How much room do humans really need?

Say I’m building a spaceship to travel to Alpha Centauri. I know that it’s going to take several hundred years to reach its destination so multiple generations of crew will live their entire lives aboard the ship. I want their habitat to be roomy enough to keep them happy, healthy, and sane.

Assume a fairly small crew, maybe 20 or so people broken down into 4 to 5 family units. The population remains stable throughout the journey. The primary habitat is an artificial biosphere so they can feel like they’re out in the fresh air with grass and trees even though they’re in a bubble travelling through space.

What’s the minimum size for this biosphere? I can’t imagine living my entire life in the same one acre space. It would feel horribly claustrophobic. But how about ten acres? Or one hundred acres? How much open range do humans need to feel comfortable in the long term?

(My question really isn’t about spaceship design. It could just as well be framed as “How big an enclosure would space aliens need to keep humans in a zoo?” Don’t worry about the logistics of how they’re fed or their atmosphere is generated. I’m really just interested in how much room humans need to live.)

Submitted for your perusal: Biosphere 2.

Not really an answer, but since all this is sci-fi anyway, why don’t you pack 'em in like sardines but install a kickass Virtual Reality system?

Biosphere 2 was only about 3 acres in size and the people inside suffered from psychological stress after only a few months. I’m not really interested in the life-support aspect. I’m interested in the long-term psychological effects. For example, there are people who have lived for decades in prisons or mental institutions but being confined like that for long periods of time causes psychological problems.

How much free-range space does the average human need over the long term to live a healthy, normal life? 400 square miles is clearly more than enough. 3 acres clearly isn’t enough. Can we narrow the upper and lower bounds somewhat?

It totally depends on the person. In prison I would go insane. The thought of being stuck for months on a sub is something of nightmares for me. I like to drive a couple hundred miles away just to feel away for a while.

But guys I know who have done sub duty really don’t think twice about. The bitch about the smell but just kind of accept it as okay, and pretty normal after a while.

I’d imagine that you could pretty easily do psych profiles to find some people for whom living the rest of their lives on an acre would be doable, at least for the first generation. The second and furthers generations would either be okay and just not know of anything different, or be really unhappy, but probably make do.

I think a lot would depend on who you were with.

Exactly—put me in a single-wide mobile home with Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, and an unlimited supply of beer, and I will happily spend years (if not decades) within the confines of those four panel board walls.

FWIW, proponents of orbital space colonies have proposed that a first-generation space colony have 500 square feet of area (inner surface of rotating shell) per person (not counting non-residential areas). This translates to an urban density equivalent to people living in 3-4 story apartments with walkways and greenery commons. So it would be crowded but not obscenely so.

I think that being around the same people would be more of a problem then the actual living area

Nice, but I wonder how happy Sandra Bullock would be?


Seriously, based on my experiences in college, I would estimate that 10 to 20 percent of the population is basically impossible to live with and stay sane.

I imagine that the second generation on your ship will have no problems unless the space is very, very small. If all you’ve even known is a 2 acre bubble you’d be perfectly fine with it. People can grow accustomed to really weird things.

This is the kicker, I think.

If you work for a company, imagine being with these people for the rest of your life. On Earth, if things get uncomfortable, you can quit and find a different job. On the habitat, that is all there is.

Not even perosnality conflicts. What is someone who is ‘lower on the job scale’ decides he/she wants a ‘promotion’? On Earth, find a new job. To be stuck with these same people would be frustrating to the extreme.

What about sex/companionship? What about the poor guy who is the only one without a girl? Is he supposed to just take it without thoughts of 'If only some of the other males were to die" cropping up?

ChrisBooth12 has nailed a problem that, IMO, is larger than any other problem for long term space travel.

I think that this, and other reasons, is why if we do go…we will ‘have to go big’…as in habitats of tens of thousands+ rather than 20.

Emotions and conflicts could reach extremely explosive proportions.

Plus the problem of inbreeding & lack of genetic diversity.

With only “20 or so” people (10 breeding couples, if monogamous) for hundreds of generations, you would have real problems with this.

The pesky necessity of going to work :stuck_out_tongue: meant I couldn’t post this earlier, but I was going to say that the issue of room has two distinct meanings: confinement and crowding. To give two opposite examples: if you’re locked by yourself in an 6x10 foot prison cell, you’re severely confined, but being alone you aren’t crowded. If you’re in a 40,000 seat stadium filled to capacity and you’re free to go to the bathroom, the refreshment counter, go talk to a friend with seats on the opposite side, etc. you’re not confined but you are very crowded.

Usually one can be tolerated at least temporarily if the other isn’t a problem, or vice-versa. In the space colony example I gave earlier, people could trade off: if you’re sick of the crowds you can stay in your efficiency apartment; or if you’re suffering from cabin fever you can get out and go stroll the mall.

And yeh, any permanent colony would need thousands, not tens, of people to work out in the long run.

Certainly you could bring a gallon of sperm mixed up from the local sperm bank. Voila, instant Vegas genetic diversity. Maybe toss in a couple thousand frozen embryos from Hollywood statlets so that we start our colony out lookin’ good.