm not convinced it's an impossibility.

Add in a more favorable regulatory environment and a shade or two more peak oil and then we'll see.

Everyone likes to point at the economic failure of the NS Savannah and say "See? Didn't work then, will never work, just scrap the idea." yet fail to account for it never being designed as an economical bulk freighter to begin with and was more of a technical demonstration than anything else.

Lets also keep in mind a ton of bunker fuel cost $20 in 1972, today it's around $700 dollars and in the long run it's probably only going to go up.

There's a lot of talk about what our own future is going to look like with cheap energy seeming to go away. So much of what we do is predicated on the cost of energy being peanuts. If every watt and erg becomes more dear, economic and financial reality will demand we change our ways. This can lead to some really interesting schizotech. If we look in the third world, farmers can be in touch with the world via cheap cell phones even while driving their produce to market with a horse and cart.

That may exist now in some parts of the world due to different levels of development, but as some sort of post-collapse end point I don't buy it in the slightest honestly. If cheap energy has gone away on a global scale then the cell phones will also go away eventually because cell phones are a product of a high-tech, high-energy society.

Once you've gotten to the point of turning car alternators into windmills and burning crop waste to fuel boilers you are NOT, building and operating chip fabs and aluminum smelters.

jollyreaper said...

Or, potentially, you stop making happy meal toys out of rare plastics and growing garlic in China to ship to the US and save your high energy for the stuff that can't be satisfied any other way like the chip fabs.

Not advocating one way or the other here, just speculating.

Brett said...

Put me in the skeptical camp as well with regards to more expensive energy. Even without any easy fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, and oil, you can still run a very high-energy society. It might look a bit differently, with more short-range electric vehicles and lots of electrically-powered trains, but it's not going to be "cell phones with donkeys", and the energy won't be drastically more expensive.

Damien Sullivan said...

"Lets also keep in mind a ton of bunker fuel cost $20 in 1972, today it's around $700 dollars and in the long run it's probably only going to go up."

I sense a use of nominal as opposed to real (inflation adjusted) dollars.

Thucydides said...

In a hypothetical far future where there is access to a lot of high tech, military vessels will probably resemble the "gunships" from the old Traveller RPG.

Essentially they were short range craft which could operate in all three media (being spaceships, they were "by definition" submarines i.e. sealed environments that could work underwater as well). Given magitech anti gravity drives they were equally adept underwater as in the atmosphere or space, lacking only the size to carry the fuel and weaponry of capital ships.

Sailing ships and war galleys require skilled work forces to build and maintain them, and experienced crews to man them, so a fairly complex society is already implied when you add these to the mix. I note that it took several hundred years for sailing warships to evolve the "line" tactics of classical "ship of the line" warfare, up until then all warships were essentially troop carriers and only occasional artillery platforms. A fallen society that can build a ship of the line, or even a cog might be able to quickly rebuild once the relevant knowledge is introduced (rediscovered library or passing interstellar voyager).

Rick said...

Welcome to more new commenters!

Yoou'd need a lot of parachutes to bring down aircraft carriers, even in sections.

This actually did make me laugh out loud!

But as a practical matter, I agree with Byron that colonies generally would not have large navies until they were developed enough to build their own large ships.

The idea of submersible sailing ships probably wouldn't stand up to Brutally Realistic Analysis [TM] - but what a wonderful image! It is sort of like this whole topic on steroids.

And I tend to agree with Brett that - apart from post-apocalyptic scenarios - a post-fossil-fuel society will just have to emphasize efficiency more (electric trains!), but won't - alas! be 'cell phones with donkeys.' Which spoils some good tropes.

But, thinking about it, suppose you are doing surface exploration in the early days of a colony, on a pelagic planet with extensive archipelago regions. Your exploratory craft doubtless have engines, but you still might sail when possible to stretch the fuel supply. It is a long ways to base, and resupply would be very expensive.

Damien Sullivan said...

