Hartford, Connecticut (WiredPRNews.com) — If humanity’s future lies in the stars, rocket propulsion scientists are now saying it’s going to be a long, long, LONG time, if ever, before we get there. They say we may never even get out of our own Solar System.
Meeting at the Joint Propulsion Conference in Hartford, Connecticut recently, rocket scientists from NASA, the U.S. Air Force and academia brought humanity’s interstellar ambitions down to hard, cold reality. Analyzing many of the most advanced designs proposed for interstellar travel, the scientists said calculations prove that using even the most theoretical technologies imaginable today, reaching the nearest star in a human lifetime is nearly impossible.
Alpha Centauri, our Solar System’s nearest star, is 4.3 light years away, but using the best rocket engines Earth currently has to offer, it would still take 50,000 years to get there. Even using the most theoretical type of propulsion, a still-as-yet imaginary engine powered by antimatter, it would still require decades to reach Alpha Centauri, according to Robert Frisbee, leader of the Advanced Propulsion Technology Group within NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The problem is that propulsion—shooting mass backwards to go forward—requires large amounts of time and fuel. It is estimated that it would take 100 times the current energy output of the entire Earth just to send a probe to Alpha Centauri.
That much energy could not be extracted from the Earth; it just doesn’t exist. It would take mining the outer planets of the Solar System, another technology that is currently theoretical.
At the conference, Frisbee presented a design for a theoretical ship using antimatter for interstellar travel. The propulsion would be created by annihilating hydrogen and antihydrogen. The spacecraft would resemble a large needle massing 80 million metric tons, with another 40 million metric tons each of hydrogen and antihydrogen. By contrast, the Space Shuttle weighs a mere 2,000 metric tons.
Even with that ship and that fuel, it would still take almost 40 years to travel the 4.3 light years to Alpha Centauri.
Alternative propulsion systems are active in people’s imaginations, but most fail the test of reality, said Marcus Young, a researcher at the U.S. Air Force Research Lab’s Advanced Project Group. Young and his team studied ideas for launch vehicles that could be accomplished in the next 15 to 50 years and found them unworkable.
Paulo Lozano, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the most sophisticated technologies are not being developed, not because they can’t be done, but because doing so has not been made a priority.
But even these hard-core realists are not giving up on interstellar travel.
All it takes is one breakthrough, Frisbee said. It’s only ‘impossible’ until someone does it.
The power of the human mind cannot be underestimated. Human creativity, determination, and potential always get us there, eventually. In the case of humanity reaching for the stars, a paraphrase of Shakespeare seems appropriate: Our future is not in the stars, until it is within ourselves.
Contributor: Renee Brown – Staff Reporter | WiredPRNews.com – Online Press Release Distribution