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CindyRae
05-22-2018, 05:32 PM
My story has colonists traveling on a transport ship to the planet they're helping to colonize. Space travel has been around for awhile, FTL but not emphasized, and this particular trip takes over two years. The transport ship is a "budget ride" but is run by a captain who really knows his stuff (lots of successful previous trips across known space).

Besides radiation and debris, what other dangers could be posed for the ship?

I did have a story thread of ship dangers where water was critical, and the ship would stop and collect ice, but a critique in SYW suggested that they wouldn't hunt ice but rather hydrogen and oxygen and make their own water, so I'm thinking of dropping that plot thread for one that makes more sense.

Maggie Maxwell
05-22-2018, 05:39 PM
Something could go wrong with the food supply.

The planet could not be there when they "arrive" due to a technical malfunction in whatever sets their heading.

Distress signal from a nearby system/planet

Space pirates.

lizmonster
05-22-2018, 05:54 PM
Are you focusing on external needs, like food/water/radiation protection/hull integrity?

Because the human element could present all kinds of threats. Two years is a long trip, and experienced captain or no, boredom and discontentment could make things go south pretty easily.

RobertLCollins
05-22-2018, 05:56 PM
You said the trip will take two years. What will the colonists be doing while in transit? Will they be awake and wandering around (and potentially annoying captain and crew)? Will they be in some sort of stasis? Is that stasis reliable? Do people in stasis have to come out every now and again? Could there be a random problem with one (or more) of these "stasis units" that the captain and the leader of the colonists have to deal with?

All this also depends on how much drama you want to wring from being in transit. I can see a problem being the point of the story, especially a short story. I can also see a problem being a plot complication in a longer work. Say, a person with an important position in the colony dies on the way, and there's drama about a replacement that figures into the plot later on.

cornflake
05-22-2018, 06:28 PM
Yeah, they're not hunting ice; we can make water -- they can also reclaim the water they're exhaling and urinating.

Dangers are insanely numerous -- if something goes wrong with the O2 systems, or, more likely, the CO2 scrubbers, the water system (like a water reclamation thing), if any system breaks down, if there's a fire, if they open a door or lock and can't shut it, if the suits are damaged in or for an EVA and then they need to go out, if...

Inside, remember even in an artificial gravity (do you have artificial gravity?) people probably have to exercise, and without it, they absolutely do; space sickness, infighting, psychological issues, some dire illness, though I assume the ship has a medical bay, what to do with the children on board, or potential ones on board... it's kind of endless both areas.

shortstorymachinist
05-22-2018, 06:33 PM
Maybe something could go wrong with the "budget" aspect of the journey. Like maybe it's cheap because the captain's real money is in smuggling, and that illicit extra something starts to cause problems.

VFStorm
05-22-2018, 09:57 PM
The transport ship is a "budget ride" but is run by a captain who really knows his stuff (lots of successful previous trips across known space).

Aside from the time frame and social drama that others have mentioned, this whole scenario brings two different images to mind for me. The first might be if you have an interest in making the captain antagonistic; an experienced captain might have built such a successful career on illegal activities. Smugglers come to mind: highly successful at getting places, not necessarily with a drop of concern about the well-being of the people they're smuggling. Budget here could mean cramped living spaces, which brings sanitation, health, and the ship having maneuverability issues if it's overburdened. To say nothing of food and waste management, or the resentment/futile mindset building in the passengers (provided they're awake).

If the captain/crew aren't shady, you might consider how the old sailors go about doing things. A lot of patches and repairs rather than replacements, being able to avoid certain dangers by knowing the area better than he knows his own hands, and desperation breeding innovation over the years. Budget could mean anything from how they bunk up to how they manage to reproduce food, or if they produce at all. Maybe fresh grown crops are for the luxury ships and these guys have to deal with the much more compact nutrient paste. I'm seeing myself with a bottle of hot sauce tucked in my pocket at all times, haha. But losing that stockpile could be a horrific ordeal. And on the hot sauce front, something like Coke-Cola eats through a lot of crud; folks use it to clean car parts in a cinch. Maybe captain has a few oddball tricks like that up his sleeve to help band-aid some smaller malfunctions until they simmer over and form a real one that he has to deal with. I could see having to make the decision to use something as food or as a cleaning agent, like vinegar, overtime becoming a real issue if food pickling for safety needs or medical/dietary applications are also thrown into the mix. Developing medical problems could also be something. They stock for the basics, but an important someone could develop something like cancer (or start showing symptoms too late) and tank really fast with an aggressive type. That's probably not something a little ship is equipped to handle.

