Saturday, December 7, 2013

To the Stars

To the Stars
For centuries humanity has used technology to solve problems and help accomplish tasks.  Today’s scientists and engineers use the advances of the past to create new technologies.  In their essay, “Vampires Never Die”, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan write, “Today as well, we stand at the rich uncertain dawn of a new level of scientific innovation” (324).  An innovation that has been pondered for some time is the ability to travel to the stars.  Contrary to the beliefs of some individuals travelling to the stars at non prohibitive speeds is possible, practical and inevitable and we will undoubtedly achieve it in the future.  Interstellar travel is possible because of constant human innovation and exploitation of space time to achieve relative speeds faster than light.
Human innovation has accomplished such feats as lofting objects and people into sky and space, allowing people to talk to one another miles apart with a device that could be lost in the crevices of a couch, and it has placed vast quantities of information at our fingertips.  Many of the innovations that produced these capabilities were created within the past century and people in the previous century likely couldn’t have imagined such technology.  The cutting edge of innovation and science in the present could include such things as discoveries in physics, new prosthesis that can enhance the capabilities of our bodies and advances in fusion technology.
The first item that will be discussed is the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle.  The Higgs Boson particle was proven to exist last year by scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the Higgs Boson particle is an essential piece of the Standard Model and its discovery places scientists closer to discovering a unified theory of how the universe works (Landau).  Theoretical physicist Brian Greene says that the Higgs Boson particle is the reason that matter has mass (Landau).  The two scientists, Francois Englert and Peter Higgs, who predicted its existence have received the Nobel Prize in physics (Brumfield).
The second innovation is new prosthesis and bionic enhancements in general.  The author of More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement, Ramez Naam, writes that 220,000 people possess cochlear implants, devices that send sound waves converted into electrical impulses directly to the auditory nerve and tens of thousands of people possess deep brain stimulators that control Parkinson’s Disease, Naam believes that we’re in a bionic revolution (Naam).
The third item that has vast potential is that of nuclear fusion.  Professor Steven Cowley, who is the director of the Culham Center for Fusion Energy, writes that researchers at Joint European Torus have successfully generated sixteen megawatts of power with only a couple of seconds of fusion despite the two hundred million degree temperatures, ten times the temperature of the sun, needed to produce fusion (Cowley).  Cowley adds that fusion doesn’t produce radiation, pollution or any toxic materials (Cowley).  With such innovations and discoveries it is hard to say humanity will never amass enough scientific and technological ability to achieve interstellar travel, however what some may consider the largest obstacle to interstellar travel is the vast distances between stars and the relatively miniscule speed of our space craft.  The next topic that will be discussed is possible methods of achieving dramatically increased speeds.
In his article, “The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity,” Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre explains that:
It is shown how, within the framework of general relativity and without the introduction of wormholes, it is possible to modify a space time in a way that allows a spaceship to travel with an arbitrarily large speed.  By a purely local expansion of spacetime behind the spaceship and an opposite contraction in front of it, motion faster than the speed of light as seen by observers outside the disturbed region is possible.  The resulting distortion is reminiscent of the “warp drive” of science fiction (1).
In his article “Warp Field Mechanics 101” Doctor Harold White, who works at Johnson Space Center’s Advanced Propulsion Physics Laboratory, writes that a spaceship equipped with warp drive could achieve a relative velocity ten times the speed of light and could reach Alpha Centauri in .43 years (5).  White later states that challenges remain to be solved before practical warp drive can be a reality (9).
Finally the greatest pieces of evidence for the eventual perfection of warp drive are the innovations of the past and present such as the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the successful generation of nuclear fusion, a clean, effective and renewable power source, and the development of prosthesis with its accompanying robotics and software.  Humanity has learned so much and accomplished so many feats of science and technology in the past that the idea of warp drive being impossible seems itself impossible, if humanity has solved so many problems and learned so much in the past one hundred years then why would the challenges of interstellar travel stop us now?  It seems inevitable that the engineering problems presented by warp drive, nuclear fusion and other technologies can be solved and science fiction will one day become science fact.  The current generation may even live to see it.  Contrary to the beliefs of some individuals travelling to the stars at non prohibitive speeds is possible, practical and inevitable and we will undoubtedly achieve it in the future.
Works Cited
Alcubierre, M. “The warp drive: hyper-fast travel within general relativity,” Classical and Quantum
Gravity 11, L73-L77 (1994). Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Brumfield, Ben. “‘God Particle’ Theorists Receive Nobel Prize in Physics.” Cable News
Network, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Cowley, Steven. “Nuclear Fusion is the ‘Perfect Energy Source’” Cable News Network,
12 Mar. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Kennedy, X., D. Kennedy, and Jane Aaron, eds. The Brief Bedford Reader. Boston: Bedford/St.
Martin’s, 2012. Print.
Landau, Elizabeth. “Scientists more certain that particle is Higgs Boson.” Cable News
Network, 16 Mar. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Naam, Ramez. “Are Bionic Superhumans on the Horizon?” Cable News Network, 25
Apr. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
White, Harold. Warp Field Mechanics 101. 30 Sep. 2011. NASA Technical Reports Server. Web. 1
Dec. 2013.