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    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2008
    @muse hick:

    Solar sails. Magnetic sails. You can also keep your "motor" at home and launch streams of pellets at a pusher plate on the rear of the space ship.

    NASA has, or had, a sort of Blue Sky propulsion techniques program that looked at all sorts of unlikely stuff. It's probably a good idea to do so, but I wouldn't expect a Dean Drive to pop out of the works any time soon.
      CommentAuthormuse hick
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2008
    hmm, i'm kind of expecting an evolutionary spike anytime soon. it's been a while since the last brilliant revolutionary idea that had any kind of lasting impact. we need men of vision in power who don't re-route every single resource they have into blowing the crap out of people who know god by an other name just because they have lots of oil or israel doesn't like them
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2008 edited
    I theorized a magnetic pinch as a way for space travel a couple of years back but I scrapped the idea because no one could survive the launch. Essentially the launcher consists of a tube with two electromagnets inside that hold a craft afloat (think vertical maglev) while spinning it. The electromagnets would theoretically spin the object very, very, fast before suddenly reversing polarity and changing the direction of rotation. In my mind and limited knowledge of just about everything, this should send the object off into the void at great speed. Or crush it. Of course, the power requirements would be insane...

    Any of you phys/engineering heads know if this would work?
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2008
    Man, I hope so.
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2008 edited
    Use it to send the robots, so long as the magnetism doesn't render them useless, that is.
  1.  (2145.46)
    I thought about magnetic flux rerouting for that, but I'm a layman and I don't know how well it would work with a very large and powerful magnetic force.
  2.  (2145.47)
    Ok, let's combine some theories together and see what we get here.

    1. We get the Kardashev scale Orwellseyes pointed to...
    2. I will introduce the Technological Singularity to it, introduced to me by Dresden Codak...
    3. Let's then consider the Cognitive Surplus that Clay Shirky speaks about. (gleaned from Mr. Ellis's site)

    We are advanced enough to put men in space, we are advancing technologically to produce faster/safer ways to travel in space and we have more people networking and sharing ideas.

    From what I read and reason out, we're going to be colonizing the solar system in some fashion this century...
  3.  (2145.48)
    Not exactly on topic but just a pointer if anyone hasn't seen it already:

    [How I wish I had a science degree.]

    Edited to add: Many Futuroligists agree on The Singularity, Ray Kurzweil included: The Law of Accelerating Returns
  4.  (2145.49)
    I, also, personally love the idea of a future generation [our grandchildren hopefully] of space explorers.

    Not travelers, admittedly, but frontier men and women strapping a solar wind sail onto an ion-drive powered machine that has occasional Bussard ramjet bursts and somethin that can let them live and terraform for a while until they find a better way to actually travel.

    Given the opportunity, I'd do it in a nanosecond.

    @ Orwellseyes: I agree, NASA should open up the doors and as soon as they did, a flood of new ideas and collaborative projects would begin - in fact, computers left on over night should be calculating new equations for them. I think a collective effort like that went into figuring out various medical equations sometime ago. Would the internet's downtime resources combined compare with anything NASA's got or am I just hoping that all of us non-science degree students could make a difference?
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2008 edited
    Orwellseyes - I see your Gagarin and raise you a Korolev.
    Cosmonaut Sergei Korolev

    Zombinoid - want yet another valuable space resource? Hydrogen. Jupiter's full of it, Saturn's full of it and it's purer. Or for that matter, vacuum. Hard vacuum is really useful stuff.

    M1k3y - oh, gods, people aren't still talking about space elevators, are they? They won't work. It's not possible. You can't build up to a Clarke orbit, let alone beyond it. If you're thinking about going the other way, there are a few problems beyond the minor technical challenge of merely attempting to dangle a 36,000km cable from orbit. First, technological. We don't have strong enough materials; we can't make strong enough materials. Making strong enough materials to hold up under the strain would require violating some fundamental properties of either geometry, electromagnetic interactions, or basic mathematics. Please not to be doing any of these on the surface of an inhabited planet.

    Second, financial. There isn't enough capital in existence to finance something like that, and if there were the financiers would crash and burn. That's what typically happens to grand entrepreneurs who build massive infrastructure projects.

    And third, social. We're talking about people who object to wind turbines and fucking mobile phone masts here. Try building a space elevator and they'll be breaking out the pitchforks and flaming torches and holding meetings about planning permission.