I think it depends on how much you enjoy writing the details of a mindset and whether the protagonist is involved or distant from the on-goings of the ship. And if you wanted to tie in the latter issue with the water, you might consider having their ability to combine or capture the elements become crippled somehow. That might also loop back around to the previous thought of medical; maybe they are equipped to handle most things, provided they can obtain the base materials needed to create medicines. (I'm thinking small 'budget' ship, small cargo.) Maybe 3D printing is viable in medicine now, but, if their ability to collect has been damaged, there are troubles ahead.

Whenever I imagine an experienced captain, I always, always think of Mark Twain's Two Ways of Seeing a River. I don't know if that will help you at all, as it's mostly a mentality to put yourself in rather than a possible answer, but it's a good place to start from if you're trying to see through the eyes of someone who knows so much about one topic.

I hope some of that helps. :)

ipsbishop
05-23-2018, 12:09 AM
Getting lost, propulsion failure, food storage fails, (Donner party) landing craft failures or you needed them to orient ship after automated nav systems fail, not enough fuel, mutiny of crew or passengers, too many children being born, plagues/ disease, alien encounters, impact from an asteroid or another object, computer failures, AI computer revolt, lighting system breaks, the master time clock craps out, medical supplies are used up, clothes washing systems don't anymore, entertainment systems break, waste disposal failures, running out of air, no communications, destination won't work at all and you need a new one, religious ferver, tribalism, haves and have nots....

ironmikezero
05-23-2018, 12:54 AM
How about an unidentified serial killer on board, whose undetected festering psychosis would never be adequately constrained from manifesting some sort sociopathic behavior during the two-year duration of the flight? A rather large locked-room mystery of sorts . . .

Cyia
05-23-2018, 12:59 AM
A slow leak that depletes the oxygen. Something compromises the artificial gravity. Something interrupts communications between all of the onboard computers or automated systems. No lights. No heat. A fire in the stores that take out the food. Water contamination. Someone who came on board sick, but it wasn't caught until they'd been in transit for months.

CindyRae
05-23-2018, 02:45 AM
Too funny -- the pirates come in later, as does the distress signal.

The food situation could possibly replace the previous idea of needing water and collecting it along the way.

Come to think of it, I also need a reason for the ship to make stops in uninhabited space, if I'm cutting the water stops out.

CindyRae
05-23-2018, 02:47 AM
Yes, mostly external factors beyond radiation and debris.

Specifically, I had them stopping periodically for water, and had a water loss scenario inside the ship that drove an extra stop. Just wasn't very scientific.

Thanks!

CindyRae
05-23-2018, 02:49 AM
Great response, and thought-provoking. Thank you

CindyRae
05-23-2018, 02:51 AM
Thank you everyone!

These ideas are great. I'll see what I can incorporate into the story line.

CindyRae
05-23-2018, 02:53 AM
No, they're not in stasis but roaming around. It's at least a novella if not a full novel, and the ship danger subplot is definitely secondary to the protagonist's inner journey.

lonestarlibrarian
05-23-2018, 03:39 AM
One thing that we deal with on the ISS is the effects of being in space on the body. So there's a lot of math involved as to how much "space" one person's body can deal with, versus another. Part of it's the radiation, part of it's the weightlessness, part of it is other stuff. But that's one of the reasons why there are fewer female astronauts--- because of their builds, they're more biologically susceptible to having their bodies damaged from being in space. (Especially their skeletal structures-- being in space gives healthy people osteoperosis-like damage, if I recall?) So if the people at NASA say that Woman A can safely spend X hours in space before her bones starts eroding, whereas Man B can safely spend 2X hours in space--- Man B is the one who's more likely to end up in space.