I note that it took several hundred years for sailing warships to evolve the "line" tactics of classical "ship of the line" warfare, up until then all warships were essentially troop carriers and only occasional artillery platforms.

I assume you're talking medieval times? Classical warships rammed each other, or ran over each other's oars, and engaged in complex formations, until the Roman invented the "grapple and make it a land battle" hack.

jollyreaper said...

And I tend to agree with Brett that - apart from post-apocalyptic scenarios - a post-fossil-fuel society will just have to emphasize efficiency more (electric trains!), but won't - alas! be 'cell phones with donkeys.' Which spoils some good tropes.

We have cell phones and donkeys today. Not all parts of the world are post-scarcity.

So I think it could be very conceivable that you could have the high-tech cores with hydro, geothermal and solar power running an electric grid and making the fancy stuff and out in the boonies people are with cell phones and animal power.

I always liked the idea of the post-industrial Wild West, Cowboys and Kalashnikovs. Hell, it could be the Wild East, too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mULZzwtPM2U&feature=related

Check out 3 minutes in, first Chinese nuke bomb test, they're conducting a cavalry charge with assault rifles right through ground zero.

Michael said...

"Thucydides said...

Essentially they were short range craft which could operate in all three media (being spaceships, they were "by definition" submarines i.e. sealed environments that could work underwater as well)."

This reminds me of an episode of Futurama where the Planet Express Ship sinks into the ocean. The exchange went something like this:

Leela: Depth at 45 hundred feet, 48 hundred, 50 hundred! 5000 feet!

Farnsworth: Dear Lord, that's over 150 atmospheres of pressure.

Fry: How many atmospheres can this ship withstand?

Farnsworth: Well it's a spaceship, so I'd say anywhere between zero and one.

Rick said...

Except for a few fleets - most notably Athens - boarding was probably the primary battle decider. Ramming and oar-sweeping were usually weapons of opportunity.

And the seamanship involved in a boarding fight tends to be underestimated! Formation-keeping and shiphandling could deliver a critical advantage at the moment of contact. Maritime communities generally had a naval advantage even when boarding was dominant.

The key Roman advantage was sheer resources - every time they lost a fleet, they built a new one. Same thing they did after losing land battles like Cannae.

Deeply tangential to the main topic, but I'm a galley geek!

Thucydides said...

Interesting insight into galley warfare, Rick. My comment was about the transitional period of sailing ships, from @ the 1300's when boarding was still dominant to the 1500's when ships were now artillery platforms.

One thing no one has mentioned yet is what sort of population density are we talking about? A sparcly settled planet might have trouble finding enough people to build and man a fleet, while too many people on the islands and you outrun the carrying capacity (like Easter Island).

Byron said...

I'm highly skeptical of a spaceship that also functions as a submarine. Actually, I'm skeptical of anything that isn't a submarine that has a submarine mode. The problem is that a submarine, to do any good, has to be able to withstand at least a couple atmospheres of pressure, which requires big, thick, tubular hulls. This doesn't go well with surface ships, let alone spacecraft. I can see some form of semi-submerible craft, sort of like how oil rigs work. However, that requires far lower pressures.

Thucydides said...

Hey, its just a game (and one with magitech besides).

The rational would probably be something like "a gunship is heavily armoured and strongly built to withstand stresses incurred during combat, and to absorb battle damage, so it can also withstand being submerged." I'd picture something like a brick with a small bubble in the center for the crew, and a few other cavities for machinery and weapons.

WRT submarine sailing ships, Robert Fulton did create a submarine with a deployable auxiliary sail, but neither the infant US nor Napoleon were interested. Given submarine technology of the time, it was probably a wise decision.

Brett said...

@jollyreaper
We have cell phones and donkeys today. Not all parts of the world are post-scarcity.

I was talking about the future of the existing advanced societies (like the US and Europe), not areas on the fringe of these types of societies. You could have "cell phones with donkeys" out on the boondocks (or sparsely inhabited islands in the ocean on a pelagic planet), simply because it's not cost-effective to have all the infrastructure built for a more mechanized, advanced society.

