British scientists are working on a space ark capable of sustaining humanity in the event of a global catastrophe.
Even though none of them will ever live to see it launched.
In all 13 scientists are involved, six British but also including team members from the USA, Italy and the Netherlands.
Above: a vision of a living spaceship by Adam Benton, including an 'open' design exposed to an internal nuclear engine/sun
The stated aim is to investigate "living technologies" that might help in the "context of habitable starship architecture that can respond and evolve according to the needs of its inhabitants". The vision is for a craft capable of sustaining a few thousand individuals for multiple generations, while the ship travels to a planet able to sustain life.
The idea is for the craft to be self-sustaining, forming an ecosystem which incorporates some of the same processes seen on Earth for generating light, air, water, food and gravity, but using the best elements of modern tech too.
Key to the effort will be the development of biofuels and artificial soil.
Rachel Armstrong, a senior architecture and design lecturer at the University of Greenwich, told the Times: "it's about challenging our notion of sustainability and looking at what the conditions are for survival and how we would take those with us."
On the project's website the team adds:
"A habitable long duration starship will need evolvable environments that not only use resources efficiently but can respond quickly to the needs of populations and bypass the current necessary time lags that are implicit in the current system – in identifying critical upgrades and then activating industrial supply and procurement chains – which are already playing catch-up by the time they are realized."
Jeff Lee, Project Lead of the Icarus Interstellar X-Physics Propulsion & Power Project, recently answered the most obvious question -- why bother thinking about tech we can't build yet?
"The blunt answer is two fold. First, we don’t know that fruition will take centuries; it may, and then again, it may not. If we don’t first explore theoretical ideas, then we’ll never develop any technology. Second, our focus of research is on the physics behind ideas, not specific technological designs of those ideas (at least as far as XP4 is concerned). For instance, nobody knows how to produce vast quantities of the negative energy necessary for warp drive. In time, that may come. For now, we’re taking the first baby steps that may lead us to future technologies. Whether fruition takes 2 years, 20 years, or 200 years is actually much less important than the argument that we must begin somewhere."