So, someone who has a smaller, slighter build is more likely to feel the environmental effects sooner than a 300-lb guy who's built like a Viking.

cornflake
05-23-2018, 06:06 AM
One thing that we deal with on the ISS is the effects of being in space on the body. So there's a lot of math involved as to how much "space" one person's body can deal with, versus another. Part of it's the radiation, part of it's the weightlessness, part of it is other stuff. But that's one of the reasons why there are fewer female astronauts--- because of their builds, they're more biologically susceptible to having their bodies damaged from being in space. (Especially their skeletal structures-- being in space gives healthy people osteoperosis-like damage, if I recall?) So if the people at NASA say that Woman A can safely spend X hours in space before her bones starts eroding, whereas Man B can safely spend 2X hours in space--- Man B is the one who's more likely to end up in space.

So, someone who has a smaller, slighter build is more likely to feel the environmental effects sooner than a 300-lb guy who's built like a Viking.

That's absolutely not why there are fewer female astronauts; I'm sorry.

There are fewer female astronauts for, presumably, the same reason there are fewer female CEOs, fewer female fighter pilots, fewer female scientists. Men run these fields.

The last recommendation I saw from NASA included MORE women in space, because there have been so few the studies are very iffy to begin with with tiny ns. In addition, that sort of radiation finding is very recent, which would not in any way explain the dearth of female astronauts. There are also things women are safer from, like the eyeball thing, and others.

It's also not close to 2x, iirc, and, in addition, besides that it'd be up to the women involved, there're likely going to be shielding improvements possible to ameliorate some.

Brightdreamer
05-23-2018, 06:23 AM
No, they're not in stasis but roaming around. It's at least a novella if not a full novel, and the ship danger subplot is definitely secondary to the protagonist's inner journey.

Well, then, is there a crisis that could mirror or enhance that inner journey, helping reinforce themes and such?

neandermagnon
05-23-2018, 10:39 AM
Inside, remember even in an artificial gravity (do you have artificial gravity?)

The ship spins like a centrifuge. You can walk around the outside like it's normal gravity but in the centre of the ship (the point around which the rest of the ship's spinning) you're weightless.

In the film of the Martian, the Hermes spins like this.


people probably have to exercise, and without it, they absolutely do; space sickness, infighting, psychological issues, some dire illness, though I assume the ship has a medical bay, what to do with the children on board, or potential ones on board... it's kind of endless both areas.

Astronauts have to exercise. Zero gravity or micro gravity (i.e. weak gravity) plays havoc with musculo-skeletal systems - mostly from muscle wastage and the nervous system adapting to zero gravity. You're not using any of your normal systems (muscles, nerves etc) that keep you upright on Earth. You slowly lose unused muscles. Astronauts who return home after being in space have to readjust to gravity. This usually also involves physiotherapy to strengthen the muscles again.

Bone density's another issue. Even if you create gravity by making the spaceship into a giant centrifuge (they will do this, because the health implicatations of not doing it are too great) if the gravity is less than 1G (i.e. Earth's gravity) people will suffer some degree of muscle and bone wastage. The weaker the gravity, the greater the problem. The international space station has an inbuilt gym and astronauts are required to do regular resistance training to prevent muscle wastage. Even with doing this, they still have to adapt to Earth's gravity again when they return. They're not spending all day every day trying to stay upright. We don't even notice that we're doing that here on Earth (like you don't even notice you're breathing), because the gravity's always there. It's only noticeable if you take gravity away.

If you assume that the spaceship is big enough and spins fast enough to create 1G gravity, then none of the above will be an issue.

Back to the OP's question:

I wouldn't go down the hard science fiction route of having complicated mechanical stuff going wrong with the vessel unless you're very clued up about physics, chemistry and biology* and can get all the details right. You might get away with some very basic things going wrong that requires some basic science knowledge, but you'd still have to get that right. Like if a spaceship runs out of fuel in deep space, it's not going to slow down and stop. It's going to continue at the same velocity (speed and direction) until another force acts on it. As it has no fuel, it can't change its velocity. It doesn't need fuel for most of its journey. It needs fuel to get to the required velocity, then more fuel to change velocity when necessary. But even getting those details right - how do they fix the problem without physics or chemistry? Being handwavey about science for background info (like how the spaceship gets from A to B in its normal, planned route) is fine, but being handwavey about science when it comes to getting characters out of peril is deus ex machina.


