A Brief Delay

by Paul Gilster on September 16, 2008

Several interesting items in the news today but I won’t be able to get to them, try as I might. I’m just coming off surgery yesterday (minor), and although I’m otherwise fine, the pain medication I’m taking makes me so groggy that I hesitate to post. So bear with me until tomorrow, when I should have a new item up some time in the afternoon.

{ 24 comments }

Dave Weeden September 16, 2008 at 10:11

I know this is banal: but get well soon.

James M. Essig September 16, 2008 at 10:44

Hi Paul;

Thanks for the update and have a speedy recovvery. We will be glad to read and comment on your many fine articles in the days ahead.

Best;

Jim

Frank Taylor September 16, 2008 at 13:23

Get well soon Paul!

John Hunt September 16, 2008 at 13:43

I hate to admit but the thought did cross my mind about how fun it would be to read a blog by you while you were fully under the influence of a narcotic! My guess is that it would range somewhere between incoherent fantasies and deep dark secrets. Either way it would make for some very interesting reading!

At any rate, best wishes for a speedy recovery,

John

Administrator September 16, 2008 at 14:45

All these notes are much appreciated. I’ll be fine, just need to get this pesky painkiller out of my system so my mind functions. Loved John’s comment about being under the influence… My wife said something much the same!

Dissident September 16, 2008 at 14:54

Paul,

What if the Planet finder discovers an Earth-like planet in Alpha Centauri star system? How long will it take to prepare a manned mission with a Fusion drive starship, how big would be the crew, and on what cost?

Administrator September 16, 2008 at 17:41

Dissident, there is no way to say how long it would take to prepare a fusion-drive starship — right now we don’t have the basic component, fusion, solved, and we can only speculate. The unmanned Daedalus mission would have used vast amounts of deuterium and Helium-3 to get to Barnard’s Star in fifty years or so, but it was a completely hypothetical concept that depended upon our mining the atmospheres of gas giant planets like Jupiter. You might want to browse through the archives here (you can use the search function on the main page), as we discuss questions like this quite often. The cost is, again, impossible to calculate, but I’ve seen estimates for an unmanned probe that are inconceivably huge. We have much work ahead to make the kind of incremental advances that will get us to such a mission, and we’ll be looking not only for breakthroughs, but also for ways to scale up solar sail, lightsail, particle beam and other forms of propulsion.

Frank September 16, 2008 at 20:22

Get better soon. We need you back on the Bridge!

ljk September 16, 2008 at 21:12

Timothy Leary certainly thought he was profound under the influence
of some nowhere near the counter drugs.

To relate this to CD, he was a big advocate of space colonization.

There was a very funny story about how Leary invited Frank
Drake and Carl Sagan to visit him in prison to talk about building
a starshp that would take a chosen group of people off Earth to
live in a better place in the galaxy. Leary was apparently
quite disappointed to learn that interstellar travel wasn’t
quite ready in the late 1960s.

This story can be found in Drake and Dava Sobel’s 1992
book, Is Anyone Out There?

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,976740-1,00.html

Have a safe and happy recovery, Paul – Now groove on this, baby!

http://www.lycaeum.org/books/books/starseed/starseed.shtml

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKfjjo9l6KU

Stevo Darkly September 16, 2008 at 21:43

Feel better soon!

Athena September 16, 2008 at 22:03

Or, better yet, in the engine room!

Dissident September 17, 2008 at 3:36

Paul,

the main fusion problem today is that the plasma leaks out. That’s ideal for propulsion, so, we have the basic component. Another issue is how to power up the ship itself without a fusion reactor. And 50 years for a manned mission to Barnard’s Star will need ‘hibernation’ chambers for the crew. What’s the level of development of this kind of life support system, because I don’t see any recent news about it (?).

P.S/ I wish you best of health, Paul! Get better.

Benjamin September 17, 2008 at 5:17

Get better soon, Paul. I always look forward to a new post on this blog.

baley September 17, 2008 at 6:36

no worries, we will wait.

In the meantime get better soon

cheers

Wayne September 17, 2008 at 9:28

Thinking of you Paul!

