Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rocket Scientists Say We'll Never Reach the Stars

Ouch! I like to think that humanity's future lies among 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 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. The major problem is that propulsion requires large amounts of both time and fuel. For instance, using the best rocket engines Earth currently has to offer, it would take 50,000 years to travel the 4.3 light years to Alpha Centauri, our solar system's nearest neighbor. Even the most theoretically efficient type of propulsion, an imaginary engine powered by antimatter, would still require decades to reach Alpha Centauri. And then there's the issue of fuel. It would take at least the current energy output of the entire world to send a probe to the nearest star, at the very least. More likely it would be as much as 100 times that.

Man that's bleak! But there is more! Read the Wired article.


wolfkahn said...

Isn't this the long awaited entry Joe Pessimist's "We'll Never" series of fantasy novels?

Obviously "Biplane Designers Say We'll Never Reach The Moon" was a masterpiece but I really enjoyed his very early work "Rock Pounders Say We'll Never Manufacture Fire."

Seriously though, virtually every significant technological advancement has been preceded by countless arguments that it is impossible.

And I'm not impressed by Cassenti's rather wide guesstimate of 1 to 100 times the energy output of the entire world. With a range of two orders of magnitude from top to bottom, there is only one (unmentionable) place he could have pulled that figure.

Beam Me Up said...

ou know, I mulled this one over and over and leave it to the rocket jocks to get this one wrong. Think about it. Their logic is: We use rockets to get into space, Rockets are inefficient and likely never to get to the nearest stars. Conclusion, Man uses rockets, rockets can't get to the stars, therefor Man won't get to the stars. Ok.... Maybe not with a rocket, ooooooooooor. 1)suspended animation with ION engines 2) consciousness scanning sending said information over a light beam or even better entangled photons to waiting robotic or grown bodies. 3)New "engine tech that expands and contract space/time (http://wrfrbeameup.blogspot.com/2008/07/warp-engine-possible.html) making for theoretical ftl. Yes, outside the abilities of today's tech, but everything I have mentioned is being researched and or developed now. These 3 don't incorporate rockets in the real sense, but that doesn't mean they should be dismissed out of hand. I would be very surprised if in the next 100 years, at least one of these practices became a reality.

other ideas?

paul said...

Wolfkahn! yes! exactly! This whole We Won't thing really bothered me when I read it. Then I must have had a similar epiphany. Yes, right up there with Rock and Roll is just a fad, Tv is just a toy for rich people, the auto is but a curiosity and of course the internet is just for egg heads. Railroads and trolley systems failed because they failed to foresee a network of interstate highways stretching across the country. Rockets are the water wheels of the space age. Believe it or not, a steam engine IS around the corner.

wolfkahn said...

My favorite impossible thing (which I believed at the time) is discovering planets around other stars. I've seen plenty of middle Twentieth Century science texts explain why we'll never be able to find planets around other stars.

Until we fully understand physics (either unify relativity and quantum theory or find a provable theory to replace them) I'm not going to trust any "impossible" especially when many other scientists believe it is possible.

How? Who knows? Probably by some means that will come when we understand physics better.

Shaun A. Saunders said...

"Obviously "Biplane Designers Say We'll Never Reach The Moon" was a masterpiece but I really enjoyed his very early work "Rock Pounders Say We'll Never Manufacture Fire."

LOLLOL!!! I'm still splitting my sides!

Yep, Wolfkahn summs it up beautifully - time to move on from the stone age and the 'we can't do it now, so we never will' series of books for toddlers, to 'we have science and imagination, so anything is possible' sequels for early teens....:-)

The rocket designers just have to accept that there is a time and a place - and a use-by date - for all technology, including the wagonwheels of space...

Shaun said...

BTW, Wolfkahn, an obvious student of science history, may be interested to know that it was in fact Joe Pessimist's grandfather Zachariah who wrote the original classic 'we'll never travel faster than 20 miles an hour, the air pressure will kill us' :-)

wolfkahn said...

Thanks Shaun!

I think we all agree that predictions that have the word "never" in them, are on shaky ground.

Paul said...

Shaun, I was just going there! My take on it was during the advent of "high speed" trains that could go 45mph. The first engineers were equivalent to our test pilots because there was fear that if you go faster than your heart can pump blood you would die from blood never reaching your brain. But remember these are all facts of the Newtonian universe. There has to be a paradigm shift in the basic understanding of how things work.