Thoughts on Explorers and Pioneers— Past and (Possibly) Future – by Hank Davis


Thoughts on Explorers and Pioneers—
Past and (Possibly) Future – by Hank Davis

Let’s get Columbus out of the way first. But don’t worry, he’ll be back for a curtain call.
Two things: first, Columbus did not decide, against the prevailing thinking of his day, that the Earth was round and go off in three little ships to find a new route to Asia.
(Speaking of which, is there still anyone who thinks that Columbus set off to discover America, or even a new land? In the seventh grade, I actually had a social studies teacher write that on the blackboard and had to correct her–but then she was fresh out of college, this was her first teaching job, and she realized I was right and took it well [in spite of my being a snotty little brat back then], which was a relief since she was certainly the prettiest teacher in the school at the time. Ah, puberty. B ut I digress . . .)
In fact, the Greeks, as usual, were there first. At least as early as the sixth century, B.C., the spherical shape of the world had supporters, and the notion was considered proven fact by the third century, B.C. Plato and his star pupil Aristotle considered the spherical world in the “well, of course” category. (However they were quite sure that the Earth was the center of the “universe” and the Sun, Moon, planets, and “fixed” stars all revolved around it. Can’t win ‘em all . . .)
The second thing about Columbus is that he was very, very lucky that he was ever heard from again. Like most educated people back then, he was sure the world was round, but he had somehow gotten a preposterous figure for its circumference, thinking it was far smaller than was the reality, and if there hadn’t been a continent unknown to Europeans, between him and Asia, he would never have reached land before his supplies of food and drinking water were exhausted. Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone complaining about America being named after Amerigo Vespucci when it should have been named Columbia instead. (Nevertheless, it certainly is the gem of the ocean.) Vespucci concluded, correctly, that the land he had reached was a new, unknown continent while Columbus continued to insist hat he had reached Asia. And unlike Columbus, Vespucci was working from a far superior figure for the circumference of the world that was only fifty miles off. Finally, Vespucci did reach the Americas, as they would later be named, while Columbus, on his first trip, only reached the Bahamas. Sorry, Chris baby, but you were a dope, as someone once put it in a different context.
Of course, I haven’t noticed a national holiday named Vespucci Day . . .
Okay, the long-suffering reader may say, so an explorer’s life (or pioneer’s life—I’ll be using the terms somewhat interchangeably, so sue me!) is not always a success story, and as space exploration of the Solar System continues, hopefully not always by robot probes, and reaches beyond (keeping in mind that the Solar System is a lot bigger and more complicated than we used to think only a few decades ago), maybe history, or a garbled version thereof, may be unfair to real achievers. Got it–but can we get on to space pioneers now?
Well, one more point: before you can go somewhere, you have to know that there’s somewhere to go.
So far, I have referred to “the world,” but haven’t called it a planet. That’s because the word planet comes from a Greek word (yes, we’re back to the Greeks; s’matter, you got something against gyro sandwiches?) for “wanderer,” and Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn—the planets visible to the naked eye–were called that because they moved, unlike the “fixed” stars which slowly moved in a mass across the sky with the seasons, but did not change location in the sky with respect to each other. The planets, all five of them that the Greeks couild see, did change location. Some of those wanderers would even come to a halt in the sky, then go backwards from their previous motion. This is easily explained if you know that the Earth is itself a planet/wanderer, going around the sun with the rest of the planets, in the same direction but at different speeds, and the Earth, like a faster race horse, overtakes the slower outer planets so that an observer will think they come to a stop, then go into reverse gear. With the exception of Aristarchus (and maybe a few now-forgotten disciples of his), who argued that the Earth went around the sun, the Greeks bet on all the “fixed” stars being attached to a gigantic crystal sphere around the (spherical but stationary) Earth, while each planet was on a different, separate crystal sphere, each rotating differently from the others and, yes, sometimes stopping, then reversing course.
Since the Greeks came up with this idea, they were doomed to never come up with a pulp like Planet Stories pardon me, Wanderer Stories. Win some, lose some. How can you travel to the Moon if it’s attached to a crystal sphere, and maybe on the other side of the sphere, let alone take a trip to the planets, which must be even farther away because they sometimes are seen to go behind the Moon, and so their crystal spheres must be outside of the Moon’s sphere. Besides, the opinion seems to have been divided on whether those lights in the sky are named after gods, or actually are gods. If a Pegasus knock-off were available, maybe he could be ridden to the moon (they had no idea that the space above the Earh was not filled with air—what a ridiculous notiong the contrary would be!), but remember what happened when Bellerophon (not to be confused with a wrecked starship in Forbidden Planet) tried to drop in on Mt. Olympus and say, “Hey, Zeus, baby, what’s shakin’?” Those gods can be touchy about trespassers on their home turf, and the heavens might be a worse test case than was buzzing Olympus.
