Sunday, May 9, 2010

Humanity in Space: The Next Few Centuries

I remember a time when robot spaceship weren't exploring the outer reaches of the Solar system. My notion of what's 'obviously impossible' may not be the same as someone who
  • Can't remember when the World Wide Web wasn't
  • Sees nothing unusual about crisp, clear, live video feeds from reporters in remote parts of the world

Humanity in Space: The Next Few Centuries

Posts discussing what we might see, decades - or centuries - from now:
Posts about more current space-related technology, transportation, military and business developments are listed in:

Spaceports, Electric Rockets, and a Warp Drive - Maybe

Not long ago, I ran across an online collection of photos and graphics showing Dubai's remarkable architecture - including a proposed spaceport. The author said, "The UAE Spaceport would be the first spaceport in the world if construction ever gets under way. I'm not joking..." (October 25, 2008)

I don't blame the person who wrote that for not being up to speed. This is an era in which, if you blink - you'll miss something.

I'm a bit of a news junkie, and interested in space exploration and transportation technology, so I'd recently been reading, elsewhere, about America's first commercial spaceport - which was already in operation.

Warp Drive? Let's Take a Short Look at the History of Rockets

A 'warp drive' might be possible: assuming that Miguel Alcubierre's mathematical model for moving a pocket of space-time through the rest of space-time - at any velocity - is a fair approximation of something that would work. To build a working 'warp drive,' 'all' we have to do is figure out how to harness energy on a literally astronomical scale, bend the fabric of space, and do so without killing everybody nearby with the radiation generated.

Sounds like a huge series of tasks - but we've been through something like this before.

It's sort of like where we were about fifty years before the first spaceship were built, when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and others published some interesting - and at the time useless - mathematical models for how we could move objects from one planet to another. Provided we had access to energy sources that hadn't been developed yet.

Or maybe we're in the position of Hero of Alexandria's contemporaries. He developed an aeolipile - a sort of prototype rocket - which remained a useless curiosity for almost two millennia - until steam power was developed independently in another part of the world. (May 7, 2009)

2 comments:

qraal said...

Tsiolkovsky's rockets were liquid fuel chemical rockets - an energy source he knew. What was lacking was engineering know-how and a compelling reason for development - that came along thanks to WWII and the V2 was born.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

qraal,

Good points, and an historical perspective. Tsiolkovsky (1857 - 1935) seems to have been more of a theorist than an engineer - and wasn't well-known outside Russia until Hermann Oberth published "By Rocket into Planetary Space," directly or indirectly leading to the (re)discovery of Tsiolkovsky's work.

The WWII / V2 connection is probably the best-known early application of liquid-propellant rocket.

Robert Hutchings Goddard (1882 – 1945) designed, built, and launched the first liquid-propellant rocket in 1926. (Smithsonian, Encyclopedia Astronautica) But Goddard was more of an engineer/scientist.

I'm not sure if this was what you meant to say - but although military needs have driven some technology, particularly in the 20th century, that's not always the case. Reciprocating steam engines, for example, were developed - as far as I can tell - for primarily civilian applications, although the technology was later applied to military purposes. Same for direct-current and alternating-current electricity, and the telephone.

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