Leaving Earth – WIF Space Science

Leave a comment

Explore with me

Explore with me

We Shouldn’t Leave

… Quite yet

Humanity has flown people into outer space and landed them on the moon. We live in an age where we could go out and find other places to expand. But there are a few reasons we should continue to stay put, at least for a little while longer.

10. The Financial Cost

Many bundle of US 100 dollars bank notes

While it’s true that we currently have the capability to try to colonize distant worlds, the sheer amount of money that would go into such a venture could be just as astronomical. Some initial estimates point to around $150 billion to colonize Mars, and that’s the optimistic low end of the scale.

It doesn’t seem like that much considering the potential benefits to humanity in the long run, but with just a $120 billion investment we could halve the number of starving people worldwide. Money alone shouldn’t be the primary concern in any matter, but it’s a good representation of where we should invest our time and resources. We’re not  saying we should never colonize the universe, but we should prioritize our needs before we start a new chapter in human evolution.

9. We Still Don’t Know Earth

stayonearth2

The Earth’s surface is over 70% water. The oceans, which were once seen as impossible to traverse as deep space is today, still remain mostly unexplored. Over 95% of the depths have never been seen by human eyes, and with each passing day we discovernew species of marine life which look as alien as aliens can get. Exploring the depths of the ocean could have some great and unexpected scientific benefits.

The ocean is very similar to the emptiness of space. Jacques Piccard and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh can both attest to the solitude and extreme pressures of the Mariana Trench when they descended into it in 1960. In fact, most space missions require initial water training. Sailing the bottom of the oceans could be a good exercise in learning how to better equip ourselves and survive the emptiness of space, all while discovering the remaining mysteries of our own planet.

8. Unforeseen Risks and Developments

stayonearth3

Nothing comes without risk, but this is especially true when it comes to leaving Earth. Even the smallest overlooked detail can turn into a tragedy, like in the case of theChallenger disaster. If we don’t take risks we’ll never get anything done, but we should take into account the developments made in rocket science on a daily basis. In 2014, a NASA research team confirmed a discovery made in 2006 by a British scientist, Roger Shawyer, where he achieved lift with the use of microwaves instead of rocket propellant. This groundbreaking discovery has turned the scientific community on its head, since it appears to goes against Newton’s third law of thermodynamics.

This new technology is still being tested and was only capable of producing minute amounts of lift, but if feasible it could revolutionize space travel. By not needing fuel, a disaster like Challenger could be avoided, not to mention that spacecraft could be much lighter and therefore carry more materials that would allow them to operate at a greater distance.

7. Measuring Distance With Time

stayonearth4

Almost all scientists will agree  that distance is actually measured with time. Space and time are not two different things, but one and the same. When we want to meet with someone, we always specify both a time and place since mentioning only one will get us nowhere. But humans operate with infinitesimally small numbers compared to what the Universe is used to.

An object moving at the speed of light, like a photon, will experience no time passingwhen traveling millions of light-years. The speed of light is the maximum allowed in the universe, and that photon travels that distance in an instant. What does this have to do with us staying put here on Earth, you ask? We need to consider the huge distances and times the Universe works with.

Let’s take Voyager 1, which is currently traveling at around 60,000 km/hour, and reached deep space after over 35 years of traveling through our Solar System. If it was headed towards the closest star, Proxima Centauri, some 4.3 light-years away, it would take it over 76,000 years to reach it. For perspective, human civilization began only 12,000 years ago. If we would stick around Earth until the highly theoretical Nuclear Pulse Propulsion becomes a reality, we would achieve that distance in just 85 years!

6. Gravity

stayonearth5

You’re currently exerting a gravitational pull on the Andromeda Galaxy some 2.5 million light years away. Gravity is why we’re stuck to the ground, why the moon spins around the Earth and why our Sun and galaxy were created. It also attracts energy in the form of light. This can also be seen when a photon passes near a star, as its trajectory is slightly bent, or when it gets trapped in a black hole and never resurfaces.

