Friday, 21 September 2007

Is the race to complete a working spaceship propulsion system on?

There has oddly been quite a lot in the media of late about new and interesting spaceship engine/propulsion designs – now the only reason this is odd is because I wasn't aware given the so called 'global war on terror' and general climate of doom and gloom that we (are lead to believe we) all live in that space exploration was top of anyone's agenda. Or is it?

Earlier this week we saw a Californian physicist Dr. Young Bae had actually gone as far as to build a demonstration "photonic laser thruster" (1) that, and I quote "produces enough thrust to micro-manoeuvre a satellite". Scaled up such an engine could apparently speed a spacecraft to Mars in less than a week. That's pretty impressive stuff (the phrase “massive leap in technology” would not be out of place...) for something that has moved beyond theory and into working prototype wouldn't you say? Not something that should say, be glossed over in the international media and only make it into the techiest of tech blogs on the internet?

Today we get more news on yet another U.S firm having created an innovative propulsion system, this one nuclear fuelled (2), again using the Earth to Mars model as a point of reference - this time speculating a rather less impressive two years to six month travel time. These are not the only media references to an ambiguous “manned mission to Mars” to float around in the last 6 months. Far from it.

So, what is up with all this?

Why is someone in the U.S funding such programs in the face of what I'd describe as more 'apparent dangers' and more pressing needs - when we are constantly being told that economic factors hold man's thrust into space, in particular back to Moon – despite proven lunar mineral assets (3) back? You can't tell me either of the prototypes mentioned here (or the countless others that no doubt exist, even if just on paper around the USA today) or even the experiments to justify them in the first place were cheap. Why would such be developed unless, somewhere, behind some door there is an actual formulated, if embryonic, plan to actually go to Mars for whatever reason in the very near future.

Governments don't tend to fund making things unless they intend to use them in the short term; fact of life.

These theory's ask more questions than they answer; but they are food for thought. If we are going to Mars. Why... and perhaps more importantly. Why now? (Que conspiracy theorists).




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