Do I hear objections? (I don’t, of course, but it’s a useful rhetorical fiction.) Why all this ancient history, and, even worse, ancient mythology? The Greek gods never existed, and we can reach the planets and even the stars using time dilation at relativistic speeds, or generation ships, if nothing better is available.
Maybe . . . but, on the other hand, are you certain there are no gods, or at least godlike beings out there? If Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quip that “any sufficiently advance technology is indistinguishable from magic” is true, then won’t any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrials be indistinguishable from gods? Suppose they’re touchy about the savages (or worse, the monkeys, or even mice) dropping in on them uninvited.
As for that technology . . . if the speed of light is indeed an absolute limit, with no way to dodge or detour around it, traveling close to that speed to take advantage of time dilation might still be unworkable. Back in the sixties, a card-carrying scientist wrote an essay in a book on interstellar communication, which he thought demonstrated that the propulsion required to travel close to lightspeed required technology that was not only beyond anything we might build, ever, it was impossible by the mathematics of the thing. The essay was quoted at length in a review in Scientific American of the book it appeared in. The magazine’s reviewer cited the article with an unholy glee, writing (I quote from memory) that “this will send the idea of the starship back to the cereal box, where it belongs.” (And this was back when Scientific Amerikan pardon me, American, was worth reading, a situation that ended several years ago!) Other writers with comparable credentials have attacked the premises and reasoning of that article, but even so, we can’t blithely assume that time dilation will give us the stars.
And there have been arguments why a generation ship of less than planetoid size would soon become unlivable, aside from the gene pool of the crew being too small to prevent genetic deterioration; and if the ship were planetoid size, the reaction mass to propel it would be beyond anything we can imagine.
In other words, we don’t have a Pegasus to fly us up to the crystal spheres, and suppose the planet or star or the Moon is on the other side of that crystal sphere. And what if it’s some sort of magic fire (cue Wagner; I don’t care if it’s anachronistic) and there’s nothing to land on. And suppose the aliens, I mean the gods don’t want you there?
Columbus (I told you he’d be back) didn’t know there was a continent in his way to Asia, and also operated with a conception of the size of the Earth that was way off. How do you know we aren’t way off now?
We’ve known about the speed of light and relativistic effects for barely more than a century. Do we know the whole story? What do you mean the Earth goes around the Sun? Next, you’ll be saying the Earth is flat and we’re way beyond that old nonsense now!
Suppose I concede that we can never reach the stars, except maybe by a robot probe that will still be working somehow centuries after it was sent out at a patheticly sublight velocity. Supposed I concede that, as some spoilsports have argued, all stories about starflight are fantasy masquerading as science fiction?
Even if it’s true. Fantasy is fun (“Hey, Conan, get your broadsword and run outside and chase off that dragon before he takes a bite out of the starship’s hyperdrive unit.”) In fact, I don’t concede anything of the kind, but so what? Stories of apace exploration and pioneering are jolly good fun, and even if we’re limited to starships of the mind, I say, keep ‘em coming, and with the fascinatingly strange aliens be handy.
While we’re waiting and hoping for real starships, there’ve been a plenitude of terrific stories written abut flights to worlds beyond the Solar System. And even if they never come true in any way, shape or alien form, remaining as nonexistent as Oz or Middle Earth, they’re still good stories. The space exploration theme is at the very heart of sf, from Jules Verne and Cyrano de Bergerac to whatever Star Trek spinoff is on the telly this week, with stopovers at Doc Smith, van Vogt, Heinlein, Niven and many more in between.
And while we’re happily riding in our paper starships, maybe some new breakthrough in physics, or mathematics. or even sewing machines (read Fredric Brown’s What Mad Universe and you’ll get it) will mean that we can go to the stars after all. We can take along a stack of recent issues of Scientific American for ballast. Or maybe give them to aliens we meet, though that might spark the first interstellar war.
But consider Magellan, who was killed by unfriendly natives while attempting to circumnavigate the globe, and though the voyage was finished (successfully) by his second in command, he’s still famous (can you name his second in command?), and has the Straits of Magellan and the Magellanic Clouds named after him. Not bad for a dead guy who didn’t finish the job.
And this time, there’s a job Out There that will likely never be ginished.
Still here, Mr. Columbus? Well, pull up a chair, Chris, and have a cup of Columbian coffee. Show us that party trick with an egg we’ve been hearing about.