*how much I love Andy Weir because he cares about getting the biology right as well, not just doing phys and chem and fudging the biology. And botany as a major plot point.

That leaves all the various human factors that can go wrong... loads of humans in an enclosed space with limited supplies, on a budget, for a period of two years. What could possibly go wrong?

Loads of great ideas on this thread already for various human factors that could go wrong. Think how stressful it is if you're on a plane that's delayed for a couple of hours after boarding, or after landing but before you can get off. Or even just the stress of being on a long haul flight, even without delays. Now put that into context of being stuck on a spacecraft, in the spacecraft equivalent of economy, for two years. Already there's tension. Now factor in stuff that can go wrong...

Bing Z
05-23-2018, 01:02 PM
I did have a story thread of ship dangers where water was critical, and the ship would stop and collect ice, but a critique in SYW suggested that they wouldn't hunt ice but rather hydrogen and oxygen and make their own water, so I'm thinking of dropping that plot thread for one that makes more sense.
It depends on where your ship is collecting water. If there is a rocky planet or asteroid nearby with liquid water or ice, there is no reason not to collect water there. OTOH, if an interstellar cloud or a gas dwarf with hydrogen and oxygen is closer, it might be a better choice.


Specifically, I had them stopping periodically for water, and had a water loss scenario inside the ship that drove an extra stop. Just wasn't very scientific.
If an interstellar flight takes just 2 years, chances are your ship is traveling FTL. With that technology level, there is no reason why water cannot be 100% recycled or even food grown onboard. Thus no need to stop periodically for water. (Stopping in space can be a PITA depending on how you prescribe your flight manner.) Water loss (or sabotage) is another matter (and a good one).

Unless you are preparing to do a ton of research, I suggest you don't get into the specifics of propulsion (both HTL & impulse), artificial gravity, hull, and communication (other than ansible). You can play with some life-support systems, like water reservoir, oxygenator, (human) waste recycling system, etc

CWatts
05-23-2018, 05:38 PM
That leaves all the various human factors that can go wrong... loads of humans in an enclosed space with limited supplies, on a budget, for a period of two years. What could possibly go wrong?

Loads of great ideas on this thread already for various human factors that could go wrong. Think how stressful it is if you're on a plane that's delayed for a couple of hours after boarding, or after landing but before you can get off. Or even just the stress of being on a long haul flight, even without delays. Now put that into context of being stuck on a spacecraft, in the spacecraft equivalent of economy, for two years. Already there's tension. Now factor in stuff that can go wrong...

I cut my longer post as I can boil it down to this: think realistically about how many of your colonist couples are going to get divorced over those two years.

Introversion
05-23-2018, 08:54 PM
It depends on where your ship is collecting water. If there is a rocky planet or asteroid nearby with liquid water or ice, there is no reason not to collect water there. OTOH, if an interstellar cloud or a gas dwarf with hydrogen and oxygen is closer, it might be a better choice.

Worth the OP keeping in mind that if the ship is traveling in "normal" space, stopping to collect anything requires decelerating, and accelerating again to resume the voyage. That's fuel consumed for both, unless the ship runs on handwavium.

And if they're not traveling faster-than-light, getting to another star in less than many decades means accelerating to some large fraction of the speed of light. That means 1) lots of fuel (or handwavium), and 2) a fair bit of radiation and hull damage from all the interstellar dust they're plowing into (unless handwavium-powered shields).

If the ship has some form of FTL drive, then as others point out, there's still maintenance & repairs needed. Maybe the ship needs to drop back into normal space periodically for preventative maintenance?? Or maybe if it's really a cut-rate operation, the engines break frequently?


Unless you are preparing to do a ton of research, I suggest you don't get into the specifics of propulsion (both HTL & impulse), artificial gravity, hull, and communication (other than ansible). You can play with some life-support systems, like water reservoir, oxygenator, (human) waste recycling system, etc

Even assuming a handwavium-powered trip like this is common, a multi-year voyage is hugely stressful for passengers and crew. Boredom would be murderous, so they'd better be kept constantly busy (or in handwavium-powered stasis as much as possible). One possible analogy to this flight in human terms are 19th century whaling trips? Granted, those ships had opportunities to make landfall, and didn't need to carry air with them, but it still must've been boring as hell much of the time. If the OP's colony ships are carrying families, imagine being stuck on a bus for years, with little kids... Two years of "Are we there yet?"

