SpaceShipOne - it's a nail-biter

Here's another good documentary from YouTube. This one's about Burt Rutan, a famous airplane designer, and his efforts to win the X-prize, the competition set up in the U.S. to reward the first private company to take passengers into space on two separate trips, less than a fortnight apart. In other words, a competition to encourage the development of a privately designed, constructed and tested commercial spaceship.

I only knew a little about the SpaceShipOne project before I watched the video, and I had no idea how they had got on with their craft, so I found the documentary both exciting, intriguing and a complete nail-biter. I really didn't know what was going to happen at any point in the documentary and because they were doing a lot of the project work on a shoe-string, with an entirely new design of craft, without wind-tunnel testing or advanced simulations or an exhaustive series of tests to cover every possible potential problem, it really felt as if there could be a disaster at any point in the story. Gripping stuff (Note: it's not 1080p and it's actually only an hour-and-a-half long).

Travel to the stars by exploding atomic bombs

I discovered this fascinating programme on youtube yesterday. It's an old BBC4 documentary about Freeman Dyson and his project to design a spaceship that travels into space, propelled by detonating a series of nuclear explosions.

I found the documentary both engrossing and bizarre. Throughout the program, the people involved in the project were convinced that it was a viable and brilliant way to send humans into space and the other planets in our solar system. They pointed out, sensibly, that rocket motors did not produce enough power to effectively fling humans to the edges of our solar system, or our nearby astral neighbours. Chemical rockets were good enough to go to the moon, but that's about it.

This all made sense, but at no point in the documentary did anyone say 'wait a second, how on Earth are you going to accurately steer this craft as you explode nuclear weapons under its 'spring plate'? Also, how are you going to safely detonate a whole series of nuclear bombs under this 'spring plate' without them frying the crew with radiation or running the risk of one of them blowing up while it's still inside the bomb bay? The practical problems seem endless, and yet they carried on with idealistic zeal. Fascinating stuff.

Warp drive isn't science fiction!

Since I've been knee-high to a grasshopper, I've been a huge fan of Star Trek, both the original series, the Next Generation series and the recent J.J.Abrams movies. Quality stuff. But recently, since I've becoming a budding science fiction writer, I've felt duty bound to write science fiction that is based on solid science. In other words, if the technology in a story is not evidently scientifically sound or no attempt is made to explain how it is scientifically sound, then I can't write about it as it's not science-fiction, it's fantasy fiction.

This is where Star Trek has become a big problem to me, because Einstein, in his famous Theory of General Relativity, makes it clear that no material object can go faster that the speed of light. Knowing this, it becomes obvious that travelling between the stars is an impossible task. You either go so fast that you're rapidly smeared all over your pilots chair like a coating of gravy, or if you go slow enough to stay in one piece and end up dying of old age or being turned into a biological colander by endless cosmic ray bombardment, or both, or all three. We all may be used to the crew of Star Trek zooming between the stars in a few hours, enough time to develop a slow-burning romance, or play an odd version of chess, or play an instrument that neatly doubles up as a kitchen implement, but that doesn't mean it's scientifically okay. Read More...