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Time and again we hear that we are behind the aerospace curve; that we should be farming peanuts on Mars by now; mining Helium 3 in some far-flung lunar lava tube, or living the dream in a space condo parked in low-Earth orbit. But on the cusp of humankind’s 50th anniversary of making its first footprints on the Moon, we appear to have wavered in our commitment to crewed exploration.

Even so, within the last century and a quarter we have gone from the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk to skirting the outer reaches of our solar system; from a quaint Boeing tri-motor passenger biplane to airliners that continually shrink the globe.

 

After a recent visit to Seattle’s Museum of Flight, it was hard not to be startled by the juxtaposition of a Lockheed Electra 10-E, not unlike that flown by Amelia Earhart, with the world’s fastest piloted aircraft, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. And literally across the road, it’s possible to walk through the aisle of the Boeing 707 that once ferried President John F. Kennedy, the only president that seemed to be truly serious about human spaceflight.

 

 

 

Back during the heady days of Apollo, the Moon and stars seemed ours for the taking. But in this current age of uncertainty, it’s easy to wonder if we will ever travel to Alpha Centauri?

Most likely.  But there’s a mismatch between quick definitive answers that sound exciting, and getting the real work done which is slow, uncertain, and painstaking, Marc Millis, the former head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics (BPP) initiative at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, told me. He says that it is too easy for under-qualified propulsion “researchers” to self-promote; adding to the pool of unproductive distractions.

 

Even so, theoretically, in terms of making interstellar propulsion a reality, we may be further along than most people realize.

 

In a 2018 breakthrough propulsion study, based on work done with the Colorado-based Tau Zero Foundation and in part with a grant from NASA, lead author Millis notes that theories for faster-than-light (FTL) flight are now part of the scientific literature.

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Category: Science