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

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12 responses

  1. Hat tip to Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams.

    I love his site and he is always on top of evolving space technologies.

    Again, thanks.

  2. In your reading, Dad, have you come across any ideas as to how to implement artificial gravity for long, deep space missions?

    We can’t be on our backs the entire time and I don’t think suspended animation is a realistic option.

    Artificial gravity might help eliminate some of the issues with bone and muscle loss.

  3. Antigravity is the key answer to space propulsion problem

  4. Christopher: Other than spinning a spacecraft using centripetal force to create artificial gravity, no.

    I believe that idea is being taken into consideration the U.S., Russia, China and India mission planners are drawing up.

    Dr. Robert Zubrin, the designer of the Mars Direct mission concept proposed using a “1,500-meter tether. Both masses spin around a common center at one rotation per minute; Zubrin claimed that the resulting artificial gravity, plus an exercise program, would reduce bone loss and muscle atrophy in astronauts to acceptable levels.”

    Travel times to Mars vary from six to eight months. Artificial gravity using centripetal force is a necessity, not an option.

    Zubrin’s plan is very doable. But he’s been fighting government corruption and huge MIC contractors for years about his idea. That’s a crying shame.

    http://chapters.marssociety.org/toronto/Education/MarsDirect.shtml
    http://www.rps.psu.edu/0305/direct.html
    http://www.astronautix.com/craft/marirect.htm

  5. Lubo: Anti-gravs would be nice. So would some kind of inertia-less drive.

    Even if we do have some retro-engineered UFO tech, it won’t be utilized. Secrecy is of the utmost importance to our government.

  6. dad, we will never leave near Earth orbit when we still use conventional rocket propulsion. Not to mention that the Van Allen belt will kill astronauts in a conventional spaceship.
    One other oportunity, different from antigravity is a VASIMR craft. Hydrogen plasma could create an artificial field shield around the craft, which will protect the crew.
    The reason why we don’t use antigrav is the OIL industry! We are slaves, and we must uprise against this oil economy, which turns every try to scientific breakthrough to dust

  7. Yeah, oil mega-corps are a bastard and they have stifled innovation.

    But don’t kid yourself, they have their dirty little mitts in other things, even “green” tech.

    When they figure it’ll profit them to utilize and fund space tech, they will.

  8. What must be done is launching a satellite with propellantless propulsion. I hope that there are hidden companies, which are doing something in this direction or someone in a garage.
    This is the only way to break this isolation.

  9. Another Tesla?

    That would be nice.

  10. For now it seems that we have to put up with the pitiful space travel we have. And we have to face the fact the U.S. is no longer going to be the leader in the field, given our current financial situation and the economic house of cards that is falling down around our ears.

    Sad and disgusting. It didn’t have to be this way.

  11. Dad,

    I think the tether idea I saw on the Mars Direct program I posted about here.

    It’s simple but kinda’ strange too. I mean, a rope is trusted to provide artificial gravity to a crew of humans? What if it breaks?

    But I agree. Long missions into deep space will require artificial gravity or our bones and muscles are fucked.

  12. Yup, you did Christopher.

    I’m sure the tether would be made of carbon nanotubes or something stronger.

    Sometimes the simple idea is the best.

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