Alsikepike
05-30-2018, 10:49 PM
There could be trouble with the ship’s hull getting worn down over time. One of the theoretical problems that could arise from FTL travel is the fact that despite space effectively being a vacuum, there’s still matter that’ll run against the ship and erode it over time. Even though most of it will be finer than dust and very sparse, traveling at light speed over millions of miles will effectively sandblast the ship and wear down the outside hull.
It’s been theorized that we could use robots equipped with 3D printers to repair damage, but you’d have to come out of light speed to do it, otherwise they’d get vaporized the second they got outside. Perhaps the repair bots are outdated, and while they might be able to repair each other if they ever get broken, it wouldn’t solve their inefficiency, and all repairs still require the necessary materials. Maybe they need to make more stops for materials than other more modern ships, and there aren’t enough, “rest stops” for older ships to make the full journey without running out of supplies.

Hopefully that helps!

lonestarlibrarian
06-07-2018, 12:24 AM
That was how it was explained to me by a guy who works SRAG for JSC, and has been in the field since the 90's. One of their jobs is to figure out how much exposure each individual on the ISS is able to be exposed to safely. (Hence the acronym...)

It was a casual conversation from years ago, so I don't remember it verbatim. And it was a casual conversation, so he was very kind and didn't burden me with real-life examples of real-life math. :P But I still tried to convey the general point about a real-life issue that real-life space travelers are dealing with in the present day, and that is limiting them from being able to have a more permanent human presence in space (moon base, Mars mission, whatever) until they figure out how to manage it.

Rob40
06-16-2018, 01:55 AM
At my old job I met a product rep of the software package we used once a month. He happened to be a failure analysis contract engineer during the Apollo program. His job was limited to the middle ranges where they weren't yet to the moon but were in transit, between gravity pulls. He and his team would think of anything that could go wrong and then think of the solution to get them out of it. Then, they would compound the problems, like if one thing was damaging enough to take out other things it was conneted to or near. Then engineer the way out of that as well. Just like we saw in Apollo 13. Just like we saw in The Martian, the engineers or writers did the same thing.

Brainstorm everything anyone has suggested here, plus your own items that can affect the 2 year transit. The First Officer may have terrible and shady ideas to get out of problems but they may be the only way for them to get out of trouble, even if the angelic Captain can't stand it. Morality limits shift due to the seriousness of the problem. Someone turns out to be alien when they're the only one that can fix the situation. Sudden onset of mental/magical abilities from slow long term radiation doses. Unforseen and long range Black hole influences on time, making a message from the destination say theyre arriving before they left so now they have to go and know it's going to be bad. Oh, that sounds fun.....hmm.

If it's the problems, the brainstorm and engineering solutions for all of them will give you the random dice rolls you need to fill in event after event.

CindyRae
06-23-2018, 07:40 PM
Thanks to everyone who posted an additional round of feedback. It's been helpful.

The story will be focused on the protag's inner journey, but the second major thread will be the ship and the perils of transit. The chief peril will be water issues. They will haul water with them but have to stop to get more water several times along the way. The ship will be in hand-wavium (great term, btw) FTL, but it will have to come out of FTL for the water stops. Less emphasized in the story will be the perils of the passengers doing ship drills, boredom, stinky others (so little water resources), squabbles over plans for the colony they're heading to and possibly other squabbles. I may add hints to radiation or physiological concerns, but I'm thinking I can only fit in so much in the second plot thread.

Rob40 -- interesting about the failure analysis guy. I worked for a NASA contractor in the early 2000's developing software for unmanned spacecraft. We had a couple of fault protection guys who would do something similar -- brainstorm whatever faults could ever happen, and put protections in for each of those cases. That was called single point failure. Once in awhile they would incorporate double-point failure (A fails, then B fails), but triple-point failures were considered to costly to handle.