Space Travel…Will This Eventually Become A Reality?
by by Vic Damico
>h4>26 March, 2017
The very concept of sending people into space has always been an interest to me, not because I actually believe it will happen, but just with the thoughts of how far we would have to advance, technically in order to achieve such a quest. I was reading an article which spoke of someone who was wondering if we would ever form colonies in space, and I felt compelled to respond. This was my response.
Scientists have been and continue to look into space for a place which may be suitable for human survival. Telescopes like the “Keppler” constantly search for such a place. Keppler has so far found 4000 possible locations, although to exist on any of them, much would have to be done to sustain life within these chosen environments. The one constant with all of these locations is that they are very, very, very far away, as much as 1000 to 1500 light years away, and would make going to the moon seem like a trip to the store.
Because of the distance factor, it is imperative that we find a planet which is much closer, mainly because the longer people are on the space capsules, the more problems are likely to occur. The “Goldilocks Zone” refers to a zone around the star where the temperature is just right for liquid water at the surface of the planet. Since water is an essential piece of biology and the chemistry of life, itself. You have to also consider the composition of the atmosphere. The presence of oxygen and methane in the atmosphere on a planet would certainly suggest the possibility of life on that planet because both molecules together are interactive. For the presence of oxygen and methane to continue to exist, the presence of living organisms must be present to replenish them.
It goes much farther than to find a planet which will sustain life based on the availability of oxygen or an acceptable gravity level because there are other factors which could prevent human life to be sustained on the planet. Wind speed is a very strong consideration in this area. We have trouble functioning with only 50 mph winds, while some of the distant planets could have winds of up to 200 mph consistently. Without truly knowing the composition of the planet, we could later discover that poisonous gasses were being gradually released which would kill human life with time. The discovered factors of the planet could vary much more than we could possibly know, so what we may have perceived as a stable environment could easily shift to an opposite conclusion at a very rapid rate. These uncertainties create much doubt and are factors which will always create doubt and even hesitance with any future ventures. In other words, we may not know much of what is actually needed to know prior to being in such a position.
Then, after considering all of the above comes the real problem. That is how to get there, what we will take with us, and if we could even survive the trip. I may return to give my thoughts on that part of the situation. There are many scientists who are constantly looking for answers, and even though I would not blame our lack of knowledge so far as being related to stupidity, I will say that it would be stupid to make that first trip based on our current existing technology.
If we found a planet which may sustain human life, how would we get there, especially with the fact that it would be a much longer trip than we have attempted so far with our space adventure? The most likely scenario would be to build an environment, much like what we have done with the International Space Station.
Most people think of space travel as being simply launching a spacecraft which is assembled and will dismiss portions of the craft as needed, as we have seen with past space missions. This is not going to be the way to go if we have to travel distances which at this point have not been even considered by most people. More than likely, this type of travel will consist of many components being transferred in parts and pieces and then assembled in space. Some of the components will be unneeded until a certain point, so pre-assembly is not necessary with the initial launch and will actually hinder the earlier stages of flight. With the beginning of the flight from Earth, you must consider the gravitation pull, atmospheric pressure, and wind dynamics which must be dealt with in order to get beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. Once beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, you do not have to fight the gravitational pull or other factors that are associated with the initial launch, so you no longer need a vessel which is assembled for dealing with both the forces working against leaving Earth’s atmosphere and that beyond it. You would then only need a craft which will be able to simply remain in motion in space without the components needed to escape the initial forces of Earth’s atmosphere. The initial mass and energy level of propulsion is simply uneeded at that point in order to remain in a constant motion.
If you look at what we have done with the International Space Station, you see that we have already accomplished a small-scale version of space assembly; at least it is a small-scale when compared to the project for which I am speaking. Components have been constructed here in America, Russia, Japan, and Europe and launched on different rockets, getting them into the same orbit to come together for assembling the components in space. The pieces, parts, modules, etc. that would make up the final space stations would number in the billions, when you consider the size of the finished product compared to the International Space Station, since the actual goal would be to prepare a secondary place for human life. This could never be accomplished without a joint effort from around the world which would combine all technology known to man, and even with that, it is merely a dream at this point.