Thucydides said...

I was talking about the future of the existing advanced societies (like the US and Europe), not areas on the fringe of these types of societies. You could have "cell phones with donkeys" out on the boondocks (or sparsely inhabited islands in the ocean on a pelagic planet), simply because it's not cost-effective to have all the infrastructure built for a more mechanized, advanced society.

But these planets will be on the "fringe" of the Empire of Man, either because they don't have the population/resource base to make them important or because they are deliberatly left that way as resorts. If most planets are not Earth-like at all, then the calculus changes; they will be fiercely protected as the prime real estate, and most people may end up being shoved into space habitats out in the asteroid belt while the aristocracy (however defined) lives the good life on the planet.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

I agree with Byron on this.

It not only makes sense on other planets with liquid oceans and wind

It makes good sense for the Plausible midfuture on earth.

Heck we should be doing it now.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Hey look! I can post again!



Rick:

"On waterworlds and life, I vaguely remember reading that terrestrial life might have first evolved along the land-sea margins. But I'm pretty hazy on all that, and sometimes remember stuff I read 30 years ago as 'new' theories. (Aaargh!)"

This is pretty non-controversial. For sea life to turn into land life, it has to at some point have passed across the land-sea margin. The only question is how long it stays there - but even a "short" stay in geological terms could be millions of years.

The current theory is that tetrapods (which weren't the first animals to colonize the land, insects were here before us) evolved in murky swamps along the coast, where they used their limbs for maneuvering in the water (not on land) and breathed air because the water was too dirty to breathe. Later, it turned out that the four-limb design pioneered in the water was also useful for crawling onto land.



Damien Sullivan:

"Complex life with shells is 540 million years old. Multicellular life is somewhat older, cf. Ediacara. No shells, not many fossils."

Depends on how complex is complex enough. Primitive multicellular life got started in the Ediacaran (and possibly even more primitive multicellular life might have existed before, during the Cryogenian, though it would have had to survive in Snowball Earth!), but there still seems to have been a significant increase in complexity and diversity around the Cambrian explosion. That, I feel, is when the truly interesting animals start to show up.



Sabersonic:

"why not let there be continental or even microcontinental landmasses that are undesirable to the settlers?

How? Well it could range from infertile soil and/or climate that would be disasterous to terran life, to virtual hell worlds that have the "here there be dragons" warning on maps to even local sapient species that make expansion into the landmasses less than desirable (assuming that the setting in question would allow sapient life forms to exist)."


It's hard to write off an entire continent as uninhabitable. A landmass that large should have a variety of biomes depending on local conditions. Even deserts have oases. So even if most of the continent is uninhabitable, it's almost certain that a few patches will still attract people. The interior of Australia is mostly desert, but that doesn't stop people from living on the coast.

The best way to write a continent as completely uninhabitable to humans (at least for settlement rather than research) would be if it's entirely covered in an ice sheet, like Antarctica (though even Antarctica has a few only-chilly-rather-than-freezing green patches). But Kedamono seems convinced that ice caps would encourage hurricanes.

You could go the other way and have a baking-hot continent that, even if native life flourishes there (tropics attract rain, rain is good for life!), is too hot for humans to survive in.

Such an approach of basic parameters (temperature) being outside of acceptable bounds is far more effective than trying to do something like have a lot of monsters on the continent, since monsters can be shot. And if I know my humans, will be.



kedamono@mac.com:

"if the winds are too much, then you might want to consider submersibles. Those would have to be nuclear powered. Whether by U235 or by Thorium, subs work best on nuclear energy."

Nuclear energy is pretty high tech! It takes a LOT of industrial infrastructure and money to build a nuclear reactor!

If you're considering making sailing ships because you don't have the tools to extract and use diesel, then uranium is right out.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



And the post length limits are still here!



Geoffrey S H:

"And as a historian, I'd like to point out that the Dark Ages saw several technological improvements over the Roman Empire- [...] Not a complete improvement, but not the complete step back from civilisation either."