177 thoughts on “Thoughts on Explorers and Pioneers— Past and (Possibly) Future – by Hank Davis

  1. Exploration is racist, because of colonialism.

    A boy who grows up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs will naturally find himself firebombing black churches.

    Systemic censorship of outdated narratives, until all available fiction resembles that written by middle aged philandering English professors, for and about the same, is the only way that police violence, income inequality, and state terror will ever be addressed.

    Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers caused the Holocaust. Modern writers of space opera, military sci fi, and LitRPG do so maliciously, willfully, and in full knowledge of what it will inevitably cause.

      1. I’d originally intended a simple drive by post of ‘racist’, but was worried that Mr. Davis would take my jest as serious. The rest was simply logically expanding that original seed to absurdly parody an insane leftist. Then wrote in ‘LitRPG’ because I was pressed for time.

        1. There is this guy I know on Facebook whose posts would make more sense as this kind of satire, but I think he’s serious.

  2. > Of course, I haven’t noticed a national holiday named Vespucci Day . . .

    No, but the oldest polity in the New World still bears his name…

  3. “or even sewing machines (read Fredric Brown’s What Mad Universe and you’ll get it)”

    Okay, now I have a possible short story topic and an urge to see if it turns into an idea I can flesh out. Crud. I’ve got two already that I haven’t finished.

    1. Then there’s Eric Frank Russell’s THE GREAT EXPLOSION in which universe FTL travel was made possible by an imbecile trying (by means that made no sense at all) to levitate a watch.

  4. Since the people most adamantly against space exploration seem to be the same people whose obsession with making everybody on earth equally miserable makes leaving the planet look so attractive, I believe I will disregard the pillocks

  5. Hey. It’s much too fashionable to derogate Columbus. Mistaken though he was, Columbus did demonstrate that the Atlantic Ocean could be crossed and there was something to find on the other side. As he was reported to have observed, it’s easy once you know how. Discovering that how, when nobody else thinks it can be done or even cares to try, is the hard part.

    I’m not convinced that Einstein had the whole truth, so I’m not going to join the fashionable naysaying crowd and say there’s no point in thinking about it. In the meantime, before we go off exploring other stars, there is plenty of adventure to be had here in our own front yard.

    1. And he told people what he had found. The Basques and Vikings got to North American waters earlier, true. But they didn’t spread the word. Why would you want any other people in your prized cod-fishing waters?

        1. Let’s not make fun of Columbus for thinking he had reached China when he hadn’t, either. Although there were doubts from the beginning, it took some 20 to 30 more years of hard exploring to settle the issue.

          1. China – “they dress different and talk different”
            NewWorld – “they dress different and talk different”

            Yeah, until you get some guy who has visited China (or perhaps China and anything “therebouts”) that doesn’t seem all that different.

            I recall the example of a proposed alien (Martian) that has managed to hear earth broadcasts and studies BOTH earth languages: French AND German. And then the earth-mission lands in Kansas….

            1. If they land near Hutchinson or Garden City, or Newton, they just might get by with German. Lots and lots of Mennonites who still speak Plaatdeutsch.

            2. Considering that the natives are even from Asia originally any stories how people there would look fitted reasonably well too. And big place, who knows what kind of dress etc would be popular in the less visited areas.

          2. Question- how many Columbus navigational critics could find their way across a strange town without a GPS?

            1. Hell, how about with one. Mine keeps trying to kill me here. And the dang ine way, no stopping, and no parking signs are too similar

            2. Several older ones – grown up well before there was GPS – would probably do well enough with a paper map and maybe compass. However without that map and with just a compass…

            3. All GPS provides is latitude and longitude. It’s not very useful without some rather specialized maps you can’t buy at the gas station.

              – TRX “come look at the satellite in my back yard!”

        1. I understand they did- until the temperature started dropping. Seems that historically warm periods are good for people, cold periods bad. Only lately has global warming been seen as evil.

          1. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen a “CANADIANS FOR GLOBAL WARMING!” T-shirt in quite some time…

      1. The reference to cod reminded me of one of the stock Alt-history ideas I’ve played with. What if you had somewhat advanced Amerinds – advanced enough to fish the Banks – at the same time?

        1. Now, I’m not claiming a strong knowledge here, but I read an article a few years back suggesting that there were Inuit around there, and that part of the reason the Vikings couldn’t last was because they refused to adopt the Inuit methods and tools.

          1. Apparently, more recent archeology gives a more complex picture than the article you read. The Norse were eating a lot of seal, for example. The fate of the farms was a mixed group. Some collapsed in squalor while many others were tidied up and abandoned. The fate of the people probably paralleled the farms. Some trickled back to Iceland, year by year, some died, and a very, very, few joined the Inuit.

            1. One recent paper I read suggested that the Greenland colonies, at least, were methodically abandoned because the price of walrus ivory collapsed, which in turn was caused by political changes in the Islamic world giving Europeans access to elephant ivory again.

              1. I’ve seen the same argument. It does make sense, though things like that are really hard to prove.

    2. Columbus did demonstrate that the Atlantic Ocean could be crossed and there was something to find on the other side,

      And he did have reason to believe that. Stuff washed up on the Canary Islands that could not possibly have done so if it came from Cathay, if Cathay was as far as they said it was. He was just wrong about which condition was wrong.

  6. Hobby horse/rant coming

    However they were quite sure that the Earth was the center of the “universe” and the Sun, Moon, planets, and “fixed” stars all revolved around it. Can’t win ‘em all

    When people look down anyone who thought the fixed stars revolved around the Earth to demonstrate to me why, using only knowledge available up until Kepler that is not true.

    FFS people, Tycho Brahe, who was the greatest observational astronomer of his age and any prior could not conclude that the Earth moved around the sun. Note, Brahe did agree the planets revolved around the Sun. His modified Ptolemaic system actually explained observations better than Copernicus’s system did. Copernicus still needed those dreaded epicycles (many because of an insistence on circular orbits which was the breakthrough Kepler made) than Brahe.

