British Interplanetary Society: Then and Now

by Paul Gilster on February 25, 2011

by Kelvin Long

Physicist and aerospace engineer Kelvin Long is the co-founder of Project Icarus, the interstellar design study that is a successor to Project Daedalus. Here he gives us a look at the history of the British Interplanetary Society, whose accomplishments and continuing efforts in the area of interstellar propulsion have energized the entire field. As well as being an active Tau Zero practitioner, Long is a fellow of the BIS and a member of the recently reconstituted BIS Technical Committee, and the Assistant Editor of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. More about the history of the BIS can be read in the BIS publication ‘Interplanetary’ written by the current President Bob Parkinson, which is now available from the society’s Web site.

The British Interplanetary Society (BIS) is a name synonymous with interstellar travel throughout its history. First formed by Philip E. Cleator in Liverpool in 1933, the organization’s headquarters were subsequently moved to London. The BIS is the oldest space organisation in the world still in its original form. In an age of competition, market forces and short term thinking, that’s a tradition to treasure. In 2013, the BIS will be eighty years old, conceivably the length of time it would take a future interstellar probe to reach the nearest star system. In that time, a World War has been fought, the Berlin Wall has fallen, man has walked upon the surface of the Moon and as these words are being written an interstellar precursor probe, New Horizons, is on its way to the furthest reaches of our solar system: The dwarf planet Pluto and beyond.

Although the BIS includes the word ‘British’ in its name, for much of its history roughly half of the membership has been international, with a strong contingent based in the United States. The Society has faced pressure over the years to change its name to ‘The British Interstellar Society’ or ‘The British Rocket Society’ or even ‘The International Rocket Society.’ The debate over the name throughout the years has really been a distraction from the society’s work and to its credit, the BIS has resisted this pressure, keeping to its principles and remaining focused on its goals of promoting and facilitating advancements in the field of astronautics – all geared towards a human presence in space. It has also continued to maintain a careful balance, addressing an audience that spans science fiction fans, popular science readers and professional physicists, all interacting and sharing ideas with each other, all space cadets at heart.

Many famous BIS members will be familiar to the readers of Centauri Dreams. Sir Arthur C Clarke played a fundamental role in the early days of the BIS and served as chairman on two separate occasions between 1946-1947 and again between 1951-1953. Arguably, the BIS gave him an important platform to share his ideas with like-minded people, not afraid to speculate outside of conventional thinking, but in a rigorous and scientific way. The American physicist Robert Forward was also a devoted member of the society and contributed many first rate papers to society publications. Physicists and writers who are members today include Greg Matloff, Eric Davies, Marc Millis, Claudio Maccone and our own Paul Gilster.

Those who live within commuting distance of the BIS HQ refer to it as “their spiritual home.” Perhaps it’s the Clarke connection, or perhaps nostalgia for the rapid developments in rocketry after the Second World War. The philosopher and science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon, famous for his twin accomplishments ‘Last & First Men’ and ‘Starmaker’, addressed the society in 1948, giving a lecture titled ‘Interplanetary Man’. One of the current long-time members is the science and science fiction writer Stephen Baxter, famous for his collaborations with Clarke as well as his own books, such as ‘Titan’ and ‘The Time Ships’, an authorised sequel to the H G Wells classic ‘The Time Machine’. Writers seem drawn to what the BIS has to offer.

An Early British Lunar Project

In 1938, the BIS Technical Committee, led by H. E. Ross and R. A. Smith, decided to undertake a pioneering scientific study – perhaps the first of its kind – to produce a conceptual design of a spacecraft that would carry a crew of three safely to the Moon. The mission would permit the crew to land for a stay of fourteen days, and provide for a safe return to the Earth with a final payload of half a ton. The object of the exercise was to demonstrate that, within the capabilities of propellants that could be specified (at least theoretically) at the time, such a mission was not merely possible but would be economically viable – insofar as the vehicle lift-off mass from the Earth would be no more than one thousand tons. The resulting conceptual design came to be known as the BIS Lunar Spaceship, and for all its flaws it is a classic, ground-breaking study, one that occupies a pioneering place in the history of astronautics.