    Our best bet is either to fill the air with enough satellites, planes, and general ironmongery to hop-frog up with plenty of rests, or the good old fire in the sky.
  5.  (2145.51)
    ap Minos - there still is that kind of collective effort going on for medical research - World Community Grid. I use it all the time, in the background while working on low power tasks, and as a screensaver all the time. I haven't seen such a thing for NASA, though.

    Someday non-science folk will be needed in space, once we have actual communities up there, in space stations at first and eventually on other planets and moons, they'll need people of all skillsets. Hopefully the first stages at least will be in our lifetimes. I think we can expect more progress in that direction from the private sector, honestly, rather than NASA.
  6.  (2145.52)
    @ Eithin;

    maybe not a space elevator, but what about...a gigantic escalator?!

    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2008
    @Val A Lindsay II - EXACTLY!

    now to do everything we can to work for that Future
  7.  (2145.54)
    Quite apart from the eventual expansion of the sun, there are a whole series of natural disasters that could wipe out human civilisation if not the human race.

    Every 60 million odd years there's a Chixchilub size meteor impact. Every million years or so there's a smaller asteroid that could still fuck us up really badly.

    A volcanic eruption the size of the Deccan Steps would probably wipe us out entirely. An eruption the size of the Yellowstone supervolcano (which probably happens every 100,000 years or so) would probably not destroy the species but would probably destroy most of our current civilisation - seven years of winter will do that.

    Then there's the evidence that for reasons we don't adequately understand, two or three times iin the last 500 million years atmospheric oxygen levels have decreased by 90% or more and wiped out most multicellular life on the planet.

    Oh and something reduced the human race to probably fewer than 1,000 individuals about 100,000 years ago. The event doesn't seem to match up with any of the ice ages or with any other natural disasters so it was probably a plague.

    Establishing self-sufficient human populations off-planet would vastly increase our chances of survival.
    • CommentAuthorSteerpike
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2008
    Second, financial. There isn't enough capital in existence to finance something like that, and if there were the financiers would crash and burn. That's what typically happens to grand entrepreneurs who build massive infrastructure projects.

    And yet, despite the destruction of individual railroad fortunes and the discovery that fiber was overbuilt for the Internet, we use both.
  8.  (2145.56)
    Then there's the issues of propulsion, speed, and time. Let's say there was some kind of miracle propulsion system that could move at a couple of miles a second.

    Escape velocity is seven miles a second. Translunar injection burns took Apollo vehicles to a little under the same velocity -- 35,505 feet per second. So we can, you know, do that.
  9.  (2145.57)
    Let's say for argument's sake we establish colonies on Jupiter's moons, Mars and/or start mining asteroids.

    I know you said "for argument's sake," but if we're going to have this conversation, baselines have to be established.

    No-one can colonise a Jovian moon because no human can survive in the Jovian system. It's flooded with lethal radiation. If you stood on a Jovian moon wearing a tungsten spacesuit the size of a tank, you'd still be dead in about twenty minutes.

    Asteroid mining is basically science-fiction bullshit.
      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2008
    Re: Artificial gravity: For large spacecraft, if we can move fast enough and control our acceleration so that our ship is moving at a constant 1g, then we could stand up and walk around. This is risky because any course correction would be like an earthquake at that speed (even more so if this is a large-mass vehicle), but hopefully all of those will be planned, and everyone can be placed in their tanks of shock-absorbing fluid or whatever.

    Here's a crazy thing I'm surprised no one has brought up yet: Project: Orion. It's a little bit crazy, but really, not that much crazier than sticking yourself on any other kind of bomb with a hole punched in the bottom to let out the explosion.
  10.  (2145.59)
    @ Warrenellis

    Ok, let's establish the reasons why we should go. I think human survival/expansion, encouraging technological advancement and scientific discovery are the prime reasons personally, but I'd like to hear other reasons. I haven't reasoned a lot of the how or where out, myself. Obviously not something I'm trained in...
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2008
    Freeman Dyson wrote a great essay nearly 40 years ago that still strikes me as the best justification for space travel:

    Preserving the possibility of human cultural diversity and evolution.

    On Earth, we're going to increasingly be banging each others' elbow, physically and culturally. Survival is going to dictate a lot of rubbing off of difference and a ceiling on ambition. Freakish new variants on humanity would rightly be seen as a threat.

    On deep space habitats, perhaps situated on comets, anything would go . . . culturally, technologically, and genetically.

    Bruce Sterling used this -- with a bit of the even freakier Dyson piece "The Greening of the Galaxy" -- for the background of his novel Schizmatrix.