Daily Archives: November 11th, 2007

Wagons Ho!

From Centauri Dreams:

In going into space, we need to think differently. All of these technologies we describe in our book could be done today,” says Johnson (NASA MSFC), who manages the agency’s Space Science Programs and Projects Office. Technologies such as solar sails, their great historical precedent being the clipper ships that once plied our seas. Solar sails are entirely plausible within today’s physics and offer an evolutionary engineering pathway to bigger and faster missions and, who knows, perhaps beamed-power versions that might ultimately take us to the stars. The point being that some of us see interstellar emigration as inevitable with or without the paraphernalia of Star Trek’s Enterprise.

Quasar9 and myself have had this discussion numerous times. His position is that space exploration is going to follow along the lines of the old British Empire and the current American model; Create bases and ports of call along the way, exploiting the resources at each location. Since the initial resources (oxygen, food, water, etc.) have to be transported to these “bases” or ports  until the local resources can be utilized, the cost of initial exploration(s) can only be funded by individual governments, or a partnership of them. Because of interplanetary distances and time frames involved, he likens the explorers to crews on submarines, who must endure months at a time submerged under water with no outside contact, in order to maintain the stealth aspect of their missions.

All of the reasons he gave are realistic and logical. In fact, that seems to be the model that is being followed. One also must not forget the military aspects of space exploration to nations that are doing this. It provides a venue to test technologies that can not be performed on Earth and enhances national pride. It also explores other technologies that can be used on Earth and to keep track of your rivals. Witness the budding Asian space race between China, India and Japan (China, of course denies this).

But I prefer the model given by Gregory Matloff, Les Johnson and the artist C Bangs, a gradual approach funded by private enterprise and government. As discussed in an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle , Matloff makes a distinction between Star Trek and Wagon Train:

The first image on stage at the talk was not a futuristic spaceship but a covered wagon, designed as kind of a “prairie boat,” said Matloff, a physics professor at the College of Technology.

“Spacecraft using solar sails, using the power of sun and star light, can propel space travelers at ever-increasing speeds. Imagine going from Downtown Brooklyn to Montauk in three seconds.”

The idea for cosmic explorers and settlers of the solar system and nearby star systems is sort of based on a “wagon train to the stars” (sounds like the concept of the original “Star Trek”) or an “interstellar cosmic railroad” system. What the couple do in their informative and inspirational book is to describe extensions of current and upcoming technologies that should allow for advanced space propulsion systems, such as electric ion engines, solar sails and other emerging technologies now on drawing boards

In the end, I conceded that any space travel is better than no space travel. My main wish is that the military purposes will eventually take a back seat to actual cooperation between all Mankind to explore the Cosmos as one.

That may be wishful thinking on my part, but that’s the eleven year old kid in me.

Original post at Centauri Dreams