Image: The BIS Lunar Spaceship landing on the Moon. Credit and copyright: R.A. Smith/JBIS. Smith and Bob Parkinson were responsible for a volume recounting the story of the BIS lunar design called The High Road to the Moon, now available on CD-ROM from the Society.

In 1919 the American physicist Robert Goddard, in his classic paper “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes,” went a stage further than the step-rocket principle in suggesting a firing procedure that amounted to the continuous discarding of materials that are no longer required. In principle, this could result in a significant improvement in payload ratio. The BIS, in its design concept, adopted a cellular construction that conformed to Goddard’s suggestion. The spacecraft was divided into six layers of equal hexagonal cross-section; the six sections were made up of an array of tubes each consisting of a separate rocket motor. Each of the lowest 5 layers was made up of 168 motors, intended to impart sufficient velocity to achieve escape from the Earth’s gravitational field.

The remaining stage consisted of 45 medium motors and 1200 smaller tubes intended to land the remainder of the vessel on the surface of the Moon, allow for subsequent escape, and for reduction in velocity prior to entering Earth’s atmosphere. Perhaps the most important and lasting achievement of the Lunar Spaceship study came from its conclusions regarding landing and lift-off from the lunar surface. R.A. Smith developed the concept after the Second World War in an article entitled “Landing on an Airless World.” This article accurately depicted the procedure that would later be adopted with the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module.

The BIS Lunar Spaceship project at least proved the engineering feasibility of landing on the moon and by that act made the idea more credible. When the proposal came about in the early 1960s to actually make an attempt at the moon, it is quite possible that the work done by the BIS in the late 1930s and later had some role to play in the minds of those scientists advising the political leaders of the time, such as the German-born rocket engineer Wernher von Braun.

And On to the Stars

But moon rockets were not to be the only significant technical achievement from members of the BIS. Their achievements also include the 1970s Project Daedalus starship study. This volunteer engineering design study was conducted between 1973 and 1978 to demonstrate that interstellar travel is feasible in theory. The project addressed the Fermi Paradox, which was first postulated by the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi in the 1940s. This supposes that there has been plenty of time for intelligent civilizations to interact within our galaxy when one examines the age and number of stars, as well as the distances between them. Yet the fact that extra-terrestrial intelligence has never been observed leads to a logical paradox where our observations are inconsistent with our theoretical expectation. This paradox also seemed to reinforce the prevailing paradigm at the time that interstellar travel was impossible.

Project Daedalus was a bold way to examine the Fermi Paradox head on, using current or near-future technology, and gave a partial answer – interstellar travel is feasible. The basis of this belief was the demonstration of a credible engineering design just at the outset of the Space Age that could, in theory, cross interstellar distances. In the future, scientific advancement would lead to a refined and more efficient design.

Image: Project Daedalus, the massive starship conceived by members of the British Interplanetary Society, marked the first complete design study for an interstellar craft. Credit and copyright: Adrian Mann.

Project Daedalus had three goals. First, the spacecraft was to be designed using current or near-future technology. Second, the spacecraft must reach its destination within a working human lifetime and third, the spacecraft was to be be designed to allow for a variety of target stars. The final design solution was published in a special supplement of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society in 1978. The two-stage engine configuration was powered by inertial confinement fusion using deuterium and helium-3 pellets. Electron beam diodes positioned around the base of the engine exhaust would impinge on the pellets and ignite them to produce large energy gain, at a rate of 250 detonations per second. This would continue for a boost phase lasting over 3.8 years, followed by a cruise phase lasting 46 years, travelling at over 12% of the speed of light until the 450-ton science probe would finally reach its destination, the Barnard’s Star system 5.9 light years away. This it would transit in a matter of days, for Daedalus was a flyby probe.

The Project Daedalus study was primarily led by Alan Bond, Tony Martin and Bob Parkinson. Even today the study distinguishes itself from all other similar projects as the most complete engineering study ever undertaken for an interstellar probe. Even if Daedalus is not the template for how our robotic ambassadors will someday reach the distant stars, at the very least it will be a crucial part of the journey for getting to that first launch. Rigorous engineering assessments are the only way to provide reliable information on what is possible today or in the near-future.