And the Roman technologies which WERE "lost" in Europe really just migrated eastwards - the Arabs remembered them.



Stevo Darkly:

"Regarding a mostly oceanic planet, I wonder if you might have a variation where most of the planet is relatively deep ocean, but there might be a region that is the equivalent of the Tibetan Plateau -- in this case, mostly submerged, but a relatively shallow sea, with mountainous islands peeking above the surface here and there, the tips of mountain ranges forming archipelago chains..."

By having huge areas of shallow sea, this planet would have wonderfully rich underwater biomes. The life on land will be relatively more boring, though unique.


"So it's a statistical thing: We would expect a rough correlation between the speed of a planet's rotation and its age. However, there can also be a great deal of variation in this, due to random factors in the formation stage. But all other things being equal, you will be more likely to find fast-rotating planets in a younger system, and slower-rotating planets in an older system."

That's pretty much what I thought. When people talk about relatively Earthlike planets with a rotational period different from Earth's, I tend to think of periods in the times-or-divided-by three range compared to ours. That's enough to probably have a significant effect on climate, but I believe it's also within statistically plausible bounds for a planet of the same age as Earth.



Byron:

"A lot of a naval vessel is simple metal. By the time that anything other then an exploration vessel is required, the colony should be able to produce that simple metal on its own. The vessel might be a kit, with the expensive, complex stuff shipped in, and the hull and furnishings supplied locally."

I like this.



Thucydides:

"the "gunships" from the old Traveller RPG [...] Given magitech anti gravity drives they were equally adept underwater as in the atmosphere or space, lacking only the size to carry the fuel and weaponry of capital ships."

The clue here is that magitech antigravity drives are pretty much the only propulsion system that works acceptably in the triplicate media of water, air, and vacuum.

Thucydides said...

Nuclear fission reactors need not be complex, the first "pile" was essentially made by stacking graphite bricks together much like a LEGO set, and Stephan Baxter descibed a nuclear reactor made with Neolithic technology in "Manifold:Space".

Now if you want a portable nuclear reactor with high power density, then you will have a lot more:-)work ahead of you (just ask Admiral Rickover or the team that designed the NERVA engines.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



So speaking of antique vehicle types returning in the future, it seems some researchers think it's time for the Revenge of the Biplanes. Supersonic ones, this time.

Granted, not ones that look much like the ones we're used to!

However, one person was quoted saying "This may lead to a dramatic improvement, and there may be a boom in the field in the coming years.". I thought the point was to AVOID a sonic boom? :)

Brett said...

I have this long-running fantasy of the World of Seaplanes, where everybody gets around in old-fashioned flying boats. Not sure how you'd set up a world to get that - cheap air fuel, rocky islands, dangerous seas to sail on?

Anonymous said...

=Milo=


The advantage of seaplanes is that they can readily land on any available body of water. If for whatever reason building planes is easy but building runways is hard, seaplanes come in handy.

Not that I have any idea how building runways could be hard.

But maybe you're trying to explore remote lands where runways haven't been built yet!

Thucydides said...

Seaplanes worked well in the 1920's and 30's when they could take advantage of the global infrastructure already in place for steamships. Docking facilities and coaling stations were everywhere, so landing and tying up at a dock wasn't too difficult. Shipping companies were more than happy to carry around barrels of gasoline as supercargo to these stations (extra cash for them), so everyone was happy.

Landplanes eventually grew to outperform seaplanes for the most part (although the Martin Seamaster had similar performance to a B-52 and was actually faster when dashing over the target), and a global infrastructure of airfields had been laid down during the second world war, which is really what spelled the end of seaplanes.

Even if seaplanes were to have some sort of revival, shipping has evolved towards huge centralized harbour facilities capable of dealing with massive container ships, so a seaplane touching down near a remote island would be less likely to have docking facilities it could use.

Brett said...

