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ruveyn ben yosef

It's been a long time to get for Here to There....

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I am happy to hear that a private company has lofted a vehicle into space (Space-X). But let us keep a sense of proportion. Our space technology, comparatively speaking is still in the age of the wooden sailing ship*. Our best rocket propelled space craft is using an elaboration of the the technology the Chinese perfected 2000 years ago. The Chinese rocket and later the British Congreve rocket is essentially an SRB (solid rocket booster) of the sort that lifts the abominable space shuttle to shamefully low orbit. (How many billions of $$$ and we can't put a manned station in better than a 400 mile orbit? -- Jesus!)

The problem is Time. Using chemically fueled rockets we have to use burn and coast (free fall) to get about. This gives us trajectory speeds between 25,000 and 50,000 m.p.h. with a slight gain using gravitational slingshots around Jupiter and the Sun. In terms of what we need to get about to make a home in the solar system, this is basically a row-boat method.

We have to exploit a method of propulsion that allows for steady acceleration over a long period of time to get to much better speeds. In recent years very small ion rocket motors have been deployed to make visits to various and sundry comets. So far so good. But these are unmanned missions with very small payloads. This is note-in-a-bottle exploration, not nearly good enough to plant flags on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn or have someone look at Uranus really close up with their own eyes.

There are two ways we have to make a break through:

1. Develop the ion drive (or something like it) so we can accelerate over long periods on the journey. To do interstellar flight we need something like the Busard Ram Scoop and thermonuclear propulsion systems. Scoop up hydrogen en route and use it in a fusion reaction.

2. We have to increase human life span or perfect sleep preservation technology. We live to be about 70 to 80 years. Not long enough. To get a relativistic time dilation factor of 2 speeds of 0.8 light speed are required. Ion drive itself is not going to do the job.

In any case, launching bottle rockets into space is fun and we can cheer and applaud, but that is not going to make us a space-faring nation nor a civilization that will populate our own little archapeligo in space.

More work, more ideas and some ambition is what is required. I will tell you this, NASA or even ESA does not have the chops for the task.


*There is no shame in wooden sailing ship technology. The wooden sailing ship was perfected by the middle of the 19th century. The clipper-ships could do a respectable 15 to 20 knots in the right wind, which is about half what our fastest air-craft carriers do. Empires were built and colonies planted, carried abroad by wooden sailing ships. But they have their limitations -- mainly Time.

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