We love movies about space, but are continually bored by actual space travel. When's the last time you rushed to the TV to watch a space shuttle take off?
No, we all seem to be waiting for the future of space travel to get here, a future of huge, comfortable starships hauling us to other planets where adventure awaits. Hopefully ships with lasers, that can destroy other ships.
Unfortunately, it appears that even for your grandchildren, space travel will really, really suck. Mainly because...
If Battlestar Galactica taught us anything, it's that the starships are like the Love Boat, if it were filled with never ending robot orgies and counterproductive human sexual drama. It's perfectly natural for the crew to spend their off hours doing some space romance, or as experts call it: "Boldly going where Kirk has gone before."
Places like the cavern o' dicks.
Let's start with the physical challenges. First of all, being in space lowers your blood pressure and slows down the flow of blood overall. That means you almost certainly can't get a boner. So there's that.
"I'll take that challenge."
If you somehow are able to achieve a zero-G erection, you'd better damned well make sure you've got multiple forms of birth control in effect. Think about it; they're not going to stock an interstellar mission with tens of millions of dollars of extra supplies on the off chance an extra crew member will pop out of somebody's womb. But that's not the only reason a pregnancy in space would be bad news.
Experiments done on mice embryos have shown that a lack of gravity messes with an egg's ability to properly develop. Add to that the markedly higher doses of radiation an astronaut is typically exposed to, and the result is not going to be something whose picture you'd want to keep in your wallet.
Of course, we've avoided the most obvious reason: you don't have to have spent time around too many dating couples at the office to know how it screws up the team dynamic. Take the bickering and innuendo and breakups and crying, and imagine being stuck with that while sealed inside a huge metal tube for several years.
Dead. Both of them.
Even now, NASA doesn't allow married couples to go on the same trip (there has been one exception, where the couple got married right before launch and it was too late to change the plans). As NASA knows, the true power of love is its ability to make even brilliant, highly skilled people turn into kidnap/murder plotting, 500 mile driving, diaper wearing crazy people.
That simply can't happen on a starship--romantic entanglements would have to be forbidden. You'll have to be compatible with these people, if for no other reason than to make it less awkward when you're drinking their recycled pee.
"So... how 'bout them sports teams?"
Hey, speaking of recycled pee...
Big, comfy chairs, high ceilings, carpet. The Starship Enterprise is basically a damned star-hopping cruise ship.
Remember the Nostromo, the dim, filthy, depressing ship from Alien? Imagine that, but much, much more cramped. The luxurious starship from Star Trek is based on a couple of technologies that, as far as we know, will never, ever be possible:
A. Replicators that can instantly manufacture anything at all--food, clothing, spare parts--out of thin air;
B. A virtually unlimited, self-contained energy supply that requires very little room for storage.
Until somebody invents those things--and that may very well require the work of a wizard--space ships will continue to look more like this:
Many tons of equipment, wires and hoses crammed into every nook and cranny, with the humans basically just in the way.
If you're on a craft that has to take a decades-long trip and come back with something other than two dozen skeletons floating around inside, then every single spare inch of space--even more so than what you see up there--will be devoted to storage. Fuel, food, spare parts, medical supplies, machines to recycle your water and air; those are the systems whose sharp corners you will continually be banging your elbow on every time you make a sudden movement.
Those pics are from the International Space Station, which actually isn't a fair comparison since they aren't having to include all of the stuff it'll take to 1) get your sorry ass to another solar system, 2) accommodate for the fact that you're years away from help or resupply and 3) house lots and lots more people--you'll need doctors, engineers, scientists, etc. So it'd be more like a submarine:
Everybody packed together like sardines. For years. Why wouldn't the designers throw in some extra head room to make the voyagers more comfortable? Because every extra bit of ship is going to cost somebody millions--just getting cargo into orbit on board the space shuttle costs $20,000 a pound. That's also why you'll be drinking your own pee.
Remember to keep your pinky out so as not to appear uncivilized.
Yeah, the pee drinking thing. Water is heavy. You can't store much of it, and what you have is carefully rationed and recycled. The space station recycles sweat, urine, general humidity in the air, everything. Bathing is done with a damp wash cloth. So maybe it's less submarine and more filthy pirate ship.
Hell, even the Nostromo had normal gravity on board, everybody walking around as if they're back home on Earth. In Star Trek, even their tiny shuttles have it. They're certainly not floating around the cabin like a bunch of dumbasses, slamming their head into a cabinet because they forgot to strap themselves down before they went to bed.
Man, those guys on the Nostromo had it good.
First of all, you do need gravity. Human bodies just fall apart without it. Without that constant working of your muscles due to gravity pulling you to the ground 24 hours a day, those muscles--including your heart--begin to shrink and your bones become brittle. Eventually you become so weak that the exertion of just sitting in a bed in normal Earth gravity will kill you.
Modern astronauts are able to counter the worst of these effects with heavy exercise, but if you're going to be gone for decades (and more on that in a moment), you're going to have to make your own gravity. The only plausible way we've ever come up with for doing this is to spin the freaking ship around so fast that it pins you to the floor.
If you've ever been on a carnival ride you're already familiar with the "centripetal force" that seems to be squishing you against the seat. For all practical purposes, that is gravity. So you'd be living in a spinning ring, where the outside wall is your floor.
If living for years on board a huge carnival ride sounds like a nightmarish puke-a-thon, well, it probably would be. You might also notice that the cartoon man up there is continually walking uphill, no matter where he goes. If you're going to have everybody living in the same area, that's about the only way to do it.
Presumably, if you tripped you would just fall and fall and fall.
Other designs feature multiple separate compartments, spinning opposite each other with a tether in between. Which could also work, until somebody needs to go from one compartment to the next, at which point they get to experience the awesome feeling of gravity shifting half way through their walk down the hall. Again, keep a well-stocked station of vomit buckets along the way.
But hey, who cares about physical comfort? Take one look out the window and your blues will go away! You're in space, baby!
The problem is...