If human space exploration is going to extend to celestial bodies farther away than the moon or even Mars, we need to develop a tremendous amount of new technology in order to do it. At this weekend’s Long Now-sponsored “Long Conversation” event, NASA Ames Director Simon “Pete” Worden outlined what the agency is doing to create that future.
“The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds,” Worden explained. “Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.” Worden himself was fired by President George W. Bush.
The most important near-term development is electric propulsion. The chemical rockets we use to launch shuttles into space are too expensive and inefficient for longer trips; the current generation of propulsion devices we use for deep-space probes and satellites are too slow.
Unfortunately, none of the avenues being explored, such as electric-ion propulsion mentioned above, will be of any real use for practical human interstellar travel. That will require a fundamental breakthrough in physics. A relativistic quantum field theory, i.e., a successful unification between relativity and quantum theory, would be that necessary breakthrough. Such a fundamental breakthrough would also very likely lead to a physical theory of both gravity and consciousness, and the control thereof. But this latest NASA effort is a good start, nevertheless. To read the rest of the article, click here.