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Space Science

Starships In a Century? 314

An anonymous reader writes "In the New York Times, Kenneth Chang writes about the 100-year starship conference, where 'an eclectic mix of engineers, scientists, science fiction fans, students and dreamers' discussed ideas for how to travel across interstellar space, including 'how to organize and finance a century-long project; whether civilization would survive, because an engine to propel a starship could also be used for a weapon to obliterate the planet; and whether people need to go along for the trip.' Some of the proposals were pretty far out, such as Joseph Breeden's concept for an engine-less starship (propelled using a gravity slingshot on a near-sun trajectory). Others were a little less forward thinking, although still futuristic by current standards of space exploration: nuclear rockets, fusion, lightsails, and so forth. So, can we go to the stars? Wait a hundred years, and we'll see!"
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Starships In a Century?

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  • by Wonko the Sane ( 25252 ) * on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @03:57PM (#37766268) Journal

    Project Orion []

    The biggest design above is the "super" Orion design; at 8 million tonnes, it could easily be a city.[7] In interviews, the designers contemplated the large ship as a possible interstellar ark. This extreme design could be built with materials and techniques that could be obtained in 1958 or were anticipated to be available shortly after. The practical upper limit is likely to be higher with modern materials.

    I find all the BS that gets thrown around about how technology from the middle of the last century like space travel or fourth generation nuclear power is "only X decades away" rather annoying. It makes me feel like we're living in decline portrayed in the Foundation novels.

  • Nice work, editors! (Score:4, Informative)

    by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmh@gma i l .com> on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @03:58PM (#37766290) Journal

    Who let an article through with a paywalled source?


  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @04:22PM (#37766618) Homepage

    Orion is such an obsolete concept, I don't know why people keep citing it. At least cite something like Medusa []. It's superior to Orion in every way -- captures more energy, weighs less, exposes the crew to less radiation, has a gentler pusher stroke, scales down better, etc. Basically, you invert the paradigm; the explosions occur *ahead* of the spacecraft, which is *towed*, not pushed, by a large "parachute" that catches the explosive force.

  • Re:In other words... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dammital ( 220641 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @05:38PM (#37767610)


    It was 600 smart people all in one place: engineers, technical managers, educators, academics, NASA representatives from Ames and Glenn and MSFC, and everyman types like me, all of whom understood the magnitude of the challenge.

    It was a gathering where you could dare to use the word "starship" in a sentence and nobody would crack a smile.

    There were tracks on propulsion (light sails, nuclear thermal and hybrid nuclear technologies), habitat creation (bioengineering, microgravity challenges, plasma shields), education (there were lots of educators in the audience), organization, ethics. One university type - I forget his name - boldly asserted that there would be useful violations of the second law of thermodynamics in a couple of years. (I didn't quite believe that, so I did a little reading when I returned; it seems that the second "law" is more like a statistical assertion, so maybe he's got something. IANAPhysicist.)

    There was a track on fringe technologies too, those FTL and warp drives you laugh about. I didn't attend that one; at the conference wrap-up the track moderator only said politely that there "was no concensus".

    A double handful of SF authors were there and a couple of Hollywood types too, all conducting their own research.

    Nobody came here expecting to be beamed up. Nobody was thinking Flash Gordon or Jean Luc Picard. Everyone fully appreciated the immensity of the project, the audacity of such a thing, the difficulty of the undertaking. It was inspiring to be in the company of people who had thought seriously about some of the issues, and who dared to dream big. All brainstorming is like this.

    An underlying theme, mentioned several times during the conference, is that Earth "is a single point of failure".

    Per the organizers: "The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society will be publishing a select number of papers in a special issue. Date of the special issue has not yet been announced."

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev