I Just recently saw some news of a Fusion Driven Rocket. This new form of space travel could make the trip to Mars take only 30 days rather than the six month trip it is today. I like the idea of space travel and I would love to see people go to Mars and find out if there really is life there. According to The Register:
“This new engine is a 150-ton system that uses magnetism to compress lithium or aluminum metal bands around a deuterium-tritium fuel pellet to initiate fusion. The resultant microsecond reaction forces the propellant mass out at 30 kilometers per second, and would be able to pulse every minute or so and not cause g-force damage to the spacecraft's occupants.”
While we never got a man on Mars by the end of the 20th century we did send space probes to all eight planets and some many times more than once. We now have close up pictures of all the major planets and their moons. We have way more information that we every had when I was still a growing up. I believe we will see space probes sent to nearby stars by the end of the century.
Not people though. We have sent people to the moon, but we are still having trouble with the trip to Mars. Sending people to space is a good idea, but it lags way behind sending probes. The reasons for that are simple. Probes are much safer. They are more efficient since they don’t require food or other necessities for humans. Probes don’t get bored spending years at a time locked up in a space ship with nothing to really do. Also probes can go one way and not have to return. That is why probes have made it tall all the planets, some of the moons and yet humans have only been to our own moon. Likewise the first trip to our nearest stars will be probes. They can be exhilarated from their launch point and not have to be re-launched to get back to earth. A one-way trip is perfect. Traveling at near the speed of light is dangerous. Hitting a grain of sand could be catastrophic for the probe. But no loss of life will take place.
Just as this new form of engine can make a rocket faster, it is likely we will discover even faster forms of transportation. According to the law of physics we can’t move faster than light. But at near the speed of light we could send probes that might get to nearby stars within 20 years and then we would need about 4.5 to 6 or 8 light years to get the messages sent back to us. It is a long time, but not the thousands of years as our present space travel would take us.
ROSS ANDERSEN recently wrote about Bernard’s Star, a small red dwarf that is only 6 light years away. It is one of the closest stars to our solar system. Andersen wrote:
“Adam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester argued, in an op-ed for The New York Times, that interstellar travel would likely be beyond the reach of humanity for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Frank pointed out that the Voyager space probe, the most distant manmade object from Earth, would, at its current velocity, take more than 700 centuries to reach another star.”
Technology is moving very fast. We have particle accelerators that can push a sub-atomic particle to almost the speed of light. Some people believe we can move mass through such a machine by magnets to almost reach the speed of light. We already found a way to trim a six month trip down to 30 days. We will probably find way faster ways of moving objects in space by the end of the century.
Consider the jump in technology in the 20th century. In 1903 the Wright brothers fly an airplane and take credit for the first successful flying machine. The plane was made of string and other flimsy materials. It looked like a kite. In 1969, almost 65 years later we flew a flying machine to the moon and a man stood on that moon for the first time in human history. In my opinion that is a lot of progress for a short amount of time. From the beginning of human civilization to the 19 century, people either used horses for travel or traveled by foot. Then suddenly in the 1800s the steam engine is invented and from the beginning of the 20th century to its end, cars have completely replaced horses. In one jump our technology and its uses have changed dramatically and fast. The first cars were not that impressive. They were slow, unreliable, and there were no decent roads for them. Today cars are a major part of life for anyone living in a modern industrial society. In places where they don’t use cars people use busses.
So it is not inconceivable that we will find dramatically new technology in this coming 21st Century. There are always the draw backs of too much war, global warming and peak oil as possible calamities which could push technology back and divert our attentions elsewhere. That happened in the 1970s when world oil reserves began to shrink and NASA ambitions were scaled back. Interest in going to Mars or back to the Moon faded.Something like that could happen again. If our society learns to manage resources we may learn a lot about the space neighborhood we live in by the end of this century. Scientists are already predicting they will find alien life forms in our own solar system in the next 10 years.
Pix by www.bbc.co.uk.