    So, why was Brahe so “stupid”? Parallex. He had a good working value the length of an AU and what the distance to the closest star would have to be to have no observable parallex on a 2 AU baseline. This was not considered reasonable because it well beyond anything previously measured.

    Before you laugh, without being told do you have a good reason to think the starts are, at a minimum, five orders of magnitude more distant than the Sun (Proxima Centuary is 265,606 AU away). Early telescopes didn’t help when they resolved stars to measurable discs, allowing inverse square calculation of distances assuming stars were identical to the Sun which confused the issue with magnitude.

    There is a reason Newton said he stood on the shoulders of giants.

    Don’t think you’re smarter the people who figured out what you just accept as revealed truth because they had to figure it out.

    Rant Off

      1. Ah, yes, the magically appearing soapbox . . . or is it transdimensional soapbox? Oh, well, makes never no mind, just accept it appears under folks’ feet now and then around these parts.

        (Wonders when that particular idiom “makes never no mind” showed up. Like “should ought to have” it’s a bit . . . odd, linguisticly, though very common in my bit of reality.)

        1. $HOUSEMATE looks at me quizzically (at best) should I use the perfectly sensible (German derived, from kommit) “I am going to $PLACE. Do you want to come with?” insisting that the implied object ‘me’ or ‘us’ simply must be specified rather than implied. Yet has no trouble committing linguistic atrocities such as “One might could do that.” Might, alright. Could, fine. But “might could”? Is that like something that is not almost right, but merely almost almost right? Or in saner terms, ‘wrong’.

          1. *twitch* I lived in a town that had been settled by second-generation Dutch-Americans. “Go by Den Hartog’s, come with?” was used frequently. (Den Hartog’s was actually the Co-op, but it had once been the Den Hartog place before 1920, and so…)

            1. Sarah can probably correct me if this is used in portugal (since I grew up in an area where that was predominant ethnicity) but heard “come with” plenty myself

              1. I first heard it in Virginia, circa 2005-ish.

                I stopped and waited for the rest of the sentence. When nothing was forthcoming, I turned and left. She was then upset.

                “English. Do you speak it?!”

          2. “Might could” is a nice double modal. “Might be able” is a bit clumsier, even if it is the standard way.

            You have to study hard before they let you use extreme subjunctives. :;

        2. I always heard it as “makes no never mind” meaning “doesn’t make any difference” as in “don’t pay it any attention” or “don’t pay it no mind”

              1. You used to didn’t have to do that. Folks couldn’t figger it out didn’t make no never-mind. Folks looked funny at you, you looked funny back. Then you went of humming that old song–

                And it’s no, no, never,
                Never no more–
                I will play the wild rover
                No never no more!

    1. There seems to by a pattern in scientific knowledge, whereby you je system of belief develops metaphorical (and in the case of astronomy, literal) epicycles until,somebody comes along and says, in effect “Yes, of course all the planets move in pefect circles and cycles of circles, but look how much EASIER the math gets when you assume (just for the sake of easier calculation) that the orbits are eliptical.”. And then the new idea gradually works its way toward orthodoxy.

      My father told me, decades ago, that he felt that Physics, and in particular that part of physics that holds that faster then light is impossible, was well into the ‘epicycles’ stage.

      Do I have enough background to agree or disagree? No. But he was a Professor of History of Science, so he had some basis for the thought.

      It will be interesting to see if it pans out.

        1. Which, as Mr Weber pointed out in the Honor Harrington books, makes occupations by tyrants a much harder proposition, because they remember freedom.

      1. look how much EASIER the math gets when you assume (just for the sake of easier calculation) that the orbits are eliptical.

        Did prime numbers ever enter into those calculations, because I seem to remember reading that – as near as people can tell – the Antikythera mechanism accurately represented elliptical orbital periods on round gears by using prime numbers of teeth.

      2. All I know, is if I get stuck doing work on fundamental physics, I’d much rather it be something like vibration or fluid mechanics than anything with quantum, manifolds, or strings.

        1. Quantum Mechanics (at least the QFT parts of it) appear to me to have the whiff of epicycles to it.

          We have some (overcomplicated, awkward, not-very-natural-seeming) math that does a great job at explaining some things very precisely (when it isn’t leading to diverging sums and nonsense). But, unlike anything postulated in classical physics, there isn’t any good explanation for what the variables in this math are supposed to *correspond to*. We have mathematical machinery without any corresponding physical interpretation (that stands up to a hard shove when you poke at it).

          Niels Bohr made an absolute mess of epistemology and ontology in the 1926 conference, and spawned an almost political orthodoxy that it took 30 years to even challenge. Einstein was more reasonable than history wants to remember him being in his challenges to the Copenhagen interpretation.

          I tend to favor Everett’s interpretations, but I’m not wedded to them. It is a bit mysterious why we have this thing that looks *sort of* like statistical mechanics, but can’t be.

          1. PS: Shut up and calculate, taken one way, might not be horrible advice. You have mathematical entities in the theory that have their own internal logic and behavior. Then you have all the nonsense-text in the textbook attempting to take apart and deny the understanding you want to form about the behavior of the math.