Because all living things on Earth have evolved surrounded by our planet’s gravity, our bodies are designed to only work at maximum efficiency if experiencing a standard pull. Astronauts can feel the effects after a period in space. Since our bodies don’t have to do any work while in zero G, muscle mass can diminish at a rate of 5% per week, bone atrophies at 1% per month and the amount of blood in a body drops by 22%. Astronauts have to go through a rigorous physical training program prior to their departure, as well as when they’re up there and during the months they come back to Earth. In some cases, bones will never fully recover.

Colonists going to Mars will face challenges since after a seven month journey in zero G they’ll arrive on a planet with just a third of the Earth’s gravity and will have to build a colony in extremely unforgiving conditions. Keeping in mind that some astronauts are carried away on stretchers after just a couple of months in space, these colonists will be like a bunch of 80 year olds. That’s why NASA is conducting tests on human volunteers who lay in bed at a six degree inverted angle for 70 days to mimic the effect of zero gravity.

5. A.I.

stayonearth6

Seeing what adverse effects the lack of gravity has on the human body, waiting for artificial intelligence doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Robots can aid future colonists by doing the heavy lifting and providing them with vital information. Scientists are developing robots that can fight fires autonomously, robots that can carry heavy loadson even the most treacherous of terrain, and cars that can drive themselves. Then there’s Watson, which is basically an accumulation of all human medical knowledge. All of these inventions could come in handy when colonizing other planets, but it may take some time before they’re totally reliable.

4. Cultural Melting Pot

stayonearth7

Living in a globalized society has caused nationalities and races to blend together and form a unity of both culture and traditions. Take Britain, where 6% of children under the age of five have a mixed ethnic background, compared to only 3% for those between the ages of 20 and 24. Current day traditions and religions exist because of this mixing between different people throughout the ages.

One threat when talking about globalization is genetics. As Europeans first arrived in the Americas and over 90% of the indigenous population died because of disease, so too can a new plague wreak havoc among people who are genetically related. A modern, diverse society will also continue to show us its dark side with cases of discrimination, racism and intolerance, thus bringing us to our next point.

3. The Prime Directive

stayonearth8

Popularized by Star Trek, the Prime Directive dictates that humanity, capable of interstellar travel, will not come in contact, disturb or influence the natural evolution of underdeveloped civilizations found on distant planets. What history and even thepresent day can attest to is that humanity will most certainly not follow the Prime Directive if faced with a technological inferior alien species. What we’re most afraid of in the event of a distant civilization visiting us will most likely be the same thing we would do to others if we were the visitors.

Moreover, if we were to find a planet capable of sustaining lifeforms like us, mere contact with that world would change it beyond recognition. If we were to leave just a single bacterium behind, that organism could multiply and mutate according to its new surroundings, altering that planet’s destiny forever and possibly even killing off already existing life. Finding such a world in the near future is next to impossible given our current level of technological advancement, but the simple idea of what we’re capable of doing to others less developed than ourselves could be enough to make us stick around Earth until we’re mature enough to deal with it.

2. Breaking the Status Quo

stayonearth9

Humanity, despite the many conflicts happening around the globe, is experiencing its most peaceful era in history. Nevertheless, a new colony on a distant planet could bring the current status quo to an end. This future crisis could take decades if not entire generations to develop, but the question of how humanity will react to such a radical change to the modern status quo will always be looming in the background.

1. Taking Responsibility

stayonearth10

History has shown us that many people only begin to change when they absolutely have to, and not a second sooner. It’s also a fact that the climate change Earth is experiencing is man-made, and thus people are turning their attention towards space travel and colonization for a solution. Starting anew is often the easy way out, but by not facing our problems head-on we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes wherever we go.

War, famine, discrimination, pollution and wastefulness are traits humanity should leave behind before starting to think about copying itself on distant worlds. We should make human life on Earth a functioning system that works in equilibrium with its surrounding environment before we decide to colonize other planets.



 

Leaving Earth

WIF Space2-001

– WIF Space Science

Space Traveler’s Guide to the Universe

1 Comment

Space Travel-001

Methods of Space Travel

We Might See One Day

Traveling to far away planets has been a dream of humanity and a staple of science fiction for over a century. In reality, there are many problems holding us back from these quests, including a lack of adequate technology. But that hasn’t stopped scientists from theorizing how advanced space travel could one day be possible.

