Tech UPTechnologyCould we build (and live) on the Death Star?

Could we build (and live) on the Death Star?

Let’s look at the first, destroyed by Luke Skywalker in the decisive Battle of Yavin . With 140 km in diameter, 1.2 million people lived in it, of which 340,000 were imperial soldiers and 26,000 stormtroopers. To get an idea of the magnitude of what we are talking about. Let’s assume that the density of the Death Star is similar to that of a standard aircraft carrier and that it is made primarily of steel. How much would it take? Just over a billion billion tons. That’s a lot? If Earth were the supplier of steel to the Empire, we would have life settled for all eternity, because at the current rate of global steel production, it would take 800,000 years to reach that figure . That’s for the smallest battle station in the series!

The choice of Geonosis as the construction site could not have been more unwise since, being a planet characterized by the almost total absence of natural resources, the cost of transporting the materials represents a very high fraction of the budget. The only reason to build the Death Star there is because the technicians , the Geonosians, are there . Wouldn’t it have been smarter to build it on a planet with abundant natural resources and send the technicians there? What difference does it make! As in all movies with supervillains, the money came to Palpatine out of doors. It is what has the dark reverse of the force.

And the cost of labor? The first Death Star was built by Wookiee slaves , cheap labor where ever it was. But Wookiees aren’t droids and they need air, so let’s do some math again. Suppose three-fifths of the station is pressurized space. That means 8.23 trillion cubic meters of nitrogen and 1.65 trillion cubic meters of oxygen will be needed, assuming that all Star Wars species breathe an atmosphere similar to ours. This implies spending 263.33 trillion galactic credits on oxygen alone and 3.48 quadrillion on nitrogen. Then the cost – only in breathable atmosphere for the slaves – would be about 20 quadrillion credits . Or what is the same, with that money we could move all of humanity to the red planet. And now let’s add the cost of installing the life support systems, the computers, the laser cannons… in short, everything that makes the Death Star a battle station. Palpatine’s line of credit must have had galactic proportions.

Whatever Governor Tarkin says, there are three key issues in keeping a station like the Death Star operational: having air to breathe, water to drink, and food to put in your mouth . Because without those basic resources the battle station would literally be a death star. Or dead.

In real space stations, the water supply is essential, as it is also used as a source of breathable air: oxygen is obtained from hydrolysis, with which water is separated into its constituent atoms. Therefore, the fundamental problem of the Death Star is the water supply . With 1.2 million people stationed, it involves 70,000 tons of water daily, which means that a cargo ship similar to an average oil tanker must arrive every day just to give the entire station water.

Feeding more than a million mouths on the Death Star is another logistical problem faced by the Empire. What they ate… we can only speculate on that. In our world, astronauts eat between 2,500 to 3,000 calories spread over 3-4 meals. But the main problem is not the kitchen, but the storage: in the International Space Station the complete diet of an astronaut should not exceed two kilos of food per day. Let’s be optimistic and imagine that the Empire has managed to reduce that weight by a quarter, so that each person on the station consumes half a kilo of food a day: more than a million people means half a million tons a day. Since the Death Star relies exclusively on external supplies, the logistics of keeping it running are a nightmare.

It is obvious that Galen Walton Erso’s main concern should not have been the planet-destroying cannon (in the end it is nothing more than a beastly turbolaser tower) but the very habitability of the station. Since its occupants were going to live in it for a long time, he had to make it a comfortable place to live. Staying for a week is not the same as staying for several months: when we go on a trip we can manage with a more spartan place if our stay is going to be for two days, but we look for something better if we go for a month. The Empire may be evil, but if it wants to maintain itself, it must take care of those who defend it. The reason is simple: little comfort means little performance. Thus, the Russians discovered at their Salyut stations that by improving food quality, waste management (essentially, not finding garbage on every corner), and introducing entertainment systems, they reduced boredom, irritability, and other psychological problems. In short, and as they said in Babylon 5, trying to create a “home away from home”.

How much space does a person require to live comfortably? According to NASA, a habitable volume (that is, usable, not storage) of five cubic meters is tolerable and 17 cubic meters is optimal for a six-month mission. Other estimates give a value of 68 cubic meters for one person for a whole year. In this space it is necessary to include a private and personal area, essential to maintain a healthy social coexistence. And 68 cubic meters for a million people… we can now do the math.

Do we realize how complicated it is to build a space station? It gives more headaches to design all the systems that allow the survival of a human being than to build a superlaser that destroys entire planets. The moral is that keeping the entire crew of imperial soldiers alive and in perfect condition is no small feat.

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