      3. We might not be that lucky this time.

        Isaac Asimov once pointed out that we could still be using Ptolemy’s model if the Greeks had known about converging infinite series.

        (At worst, theyd have had to support the planets with something other than crystal spheres (to account for moons after the telescope was invented).)

    2. I didn’t really read a “Looking down on” into the text. At all levels of knowledge, there will be things we don’t know, or get wrong. He was just pointing out that they didn’t have it right.

      1. Neither do we, though people who should know better seem to forget it.

        We have models that fit *most* of the observational data. And when you get out at the edges, those models fail.

  7. Thinking about an alternate universe where the planets are attached to spheres, and space-explorers need to drill through the spheres to get to other worlds . . .

    1. And you ride to them on the unicorn/pegasoid Crytsal (Sun)dancer….

      And beware poor Icarus’ fate.

      Orbital mechanics are quite something, and I admit I do not truly comprehend them. Oh, I do get ‘go faster to go slower’ and such.. but don’t ask me to predict anything with any accuracy at all. And yet.. orbital mechanics must seem downright trivial against quantum mechanics… and people work that enough to have produced things like the transistor, the tunnel diode, the Gunn diode.

          1. From my experience (my Lady made jewelry for a while, and used superglues early on) cyanoacrylates aren’t that much better. Epoxy. Or sew the damned feathers in.

    2. CELESTIAL MATTERS, by Richard Garfinkle. Haven’t read it, but have heard others speak approvingly about it.

  8. We’ve known about the speed of light and relativistic effects for barely more than a century.

    I had the most glorious knock-down, drag-out arguments years ago with a friend for whom “Science” was his “religion”. Said friend bought into the “Scientifically proven FACT” that it will always be impossible for anyone to reach (or exceed) the speed of light**, and I was a Science Denying, racist, homophobic, Christian fundamentalist, asshole for disagreeing.

    All my argument was that we don’t know WHAT mankind will one day discover. Perhaps a scientist might one day discover that our understanding of the universe is flawed, and it’s not as impossible as we thought. After all, it was once absolutely scientifically KNOWN that the human body could not possibly survive traveling faster than the speed of sound (organs would turn to jelly, brains would hemorrhage, dogs and cats would live together!). OR perhaps some enterprising scientist might get a glimpse up the universe’s skirt and discover that we don’t even HAVE to exceed the speed of light and there is a way of getting to the star by going the back way. Hyperspace? Space folding? Who knows? BUT, if that were to happen, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that some SF that scientist read was a big part of moving him/her/zer/zit/xe towards the solution. Be it by inspiring the young wanna-be science geek to seek science as a career, or a “hey, I think I can make that actually work, IN REAL LIFE!!” moment.

    That’s what SF is about. In spite of all the scorn heaped upon SF by all the literary snobs on all the university campuses (campii?) of the world, SF makes such an important contribution to mankind. A whole lot more important than all those boring, lecture-laden, snobby, high-handed spewings of words onto pages that the SJWs foist upon us.

    ** The actual argument itself, was about if extra-terrestrials (aliens) existed or not. His point was we’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter since they’ll never be able to come here and we’ll never be able to go there, because it would be functionally impossible for us, or the aliens, to travel that far because it’s impossible to reach anywhere near the speed of light.

    1. He assumes that aliens live on something like our own timescale. Of course if they live so long (and possibly so slowly) that slower than light travel between stars is practical, we may never know they were here, or if we do know we may never manage to communicate with them.

      All of which I am somehow sure has been addressed by SF decades ago.

      1. Almost / sorta by Charles Sheffield in “Between tbe Strokes of Night” — but here it’s humans learn to slow down their subjective timescale, to live a lot longer at the same percieved lifetime. Biology, not physics.
        Interstellar travel at 10% lightspeed takes, maybe, months per lightyear. It’s just the non-slowed world that measures 10 years per lightyear. And there are ways to take that effect further, too.
        The final chapter is short, and stunning. Utterly memorable.

      2. Sigh… You’ve done it now… You’ve pointed out another hole in my old friends argument. If you aren’t careful, you get yourself accused of radical Science Deniery and possibly other odious occupations.

        1. Thanks to my parents’ interest in so many forms of history and my Father’s expertise in History of Science, I can out-drivel your friend ten ways to Sunday. People like your friend do not like to argue with garrulous autodidacts, because we can bury them in data they don’t know how to check.

          I’m also prone to using pungent words like ‘piffle’ and ‘hogwash’. My experience has been that thesemare showstoppers when one is dealing with people whose vocabulary is restricted to ‘bullshit’.


          Yes, I can be The Class Bore on SOOOOO many subjects.

      3. It’s also not impossible that a body the size of Ceres could be turned into a spaceship and sent between the stars, even if it takes centuries. With fusion power, grab some comets for fuel, then refuel at the next cometary halo. The volume of that asteroid would be enough raw materials to provide for several centuries of expansion, mining it and building both inside and outside.

