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Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on March 4, 2002

The New York Times has a science article today on scientists and science fiction writers brainstorming on what it would take to send people to a planet orbiting one of the closer stars.

In Dr. Moore's rendition, all recruits for an interstellar odyssey would be guaranteed the opportunity, though not the requirement, to marry and have children. Mate choice would be part of the bargain as well, with the population cannily structured so that each cohort of individuals, on reaching sexual maturity, would have about 10 potential partners of a similar age to select from.

Dr. Moore and his colleagues have developed a computer simulation called Ethnopop, in which they asked how large the crew must be in order to maintain genetic variability over time while still allowing crew members a choice of sex partners. They determined that a founding crew could be as small as 80 to 100 people and stay viable for more than a thousand years, assuming that two rules were followed: women waited until they were in their mid-30's or so before having children, and they had only a couple each. Counterintuitive though it may seem, said Dr. Moore, delayed childbearing and small families are known to help maintain genetic variability in a closed population.

I'm of two minds on this. On one hand, if I have a problem finding a woman when there are, in theory, millions of them available here on Earth. How much more difficult of a problem will it be when there are only 10 to choose from. On the other had, I might start looking a whole lot better if there are only 9 other guys for the women to choose from.

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