Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!

with 2 comments

Daedalus_ship

Every once and awhile the topic of interstellar travel comes up in my Facebook meanderings, and usually people say the distances are too great, humans will never spread to the stars. And I helpfully point out that flight times of 50-100 years to nearby stars are feasible, so there’s at least some chance humans will slowly spread out among the stars.* At this point there’s usually a chorus of people pointing out that the fastest probe humans have ever built will take tens of thousands of years to reach even the nearest star.

True enough. However, and it’s a big however, none of the probes we have launched were designed to travel to nearby stars. So it’s comparing apples to oranges. A number of design studies have been done, and without any exotic technologies, speeds of .12C (or higher!) are possible. 12% of the speed of light, IE up to 22,000 miles per second (35,000 kps) or 80 million mph (130 million kph.) These would be with some version of nuclear powered drives. That would get us to the nearest star in about 50 years. Of course that would be a flyby, basically a probe. Still, that means young people today could conceivably be alive to see the first images sent back from nearby stars. And assuming our hypothetical ship wants to stop when it gets there, flight times of 100 years so are possible.

Flight times like that are good for a probe, but even 50 years is stretching it for travellers. And I checked, even though .12C is a relativistic velocity, time dilation is minimal at that speed. Still, generation ships would be possible, that’s basically sending a colony into space, the colonists knowing that while they wouldn’t live to see Proxima Centauri, their children and grandchildren would. A more promising approach, and favored in so so much scifi, would be some sort of induced hibernation.

These sort of details seem solvable, but what if they hit something on the way? At .12C even a marble would likely do the trick. Still, interstellar space is very barren compared to the Solar System’s environs, and with hundreds of probes etc sailing around for decades, none has ever been hit by anything remotely large. And even then, a beryllium shield, and firing a dust cloud ahead of the ship to vaporise any large particles, should do the trick. Outer space really is incredibly empty. That’s why we can see stuff that’s billions of light years away, there’s very little between us. Would it be risk free? Of course not. Has that ever stopped human exploration before?

Which leads to another objection, are humans capable of projects that will take lifetimes to complete? To us westerners in our infantile instant gratification culture, yeah, seems unlikely. Historically speaking, there are examples of great projects being started that wouldn’t be finished for generations. The great cathedrals of Europe for example. And plenty of people travelled to the new world knowing full well their chances of ever coming back were minimal. So it’s easily within the range of human capabilities. And some people are trying at least.

So why aren’t we building and launching these bad boys? Easy, we need the money for the rich and our giant militaries. Yachts with their own yachts cost serious money people. Even a probe such as we are talking about would be hundreds of billions of dollars with no guarantee of success, and a century or more for results. I mean the money is there, but the human race at this point in time is ghastly with its spending priorities. And that’s a topic for historians and sociologists. My theory is that we’re not really an intelligent species.

Have a great weekend everyone, comments, suggestions, shares appreciated.

*This is what the Fermi Paradox is all about, even if only spreading at light speed, intelligent aliens should have colonized the entire galaxy long ago, where are they?

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Proposed Daedalus starship. Credit and copyright: Gerritse, used in accordance with Wikipedia guidelines.)

Written by unitedcats

July 26, 2019 at 4:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. I still come back to the idea that Fermi assumes all intelligent life will WANT to “have colonized the entire galaxy” and that such progression and expansion is an inevitable part of life. More and more, I’m beginning to think that’s only the way “invasive” species like us think and most “intelligence” looks for a more stable, sustainable model for living that doesn’t involved spreading across the galaxy like a plague :)

    elronsteele

    July 26, 2019 at 7:35 am

    • Yes, but that’s a layer of special pleading. Fermi’s Paradox is based on, we’re here, why don’t we see any others like us? It’s a good question. We might find planets full of sentient mushrooms perfectly happy to never colonize space, but that won’t make Fermi go away, it will just focus it.

      unitedcats

      July 31, 2019 at 7:02 pm


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