How we can build a solid spaceship within a few years.
The United States government is aching for war this past month, more than it usually does whenever a country threatens to do something it doesn’t like. This time it is Syria, and action could very likely result in an ensuing world war. So I think it’s about time to begin uttering that age-old, hippy mantra: Make love, not war! But when I say ‘love’, what I really mean is ‘space travel’.
We actually have all the technology we need to make spacecrafts capable of sustaining humans for long-duration missions throughout the Solar System and even beyond. Bigelow Aerospace builds inflatable space modules for various uses – usually for work and storage. The largest of these modules could also, I imagine, quite easily be made into spaces to live in. We could then strap a few of them together, and spin them using small thrusters to create artificial gravity.
The most prominent national aerospace agencies know how to build spacecrafts on Earth and in space, thanks to decades of work from the Space Race to the International Space Station (ISS). A spaceship capable of traveling vast distances will most likely need to be built in space, but luckily, astronauts have had much practice working in space due to the ISS itself.
Such a craft cannot use liquid fuel thrusters, they’re just too inefficient. But no worries: much better, field-tested, thruster technologies already exist. One such technology is the ion thruster, which the Dawn spacecraft is currently using to carry out its mission. The first craft to use ion propulsion was SERT-I, which was launched in 1964.
Our spacecraft can of course also make use of solar panels for power generation and the Canadarm, already used extensively, for repairs and the like. And, not to forget, futuristic-looking materials like aerogel, which can make a ship lighter while also making it stronger and more resistant to high-speed micro-meteorites.
Finally we’ll need protection from the sun’s vast and potentially dangerous radiation. Luckily we have the technology to combat this as well. Any kind of solid object will protect against alpha particles (aka helium nuclei). Against high-energy beta particles (aka, electrons) that will be present in space, low-density materials, like fabric, will be sufficient. As a secondary line of defense we could use a simple, powerful solenoid to create an electromagnetic field.
See? Completely doable!
Building a long-duration spaceship should only take a few years using these readily-available technologies. All we need now is to be bold – and most certainly crazy – enough to jump into action and actually try to build the thing. I bet if a group of dedicated individuals began building now, we’d have an interplanetary-capable spaceship, or even a starship, by the time Mars One started sending people to Mars.
Photo: Flickr, Kelly.Garsha
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