Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Interstellar Conundrum Reconsidered

No one can say whether interstellar missions will ever be feasible. What we can insist is that studying physics from the standpoint of propulsion science may tell us a great deal about how the universe works, whether or not we ever find ways of extracting propulsive effects from such futuristic means as dark matter or dark energy. And if it turns out that our breakthroughs fail to materialize, the potential of multi-generational missions supported by human crews still exists. They will be almost inconceivably demanding, but nothing in known physics says that a thousand-year mission to Centauri is beyond the reach of human technology within a future we can still recognize.


intense said...

Excerpt from:

Rocket Scientists Say We'll Never Reach the Stars

"Many believe that humanity's destiny lies with the stars. Sadly for us, rocket propulsion experts now say we may never even get out of the Solar System.

"At a recent conference, rocket scientists from NASA, the U.S. Air Force and academia doused humanity's interstellar dreams in cold reality. The scientists, presenting at the Joint Propulsion Conference in Hartford, Connecticut, analyzed many of the designs for advanced propulsion that others have proposed for interstellar travel. The calculations show that, even using the most theoretical of technologies, reaching the nearest star in a human lifetime is nearly impossible."

This is an interesting, 2-page article worth reading as a sidebar to the Centauri Dreams piece.

I suspect, to get to any star system worth travelling to, which might have a near-duplicate Earth for "colonization," it will require some form of faster-than-light ("spacetime bending" or wormhole transit capability) propulsion or other technological means, and would probably also have to be a form of tech that would allow the equivalent of many times faster than light capability, for a host of pragmatic/practical reasons.

Perhaps, if we can genetically modify the human genome, to greatly enhance native potential intelligence, or develop extremely advanced A.I. (in order to have even the means to be able to conceptualize or create such required breakthrough tech), there are some possibilities either or both might allow some form of transhumans (our species most likely does not have the capability) to get to another, sustainable planet, but I think we're stuck in our solar system for the realistically foreseeable future, at best.

Anonymous said...

I also read the article in question, and to tell the truth I am now more convince than ever that we ( meaning the human race), will colonize the stars, when ever some one states that some thing is impossible it is almost always proven wrong.

Derek C. F. Pegritz said...

FTL travel is, of course, a possible option...but regardless of whether it's even possible, it's actually functionally irrelevant.

Organic Humans will never go to the stars. Intelligent machines (hopefully including uploaded versions of organic Humans) will. Even the longest travel time is irrelevant to a Machine Intelligence that can simply shut itself down for the voyage and reboot once it nears its destination.

Organics have no future in space, but sentient machines sure do!

Anonymous said...

At this point, I agree with derek. sentient machines are the future.

At the very least, I believe machines will precede us to Mars and build a habitable environment for eventual human visitation. Then humans will no doubt want to make the voyage, right Mac? The Mars Hilton is waiting, Alpha Centauri will have to wait a little while longer.


Anonymous said...

Its really frustrating when I hear people like Seth Shostak spout the party line that Aliens could never cross the stars using conventional rocket propulsion. Yea ok I get that, but do these theorist never consider the fact that 'Aliens' whole concept of space travel, and understanding of physics is way beyond anything we can imagine? What if they're basis for technology is something completely different? What if they aren't carbon based? What if they can harness energy we have not even conceived of yet..staggeringly arrogant to think that after a hundred or so years of "Technology" that we know it all huh?
In all likelyhood an alien craft doesnt need to even try to break the speed of light. It merely (!) pulls the gravity of the location it needs to be at and snaps back with it like an elastic band. This is a theory thats been around for a while but gets around the billions of years linear travel, and is probably the sensible way to do it for a race that has millions of years advance on us. But please scientists..try to think non-humanistically eh..