    2. Harry Turtledove wrote a short story way back in the 1980’s in which FTL travel was in fact trivially easy — Maxwell or even Newton could’ve discovered it if they’d just done a few different experiments, and once the technique is developed, it can be replicated monkey-see, monkey-do by peoples at even lower levels of technology (there was a culture that couldn’t smelt iron and built a bronze spaceship). However, the technology to do FTL doesn’t have much in the way of spinoff applications, so once cultures get it, they tend to focus on refining it, and the rest of their tech base stagnates.

      So the most advanced alien culture was a bunch of cute teddy bears at a roughly 30 Years War tech level, who’d gotten the stardrive when a less advanced spacefaring culture sent an exploratory ship that was captured and reverse-engineered, and then went a-conquering. Until they come to Earth, detect no stardrive emanations, and land only to find their matchlock muskets grossly outclassed by Cold War military technology.

      1. I recall an Analog story about an interstellar ship landing on earth, and their soldiers came out to conquer us with muzzle-loading rifles. Probably somewhere between 15 and 35 years ago.

        1. Possibly Christopher Anvil’s “Pandora’s Planet” from Astounding in 1956? It was reprinted in novel form several times.

          1. Nope the aliens in “Pandora’s Planet’ were higher tech than us, but lower average intelligence and generally less inventive. We were better at *using* the tech we had. And when we got hold of *theirs*…Fun story.

            As mentioned above, the story discussed here is “The Road Not Taken,” by Harry Turtledove.

            1. I just read “The Road Not Taken” for the first time this evening, and reread the first part of “Pandora’s Legion” (the Baen collection of Anvil’s Pandora stories), and in both cases the aliens have inferior technology. In “The Road Not Taken” it is drastic, since the aliens have roughly seventeenth century technology and the humans are from our near future.

              In the Pandora stories, the alien technology is somewhat inferior to human technology. For example, both humans and aliens are using conventional firearms, but where the humans have machine guns, the aliens have somewhat-awkward volley guns that fire all barrels at once. The aliens don’t have tanks, and are trying to see if they can copy them.

              1. About the same *technology*–in weapons, anyhow. They hadn’t done as much with it. They could build starships, trucks were trivial–but it hadn’t occurred to them you could use a piston to move a rifle bolt the way you turn a crank. Or build a *big, heavy* truck and mount warship-class guns and armor on it. They had rifles, but hadn’t thought of bayonets. Etc.

                The horror stories the new commander got never started with “It was like black magic!” It was always more like “In my worst nightmares, I never *dreamed* you could do *that* with a [fill in “ordinary” weapon, vehicle, etc.]!”

                And if what “we” did with guns and gasoline was a horror story, what we did when we got hold of *starship* technology was a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET marathon…

        1. IIRC it’s “The Road Not Taken” and is in the “3xT: Three by T” collection published by Baen Books.

    3. How to build a generation ship, you leave for the stars, your grandchildren arrive, is a trivial engineering exercise. It’s not hard, only expensive. Getting from the bottom of our plant’s gravity well to LEO is non-trivial and so far very expensive. (see The Ultimate First Stage to Orbit at for one possible way to lower the cost).

      Once we have a foothold in space, let’s say a lunar colony, raw material cost for a generation ship drops drastically. 10% lightspeed, again, is easily obtainable. 83 star systems, 109 stars within 20 light years, a 200 year one way trip. Start out with 10,000 people the inbreeding won’t get too serious. Carry lots of frozen sperm to increase human genetic diversity upon arrival.

      Once we can build a starship- we will. But we can’t until we have a moon colony at the very least. And we can’t have that until we have ready access to LEO. The energy requirements to LEO I’ve read are less than that of a flight from San Fran to Australia. But JP5 is considerably less costly than LOX and LH2 and easier to handle. Reliable and reusable SSTO apparently requires unobtanium. Our gravity well seems to require 2 stages to do it. Both stages, one way or the other, are going to have to be completely reusable.

      1. I don’t know where you got that information about energy requirements, but whomever wrote it was sadly mistaken. For the payload capacity (mass, not volume) of, say, a 767 to get to LEO, requires more fuel than the entire mass of the plane plus cargo.

        1. The rule of thumb I remember is 10 lb fuel to 1 lb structure/payload. Gets more complex when you actually start shaving ounces but until we have not only a much more energy dense but lighter fuel or construction flight will be constrained.

  9. Isaac Arthur (great youtube channel) made a pretty good case that there is no compelling reason to leave the solar system except wanting to. There are enough resources here to Dyson Swarm our system. A few quintillion people could live in a huge number of O’Neil cylinders, which don’t necessarily need to be stationary (whatever that might mean in context).

    Everything we need is floating around out there. Asteroids for building material. Titan for nitrogen. Europa for water. Etc… We just need to go get it and put it together, which doesn’t require FTL.

    As for FTL, the Alcubierre drive looks more practical every decade. Last I heard, it’s down from “energy of the sun” to “convert the moon to energy”. Perhaps that wasn’t a good use of the word “practical”. Btw: Riding an electric bike is like a scaled down version; downhill is always ahead of you. It’s fun (and you don’t irradiate everything in front of you when you stop).

