Jan 11, 2011

Science Scene - Future Space Travel, a Powerful Proposition

Interstellar travel won’t be possible for at least 200 years, according to a former NASA propulsion scientist who has some new calculations. And by then, the spaceships we would design for the trip will be obsolete.
Forget cost, political will and all the other variables — simply obtaining enough energy will take until 2196, according to Marc Millis, former head of NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project and founder of the Tau Zero Foundation, which supports interstellar travel research.
Millis did plenty of extrapolating to reach this conclusion, which he presented at an astronomy meeting in Prague last fall and posted to the physics archive this week. He crunched 27 years of data on energy trends, mission energy requirements, individual energy use and even societal priorities, and chose two possible trips: An aimless interstellar colony ship, and a 75-year-long mission to Alpha Centauri.
For a 500-person ship on a one-way journey, Millis figures you would need at least an exajoule — that’s 1018 joules — which is just a little bit less than all the energy consumed by the entire world in one year. For an unmanned ship destined for Alpha Centauri, you would actually need more energy, because you’d want to slow it down upon arrival at our nearest neighboring star. This would require 1019 joules. Even without accounting for fuel, the 500-passenger ship wouldn’t be able to launch until around 2200 at the earliest, and the A. Centauri probe won’t be ready until around 2500.
Millis’ math is actually more optimistic than other studies, which have suggested you would need 100 times the world’s total energy output to cover that distance.


  1. Plus -- we need to map all the worm holes! ;)

  2. Ken, I'm glad we have that time to reflect and work on ourselves before we make our grand entrance outside our solar system. Humanity has a a lot of growing to do before it is ready to take on such a meaningful journey.

  3. Then we better find those aliens who've been buzzing us, and ask if they can help us. Hell, I would even settle for some superior stick up their collective asses Vulcans (and not the Trills, cause ewwww).

    Alas, I'll just have to turn to some Joe Haldeman.


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