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Topics: International Space Station, Interstellar, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Star Trek
Light Sails were first mentioned in the year 1610 in a letter by astronomer Johannes Kepler to his friend, Galileo Galilei. “With ships or sails built for heavenly winds, some will venture into that great vastness.” In his character of Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Avery Brooks used his Starfleet engineering prowess deciphering ancient text to recreate an ancient Bajoran solar sail in the episode "Explorers." The possibilities have vacillated between science and fiction ever since.
I've enjoyed reading the speculation by Avi Loeb, Chair of Harvard University's Department of Astronomy on the Oumuamua object in Extraterrestrial. I've also enjoyed the healthy counter debate, as that's how ideas in science are refined before they become laws, doctrine, or accepted universal theorems.
On the "billionaire space race": Eli Musk started it with his SpaceX rocket system. It would be nice in current geopolitical tensions not to rely so much on Russian Soyuz capsules to get to the ISS. Brian Branson and Jeff Bezos have probably opened up space tourism, but in the foreseeable near-future and exorbitant price tag, it will probably be a dalliance of the wealthy. Desktop computers used to cost between $2,000 - 3,000, cell phones irradiating Gordon Gekko's skull in the movie "Wall Street" used to be the size of Canada. Even the fictional Zefram Cochrane needed a financier, Micah Brack, to get Warp One going. Whether that leads to a utopia of limitless energy, the end to poverty, money, life extension, and eliminating inequality is yet to be seen.
The article title, Breakthrough Starshot: A voyage to the stars within our lifetimes, Astronomy Magazine, takes into account the bane of our spacefaring existence: mass, quite literally a "drag," and cannot be compensated for by technobabble "inertia dampeners" or artificial gravity. We are currently accelerating at 9.8 meters per square second to the Earth's center, but we're used to it after living here a while. Twenty percent of the speed of light would get a nano solar sail craft propelled by a high-energy laser to Alpha Centauri in twenty years but would turn human passengers (if any were that small) into DNA goo against the bulkhead. Starshot launching in 2060 means my granddaughter will be forty-one, her parents might be grandparents, and I would have to be a spry ninety-eight to witness it. "Our lifetimes" must be humankind, that is if we haven't overextended our resources to make the endeavor fruitless. From the end of the article:
But as award-winning Cosmos writer and producer Ann Druyan, a member of the Breakthrough Starshot advisory board, said during a 2016 press conference announcing the initiative: “Science thinks in timescales of billions of years. And yet, we live in a society that only thinks in terms of, generally, the balance sheet of the next quarter or the next election. … So, this kind of thinking that looks at a horizon that’s 35 years away — possibly 20, possibly 50 — is exactly what’s called for now, because it’s this kind of multigenerational enterprise that nets us such great results.”
Godspeed, "Little Bit."