Star Traveling To The Millennium

Now as we are rapidly approaching the Millenium many people are getting the blues. This seems absurd because this offers all of us a perfect chance to start again. NASA is embracing this chance to grow and expand their departments. The phrase, “Space, the final frontier,” expresses the world’s obsession with space travel, that started centuries before it even became popular 30 years ago in Gene Roddenberry’s TV series “Star Trek.” Science fiction has entertained our culture for years. Movies such as Star Wars and Planet of the Apes have helped fuel our desire to get off the planet earth, find new life forms, and conquer the stars. Science-fiction dreams of worlds beyond our solar system have taken on a more realistic aspect since astronomers discovered that the universe contains planets in surprisingly large numbers. Studying those distant planets might show how special Earth really is and tell us more about our place in the universe (NASA homepage). Finding a planet that can support human life would revolutionize our society into the Jetson’s. These ideas are soon to become our realities. NASA is currently experimenting with many methods to try to explore the outer edges of the galaxy. In order to understand NASA’s excitement about star traveling, we will first fly through current projects concerning space travel, second explore three possible technologies being experimented with for the year 2000, finally take a trip into our future and experience how star traveling will change our lives as we approach the end of the second millenium.
NASA’s goal of faster, better, cheaper has been the motivation for them to develop new mission concepts, and to validate never-before-used technologies in space. The new technologies, if proven to work, will revolutionize space exploration in the next century. According to NASA’s New Millennium Program home page, last updated on September 16,1999, NASA’s current project of Deep Space 1 demonstrates some of their most exotic technologies. One of the most impressive is the testing of an ion engine that is supposed to be 10 times more efficient than liquid or solid rocket engines. Deep Space 1 was launched on October 24, 1998. It is the first mission under NASA’s New Millennium Program, which features flight testing of new technology, rather than science as its main focus (Rayman 4). These new technologies will make spacecraft of the future smaller, more economical, reliable, and closer to the goal of efficient space travel. According to Dr. Marc Rayman, the deputy mission manager and chief mission engineer for Deep Space 1, there are 12 advanced technologies onboard the spacecraft and seven have completed testing (5). Despite some glitches, the great majority of the advanced technologies have worked extremely well. Rayman also said, “Mission designers and scientists can now confidently use them on future missions”(4).
All of this testing is now paving the way for star traveling. The great stumbling block in this road to the stars, however, is the sheer difficulty of getting anywhere in space. Merely achieving orbit is an expensive and risky proposition. Current space propulsion technologies make it a stretch to send probes to distant destinations within the solar system. Spacecrafts have to follow multiyear, indirect trajectories that loop around several planets in order to gain velocity from gravity assists. Then, the craft lacks the energy to come back. Fortunately, engineers have no shortage of inventive plans for new propulsion systems that might someday expand human presence beyond this planet. Anti-matter, compact nuclear rockets, and light sails are three ideas that engineers are experimenting with. But these ideas are in their embryonic stages and it is already more than apparent that the task is as difficult as it could possibly be, but still remain possible. Robert Frisbee, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab said, “right now, based on our current level of ignorance, all three energy sources are equally impossible or possible” (DiChristina 2). Some of these ideas are just radical refinements of current rocket or jet technologies. Others harness nuclear energies or ride on powerful laser beams. Even the equivalents of “space elevators” used for hoisting cargoes into orbit are on the drawing boards.
Out of all the ideas that have been brought up, NASA is seriously exploring three. One of the first