Space Travel: Not for the likes of you?

“It’s always science fiction until someone goes out and does it”

Depressingly, it seems a number of scientists and academics have largely written off the possibiity of interstellar travel. The gist of the conversation seems to be on prohibitive costs, lack of materials and unworkable concepts. A fair point. With our current level of technology, it wouldn’t be possible to travel to a nearby star within a human lifetime.

Mind you, a hundred years ago it was considered impossible to go to the Moon or Mars. It wasn’t significantly before that on the grand scale of things that it was considered impossible to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It’s fairly well established by now that we can do these things. It’s not inconceivable then, that in a couple of hundred years, interstellar travel might be readily achievable.

Nonetheless, by modern standards, even sending a tiny probe to another star is a goliath feat of engineering, the like of which humanity has never seen before. Stars aren’t exactly close to each other, and the prospects of fuel and materials for a ship intended to travel at near-relativistic speeds are staggering.

For power, obviously a starship would have to be completely self sufficient. It’s not like you could just make a pit stop between stars, after all. Chemical energy which has served us humans well for hundreds of years just wouldn’t cut it. Some form of nuclear energy would be far more likely, but at the same time that would still require fuel storage. A sustainable form of nuclear fusion which could last for a long time would be required. Not just that, but a form of fusion which could produce more energy than our entire planet generates now. I suspect we may need to solve the somewhat closer-to-home issue of the global energy supply first.

This is an interesting little conundrum, actually. One which it may take us a long time to solve. It’s not unlikely that we simply don’t yet know enough about spacetime itself to understand how we could travel through space. As Wired point out, people can dream up all sorts of exotic means of propulsion, but that doesn’t make them practicable in the real world. It has to be said though, that with all of those wacky ideas there must be one or two that could work. Like the Alcubierre drive, for instance. Or the Heim Drive (an idea which has apparently been considered). Even “antigravity” has been seriously considered by some.

I’m quite interested by a quotation from MIT’s Paulo Lozano though: “There is a lot of interesting stuff that you cannot do even in the solar system. We have the technical means to do it. But some of the most sophisticated technologies … we have not developed. Not because we can’t, but because we have not made it a priority.”

Statements like that never fail to pique my interest. Either way, it’s heartening to know that people have far from given up on this particular quest!

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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