USS Clueless Stardate 20010719.0105

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Stardate 20010719.0105 (On Screen): I am always interested in hearing about big engineering. When I heard that the Japanese built the world's largest suspension bridge, I was rapt. I've been following the development of the VLT in Chile by the ESO for years, because when complete it will be the world's largest and most powerful optical telescope. On the other hand, some big engineering fills me with skepticism. While the "Chunnel" was an impressive technical achievement, it was economically misguided and probably will never break even. I've never thought that "national pride" was a good reason to toss a few billion dollars (or the equivalent in local currency) down the toilet. So I look with distaste at a utopian project to build a floating city of one hundred thousand souls, and I ask why? What, exactly, will be accomplished by this that couldn't be accomplished by building a marina in the Florida Keys and giving each occupant a boat? This sucker would be fantastically expensive to build, far more than a equivalent occupancy on dry-land, since they also have to build the land the city floats on (the ship's hull) and they're going to be building it out of high grade steel, which isn't cheap. A couple of years ago, Carnival built a 100,000 ton ocean liner capable of carrying 4500 people and it cost $400 million. And that's a rowboat compared to this mother. That's about 21 tons of displacement per person. No-one has ever built a ship weighing 2.1 million tons before. (The largest ship in existence, an oil supertanker, displaces about a tenth of that.)

The theory is that the purpose of building it on a hull is that it could sail around ("As it circumnavigates the world..."); it is certainly a poetic image to think of a city voting on whether to sail to the Mediterranean or the Caribbean next, or maybe we ought to visit Fiji -- but it's a crock. The reason is that a hundred thousand people and a ship carrying them will consume massive amounts of supplies, and that's going to have to be delivered to this thing somehow. "Daily purchases by the ship from farm co-ops, packers, and distributors will provide a constant supply of fresh meat, fish, dairy, and produce." In the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Not too damned many farm co-ops two thousand miles south-east of Honolulu.

If it's not tied up at a dock, it will have to be met every day or so by cargo ships just to unload all the bulk cargo needed to keep everyone on board alive, let alone happy. Move too far from your source of supply and everyone on board will starve. The further you are from your base, the longer it takes for a cargo ship to reach you and the more cargo ships you'll need. The number of support ships available will put distinct upper limits on how far this thing can go from its home port; they'll stretch like a chain between it and home base. It isn't practical to use the nearest port because there's no way to arrange all the commercial cargo needed on a catch-as-catch-can basis. There's no possible way of supplying it primarily by air, since the largest plane which will be able to land on it is a 2-engine turboprop capable of carrying 40 people. You're talking maybe 3 tons of cargo in a plane that size; for a hundred thousand people that's enough to last about a minute and a half, and a plane like that only has a range of about a five hundred miles (since it has to carry its own fuel for the return trip). Counting fuel and ship's consumables and spare parts and consumer goods and food, you can figure at least twenty pounds of supplies per person per day for normal operation. In other words, you need at least thousand tons of cargo per day. You're also going to have to carry away perhaps a quarter of that in the form of garbage and other refuse. (The rest floats away as smoke out the ship's stack or is dumped as effluent into the ocean.)

Consider some of the canard's in this things descriptions. For instance: "The modest cost of onboard labor and utilities will be one reason, but total freedom from local taxes will be the biggest contributor. The community will levy no taxes, direct or indirect." Well, somebody is going to have to pay to operate this mother, and whether you call it a tax or something else, everyone on board is going to have to contribute a lot of money to the cost of operation. You've got police and street cleaners and engineers and crew, and people working in the water and sewage plants, and a lot of people working to load and unload cargo to keep everyone fed, and cops and firemen and doctors and nurses and medics, and accountants and other bureaucrats; there's going to be substantial amounts of staff working for the ship proper (I figure on the order of 10% of that hundred thousand people) and they've all got to be paid. And in fact, they call it a "monthly maintenance fee", and it's going to be damned stiff. For a 1200 square foot home, it's going to cost you a million bucks, and $2000 per month in non-tax. It looks as if the monthly non-tax per person runs $300-$500 (based on their occupancy, which looks damned cramped to me; two

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004