Both the BIS Lunar Spaceship and Project Daedalus starship study appeared in the 1980 television series Cosmos, produced by the astronomer Carl Sagan. Sagan had himself addressed the BIS in 1974 on the topic of ‘extraterrestrial intelligence’ at a packed meeting at the Royal Society of Arts. Project Daedalus has inspired many around the world, and this includes the recent successor design study Project Icarus, which is a joint initiative between the BIS and the Tau Zero Foundation, possibly a first for this type of collaboration. And although it is not interstellar in implication, I should also mention that the BIS has recently undertaken a study for a crewed station at the Martian geographic North Pole. Project Boreas was led by Charles Cockell and may yet be the basic template for a future science station on Mars.

The Growth of International Astronautics

The BIS played a fundamental role in the formation of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), which helps to co-ordinate global space activity and astronautics. The IAF was formed in September 1951 at a conference of several European and American delegates in London. The IAF organizes the annual conference known as the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) to provide a forum for the exchange of experiences and ideas around astronautics, with the long-term goal of opening up space to all humankind. It promotes awareness of international space activities and fosters information exchange between different space programs.

The BIS is perhaps best known for its popular magazine Spaceflight and its technical publication Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS). First published in 1934, JBIS may be the oldest astronautical journal in the world. Its history has seen the publication of many groundbreaking papers, such as the first paper on interstellar travel by Les Shepherd in 1952 or the paper on a programme for achieving interstellar flight by Val Cleaver in 1954. A collection of seminal papers on atomic rockets was also published by Shepherd and Cleaver with others in 1948 and 1949. Even today JBIS is pushing the boundaries of visionary thinking, with a warp drive symposium organised in 2007 and the papers appearing in the journal in 2008. The BIS is always looking to that distant horizon for what’s next in astronautics and the future of man in space. JBIS is the forum for the publication of those ideas. It is open to submissions from anyone, provided the paper is scientifically accurate, well presented and contains a novel insight or discussion of a problem relating to the field of astronautics.

Like many organisations in difficult financial times, the BIS has been struggling in the last few years and only a handful of members are rallying around to maintain the continued legacy of an astronautical pillar. One of the ways that people can help the society is to join it. So why should people join? It’s an open and inclusive society for everyone from science fiction fans, students, industry professionals, academics and space enthusiasts. The BIS provides thought leadership on spaceflight and astronautics through its publications, innovative technical projects, symposia and events. It promotes and stimulates the latest research. The society also fosters debate and provides a global home for people interested in space to connect with each other. Its global membership includes some of the world’s leading thinkers on spaceflight. This unique heritage of the society is an amazing foundation of pioneering ideas which continues to push the boundaries of possibility, from both a technological, sociological and philosophical perspective.

With its rich history of ideas and creative thinkers, it is amazing to think that the BIS has never had government backing and indeed has not played a major role in informing British government policy throughout most of its history, despite the fact that members of the BIS possibly know more about astronautics than many other organisations in Europe. The BIS has not traditionally been a strong lobbyist organisation, although in recent times the society was involved in discussions to form the United Kingdom Space Agency and to get a British astronaut assigned to the European Space Agency team. But what really matters is the intellectual value in the ideas that the BIS facilitates and is bold enough to promote widespread thinking on. These ideas literally ‘make’ the future, by laying the seeds for what is feasible on that next horizon.

In 1932, Robert Goddard said: “How many more years I shall be able to work on the problem I do not know; I hope, as long as I live. There can be no thought of finishing, for ‘aiming at the stars’ both literally and figuratively, is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning.” It is organisations like the BIS that enable the promise of solving this problem through successive generations of inspired pioneers, by facilitating the emergence of measured speculation with scientific objectivity, of real world engineering and thought provoking theories of physics. In order to continue, the society needs members to sustain the vision and keep the promise of a future for our species in space alive today. Join the society, and contribute towards that worthwhile goal. The society would welcome all people interested in the field of astronautics. The BIS needs members to sustain it if it is to continue to provide the service that this interstellar forum wants. This is your rallying cry – join the British Interplanetary Society today and help us to work towards the dream of a peaceful human presence in interplanetary and interstellar space in the decades ahead – ad astra.

