This week’s selection is the very entertaining Aurora, by noted Science Fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson.
Aurora is the tale of a generation starship, an enormous vehicle many kilometers in size, that’s the first to leave our solar system enroute to another star system, Tau Ceti, almost twelve light years away. Their goal is to colonize a moon in the new system named Aurora.
Twelve isn’t a big number, but in light years it certainly is, as this journey is to take well over 150 years to complete. As a result, the inhabitants of the ship are not the original passengers, but their descendants, several generations later.
As the journey unfolds, the passengers must deal with a myriad of issues that largely source from the closed environment of the spacecraft, where materials, skills, equipment, tools and even ideas are in limited supply.
You’ve no doubt heard of similar stories previously, but this story is different, as author Kim Stanley Robinson is well known for his ability to create a highly realistic and technical feasible scenario of the near future. His most famous series, which is also worth reading, is the Mars series of three books in which he describes in fine detail the story of how Mars might be terraformed from Red, to Green to Blue.
But back to Aurora. You may be wondering what this tale might have to do with 3D printing. It turns out that the protagonists in the story make very heavy use of 3D printing technology on board the generation ship to create new and replacement objects.
That obviously makes sense, as it would be silly to stock spares for everything on board such a ship, as it would occupy unnecessary space and weight, which are critically important for this type of mission. 3D printers can produce any required part on demand, so long as you have a digital design handy.
But what’s more interesting are the materials you would use to fuel the 3D printers. Yes, there would likely be a good supply of generic materials loaded on board the ship at departure, but what happens when it gets low? Would you recycle materials? Are there other approaches?
You’ll have to read the book to find out.