10. Ion Thrusters

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ion thrusters shouldn’t be a new concept to Star Wars diehards, because they power TIE Fighters. They’re a real thing that was used on NASA’s Dawn probe that was launched in September 1997 to study the dwarf planets Vesta and Ceres.

Ion thrusters work when xenon atoms are hit with electrons, forming ions. At the back of the engine, there are metal grids charged to about 1,000 volts that shoot out ions at 90,000 miles per hour. The thrust is quite small, but since space is a frictionless environment with zero gravity it gradually builds up. The top speed of Dawn is 24,000 miles per hour.

Ion thrusters require minimal fuel. In fact, they’re 10 times more effective than chemical fuels. They gets their power from large solar panels, so there’s no need to build storage for fuel. That also gives them an inexhaustible source of energy. The current problem with ion thrusters is that they’re a bit too slow to transport humans. With that being said, they could be used to transport supplies to, say, a settlement on Mars.

9. Bussard Ramjet

spaceengines2

As alluded to above, one of the biggest problems facing space travel is the amount of fuel needed. One attempt to overcome this came from the 1960s and was called the Bussard Interstellar Ramjet. The idea is that the spacecraft would pick up protons in the universe while traveling. If these protons could then be fused together, the spacecraft could use nuclear rockets.

However, there are a number of problems with the Ramjet. Only a certain amount of protons could be picked up, and a lot of drag would be generated when the vessel would collect protons. Also, there’s the little matter of getting a stable nuclear fusion device functioning.

8. Nuclear Pulse Propulsion

spaceengines3

The idea of using nuclear power to launch spaceships dates back to the 1950s. Project Orion was an endeavor by NASA that entailed a ship the size of the Empire State Buildingbeing launched by exploding a nuclear bomb under it. You can probably guess some of the problems with this. For starters, this method would leave a tremendous amount of radiation behind and give the astronauts radiation poisoning. When the bomb went off, it would create an electromagnetic pulse that would wipe out all the on-board electronics. That’s if the launch was successful and didn’t result in a deadly accident. Despite all of this, Project Orion was actually considered because it could travel to Mars and back in three months, while it would take a spacecraft using normal propulsion 18 months to do the same trip.

Orion was abandoned, but ideas from the project lived on. Voyager 1, Voyager 2 and theCassini spacecraft use a form of nuclear power that takes decaying plutonium and converts it to electricity.

7. Laser Beamed-power Propulsion

spaceengines4

Aerospace engineer and awesomely named Leik Myrabo got the idea of using laser beamed-power propulsion in 1988 when he was working on the Star Wars missile defense project. Myrabo’s craft would be conical. A powerful laser beam would be fired into the narrow end of the cone, which would contain a parabolic reflector. This would heat the air inside to about 30,000 degrees, which would cause explosions that would create thrust. Myrabo believes that he could have a spacecraft ready in 20 years, but his peers are skeptical as to whether laser technology will be adequate.

6. Daedalus Interstellar Spacecraft

spaceengines5

The British Interplanetary Society conducted a five year study beginning in 1973 to see if it was possible for humans to travel to Barnard’s Star, which is about six light years away. Their solution was the Daedalus Interstellar Spacecraft. The Daedalus was a huge spacecraft, also nearly the size of the Empire State Building, and would need to beconstructed in the Earth’s orbit.

Similar to Project Orion, it would use fusion engines. Pellets of fuel would be injected at high velocity into a reaction chamber, where high-energy electron beams would ignite them. The first stage would launch from Earth with 46,000 tons of fuel, and then once in space it would launch a smaller part of the ship that would carry 4,000 tons of fuel. The fuel needed was Helium-3. Helium-3 is incredibly rare on Earth, but it’s believed there’s quite a bit on the moon, and there are also clouds of it in space. Collecting enough could take 20 years. Helium-3 is also the most difficult fusion fuel to ignite because of the incredible amount of heat needed. However, if it worked, the spacecraft would eventually travel at 12.2 percent of the speed of light, meaning it would get to Barnard’s Star in 50 years.

