From Inspirations to Inventions
Fun Retrospectives & The Future
Right now we don’t even know if practical interstellar travel is possible. Just because we don’t know how to do something today, however, doesn’t mean that it is impossible. There is a historical pattern that has emerged where the grand visions of yesterday’s science fiction inspired today’s reality. Maybe the same will happen with today’s science fiction.
Here are examples:
To the Moon
A long time ago, Jules Verne wrote a story about sending people to the moon by blasting them out of a giant cannon. That story inspired a whole host of rocketry pioneers who pondered how to make such a journey a reality. Based on the science of their day, they were eventually able to create visions of how to achieve such a feat -- using rockets instead of cannons. And, when all the conditions were right, these visions evolved into reality.
Now, we look back over 25 years to our landing people on the moon and bringing them back safely.
Access to Space
This next example is about routine access to space. In this case the inspirations were from Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon stories with their rockets gallivanting across space as routinely as that era’s aircraft flew in the air. Again, such stories inspired rocketry pioneers who created visions, and reality followed. In this case the Space Shuttle.
To the Stars
And now the inspirations behind this web page - Journeys to the stars. The idea of "Warp Drives" and "Hyper Space" date back to the 1930’s and are attributed to John Campbell. Another appropriate example is the 1956 movie "Forbidden Planet." Its opening sequence has a prediction of how humanity conquers gravity and then goes on to discover how to exceed light speed. And a very well known example is, of course, Star Trek.
But today, we don’t even have the scientific principles from which to create the visions. First we need to develop such science and then we can engineer the visions and shape them into reality.
Contemplating an Inspiration
Because of its widespread familiarity, Let’s examine the Star Trek inspirations.
We would like to point out that although such science fiction vehicles and ones from other stories like Star Wars are inspirational, they are science fiction, not research guides for real science. By that we mean that there is not enough substance behind these vehicles and the techno-speak that is used to describe them that you could begin a research program. They are however, inspirational, and they do provide mental pictures that make it easier to contemplate how you might achieve such feats.
This inspiration shows some of the features we would need for our interstellar craft.
- Faster than light propulsion, sometimes called "warp drive", "hyperspace drive", etc.
- The point is that we would like some form of propulsion that can get us there in comfortable timeframes. Also note that this propulsion does not use propellant -- a crucial feature.
- Control over gravity
- The Trek vehicle has a variety of features that all imply that we have mastered the control of gravity or inertia: These things called "Inertial Dampers" on Star Trek are what help keep the crew from flying out of their seats when the ship maneuvers. The "deflectors" help move objects out of the way so that the ship doesn’t smash into them at damaging speeds. And "synthetic gravity" is so the crew can walk about normally. And in movies this makes their special effects budget much, much smaller.
- The control over gravitational forces could also be used to propel the vehicle without the need for rockets. It is in this propulsion role where the feat of gravity control would bring the most benefit. If we ever, or should I say more optimistically, when we conquer gravity, it will be an enormous breakthrough for space travel and for scientific and technological advances in general. That would usher in an exciting age for humanity.
- Power generation
- And to power the vehicle and its propulsion, some form of power generation is needed. In Trek, they talk a lot about Antimatter, so we have provided a status on that topic.
A ruler for advancement
Or, Where do we stand today?
This ruler measures how close we are to having this feature as a normal part of our lives.
- Conjecture: The very beginning of the quest for knowledge. This is when you know what you’d like to accomplish, but you have no idea if it is even possible.
- Speculation: When you have learned enough to know what you do know, and know what you don’t toward solving the problem.
- Science: The level when you have learned how nature works. You now know if something can be done and what it will involve.
- Technology: The level when you can begin to engineer and build working devices to apply those laws of nature to answer your goal.
- Application: The final state when the technology is good enough to be put to common use. Cars, airplanes, microwave ovens are all in this category.
Status of "Warp Drive"
Status of Gravity Control
Status of Antimatter
Although it is not directly related to propulsion capabilities, a frequently asked question is, "What is the...
Status of "Transporters"?
Back to "Warp Drive, When?"