    The biggest problem I see is that anything useful in space is an insane weapon from Earth’s perspective. A laser using the sun’s “atmosphere” as the lasing medium would work great for accelerating probes – and could be used to burn off the oceans. More modestly, see Orion ships. Nukes in Space! OMG! But, to be fair, I don’t want them dropped on my head, either.

    1. pretty good case that there is no compelling reason to leave the solar system except wanting to

      Two reasons off the top of my head: 1) To actually go LOOK at whats out there. Sure, looking through a telescope is all fine and good and all, but it’s nothing like going out there and SEEing it first hand. 2) Because humans suck. Well, not so much individual humans (I like you guys… mostly…), but the inevitable groups of the bastages who congregate and form governments that stick their bloated busy-body noses into everything. Gathering a group of like-minded, liberty oriented people to truly escape the grasping claws of over-intrusive government seems to me like a perfectly sound reason to go far far away.

      Oh, and #3…. Ewoks. Our solar system doesn’t have em, and I totally NEED an Ewok buddy. I’ve wanted one ever since I was four.

      1. 2) Even if yammerheads don’t exist in your initial crew, they will be there in the 2nd generation.

    2. Jon’s Law: “Any interesting space drive is a weapon of mass destruction. It only matters how long you want to wait for maximum damage.”

      1. The Kzinti Lesson — “a reaction drive’s efficiency as a weapon is in direct proportion to its efficiency as a drive.” Thank you Mr Niven :-). And yes Orion (effectively pulsed fusion) or straight fusion drives would raise hell with things.

        1. On a comparatively small (no larger than, say, a full Space Shuttle assembly on the launch pad) vessel, a fusion drive would be locally damaging if the exhaust plume were not effectively contained, but it wouldn’t count as a WMD.

          1. Every Free Trader has a HOW-many-petawatt continuous-fire plasma cannon? And *keeps it pointed at the ground* for the whole takeoff AND landing sequence?!

            1. I read a story where a man in an “old-fashion” spaceship rescued some people who got to the planet in a newer model spaceship.


              He convinced the alien natives that the other people would be “go up in flames” (ie killed) when they got into his spaceship.

              The aliens had only witnessed the landings/take-offs of the newer “anti-gravity” spaceships and hadn’t seen his landing.

              His spaceship took off/landed via a fusion drive.

              Thus when he took off, from a distances the aliens didn’t realize that he and his passengers were not killed.

              Oh, the others had the problem that if they were known to have escaped successfully, no human would safe on this planet. 😉

            2. I don’t know where my notes were, nor how accurate my assumptions were on exhaust velocity, but if I was in the right order of magnitude, and you can create a pulse fusion drive, it should take somewhere between 200MW and 1GW to lift off a 1 million kg (I think) ship. If you have landing and launch facilities set up to capture the plasma in a long vertical tube and drain off the energy via MHD generator, with more magnetic fields to funnel the blast into the tube when it’s far enough above it to splash over, you should be able to keep the blast down to a manageable level until the ship is high enough for atmosphere to dissipate it.

    3. “There’s no sense in going further – it’s the edge of cultivation,”
      So they said, and I believed it – broke my land and sowed my crop-
      Built my barns and strung my fences in the little border station
      Tucked away below the foot hills where the trails run out and stop.

      Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
      On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated — so:
      “Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges —
      “Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!”

      So I went, worn out of patience; never told my nearest neighbours —
      Stole away with pack and ponies — left’em drinking in the town;
      And the faith that moveth mountains didn’t seem to help my labours
      As I faced the sheer main-ranges, whipping up and leading down.

      March by march I puzzled through’em, turning flanks and dodging shoulders,
      Hurried on in hope of water, headed back for lack of grass;
      Till I camped above the tree-line — drifted snow and naked boulders —
      Felt free air astir to windward — knew I’d stumbled on the Pass.
      ‘Thought to name it for the finder: but that night the Norther found me —
      Froze and killed the plains-bred ponies; so I called the camp Despair
      (It’s the Railway Camp to-day, though). Then my Whisper waked to hound me: —
      “Something lost behind the Ranges. Over yonder! Go you there!”

      Then I knew, the while I doubted — knew His Hand was certain o’er me.
      Still — it might be self-delusion — scores of better men had died —
      I could reach the townsip living, but… He knows what terrors tore me.
      But I didn’t… but I didn’t. I went down the other side.

      Till the snow ran out in flowers, and the flowers turned to aloes,
      And the aloes sprung to thickets and a brimming stream ran by;
      But the thickets dwined to thorn-scrub, and the water drained to shallows,
      And I dropped again on desert — blasted earth, and blasting sky….

      I remember lighting fires; I remember sitting by them;
      I remember seeing faces, hearing voices through the smoke;
      I remember they were fancy — for I threw a stone to try ’em.
      “Something lost behind the Ranges” was the only word they spoke.

      I remember going crazy. I remember that I knew it
      When I heard myself hallooing to the funny folk I saw.
      Very full of dreams that desert: but my two legs took me through it…
      And I used to watch’em moving with the toes all black and raw.

      But at last the country altered — White Man’s country past disputing —
      Rolling grass and open timber, with a hint of hills behind —
      There I found me food and water, and I lay a week recruiting,
      Got my strength and lost my nightmares. Then I entered on my find.