A Short Bibliography

A.Bond & A.R.Martin et al., Project Daedalus Final Report, Special Supplement of JBIS, 1978.

A.C.Clarke, The Challenge of the Spaceship (Astronautics and its Impact Upon Human Society), JBIS 6, pp. 66-78, 1946.

A.V.Cleaver, A Programme for Achieving Interplanetary Flight, JBIS 13, pp.1-27, 1954.

C.S.Cockell (Ed), Project Boreas, A Station for the Martian Geographic North Pole, BIS Publication, 2006.

K.F.Long & R.Obousy et al., Project Icarus: Son of Daedalus – Flying Closer to Another Star, JBIS 62, pp.403-414, 2009.

H.E.Ross, The BIS Space-Ship, JBIS 5, pp.4-9, 1939.

L.R.Shepherd, Interstellar Flight, JBIS 11, pp.149-167, 1952.

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{ 30 comments }

Adam February 25, 2011 at 21:47

Publicity around Goddard’s work in the 1920s led many people to imagine interplanetary travel would arrive in the 1940s. SF writers especially wrote of space travel in the very near term. World War II deflected the world’s course, but also galvanized attention on modern rocketry with the arrival of the V2. But why didn’t Goddard’s efforts produce an earlier liquid fuelled rocket design by the BIS in the late 1930s? Largely due to Goddard’s own reclusive and secretive nature and perhaps the ridicule in the press when his Moon-rocket concept became known in 1920. In Germany a different story unfolded where the early rocket enthusiasts joined together, were drafted into the Nazi war-machine, and ultimately made the V2. Their advanced work wasn’t widely known until after the War, but it led to America and Russia taking the lead in the 1950s and the dawn of the Space Age.

The BIS, due to restrictions on rocketry, didn’t experiment, but pursued the theory and design of spaceflight with a passion, succeeding by working together. If Goddard had been more gregarious perhaps the 1930s and 40s would have seen a rather different development program for rockets. By themselves clever dreamers can only go so far, but together they can climb higher.

Paul Gilster February 26, 2011 at 8:37

Adam, you’re probably familiar with Stephen Baxter and Simon Bradshaw’s story “First to the Moon!”, which picks up on the idea of an alternate history in which the BIS moonship design actually gets built. It’s available here:

http://homepage.mac.com/sjbradshaw/baxterium/firstmoon.html

Of course, this is a different alternate history than your Goddard one, and that one, too, is a fascinating mind experiment.

Kelvin Long February 26, 2011 at 10:02

good comments Adam.
Its also worth mentioning some other stuff the BIS did relating to what you said.

Project Megaroc, was a BIS project in 1946 which redesigned the V2 as a man-carrying rocket. It lacks the fins of the V2 and is over 57 feet tall and 7 feet wide. The trajectory was a ballistic suborbital flight. It had a detachable capsule for the man to return to the earth in with a deployed parachute. I thin the idea for a man-carrying V2 came out of suggestions from Willy Ley.
Highly amusing, the scheme was apparently proposed to the British Ministry of Supply but was rejected.
Project Megaroc is discussed briefly in the excellent book ‘The Dream Machines’ by Ron Miller.
Kelvin

Alex Tolley February 26, 2011 at 12:12

@adam
In Britain, I believe that the government was extremely skeptical that liquid fueled rockets like the V2 could be even be built. No doubt rivalry between the services didn’t help either. By contrast, in Germany, the Treaty of Versailles had precluded Germany from certain armament types, thus opening up the opportunity for rockets to fill the gap.

