During a recent coffee session with a friend of mine he asked me about a article he had read a while back regarding the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA) “Deep Space Gateway” program. He said it was an interesting article and he was wondering about my thoughts on the viability of space travel.
After trying unsuccessfully to verbally explain the problems that it would entail, and for the benefit of readers who may also be wondering, I decided I’d try to do it in this week’s column that has some similarity to one I wrote over four years ago.
For the past several years, there have been a significant number of studies coming from NASA regarding a proposed space venture to planet Mars but very little about stellar travel.
In that regard, many people ask when while others ask why?
Of course space travel is possible, but we’ll have to do a great deal of improvement in our ability to travel at speeds that would make such travel feasible.
The nearest star to Earth is, of course, our Sun. But what about the next nearest star? That would be one named Alpha Centauri in the constellation of Centaurus (sen-TAR-us) a star that is 4.3 light years away.
From where we view the sky, this constellation never rises completely above our local southern horizon and it will be next May before it becomes visible again. But if we could see Alpha Centauri it would appear as a +4 magnitude star and not really that impressive.
Astronauts would naturally be the ones who would be traveling to planets that are nearest to Earth and, as an example, would spend approximately eight months and 20 days getting to Mars. To explore other Suns with potentially life-supporting planets in orbit around them will take several thousand generations.
Therein lies the problem with space travel.
The Sun sheds its light and warmth on us from a distance of approximately 93 million miles and it takes a full eight minutes and 20 seconds for that light and warmth to make the trip to Earth.
But let’s look at a trip to Alpha Centauri. It lies at a distance of 25 trillion miles (that’s the number 25 followed by 12 zeroes).
Attempting to put those distances in perspective is extremely difficult for the human mind to comprehend since we are most familiar with the terrestrial distances we travel each day.
We as a nation do not possess the technological expertise to accelerate a living being to the speed of light which is figured at 186,000 miles per second.
If we did embark on a venture to Alpha Centauri say at 30,000 miles per hour, which is pretty fast, the trip is going to take 150,000 years at that speed to cover the distance.
Unless there were some technological advances that would permit a space crew to be placed in a kind of suspended animation for that period of time there would have to be at least one female member in the crew.
No less than 6,240 generations of offspring will be born, live and die on the spacecraft before they reach their destination. And that, again, is just to our nearest star — one way. It would be downright foolish to try and figure the distances and travel time to the other brightly shining stars that lie beyond it.
I believe most of us must accept the fact that until space travel has evolved to the point where speed of light is achievable — or close to it — any manned space ventures outside our solar system is nothing more than wishful thinking.