Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Space Travel - gazing the shore beyond the horizon

Whether it's interplanetary, interstellar, or intergalactic, space travel has some hefty challenges to overcome. The one I want to cover today is distance.

Flippers on? Okay, let's dive in.

The speed of light is equal to 186,000 miles per second. (Here I thought my husband was speedy Gonzales at 80 mph!) Using Termination Shock as the "edge", our Solar System is reported to be about 22 light-hours across, which is about 1/400th a light year.

Doesn't seem like that big, does it? I admit, using light years does kind of soften the true size of things. Dampens the perspective, so to speak. So, let's put it in miles. First visualize a mile in your head. Now let's do this arithmetic style:

          186,000 x 60 = 11,160,000 million miles per minute
          11,160,000 x 60 = 669,600,000 million miles per hour
          669,600,000 x 22 = 14,731,200,000 billion miles wide

I'm impressed (both at my math skills if I'm correct and in the true size of the Solar System). That's almost 15 billion miles across! Earth is 24,906 around miles at its equator. You'd have to go around the Earth's equator 591,472 times to equal the Solar System's distance

All right, at this point, let's be honest. The Milky Way galaxy is about 90,000 light years across. Talk about speck of dust! We are a microbe! For the sake of sanity, let's exclude intergalactic travel in this post for now, shall we?

Good, now considering the first commercial flight using an airplane was only in 1913 or 1914 (couldn't clarify in my research) how can we possibly imagine even getting to the closest habitable planet? Mars ranges from 34 million to 250 million miles away from Earth. I mean, even becoming interplanetary residents is daunting.

But let's put on our positivity hats... no, not the aluminum ones, the positivity ones... Yeah, those there to the left. We've made great strides since those first commercial flights and now airflight is a natural transportation method all over the world.

NASA has taken several rovers to Mars and it's only about 6 months. Yeah, I know that's just robots, but baby steps folks, baby steps. Stay with me here.

Virgin Galactic is well on its way with the commercial space flights. And a Russian company is slated to open the first orbital hotel in 2016 .

The private sector is where our advancement into space will come from. We'll slowly move beyond our earthly society and will pace our technological advancements in modes of space travel to meet the changing needs.

Come on, do we really need faster than light (FTL) travel technology when we're just settling into space colonies, moons and planets?

Truthfully, what's a 6 to 12 month trip for someone moving to colonize off Earth? Pioneers ventured that long to start a new life in a time when they knew they'd never go "back home" again. It'll be those with the same mindset gearing up for multi-planet civilization.

Sure, they could speed up the trip a little, but it's not bad as it stands now if they build gravity treatment into the vessel, such a body centrifuges.

Now, when we get ready to go interstellar baby, that's when we need to bump up our travel game. We'd have to first decide how we're getting there. Most likely, it'll be a mix of things. Those first few will want/need to travel in generational ships that are slower than light. They could also travel in suspended animation with a mix of frozen embryos to colonize a new world in another star system.

That's a long wait and I don't think I could do that.

My interstellar style would be through Faster Than Light (FTL) technology either using warp drive technology or something more realistic such as quantaportation. Of course, a quantaportation grid would need to be laid out first before it would work. That could be done through unmanned technology with robots setting up receiver stations throughout.



  1. Your posts are always so interesting, Amber. :) Thoroughly enjoyed it! I think if things got bad enough on earth, many people would be willing to brave it and venture out, even in generational ships. Or there will always be the adventurers, who just can't turn down a good challenge!

  2. "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" LOL. It will definitely require a certain personality to go for that kind of travel. And if the ship occupants are anything like a lot of families on roadtrips, certain annoying colonists might be at risk of being offed by their shipmates before they ever reach their new home :-)

  3. Thanks for stopping by Patty! I'm glad you like my geeking sessions - er, well-though out posts. As an american I come from a long line of adventurers, but I'm not entirely sure if the pioneer gene passed on to me...I am pretty much a creature of comfort.

  4. OMG, Allie, that would sooo be my kids! (LOL, and potentially my husband.) I'd be a crazy woman by the time we reached anywhere.

    Plus, there'd have to be special precautions on those vessel or I would launch annoying neighbors into space.

    1. Some good points there. You know, interplanetary travel isn't reall that hard if you're patient. Of course, therein is where the Devil resides.

  5. LOL, so true Chuckster! At this rate, we'd all be cookoo by the time we arrived... if not sooner.

  6. I blinked seeing the speed of light, etc., in miles rather than metric... English units are utterly horrible to do that sort of calculation in, and foster errors (e.g. the speed of light in metric is just shy of 300,0000 kilometers per second. The lowest orbit possible is 100 kilometers and circular, and 90 minutes (well, 89 but... there are a few different types of calculations, there's one called "order of magnitude" also "units analysis" which uses approximations for doing reality checks and for catching conversion errors--the sort of reality check NASA didn't bother with on the Hubble Space Telescope mirror alignment. It was -precise- to a quarter-wavelength--and three wavelengths off in focus because they didn't bother doing a -coarse- alignment check... and there there was the feet to meters conversion than didn't get done for one of the Mars probes. (One of the things done in the astronaut servicing of Hubble was putting in a correction lens system to correct the out of focus primary mirror...) English units are horrible for spaceflight calculations and converting between metric and English is asking for additional trouble/"single pint failure" when someone failed to notice a units incompatibility.

  7. LOL, Anisosynchronic, you'll have to do the math in metrics so our bloggy buddies over the pond can get a better perspective of the cosmic distance. For them, trying to visualize a mile was probably as effective as visualizing a Light Year.

    As an American,a metric measurement means about as much to me as a Light Year. I can't "see" a kilometer in my mind because I use miles, so can't wouldn't have been able to get the perspective I was going for in the post.