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How Many People Does It Take to Colonize Another Star System?

Popular Mechanics asks the question, but doesn’t look too deeply for alternative answers.

It’s a pretty interesting study, just looking at the different sizes of possible “classic” generation-ship missions and how to both ensure survivability (against unexpected problems en-route) and maintain genetic diversity (necessary for adaptability to unknown conditions en-route and at the destination). Small starting populations, obviously, aren’t as robust and end up significantly less diverse – the threshold seems to be around 10,000, and the ideal is around 40,000.

Which, hey, if you’re able to send a generation ship at all, making one carry 40,000 (or as suggested, several ships each carrying part of the whole for better redundancy) is probably the least of your problems.

Of course, there is a way to make it work with a much smaller crew and still have all the genetic diversity you could ever need: frozen embryos. Or perhaps, by the time such a mission became feasible, genomes stored as data and “reconstituted”.

Given the number of times this has been used in science fiction, I’m a little surprised that they didn’t at least mention it as alternative fix (even if it was not part of the study).

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