Science has long promised to deliver new technologies and new ways of doing things and has mostly made good on those promises. So what about space travel in the future? The distances in space are so vast that we need a different way of traveling these distances if we are to explore the universe. Right now the costs are prohibitive and the technology know-how to create different kinds of space travel isn’t there yet.
What should we consider in examining how we are to explore space? Telescopes can only get us so far as well as our current method of space travel. Right now it costs many thousands of dollars to put 1lb of anything into space. These costs have to be reduced dramatically which means we need a more efficient way to put people into space.
So how else could we travel through space? One idea is the space elevator. It could be built to rotate along with the earth so that it wouldn’t fall. Then a 60,000 mile cable would attach to the surface of the platform in space and also anchor to the surface of the ground. The elevator’s component would roll out the cable to hoist people to the space station above.
Even if this were accomplished, and it could be accomplished, it doesn’t solve actual space travel. It just gets us into space. Also, there are major problems that exist in space travel. Particles in space traveling thousands of miles per hour become lethal projectiles. Pebbles, dust and other minute debris can act as deadly bullets to a space craft or an astronaut’s suit, tearing it apart. Then there is the terrible radiation from the sun and cosmic radiation from outer space. The earth shields us from the vast majority of this radiation but in space galactic cosmic radiation and solar radiation can eventually kill if we don’t create ways of protecting ourselves. In space there is no gravity so the body atrophies and you lose muscle mass and bone. The digestive system temporarily stops working, taking hours or even days before working again and the immune system is not as effective as it normally is so you become more susceptible to illness.
The universe seems peaceful, serene and calm but it is, in actuality, a rough, hostile place. It is unforgiving. Like the bold travelers of ancient times space travelers have to be fearless and self sufficient. They must also possess a willingness to trust their companions. Human ingenuity and forethought come into play as well. Things have to hold up. You don’t get to fix something when things go wrong, you don’t get second chances to make adjustments. You have to bring everything with you that you can possibly think of and if you forget something important, too bad for you. When things go wrong in space you die.
Because of the great costs, effort and distances we need to look at traveling in small, short distances. First we need to explore the possibility of building space stations that orbit the earth. We’ve already achieved this but we need stations vastly bigger than the ones we have now. We need stations that can house business and entertainment needs for scientists, business people and civilians. Then we need to look to building stations and structures on the moon and then from there to Mars. From Mars we can branch out to other planets. Who knows? Perhaps in 100 years this could be achieved!
Right now we think of space ships when we think of space travel. We have to think of different ways of travel. We use energy and chemical propulsion to propel us but this isn’t efficient or cheap enough. Since we could never travel at the speed of light sails and solar propulsion might be options. Light streaming from the sun acts as wind in space and if we build spaceships with solar sails we could use the solar wind to propel us through space. The only problem is that the further away we get from the sun, the less power we can use to propel ourselves so with solar power we are limited to the inner solar system. The use of ramjet engines is a possibility. With this technology we would have to fuse hydrogen, just like the stars do but scientists haven’t figured out how to create this sort of engine yet.
In Star Trek the energy used to power ships is matter/anti-matter energy. Particles from this universe meld together with anti-matter or dark matter and come together to create a powerful burst of energy! This would be the ultimate engine, even greater that hydrogen fusion engines. But the cost would be astronomically high. It would bankrupt the USA to create only a teaspoon of such energy. Conversely, it would only take a gram of anti-matter material to get to Mars.
Wormholes have often been touted in science-fiction as the answer. Related to wormholes are warp drives and jump gates. A worm hole is actually the folding of space which could be the best way of traveling vast distances. But what sort of technology, short of fantasy technology can do this? We can cheat time with folding space through wormholes but we haven’t yet attained that level of technological expertise. What we use now is chemical energy to lift off from the earth and most of that energy is used to escape the earth’s gravity. Earth’s gravity is our primary problem today. Escaping it takes tremendous amounts of energy and power. In the future we will probably overcome this issue and go from there, in small baby steps from space stations orbiting the earth to stations on the moon to stations and colonies on Mars and beyond. Science and technology need only time to help us achieve these goals even if it takes us hundreds of years to figure it all out.