I know. You'd basically have to build a setting up just to favor them in some way, like having plentiful sea algae that can be converted into bio-fuel with small on-location facilities. I figure the "docking" issue wouldn't be too bad, since you could have islanders ferry stuff out to the sea planes on small boats/rafts.

Stevo Darkly said...

Milo said:
The advantage of seaplanes is that they can readily land on any available body of water. If for whatever reason building planes is easy but building runways is hard, seaplanes come in handy.

Not that I have any idea how building runways could be hard.

But maybe you're trying to explore remote lands where runways haven't been built yet!


In Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium/Empire series, most of his starships' landing boats were water-landers for just this reason. (Apparently; I'm not sure he ever said this explicitly.) They were winged landers, but they would land in bays or other bodies of water, and were capable of moving across the surface to some limited extent.

Presumably such water-landing shuttles were carried because they could be used for landings both on uninhabited but Earthlike worlds, and on colonies that had seaport facilities but no runways for aircraft or spacecraft (especially fallen colonies during the Second Empire period).

The plausibility of winged water-landing shuttles (and their ability to take off again from the water) is bolstered by studies of a fast jet-powered seaplane:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F2Y_Sea_Dart

Anonymous said...

Stevo Darkly said:"The plausibility of winged water-landing shuttles (and their ability to take off again from the water) is bolstered by studies of a fast jet-powered seaplane:"

The Sea Dart had a problem with ingesting sea water and its engine failing...which is why the Navy dropped the project.

Ferrell

Rick said...

Starships carrying water-landing shuttles makes sense to me, for just the reason given: Survey ships certainly can't count on runways being available, and even more marginal colonies might not have them.

Interesting point of comparison - smaller container ships often have big on-board cranes so they can load at ports without big shore cranes. The larger containerships, which call only at major points, never have such onboard cranes.

The technical challenges of flying-boat shuttles would be ... demanding ... but then, the technical challenges of *any* SSTO shuttle are demanding.

For on-planet exploration and supply of remote areas, seaplanes seem plausible for the same reason, lack of runways. Alas, by the time traffic requires jumbo flying boats, presumably runways would be economically justified.

Though come to think of it, for long range flight, a roughly Catalina-size flying boat might be more viable than a smaller pontoon seaplane. The range advantage of larger planes is unlikely to change.

Arguably this is in the zone of things that are essentially fanciful, but *feel* plausible ...

Rick said...

Milo, glad you can post again! Though Blogger still makes me bail your comments out of spam jail, for no logical reason.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Rick:

"Survey ships certainly can't count on runways being available, and even more marginal colonies might not have them."

Depending on what sort of worlds you're interested in surveying, though, you can't always count on having oceans either.

Byron said...

Seaplanes are an interesting problem. One of the biggest issues is that, while water is usually a better place to set down then land, it's not very good. One of the major problems with the Sea Dart was really rough takeoffs and landings. This is less of a problem with bigger aircraft, of course.
Another issue is drag on takeoff. I think a typical cruising power for a flying boat is something like 10%. That's less of an issue for spacecraft, of course.
For rough world travel in general, I'd probably go with a tiltrotor. Water landing is good in theory for shuttles, but hypersonic flight and hydrodynamics don't strike me as terribly compatible.

Byron said...

Thinking more about this, two other options have presented themselves. First, Air Cushion Landing Gear. This allows an aircraft to land on any reasonably flat surface, and without the drag penalty of a flying boat. I believe it was not pursued because it was developed after small runways had become common, and there was insufficient reason to try to compete with seaplanes.
The second is the Rotodyne. This would have combined the best features of helicopters and airplanes, and was mostly canceled due to politics.
Both strike me as very good choices for primitive flying, which is what we would see on a new colony.

Thucydides said...

I'm mot sure if Pournelle's shuttles as described were feasable. It would be a lot simpler to make the landing craft/shuttle a ballistic craft which could drop straight down onto the sea (or perhaps deploy landing gear if there was no large bodies of water) making a powered landing.

Remassing would consist of filling the tanks with water (for dry planets, you would have to send down a tank of water or find some sort of substitute) and using the nuclear reactor to provide extreme heat, boost back into orbit.