Administrator September 17, 2008 at 9:53

Thanks to all who left comments and encouragements here or via e-mail. I find myself much improved today, although a long afternoon nap does look to be inevitable! Maybe I’ll have strange dreams about Timothy Leary…

Re Dissident’s question, the Daedalus mission was conceived as an unmanned probe. If you were to bulk it up with life support for a crew, all the calculations re propulsion and fuel supply would be massively changed. If we did have the capability to send a crew on a fifty year mission anywhere, we wouldn’t have the life support capabilities anywhere close to being ready. That’s going to take a serious build-up of our space-based infrastructure as we learn how humans adapt to the environment. We’re more likely to have self-sustaining O’Neill habitats, etc., first.

Dissident September 17, 2008 at 11:02

What about hibernation that could help the crew not only to remain young but also to economize. What’s the status there?

Administrator September 17, 2008 at 13:34

Hibernation is an interesting question, and I can’t say I’m at all up to speed on it. Maybe one of the readers has been keeping up with this work, and if so, can chime in.

John Hunt September 17, 2008 at 15:35

Hi Dissident,

Here’s what I know about hibernation as it relates to interstellar travel.

Crew hibernation is not currently possible, however there are some areas of recent progress which indicates that we should keep this possibility in mind.

In 2005 it was found that mice could be put into a state of suspended animation-like hypothermia using low-dose H2S. But in 2008 it was found that the same would not work on pigs. My take is that the fact that a cold-blooded state could be achieved in one mammal should give us some hope that with further study we might be able to figure out a way to do the same in humans. This would only partially reduce the need for life support systems.

As for freezing, Paul mentions in a previous post about a study where 95% of eggs which had undergone vitrification and flash freezing with liquid nitrogen were able to be revived to life. However, successful vitrification for full bodies will probably not be doable this century due to extensive damage of tissue which didn’t vitrify well.

There’s also the ethics side of things. Adult humans can consent to become frozen astronauts, but I doubt that any government or well funded organization would take them up on it until there was a 90+% chance of their surviving. Again, we’d likely have to wait well into the 22nd century before we could reach that point.

I would like to point out that all of these problems are minimized if we go with frozen embryos. They:
– can be successfully vitrified and revived with today’s technology,
– have low mass,
– can be stored in the millions increasing likelihood of success,
– require almost zero life-support,
– can more easily undergo DNA damage repair, and
– can ethically undergo automated gestation and childrearing if humanity in sol system is destroyed.

Dissident September 17, 2008 at 16:42

John,

Maybe in the 22nd century we won’t need hibernation, because FTL travel will be possible. But it’s always good to have an extra technology available. It could be used in the field of medicine, for example.

Anyway, whanks.

Adam September 17, 2008 at 17:31

Hi All

Paul, belated Get Well Soon… nice to see you back on the job ;-)

As to hibernation – the hydrogen sulfide suspended animation has moved ahead and the next round of research is focussing on using the metabolite produced by exposure to H2S to avoid the side-effects of the gas itself. It’s an intriguing, tantalising prospect. A bit more extreme would be preserving cells and organs the same way tardigrades go into their “vitrified” suspended state – if that could be turned at will then suspended animation would be easy.

ljk September 17, 2008 at 23:34

Unless religions and conservative political groups truly end
up dominating human society, curtailing or even halting
advancement for centuries, I suspect by the 22nd Century
that humans will not be the same creatures we know now.
Therefore suspended animation and other ideas we have
about extending human life to reach the stars may be
deemed quaint by then.

Plus I don’t think sending actual humans is the most
efficient way to get to another star. AIs will do a much
better job all around and last far longer than most organics.

Mac Tonnies September 18, 2008 at 0:32

Hope all is OK. Best wishes from Kansas City.

george scaglione September 27, 2008 at 10:26

paul first and foremost before anything else,get fully well soon!!!! i myself am fighting some kind of “bug” and may even take a highly unusal afternoon nap for myself later!! but one aside based on some of what i have just read above…if and when we find an earthlike planet…people will THEN suddenly be in a hurry to go there in spite of all that has been said or done before and with perhaps very little regard on the part of the average guy for small points like how faaaaar a light year is! that said lol i myself am in a hurry and maybe shouldn’t speak too soon! best regards your friend george scaglione

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