Terry February 26, 2011 at 12:15

This article got me all het up to join the BIS, but when I visited their web site (a link not provided in the article, btw), and discovered a membership costs 58 British pounds, I dropped the idea. Doubtless they have good reasons for setting that price, but could there not be a less-expensive tier of membership for those of us non-physicists who would not need the technical journal, nor many of the other benefits accruing to full membership, to join? One could of course just *donate* however much one wished, but it would be nice to feel like one *belongs* and contributes to this tremendous tradition. And other projects around the internet have discovered that many small donations can move mountains, whereas too steep an investment requirement has killed other projects dead.

Wonderful article, I never knew anything about this organization except that it existed, before.

Alex Tolley February 26, 2011 at 12:21

I think there is always going to be a role for bold thinkers and visionaries in any area of endeavor. One might have thought that space exploration would be much bolder than it has been, but apart from the robotic space probes, human spaceflight has languished. We seem to spend quite a lot of resources to do very little. One has to wonder if the US is emulating the dismantling of the Chinese treasure junk fleet, just as the Chinese are emulating the European explorers of that time.

Andrew W February 26, 2011 at 15:43

Terry makes an excellent point, in the modern electronic world the cost to the BIS of keeping each additional member informed is negligible. By maintaining this ridiculous cost barrier they’re cutting their own throats.

Guido D'Angelo February 26, 2011 at 20:23

Interesting post!
Today at morning, I started read “Prelude to Space”, By our Beloved Sir Arthur C. Clarke!!!
Guido (Brazil)

The Cosmist February 26, 2011 at 21:39

A big problem for organizations like the BIS may be that there seems to be a new generation of very smart cyber-kids who don’t have the “space religion” and probably never will. They grew up with the internet and video games and to them Apollo is ancient history. Their vision of the future looks much more like Neuromancer than 2001. Michael Anissimov of Accelerating Future wrote a post a while back explaining why he thinks space exploration is a waste of time and resources, and why our destiny is to upload our consciousness into giant computronium brains surrounding the sun. The gist of his argument is there’s nothing out in space that is more interesting than what we can create or simulate much easier where we already are. I could come up with many refutations of this argument, but I’m afraid he may speak for most of his generation, which leads me to wonder what will become of organizations of aging space enthusiasts like BIS…

Rob Henry February 27, 2011 at 16:39

Surely the Comist has got it the wrong way around. The BIS will survive as long as theirs is a strong minority view. If they ever truly proselytise the world, then there would no longer be such impetus for their existence.

Ronald March 5, 2011 at 8:02

The word ‘vision’ is used a few times here. And that is exactly what we need, not just for the future of spaceflight and -exploration, but, I strongly believe, to ensure the very future and survival of humankind itself.

Without ever wanting to offend anybody’s personal religious convictions and feelings, I find it remarkable and sad that in a world where all sorts of, sometimes very peculiar or even extreme, religious and philosophical ideas and expectations can prevail and even dominate political agendas, at the same time so many people consider it weird, wasteful or even outright ridiculous if one tells them that one considers a future in and colonization of space imperative for the survival of human civilization.

Concrete, again, without wanting to hurt anybody’s feelings and with respect for personal convictions: I have many friends and acqaintances of various cultural and religious backgrounds who put their hopes and expectations on the first, second, third or whichever coming of whichever messiah (one person actually expressed his hope to me that his messiah would return before we run out of natural gas :-O), who frown or outright burst out in ridiculing laughter, when I suggest to them that the colonization and terraforming of other planets, Mars to begin with, might be a very realistic and good idea with regard to our future and survival.

I think that one of the problems with (nearly?) all human religions and major philosophies has been that one the one hand they are so anthopocentric (human-centered) but at the same time also geocentered. Virtually all people from the major monotheistic religions that I have met keep telling me that, at least from a religious point of view, our callings are all situated here on earth and we have nothing to seek or expect in space.
What we dearly need to further human future in space is political leaders with vision, plus good public education. Maybe even an entirely new kind of philosophy and view on life for humankind. One in which the human conquest of the MW galaxy plays a prominent and imperative role.

