In recent years, space travel has begun to capture the public’s imagination once more, as there is a resurgence in efforts to return to the moon, and planned manned trips to Mars within the next few years. But in spite of an increased interest in exploring our own immediate galactic environs and traveling in space, interstellar space travel still seems some way off. www.travelrows.com
Is interstellar space travel possible?
Interstellar space travel is a challenge simply due to the fact that we cannot travel faster than the speed of light (at least, not beyond theory), and due to the massive distances involved in traveling beyond our solar system to the systems of other stars. Manned interstellar space travel is still very much in the realms of science fiction. But that does not mean that no one is thinking about or working on the problem.
Breakthrough Starshot in an unmanned mission developed to be capable of making the journey to the Alpha Centauri star system, 4.37 light-years away. A flyby mission has been proposed to Proxima Centauri b, an Earth-sized exoplanet in the habitable (Goldilocks) zone of Proxima Centauri, in the Alpha Centauri system. The mission would take 20-30 years at a speed of 15-20% of the speed of light, and it would take around four years for a return message from the starship to reach Earth. It is estimated that the first craft could launch in around 2036.
When will interstellar space travel be possible?
Manned interstellar flight, however, is still far off. Theoretical work is being done by scientists on the potential of using ‘warp bubbles’ to travel quickly without breaking the rules of physics regarding faster than light travel. But there is no known way to create warp bubbles where these disruptions in space time do not already occur – and no breakthroughs have been made regarding the source for the huge amounts of energy that would be required for such an undertaking.
Other theorists speculate on the potential for cryogenics or stasis, so that human crews on board interstellar space ships could survive the trip. Still others are working on stem cell research and looking into whether human aging might even be reversed. Of course, this would have huge implications for live on earth, as well as for journeys to other star systems. Could crews one day undertake such massively long journeys without aging, or even without experiencing the passage of time?
Multi-generational space ships
Theorists on interstellar space flight have also considered the potential for much larger space-going vessels, which could transport whole communities. Generation ships, as these are sometimes known, would be colonizing vessels, that might take several generations and hundreds of years to reach a new star system and a exoplanet destination. But such huge vessels would be expensive, and there must be far more research into the human psychological and physiological impact of living in space for such long periods of time.
For the betterment of humanity, or even for the future of humanity, we need to consider heading out beyond out own solar system. But perhaps before then, focussing on exploring our own solar system is a good place to start. These are the early days of space exploration, and it is difficult to see what wonders the future may bring.
Interesting articles about interstellar travel