You avoid the weight penalty of wings, your ship is structurally stronger and simpler, and take off and landing is also simpler (rough seas are not such an issue if you simply blast straight out of the water).

Byron said...

For something like that, I'd probably go with a parafoil. It's lighter then a wing system and it gives very nearly the same control. Take off under thrust alone. That said, your proposal is definitely better then wings. Unless it's air-breathing, almost anything is.

Stevo Darkly said...

Come to think of it, IIRC correctly, in Pournelle's King David's Spaceship a.k.a. A Spaceship for the King, there is a description of a merchant water-landing shuttle that is a "simple cylinder" whereas in this and other stories the Navy shuttles are described as winged. (Or maybe a combo of wing + lifting body.) I'm not absolutely sure whether the merchant shuttle was a simple VTOL ballistic craft, but it sort of sounds like it.

Conceivably, then, the water-landing shuttles carried by Pournelle's merchant ships were ballistic VTOL craft similar to what Thucydides -- but the Navy's shuttles were winged because the military needs landers that have greater cross-range capability and are more maneuverable within the atmosphere.

Which makes sense to me.

In a military situation, the lander might have something shooting at it on the way down, so you'd want the greater ability to maneuver and dodge. A military shuttle might also perhaps come down to a lower altitude while still some distance from the hot spot, and then fly in low and fast to get to the landing zone, rather than be so exposed to enemy fire. You'd need an aerodynamic flyer for that, rather than a ballistic VTOL lander (although the latter would probably be better suited for merchant cargo transfers).

Stevo Darkly said...

By the way, aside from shuttles, for local travel on an island-dotted pelagic planet, you might also consider the "ekranoplan" ground-effect vehicle.

If you're not familiar with this concept, I suggest you start by doing a Google image search for "ekranoplan." Plans and concepts have included some really huge and, in some cases, nicely futuristic-looking vehicles -- both military and civilian.

Byron said...

Good point about GEVs. For a world that's mostly water and has lots of calm weather, they'd be nearly ideal. (I'm skeptical of a GEV's capability to deal with 30 foot seas.) If a large portion of the population is inland, however, the versatility loss might be a problem.

Wings for military landing craft make quite a bit of sense, though I'd imagine that a typical vessel might not need all of the shuttles to be drop-capable.

Thucydides said...

For a military expedition, it might make more sense for the landing craft to also be fighting vehicles, something along the line of crossing the X-37 with a Harrier Jump Jet. Or the landing craft in the movie Aliens

You have fewer issues with things like separating or unloading fighting vehicles and men from the transport, and time wise you can literally join the fight directly from orbit. Doing a bombing or missile run at hypersonic speed is a possible option (if you can create a dual purpose vehicle like this, weapons carriage and release is probably an engineering detail).

Logistics transports can be the plain vanilla cylinders, since the LZ should be secure by this point, and the over riding logic here is to pack as much cargo and send it at the minimum cost in time and resources.

Anonymous said...

Thucydides said:"

For a military expedition, it might make more sense for the landing craft to also be fighting vehicles, something along the line of crossing the X-37 with a Harrier Jump Jet. Or the landing craft in the movie Aliens

You have fewer issues with things like separating or unloading fighting vehicles and men from the transport, and time wise you can literally join the fight directly from orbit. Doing a bombing or missile run at hypersonic speed is a possible option (if you can create a dual purpose vehicle like this, weapons carriage and release is probably an engineering detail).

Logistics transports can be the plain vanilla cylinders, since the LZ should be secure by this point, and the over riding logic here is to pack as much cargo and send it at the minimum cost in time and resources."

Didn't we have this conversation already?

Ferrell

Byron said...

I'm not so sure about landing craft/fighting vehicle hybrids. The problem is that the two requirements work directly against each other from the designer's standpoint. While it is perfectly possible to hang weapons on a transport, but both maneuverability and durability are at odds with the cargo bay. Sure, if you just want a ground attack capability, go for it, but not for serious dogfighting.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

Since the transports chief function is cargo capacity - what about small dones it could launch to do its aerial and air-to-ground combat instead?