Ronald March 5, 2011 at 8:28

A little bit further on what I just wrote and also with reference to the discussion under the recent post “A dialogue on SETI”: maybe this might be another explanation for the Fermi Paradox, one possibly even more decisive than available technology, resources, disasters, etc.: a civilization’s cultural and religious convictions, which may strongly determine its views and aspirations with regard to space exploration, which in turn may determine whether such a civilization ultimately becomes space-faring or introvert and navel-staring.
Despite the fact that I tend to be a techno- and sciento-phile, I have become convinced over the years (or rather: forced to admit) that even more so than any technology, it is a a person’s, a country’s, a culture’s, and a civilization’s view on life and vision for the future that ultimately determine whether and how an available resource and technology will be utilized.

Steven Rappolee March 5, 2011 at 10:27

I have suggested this before, I am hoping this great organization will one day lead a project for a study of a generation ship……………
and not in competition with a faster flyer but complimentary to it,do to economics perhaps at first the fast fliers would be probes to be followed by generation ships

Adam March 5, 2011 at 17:25

The BIS featured some work on World-Ships – vehicles large enough to transfer a representative sample of terrestrial life to other star-systems. Alan Bond and Anthony Martin, who led the Daedalus study together, designed several World-ships which can be seen in rather cursory graphics at the Up-Ship blog here… Big Nuclear Pulse Spaceships compared

…there’s a few other Big designs, but nothing quite as awe-inspiring as the World-Ships. The discussion of their pulse-units’ ignition system in the comments section is interesting – not really an option for anything smaller.

Kelvin Long March 5, 2011 at 18:38

Hi Ronald,
Excellent comments on how people are prepared to believe in things that cannot be proven, but struggle to believe in near-term possibilities like even the colonisation of the solar system. Very good post. I think it relates to the paradigms that we accept based on our upbringing and ideas which stray from this seem ‘impossible’ to some.

 “Men have an extraordinary, and perhaps fortunate, ability to tune out of their consciousness the most awesome future possibilities.”
Arthur C. Clarke, The Fountains of Paradise (1979)

Steven, regards generation ship. The BIS has also looked at this and two seminal papers in the field were published by our journal, namely;

Bond, A & AR Martin (1984) World ships – An Assessment of the Engineering Feasibility, JBIS, 37, 6.

Martin, AR (1984) World Ships – Concept, Cause, Cost, Construction and Colonization, JBIS, 37, 6.

Definitely worth a read. Then of course there is the very useful book;

O’Neill, GK (1978) The High Frontier, Corgi books.

More work is definitely needed on the generation ship concept

‘watch this space!’

Kelvin

Tarmen March 5, 2011 at 21:23

This is March 5th.
What’s wrong with this site??

Tarmen March 5, 2011 at 21:27

Ronald’s was a good post.
Keep the faith.

Tim March 6, 2011 at 0:28

Kelvin,
I applied for BIS membership online last Sunday, I’ve also started a few brief notes on a paper I’d like to write for the JBIS on a space elevator concept.

Rob Henry March 6, 2011 at 4:51

Ronald, I would like to affirm that you are right in all your points surrounding the interplay of science and religion, but first I would like to reemphasise your point about not wanting to offend. Then I would like to add my own perspective.

Imagine a world with two great disciplines, one that seeks purely true answers, and the other that seeks purely predictive answers. The first of these disciplines would be overpoweringly attractive to the commoner, yet since we can prove nothing, including our own existence, it would be futile for all practical use. For the second discipline to work we must first accept the use of arbitrary models of the real world and its workings. We should never loose sight that these models are constructed for their utility not their reality (string theorists take note!). We can then work to optimise these models, and these can be extended to, in turn, optimise anything within our powers – even aesthetic things such as measured happiness of society if we so wish it. Unfortunately mathematics turns out to be the language of nature, and God or providence has given few a love of it.

We must accept that religion is naturally of more philosophic interest than science every bit as much as we must accept that a love of science is naturally more beneficial to our being here. Thus we must work hard to show the sheer wonder of our discipline, that the world might understand and be saved.