Ok, first of all, to let you know of where we are right now. We have had successful space ventures whereas the initial launch carried a load of up to 130 tons, so obviously we could carry large amounts of what is needed with each rocket which would be launched. You would have to consider that hundreds, even thousands of rockets are to be launched into space to deliver what is needed for the final destination. There is another consideration with all of the many launches that would be necessary to complete such a mission. With each launch, as with all of our past space missions, once the initial rocket passes through the Earth’s atmosphere, parts of the original craft will be released into space as they are no longer needed beyond our atmosphere. You now have many pieces of space debris which are traveling as fast as several miles per second through space and when you multiply that by the many launches involved in this mission, space becomes an obstacle course and very dangerous. The actual assembly can be accomplished by mostly robotic technology, but human assistance is going to be required in many situations. Assembling something of this magnitude in space under these conditions is going to be quite a task. This mission will take many years to accomplish if it was to even be attempted.
The issue that makes this space colony existence even a possibility, especially with a location much farther away than the surrounding planet will be determined by our ability to actually travel those distances based on the chosen method of propulsion. That part of the mission will certainly require a different approach than has been used for other space missions. What will be needed are types of propulsion in space that can continually accelerate a spacecraft on its journey, which will allow the craft to keep gaining velocity. The ION engine has been used and a more powerful one is being tested for possible uses.
An ion engine does not rely on tons of propellant to produce acceleration, but can reduce the amount to mere ounces. This means the thrust of an ion engine is very low, also mere ounces. The ION engine used with Deep Space 1 in 2001 produced only 0.02 lbs of thrust but it produced an incredibly high exhaust velocity, which resulted in speeds of up to 25 miles per second. With an ION engine, the exhaust velocity is unlimited, and this is determined by the amount of electrical power used to generate the ions. An ion engine uses xenon as fuel, which is stripped of its electrons by a high electric charge to create ions, and then the ions are then accelerated by an electric field as exhaust. Then, there is also the choice of using a Variable Specific Impulse engine, or a plasma engine. With the plasma engine, hydrogen is used as a fuel, which has been ionized. Heat from very high frequency radio waves, much like a microwave is used to create plasma. The plasma is contained by magnetic fields within the engine and directs it out the nozzle to produce low levels of thrust. This type of engine is going to be tested with the space station sometime within 2013 to 2014.
The plasma engine consists of three major magnetic cells. First a neutral gas (usually hydrogen) is injected into cell 1 and will be ionized by a Helicon antenna. Then, this charged gas is heated to reach the desired density in the engine’s central cell by electromagnetic waves. (Again, much like a microwave oven) The plasma is trapped by the magnetic field and can be heated to 10 million degrees K. The plasma is then moved to the next cell where it detaches from the magnetic field and is expelled as exhaust to produce thrust.
There are other considerations present as it relates to future propulsion engines that I consider somewhere between scary, unclear, and impossible as a use for safe space travel, especially as it relates to transporting human life. The use of basically small nuclear bombs as a source of power just seems to be unthinkable, and who knows what impact that would have on the atmosphere, or space, in general? Then there is the issue of using “antimatter” which to me is just a disaster waiting to happen, since the very concept of the antimatter meeting with actual matter guarantees that disaster, for which most cannot even imagine the magnitude of the interaction that would result. I think due to our actual ability to get where we may wish to go into space, as it relates to the choice of propulsion is going to the main component of this eventual space travel as being a wish or a reality. I cannot personally conceive of the possibility of moving large populations to a chosen destination in space, but it is fun to think about.
Scientists have claimed that traveling at near the speed of light in space would create conditions which would allow time travel to be possible. There is no means available to travel at or anywhere near the speed of light (light speed = 186,000 miles per second; our fastest spacecraft = 9 miles per second,) and the human body could not survive the centrifugal force. So the theory of time travel is based upon not one, but two factors which could never become a reality.
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