Sunday, November 28, 2010

Getting away from it all

When the world is too much with us, late and soon, we can contemplate leaving it. And I don't mean suicide, I mean leaving it physically -- you know, space, the Final Frontier, etc.?

I've brought this up before -- e.g., here and here -- but the context was pretty much limited to just getting off the planet, or going as far as colonizing Mars. Turns out, though, that there is no real "final frontier" -- each step we take only opens up a further and greater step, challenging and daunting both. We've already gotten off the planet, after all, and as far as the Moon in exploratory modes, but Mars is now an enormous leap for which we haven't yet mustered either the nerve or rationale. And beyond Mars lie still greater gulfs.

Ultimately, though, the Solar System itself is just a backyard, and it's interesting to find that a few people are already getting serious about looking further out -- so here, for example, is a "Status Report on the Tau Zero Foundation":
Ideally, we want to cover all the technologies and implications related to the ultimate goal of reaching other habitable worlds, and we want to do that in a manner where you can count on the accuracy of our information (which is why we include reference citations so that you can check any questionable assertions). This span includes understanding ‘what’s out there,’ examining all the options for ‘how to get there,’ and being sure to tie this all to its ‘relevance to humanity.’
One of the most hotly debated items is how best to get out there. To be explicit, Tau Zero covers the full span of options, from the seemingly simple solar sails to the seemingly impossible faster-than-light travel. For each option within that span, there are different levels of readiness and performance, and accordingly different types of work.
Within that span of options, here's one that seems at least plausible with known technology, and able to reach speeds of between 10% and 92% light:
Failing the discovery of something akin to 'sub-space' we will be forced to obey, in our exploration, the seemingly unbreakable laws of relativity – which gives us a universe limited by the speed of light. It is now, and probably forever shall be the case, that the universe, and we, must play within the bounds of the chessboard discovered by Albert Einstein.
Most of the equipment for the rocket itself can be assembled using today's technology. Providing the fuel, however, becomes problematic. We would require an array of solar powered linear accelerators ('atom smashers') girdling the moon's equator. Mega-engineering projects require, in their own turn, miniature self-replicating factories that draw building materials directly from the lunar soil. Current advances in robot technology teach us that we should be able to climb this technological hurdle by about 2040....
What makes it possible for the realities of scientific achievement (Valkyrie rockets) to catch up with the fiction (starships) is that Valkyrie is the ultralight of rockets, consisting mostly of naked magnetic coils and pods held together by tethers. Indeed, it can best be summed up as a kite (with magnetic field lines instead of paper sheets) that flies through space on a muon wind of its own creation.
All of which, of course, is certainly a far remove from, oh, say, the recent mid-term elections, or the latest spins and tantrums of the politically obsessed. But that's the point.


  1. Valkyrie rockets

    Sounds something like the Orion project--i.e. the NASA propeller-heads want to take a few hundred ICBMs into space, and--assuming the world doesn't blow up on lift-off--then use them in stages to propel a space-ball with a small crew to half the speed of light or something. Nothin' but quackery. Mars would be a massive undertaking as well (what about water?), not likely for decades.

    That said, in the next century something like the Orion project will probably be launched, costing untold billions-- even at half- the SOL, it will take decades to reach fairly nearby stars (what is sirius---12 light years? SO a crew in ship for 24 years....they'd probably all be dead, or mutants by then). Star Trek will not be happenin', ever.

  2. Orion was certainly an interesting idea, but quite old now, and much cruder than Valkyrie. But then, Valkyrie requires large-scale anti-matter production and handling, so won't be happening for some time either.

    Yes, these are some big, bold distances -- the closest star is over 4 ly away, Sirius just under 9 ly, and the other side of the Milky Way is about 100,000 ly. But if we start now (give or take 1000 years, say) and expand into the galaxy at an average rate of just .1 c, why, it would only take us a million years to occupy it completely, which, in geological terms, is the blink of an eye! I say there's a hell of a good universe right here; let's go.

  3. Futurism: the crypto-nazis' favorite theme. RA Heinlein's in Hell.

    The conquest of space, at least near-by space, will probably continue much as it has been: the chief militaristic powers (NASA itself works for the DoD) vying for control of the earth's orbit, moon, eventually to Mars or Jupiter--with maybe a few space-casinos for the tourist shekels.

  4. Futurism, morfi. Not the same as "the future" (as far as dystopian futures go, check out PK Dick or William Gibson, or even Huxley's quaint writing). Of course when the libertarian techie hears someone insult one of his gurus like Heinlein or L-Ron Hubbard or Mitt Romney for that matter he usually has a hissy fit.

  5. Well, if the future's dystopian, shouldn't you fight it? Unless, of course, you enjoy dystopias.

  6. No one's "fighting" except you, m, like fighting to understand what I'm saying. The heroic optimism of many techies (and space opera hacks such as Heinlein, or star trek, etc) will not likely play out in the next few decades, for various obvious reasons (peak oil for one...overpopulation, global capitalism, religious strife, etc). It won't likely be Star Trek, but Blade Runner-ish...if not the Matrix.

  7. No one's "fighting" except you....

    Which is my point, J (speaking of struggling to understand) -- I noted that you're not fighting, and asked why not.

    But then, when you trot out the usual litany of lefty dooms, you pretty much answer that question, don't you? Having lost their one Big Idea, namely socialism, and bereft of any significant alternatives, many lefties can only wallow in dreams of apocalypse -- kind of a secular version of the fundamentalist yearning for "end times". See this, for example, on "peak oil" and apocalypse porn.

  8. Only "lefty" or doom to you, because like most libertarian-techies, you depend on cheap optimism and futurist hype to move product, like online Horace Greeleys. And no one's lost anything. The EU is more socialist than it was 20 years ago--same for across the world.

    Peak Oil was conceived by a conservative, anyway--Hubbard, like an oil exec who more or less connected the dots---.US production ratios, refinery costs, and projected depletion of reserves,etc--and determined that the US would be tapped out, rather soon. And he was right in terms of production--US now much less than it was in 70s, and far more dependent on foreign oil. Peak Oil's already gone down. One reason the Greeleys now want kinder, gentler nuke plants. (tho, admittedly solar and wind have made some advances, though the energy mafia 's mostly in control, not citizens)

  9. And no one's lost anything. The EU is more socialist than it was 20 years ago--same for across the world.

    That must be why the future's looking so "Blade Runnerish...if not the Matrix" to you, no?

  10. Not what I said--the point is, the future (say, next century) will, more likely than not, be dystopian, and Matrix-like scenarios are already occuring (say, drones). That's not necessary-- but an estimation. I've never claimed to be a communist either (then, people like you think Hillary's a red)

  11. What you said was a) socialism is making great headway "across the world", and b) the future looks bleak or "dystopian". Connect the dots.

  12. Corporate capitalism may function within socialism of a sort (inauthentic, at least). Really, that's the situation in many western countries. A massive statist bureaucracy (and the military, for that matter) exists along with corporate technostructure (as Galbraith called it). Could still be dystopia.


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