The drones would be specialized with no wasted mass for things like crew - long range - cargo.

Thucydides said...

The USMC uses the LVTP-7 which can be considered a hybrid landing craft/fighting vehicle, which shows the idea is possible. For Marines,landing on the beach in a barge or landing craft, disembarking, mounting fighting vehicles and then driving ashore is a very risky option; you are too vulnerable during the transition period.

The only alternative so far is to create very capable landing craft such as the hovercraft platforms that allow the Marines (or old Soviet Morskaya Pekhota) to move ashore at high speed and disembark tanks and other capable fighting forces.

The idea of arming transport craft with lots of weapons has been mooted many times, as well as modifying (or creating special purpose) military vehicles to do so. Ohio Class SSBN's have had their missile tubes removed and replaced with launch cells containing hundreds of cruise
missiles, and there was a proposal to modify B-1 bombers to carry dozens of AAM's to "sweep" the sky of defending sircraft. Boeing 747's were also mooted as cruise missile carriers, housing far more weapons than anything short of a B-52.

Large aircraft may become the premier fighing vehicles of the 21rst century since they have the size to carry large power generators to run megawatt lasers or high power rail guns, stay aloft for extended periods and carry the weapons over continental ranges. With that sort of firepower you could engage targets from the ground to LEO

Rick said...

Didn't we have this conversation already?

Probably! The thread on SW XII: Surface Warfare ran to something like 800 comments.

A transport is pretty readily convertible to a truck for bombs, a la the use of C-130s. Combat maneuvers, not so much.

And the general challenge is horribly demanding! It's not at all clear that a Skylon type vehicle is workable. And coming down, then climbing back up is harder - never mind combat maneuvers.

Nuclear aircraft are more difficult than nuclear spacecraft, not least because you can't stick the reactor at the end of a pylon and use a shadow shield. You have to provide all-round shielding, a horrible weight penalty.

Thucydides said...

A transport is pretty readily convertible to a truck for bombs, a la the use of C-130s. Combat maneuvers, not so much.

A C-130 also serves as the basis of a "Specter" gunship, bristling with cannons and automatic weapons. The USMC have also developed a "kit" that turns a C-130 into a gunship at lower cost, but this gunship can also fire Hellfire missiles. So long as the weapons themselves are capable, a lower performance platform can serve in a pinch.

In the case of futuristic weapons like lasers and railguns, performance isn't going to allow you to evade these weapons, and only marginally improve your ability to initiate the engagement, so even the Goodyear Blimp could (in theory) be a weapons platform.

Anonymous said...

OMG...a Laserstar floating above the battlefield, zaping the enemy left and right... Star Wars Steampunk...

Ferrell

Jim Baerg said...

Hi: I recently got back to following this blog & I'll make a belated comment on Brett's post about seaplanes.

There is a region on earth where float planes are a major means of transportation, the Canadian Shield.

There they are practical because there are zillions of lakes for the float planes to land on, but the connecting rivers are usually full of rapids so boats can't get from lake to lake unless they are small like canoes so they can be carried. Wherever traffic is too light to justify a road or railway, float planes are the easiest way in.

The lakes & rapids exist because the glaciers that covered the region only 20000 years ago erode things differently than does liquid water. Any region that has reasonably abundent rainfall now, but this has been true for only a short time by geologic standards will similarly have lots of lakes & rapids & be a good region for using float planes.

Large parts of terraformed Mars or Venus would qualify. A world in another solar system that had been in a snowball earth phase until human colonizers used big mirrors to warm it up would also qualify.

Rick said...

Belated reply ... good to see you around here!

(Totally off topic, but I still miss the old Compuserve history forum community. I've totally lost touch with Gill et al.)

Back on topic - not a lot to add, but yes, any chaotic terrain with plenty of water would tend to provide the conditions you outline.