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Thursday, March 21, 2002

Sailing to the Stars

Sailing to the stars.
Sailing to the stars.
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
(MSNBC) - Humans will begin a voyage to the nearest star this century, a NASA researcher says. And the crew might more resemble a tribal society than the chain of command of traditional space missions. Traditional means of space travel are too slow to push humans out of the solar system. Instead, Landis envisions ships with vast sails, propelled by laser light to about 10 percent the speed of light. Such a craft could make the 4.3-light-year trip to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system, in about 43 years, though slowing down would be a problem. Stopping could take up to 100 years. Sending humans out into deep space over a period of generations probably means a one-way trip for those aboard, researchers say, and would require the development of reliable power sources and closed-loop life support systems. The technological hurdles of building a laser large enough (on the order of a 100 meters or 330 feet wide) in space, and designing a stable sail - not to mention the spacecraft itself - are not small. "The laws of physics are on our side, but itís a hard question to answer: Is the technology going to be there?" Landis said, adding that to date, only a handful of scientists are thinking about ideas for advanced space exploration. "The earth itself is not entirely a safe place," Landis said. "It would be a good thing for our survival if we lived on more than one planet." If humanity didnít reach out to the stars, all of its proverbial eggs would be in one basket.

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- posted by Alex @ 19:26 EST