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14 November 2014 @ 09:00 am
More Interstellar  
Let's pretend that i'm in charge of NASA in the film Interstellar, based on what we saw from the film.

Advisor: We've sent a probe through the wormhole! It indicates that there are 12 planets on the other side, but the signal bandwidth coming back is so low that we can't tell which are habitable.

Me: What resources do we have available?

Advisor: We figure we can put together 12 landers, each capable of going through the wormhole and then travel to and safely land on a planet. But they won't have enough fuel to return. I figure we can get enough volunteers to put one person and one robot on each ship, with supplies to keep that person alive for a couple years.

Me: So there we'll be sending each person alone, with no companionship except a robot, to a planet that might not even be habitable, with limited supplies and no way back?

Advisor: Yes, it'll probably be a suicide mission, but i'm sure we can find some brave souls to volunteer!

Me: Couldn't we just send the robots without the humans? Without all the weight spent on supplies there might even be enough fuel to return after assessing the planet.

Advisor: Wouldn't work, the robots don't have enough initiative. This mission requires human intuition![1] Since we can't communicate easily with them once they arrive in the system we need humans to go along with them. And because of that limited bandwidth we won't hear much more back from them than "habitable" or "not habitable", so we need to be very sure they make the right call.

Me: But the problem with communications is just with sending the signal through the wormhole itself, right?

Advisor: That seems to be the case.

Me: So why don't we send the 12 ships with 12 humans and 12 robots. But when they get to the other side how about they stop there. They use telescopes and other sensors to scan the planets from a distance where they can decide which seem most promising based on more detailed data. Then maybe they pick the six most promising planets and send ships there, maybe even just with robots on board while the humans stay behind. Then if the robots confirm the sensor readings a second ship can be sent down with another robot and a couple humans. The 12th ship should stay in station by the wormhole, collecting reports from all the other ships. When it's determined that a habitable planet has been found, or that they've exhausted all their resources without finding anything, that ship can fly back through the wormhole and let us know exactly what's going on, instead of depending on disjointed and possibly faulty low-bandwidth reports.

Advisor: Huh, that would probably work a lot better.

[1] This excuse (or something very similar) has been given by Nolan in interviews in response to the same question.
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Sister Atom Bomb of Courteous Debateakiko on November 14th, 2014 05:49 pm (UTC)
I am going to continue not to see Interstellar based on your (and Bear's) opinions.
DonAithnendonaithnen on November 14th, 2014 08:46 pm (UTC)

Does he(?) have a review up somewhere?

I feel like i should reiterate that it _is_ very pretty. And although some people have criticized the actors i thought hit a lot of the right emotional notes. It's just the science that bugged me (a fair bit, obviously.)

(For some reason i feel bad if i think i might have convinced someone not to see a movie, even when i think there are potentially good reasons not to see it =)
Sister Atom Bomb of Courteous Debateakiko on November 14th, 2014 08:49 pm (UTC)
I don't think Elizabeth Bear has put up an actual review, beyond tweeting about a week ago that that isn't how science, plots, or characters work. (She's @matociquala.)

I wasn't terribly interested in the movie in the first place; it seems like the sort of pretentious wankery that I would hate in general.
Steven DeFordwillworker on November 14th, 2014 06:49 pm (UTC)
To be fair, "stop" for a spacecraft is hard, fuel-wise. Then again, 2 years of supplies is pretty heavy; you could probably trade enough supplies-weight for fuel that one could do so.
DonAithnendonaithnen on November 14th, 2014 08:49 pm (UTC)
Well i wouldn't expect them to literally stop, just get into a matching or resonant orbit, or something like that. It's impossible to say what exactly the right approach should have been since we were given very few details about the exact configuration of the system, but i'm sure something could have been worked out with a little planning.
tommycruisestommy50702 on June 26th, 2015 08:08 am (UTC)
The best movie ever! Nolan never disappoints.