Missions

Life Aboard the Worldship

March 13, 2013

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky is the first person I know of to talk about worldships and their ramifications, which he did in an essay originally published in 1928. “The Future of Earth and Mankind” was the rocket pioneer’s take on the need for enormous ships that could reach the stars in journeys taking thousands of years. The […]

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Space Habitats and Nearby Resources

March 12, 2013

If humans go out into the Solar System and beyond drawing on the resources they find along the way, they don’t necessarily have to do it on worldships of the kind we talked about yesterday. But it’s a reasonable assumption that creating large space habitats would make engineering projects in deep space easier to implement, […]

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Mars Flyby: Daring to Venture

February 28, 2013

Existential risks, as discussed here yesterday, seem to be all around us, from the dangers of large impactors to technologies running out of control and super-volcanoes that can cripple our civilization. We humans tend to defer thinking on large-scale risks while tightly focusing on personal risk. Even the recent events near Chelyabinsk, while highlighting the […]

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A New Horizons Update

January 21, 2013

I for one am astounded at the fact that it has been seven years since the launch of New Horizons. The craft, now more than halfway between the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, lifted off on January 19, 2006. I remember my frustration at having hundreds of cable channels on my television and not being […]

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Dynamics of an Interstellar Probe

January 3, 2013

Yesterday’s look at radiation and its effects on humans in space asked whether any Fermi implications were to be found in the work described at the University of Rochester. One answer is that expansion into the cosmos does not need to be biological, for biological beings can build robotic explorers equipped with enough artificial intelligence […]

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Voyager: Dark Highway Ahead

December 5, 2012

One rainy night in the mid-1980s I found myself in a small motel in the Cumberlands, having driven most of the day after a meeting and reaching Newport, TN before I decided to land for the night. It’s funny what you remember, but small details of that trip stick with me. I remember the nicking […]

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Interstellar Propulsion Exotica

November 21, 2012

It was back in 1950 that Arthur C. Clarke looked at electromagnetic methods for getting a payload into space. The concept wasn’t new but Clarke’s paper in JBIS set out to examine what he saw as a practical use of it, an electromagnetic catapult on the lunar surface that could accelerate payloads back to Earth. […]

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The Interstellar Gravitational Assist

November 19, 2012

While Rod Hyde, Lowell Wood and John Nuckolls were working on laser-induced fusion to drive a starship back in 1972, the range of options for advanced propulsion continued to grow. One we haven’t talked about much in these pages is the use of gravitational slingshots in exotic settings. We’re used to the concept within the […]

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On Missions and Nearby Stars

October 24, 2012

Sara Seager’s thoughts on who might join a crew bound for Alpha Centauri have had resonance, as witness Dennis Overbye’s story Discovery Rekindles Wish for a Journey to the Stars in the New York Times. Overbye, a touchstone in science journalism, has probably been pondering the issue because of Seager’s response to his question about […]

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Deck Hands for a Four Decade Journey

October 23, 2012

If you were offered a chance to make an interstellar journey, would you take it? How about a garden-variety trip to low-Earth orbit? I’m often asked questions like this when I make presentations to the public, and I have no hesitation in saying no. Though I’m no longer doing any flight instructing, I used to […]

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