In 2009, an update called Project Icarus began its five year study to see how interstellar travel might now be done after years of scientific advancement. Hopefully they’re putting more thought into the science than the name.

5. Asteroid Hopping

spaceengines6

One of the big problems with traveling in space is exposure to cosmic rays. If a person were to do a 1,000 day round trip to Mars, they would be exposed to so much radiation that it would increase their chances of getting cancer from one to 19 percent. Spacecraft are made of light material, and radiation shields are too heavy. That’s why a professor of physics at MIT believes the best way to travel would be to land on an asteroid and then tunnel below its surface.

The asteroid would need to be 33 feet wide and pass within a couple million miles of both Earth and Mars for the plan to work. There are five known asteroids that would be excellent candidates that will pass by Earth before 2100. The trip would only be one way, because there isn’t an asteroid that would make a round trip feasible. However, new discoveries are being made all the time, so it’s possible there’s an asteroid that will head back towards Earth that we haven’t discovered yet.

4. Solar Sail

spaceengines7

While sails are low-tech by today’s standards, they’re getting a modern update in space travel. Instead of using wind, these sails would use the power of the sun. Solar sails would only give a spacecraft a small push, but since there’s no friction in space the sails would continually build up speed. For example, a solar sail that’s 1,300 feet wide could travel 1.3 billion miles per year. That’s faster than a vessel using chemical propulsion. That would also be relatively cheap compared to fuel use.

There are currently a number of projects using solar sails. One comes from NASA and is called the Sunjammer, after a short story by Arthur C. Clarke. The Sunjammer sail would be made out of a material called Kapton and be just five microns (about 0.0002 inches) thick, weigh less than 70 pounds and be about the size of a dishwasher when packed up.

It’s suggested that, while it make take a few centuries to develop, a solar sail could be used to carry a spacecraft into another solar system. This sail would need to be the size of Texas, and a strong laser would need to shine on it as it got further away from the sun.

3. Magnetic Sail

spaceengines8

The sun releases mostly protons and electrons at speeds that range from 248 to 370 miles per millisecond. A magnetic sail would use this energy and push against it. A loop of conducting material would produce a magnetic field that’s perpendicular to the solar wind, and this would push the craft to the desired location. The problem is that in order to do this, the sail would need to be 62 miles long. The technology to make the superconducting material for a sail of that size, and keep it at the right temperature, just isn’t available right now. Magnetic sails are just a theory until better technology is developed.

2. Wormhole

spaceengines9

A staple of science fiction, wormholes have fascinated people ever since they were first theorized in 1921. While they’re believed to exist, there’s no visible evidence. Wormholes are essentially tunnels in space, which objects could theoretically travel through. But wormholes are unstable — if someone were to travel through them, the walls would probably collapse. In order to safely travel through, the craft would to use an anti-gravitational force. Physicists say we most likely wouldn’t be able to collect enough energy. If there was a wormhole humans could travel through, it wouldn’t naturally occur; it would have to be constructed by an advanced civilization. So until we either get to that point or someone constructs a wormhole for us, it will remain in the realm of science fiction.

1. Warp Drive

spaceengines10

Made popular by Star Trek, a warp drive allows for faster than light travel. It’s often thought to be impossible because of the incredible amount of energy needed to run a drive. However, researchers believe that they’ve found a way. The first idea was to use a design by physicist Miguel Alcubierre, who proposed a spacecraft shaped like an American Football with a flat circular ring around it. But in order to power that design, you would need a ball of antimatter the size of Jupiter.

To make the spacecraft more feasible, NASA’s Dr. Harold White tweaked the design. In theory, the modified ship would require much less antimatter, about 500 kilograms. The proposed spacecraft would warp space-time and reach speeds 10 times the speed of light. It would make trips to the closest star about four or five months long.

Unfortunately, antimatter is incredibly volatile. Just one third of a gram could release the same amount of energy that was released during the bombing of Hiroshima. The amount of antimatter that White’s design needs would be the equivalent of 1.5 million Hiroshimas, enough to destroy the Earth.

Space Traveler’s

Guide to the Universe