Author Topic: Spaceships are unlikely  (Read 4824 times)

Heradel

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on: December 01, 2009, 04:22:28 AM
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2009/11/the_myth_of_the_starship.html
Quote
The myth of the starship
(NB: As starships do not in fact exist, no starships were harmed in the production of this essay. Also, this is just words. If they upset you, go lie down in a dark room for half an hour then drink a glass of water; you'll feel better.)

Actually, I tell a lie. There are five starships that we know of; Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager 1, Voyager 2, and New Horizons. But they're a far cry from the gleaming interstellar transports of science fiction. New Horizons is the most recent of them. Launched in late 2006, it is the fastest human-launched vehicle so far. It raced past Lunar orbit within nine hours of take-off: nevertheless, it will take around 10 years to reach Pluto (its proximate target — for a three-hour flyby). It weighs around 478 Kg, and is currently travelling outwards from the sun at around 17km/sec — about fifty times as fast as a rifle bullet.

We are 4.37 light years, or 140 million light-seconds, from Alpha Centauri, give or take. One light second is 300,000 km; it takes New Horizons about five hours to travel one light second. So: in very roughly 30 million days, or on the order of 300,000 years (if it was going in the right direction, which it isn't), New Horizons could reach Alpha Centauri.

And that's the best we've done to date, admittedly without really trying ...

This is not an essay about whether we could do better if we tried. I've written about the problem of space colonization before. Rather, what intrigues me is the possibility that the entire conceptual framework of the starship is a dangerously misleading dead-end, and that what we need is a new framework for thinking about interstellar travel.

The very word "starship" is a concatenation of two other words — star, and ship. The first is pretty harmless; it merely defines the scale factor we're talking about, as opposed to interplanetary ship, or moon ship, or Atlantic-crossing steam ship. But the second word comes with a whole freightload of unwanted baggage, and I'm of a mind that serious futurists or SF writers might want to think about ditching it completely and looking for something new.
[...]

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Mr Morden

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Reply #1 on: December 01, 2009, 05:31:11 PM
I could provide you with the knowledge that would put you on the right path.  Let's just call it a favor.

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Alasdair5000

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Reply #2 on: December 01, 2009, 06:04:08 PM
I think he's wrong, but I think he's wrong in a really interesting way.  Stross is one of the best thinkers in the business and one of the most transparent too (Which gets him into trouble whenever he bounces off popular culture in SF) but here it's a real asset.  Be interesting to see where this goes. 



Yargling

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Reply #3 on: December 01, 2009, 06:04:57 PM
I honestly think its laughable aggronant to rule out starships and FTL with our current understanding of physics. We know, for certain, that our understanding of the universe's rules is fundamentally flawed; general relativity and quantum mechanics simply don't mix, and we have two "Accurate" theories that describe different scales of the universe in fundamentally different ways. As such, I think it silly to assume what we currently know about physics is the limit of what is possible.



stePH

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Reply #4 on: December 01, 2009, 11:05:38 PM


Quote
We are here waiting
A few know this place
With our lens we're looking
Scrutinize the space

Flying cigars
A given name for UFOs
Flying cigars
Fire this one and watch the show

In the sky dancing
They are telling a story
Back and forward moving
An awesome scenery

Flying cigars
The coolest name for UFOs
Flying cigars
Up in the sky, anything goes

Makes me high!
Turns me on!

There are some making loops
There are some spinning 'round
There are some caught in flames
And some land on the ground

Flying cigars

Give me a ride to Mars on these flying cigars

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wakela

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Reply #5 on: December 01, 2009, 11:28:25 PM
The thing that gets me about Stross is that I'm usually impressed and interested while I'm reading him, but when I'm done I realize that he hasn't said anything I haven't already heard. 

I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because he's very smart and has read way more about space travel than I have, but it sure sounds like someone writing in the 50's that a world wide computerized banking systems would be impossible because computers are too big and expensive and would need to be orders of magnitude faster and there are upper limits to the speed you can get out of vacuum tubes.



deflective

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Reply #6 on: December 06, 2009, 06:24:27 AM
Cory Doctorow's story to boldly go is (sorta sideways) relevant to this.
starship sofa podcasted it last month, the story starts forty-one minutes into the episode.



Loz

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Reply #7 on: December 06, 2009, 01:03:22 PM
It's also available at Cory's own craphound.com.



stePH

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Reply #8 on: December 06, 2009, 02:33:44 PM
Cory Doctorow's story to boldly go is (sorta sideways) relevant to this.
starship sofa podcasted it last month, the story starts forty-one minutes into the episode.

Starship sofas are unlikely.  ;D

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Yargling

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Reply #9 on: December 10, 2009, 01:41:03 AM
Also, I remember a time when people didn't really think Black Holes existed, because it didn't seem likely. Even Einstien didn't think they could occur. Stating something seems unlikely to ever occur based on current science is at best optimistic. "I believe there will be a market for 10 computers in the future" or whatever that probably not true story is quoted as.



stePH

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Reply #10 on: December 10, 2009, 04:05:09 AM
Stating something seems unlikely to ever occur based on current science is at best optimistic. "I believe there will be a market for 10 computers in the future" or whatever that probably not true story is quoted as.
My personal favorite is Bill Gates, circa 1984, saying something to the effect of "640k of RAM is more than anybody could ever need."

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Heradel

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Reply #11 on: December 10, 2009, 04:39:10 AM
Stating something seems unlikely to ever occur based on current science is at best optimistic. "I believe there will be a market for 10 computers in the future" or whatever that probably not true story is quoted as.
My personal favorite is Bill Gates, circa 1984, saying something to the effect of "640k of RAM is more than anybody could ever need."
He says he didn't, actually.

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stePH

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Reply #12 on: December 11, 2009, 12:11:23 AM
[My personal favorite is Bill Gates, circa 1984, saying something to the effect of "640k of RAM is more than anybody could ever need."
He says he didn't, actually.
...and you're gonna take his word over mine?  :P

"Nerdcore is like playing Halo while getting a blow-job from Hello Kitty."
-- some guy interviewed in Nerdcore Rising