In the TV Series "The Expanse", in the first episode, about 12 minutes in, we see the ice trawler Canterbury collecting large pieces of ice as cargo, to ship them to Ceres.

The collecting work is done by drones and cranes.

Why do they even load the ice into a ship, instead of shipping it right away with the use of the drones all the way to Ceres?

I guess this would be much more cost effective, let alone less dangerous.

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    What is the light-speed delay between your base and the icy body? How fragile or difficult is the task? How does automation manage any problem that might arise during a collection? Drones managed on-site are a lot different than drones operated across hours or days of signal delay. Dec 15, 2016 at 21:59
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    The whole point of drones is that they are programmed to handle the necessary tasks without constantly referring back to human operators.
    – J Doe
    Jan 26, 2017 at 20:18
  • Both answers are correct. For harder sci-fi more in line with what you might be looking for, I highly recommend Seveneves. It's arguably Stephenson's finest work since Snow Crash and Diamond Age. In it, he addresses the drone aspect which you so astutely raise, and orbital mechanics are more fully explicated and rendered.
    – DukeZhou
    Jan 26, 2017 at 22:09
  • Good answers already. My (in-universe) answer would be: Labor is cheaper. Today we could conceivably have robots make everything, but humans are cheaper and more versatile. True, in the future drones will be more advanced, but the colonization of the solar system is in part due to overpopulation. So more drones, sure, but lots and lots of people willing to work too.
    – Flambino
    Feb 5, 2017 at 22:44
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    Presumably no one is gonna want big chunks of matter being launched towards habitats with some sort of direct human control. Drones can be hacked for malfunction, then you basically just orbitally bombarded yourself!
    – Jason K
    Feb 21, 2017 at 22:23

2 Answers 2


Because drones don't make for compelling characters.

The authors actually addressed exactly this in another interview (well, a reddit AMA) today:

Q: To the extent that your books about the future reflect the times we're living in now, they are provocative and fascinating and an awesome read. What sorts of things that happen in the expanse do you really think will happen in the future, and what sorts of things are a reflection of our time and maybe you don't really think will work out that way? Will we always be at war with each other? Will there always be religion? Most importantly to me, do you really think the food will suck? I feel great sympathy every time someone has to drink crappy fungus-based whiskey. I'm kind of hoping we figure out how to make test-tube proteins and hydroponic vegetables taste good.

A: As long as we are recognizably human we'll have war and religion, I think. Space mining is more likely to be robots rather than people, but mining robots are harder to make into compelling characters. I think by the time we have to make fungal whisky, we won't be thinking about how gross that is.

  • This title should be used in the accepted answer. I'm not a fan of "Because somebody wanted it that way" answers. Those are non-answers.
    – J Doe
    Jan 26, 2017 at 20:16
  • The OP is entitled to change the accepted answer if they chose. In fact, I think @tobiasvi has the right (and up to date) answer and I voted for it. However, I prefer to leave my answer as it is.
    – Paulie_D
    Jan 26, 2017 at 20:23
  • Yeah, my title doesn't really fit with your answer anyway, and my answer is really just a more precise version of yours, which is also correct.
    – tobiasvl
    Jan 26, 2017 at 21:18
  • Validating your point, although the books are surely plot driven, they can legitimately be said to be character driven, because the plots are always redirected by character attributes, typically in regards to Holden (although in the latest book, he branches out and it is Amos, Alex and Naomi who take on this role in the three sub-plots.) I like the plots and settings, but it is the character development in the series that keeps me coming back.
    – DukeZhou
    Jan 26, 2017 at 22:12
  • @DukeZhou Wasn't it the fifth book that branched out like that, not the latest? The sixth book is out, you know. Run to the book store!
    – tobiasvl
    Jan 27, 2017 at 8:00

Because it's the way James S.A. Corey wanted it.

The Expanse isn't hard science fiction where everything has to be scientifically explained, understood or even be based on real physics.


OB - Leviathan Wakes (the first book in The Expanse series) has a gritty and realistic feel. How much research did you do on the technology side of things, and how important was it to you that they be realistic and accurate?

JC - Okay, so what you’re really asking me there is if this is hard science fiction. The answer is an emphatic no. I have nothing but respect for well written hard science fiction, and I wanted everything in the book to be plausible enough that it doesn’t get in the way. But the rigorous how-to with the math shown? It’s not that story. This is working man’s science fiction.

It’s like in Alien, we meet the crew of the Nostromo doing their jobs in this very blue collar environment. They’re truckers, right? Why is there a room in the Nostromo where water leaks down off of chains suspended from the ceiling? Because it looks cool and makes the world feel a little messy. It gives you the feel of the world. Ridley Scott doesn’t explain why that room exists, and when most people watch the film, it never even occurs to them to ask. What kind of drive does the Nostromo use? I bet no one walked out of the film asking that question. I wanted to tell a story about humans living and working in a well populated solar system. I wanted to convey a feeling for what that would be like, and then tell a story about the people who live there.


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