PS. Ronald, after reading your second comment of the 5th I though that I should add that if sentience is too tricky a concept, as to be fully comprehended by a sentient being within our type of universe, all civilisations will fail to produce artificial intelligence. It would then be natural for their religions to believe that a creator specifically imbued them with it to give them freewill, thus preventing their universe being deterministic, and thus in turn giving a role for that creators freewill. This would give reason for advanced societies having equivalence of anthropocentrism and geocentrism that your model needs.

Paul Gilster March 6, 2011 at 10:06

Tarmen writes:

This is March 5th.
What’s wrong with this site??

Centauri Dreams was knocked offline for an entire week by a major server glitch. The site came back up early yesterday, and regular posting will resume on Monday.

Kelvin Long March 6, 2011 at 14:51

Tim,
That’s wonderful on two accounts. I look forward to receiving your paper.

Really great. Us space cadets need to rebuild our numbers if the visionary future we want to see happen in space can be achieved in the coming century.
Kelvin

Kelvin Long March 6, 2011 at 16:00

Incidentally, if anyone among the Centauri Dreams readership is interested in writing a paper on a subject pertaining to astronautics, please get in contact with me at the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society:

JBISaed@bis-spaceflight.com

Send me your suggestion and I will tell you if its something the journal would be interested in receiving. I would then work with you to produce a paper that is acceptable for publication.

But please don’t email me at this address for in depth discussions as will swamp my mail box. If you want that go via the Project Icarus web site.

Best wishes everyone.
Kelvin

Eniac March 6, 2011 at 20:35

Ronald:

a civilization’s cultural and religious convictions, which may strongly determine its views and aspirations with regard to space exploration, which in turn may determine whether such a civilization ultimately becomes space-faring or introvert and navel-staring.

This makes much sense when contemplating an individual society, but to explain the Fermi paradox you would have to make a much stronger assertion: That EVERY civilization ends out deciding to navel-stare. That is not an easy case to make, I think.

Rob Henry March 6, 2011 at 23:47

Eniac makes the classic argument of how millions, or even billions, of (originally) very different extraterrestrial civilisations could each decide, without exception, that navel-gazing is their ultimate goal. I would like to add to the dilemma that long lived civilisations would have to have each cultural manifestation of their civilisation retain such beliefs over the millions of years of their existence.

To me the only answer is the changes wrought by Vinge’s singularity. IF we go through such a phase, it opens the possibility that every other advanced and ambitious civilisation would as well. This would change our outlook in ways that in our current state we can only glimpse. It is quite possible that this also synchronises the outlook across all civilisations – after all one expected change is that we would finally be knowledgeable enough to see how our own human nature has distorted our perspective before that time. One glimpse of such a possible change I gave above. And yes, I see how in our pre-singularity state it is hard to see how the impossibility of AI is compatible with the singularity itself.

Of cause, if there turns out to be no technological singularity for us, it is very hard to see how Eniac could be wrong.

Ronald March 7, 2011 at 12:53

Eniac: agreed, it is very unlikely that all civilizations would ultimately end up as introvert navel-starers or religious fanatics. Even more so: it is even unlikely that all (sub)cultures within a planet-wide civilization and all individuals within a culture/civilization would become and stay like that.

One could even argue that, if a natural and/or technological possibility exists, it will be utilized sooner or later, if it gives a natural selective advantage (i.e. better survival chances) .

That indeed renders the cultural/religious argument highly unlikely as an explanation for Fermi’s Paradox. I love to be corrected by and to keep learning from more knowledgable friends here at Centauri Dreams :-)

Tobias Holbrook March 8, 2011 at 10:42

Kelvin,

I’m hoping to join soon – I got a pleasant suprise when I found out I only have to pay £18, rather than the full £58, though I might just use that extra to get both the JBIS and Spaceflight – and I’m also considering writing a paper (given that it would be the first I’d ever done, it’s a daunting prospect…). Do you accept purely astronautical papers, or also papers on terraforming (my personal passion)…? I’ve got a few modifications to th

“This article got me all het up to join the BIS, but when I visited their web site (a link not provided in the article, btw), and discovered a membership costs 58 British pounds, I dropped the idea.”
£4.80 a month doesn’t sound to bad… it’s quite easy to spend that much each month on a magazine subscription.

“A big problem for organizations like the BIS may be that there seems to be a new generation of very smart cyber-kids who don’t have the “space religion” and probably never will. They grew up with the internet and video games and to them Apollo is ancient history. Their vision of the future looks much more like Neuromancer than 2001.”

*cough* Not all of us; some of us are choosing our career path to try and get space colonization – I’m taking natural sciences when I go to university (less than 1.5 years now…) because I want to terraform planets, and there’s plenty of other people my age who are up for space colonisation… well, only about 2 or 3 of those I’ve met in real life… as I’ve said before, we need harder, more realistic SciFi to avoid the mindset of not-gonna-happen, and more focus on how space benefits the environment…

Kelvin Long March 8, 2011 at 19:26

Tobias,
Great response. Yes jbis accepts papers on all aspects relating to astronautics and space exploration, including Terraforming. Indeed, one of the pioneers of this field was Dr Martyn Fogg who published one of the first texts on the subject and several seminal papers in jbis, his web page is here:

http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~mfogg/index.htm

Martyn also edited several special issues of jbis back in the day dedicated to this topic and he worked with Dr Christopher McKay on the potential for terrforming Mars. Fogg even gets a special thanks in the acknowledgements to ‘Blue Mars’ by Kim Stanley Robinson.

As part of the editorial team I am obviously slightly biased, but in my view jbis is one of the few journals that allows for such visionary content. We publish on a diversity of topics including:
planetary exploration
interstellar travel
launch systems
rocket propulsion
nozzle flow theory
robotic exploration
manned space travel
spacecraft design
philosophy of space travel
economics of space travel
Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Mission targets
Reliabilit theory
Dyson spheres
Planetary engineering
Kardeshev civilisations
Drake equation
Programme management
….the list is really quite endless.

Looking forward to receiving your submission Tobias and anyone else who wants to fulfill a lifelong dream. Jbis is open for business.
Kelvin

Martin J Sallberg March 9, 2011 at 7:55

It is theoretically possible to travel faster than the speed of light by expanding space-time behind the spacecraft and contracting space-time in front of the spacecraft, without relativistic mass increase, effects on the passage of time, or accelerational g-forces (Miguel Alcubierre, 1994).

However his original paper stated that it would require extreme, practically impossible, amounts of negative energy. It turns out that the extreme requirement was because Alcubierre assumed that the negative energy should merely affect space-time at the same inefficient energy-distortion ratio as the energy bound in matter due to e=mc2 creates gravity.

Several physical theories, including string theory, independently predict both that gravity is the weakest force of nature because gravitons can escape normal space-time, and that the distinction between gravity and electromagnetism only applies in normal space-time, not in higher dimensions (Theodor Kaluza, 1919, Oskar Klein, 1926).

If an electromagnetic field can be made to leave normal space-time, that would disturb the escape of gravity from normal space-time, and thus manipulate space-time in a much more energy-efficient way.

Spinning supraconductors have been experimentally proven to have a small but measurable effect on gravity (ESA, Towards a new test of general relativity? , 2005). One possible cause of this effect is that the Meisner effect forced some of the electromagnetic field (in the middle of the circular supraconductor) out of normal spacetime.

That effect could be made much stronger by placing two or more supraconductors very close to each other, by increasing the Meisner pressure between the electromagnetic fields. This opens the possibility of constructing working warp drives, wormholes and cheap space launches not so many years from now.

Ron S March 9, 2011 at 14:27

“Spinning supraconductors have been experimentally proven to have a small but measurable effect on gravity…”

Must’ve been in the Journal of Irreproducible Results.
(supraconductors?)

Keith Walton April 16, 2011 at 17:16

It would be a shame to see such an organisation as the BIS flounder in these harsh econmic times as many old and established institutions have done recently. The price of membership seems very high maybe it needs to re-think its strategy by becoming more commercialised. I wish them all the best in their future ventures.

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