      Thence I ran my first rough survey — chose my trees and blazed and ringed’em —
      Week by week I pried and sampled — week by week my findings grew.
      Saul he went to look for donkeys, and by God he found a kingdom!
      But by God, who sent His Whisper, I had struck the worth of two!

      Up along the hostile mountains, where the hair-poised snowslide shivers —
      Down and through the big fat marshes that the virgin ore-bed stains,
      Till I heard the mile-wide mutterings of unimagined rivers,
      And beyond the nameless timber saw illimitable plains!

      Plotted sites of future cities, traced the easy grades between’em;
      Watched unharnessed rapids wasting fifty thousand head an hour;
      Counted leagues of water-frontage through the axe-ripe woods that screen ’em —
      Saw the plant to feed a people — up and waiting for the power!

      Well I know who’ll take the credit – all the clever chaps that followed —
      Came, a dozen men together — never knew my desert fears;
      Tracked me by the camps I’d quitted, used the water-holes I’d hollowed.
      They’ll go back and do the talking. They’ll be called the Pioneers!

      They will find my sites of townships — not the cities that I set there.
      They will rediscover rivers — not my rivers heard at night.
      By my own old marks and bearings they will show me how to get there,
      By the lonely cairns I builded they will guide my feet aright.
      Have I named one single river? Have I claimed one single acre?
      Have I kept one single nugget — (barring samples)? No, not I!
      Because my price was paid me ten times over by my Maker.
      But you wouldn’t understand it. You go up and occupy.

      Ores you’ll find there; wood and cattle; water-transit sure and steady
      (That should keep the railway rates down), coal and iron at your doors.
      God took care to hide the country till He judged His people ready,
      Then He chose me for His Whisper, and I’ve found it, and it’s yours!

      Yes, your “Never-never country” — yes, your edge of cultivation”
      And “no sense in going further” — till I crossed the range to see.
      God forgive me! No, I didn’t. It’s God’s present to our nation.
      Anybody might have found it but — His Whisper came to me!

    4. As for FTL, the Alcubierre drive looks more practical every decade. Last I heard, it’s down from “energy of the sun” to “convert the moon to energy”.

      It’s better than that. Guy named Harold White futzed with the parameters and has reduced the predicted requirement to a mass-energy of 700kg.

  10. Somewhere in here belongs the old saw about “Why did we go to the moon when there are so many problems right here on earth?”

    Well, in the first place, a lot of those problems were ameliorated by technology developed in the process of going to the moon. Or, farther back, by technology developed to prosecute war more effectively. Or technology developed to deal,with battlefied casualties.

    But more importantly, the people who wanted to go to the moon (and who want to go to Mars now) had some idea of the difficulties involved and some handle on solutions for those difficulties. Wheras the people who want to ‘solve’ the ‘problems’ here on earth (poverty, hunger, racism, climate change) have very little grasp of the difficulties involved and mostly want to pursue ‘solutions’ that obviously will not work.

    So, let’s go to Mars. We will probably get there. We won’t end hunger, racism, poverty, or climate change with any of the methods on offer. Let’s devote our energies to a quest that might have positive results.

    1. We won’t end … climate change

      I dunno – if the global warmening that has been tracked on Mars continues (Darn those omnipotent SUVs! Darn them to Heck!), it might not be something we want to end.

      And if the Sun does tip over into a minima causing everyplace in the system to cool, well, Mars could hardly get more inhospitable, could it?

      1. Based on my reading, the sun has already tipped over into a minima, and with a little luck Al Gore and all his followers well freeze to death, while protesting Global Warming.

    1. Idewa I’ve had for some time, which may be stupid for some reason I haven’t thought of:

      If we want to go to Mars, why not send large amounts of support supplies ahead, in unpiloted vehicles?

      Has this been beought up before?

        1. “Prepositioned supplies” is part of most of the major concepts, as is robotic infrastructure work to get things more set up before humans get there. The main issue I see is how do you recover when subsequent shipments don’t land close enough to prior supply landing sites – and you better manage to get the humans close by when they show up too.

  11. Exploration needs to lead to colonization in my book – I don’t want to retire and struggle around in this honking deep gravity well – I’d rather spend my golden years in a lower g. Luna would work at 0.16g, or Mars at 0.38g.

    Either one would need sufficient tunnel boring machines at the colony such that the living area is not claustrophobic. But TBMs are not technically challenging at this point – we just need the payload lift.

    One guess as to why Elon Musk’s The Boring Company is actually working at tunnel boring.

    1. Because he can’t dig himself into a hole fast enough with Twitter and his mouth alone? Because he needs to hide from the SEC?

      What? Too soon?

      1. The lesson that every single thought which crosses one’s mind should not be immediately tweeted forth into the ether is one worth learning. $20m seems like a valid lesson fee for a learner in Elon’s tax bracket.

  12. “One guess as to why Elon Musk’s The Boring Company is actually working at tunnel boring.”

    Based on what I’ve been reading about him recently? Because Musk believes that Pellucidar exists.

  13. Ponder powered flight. The big thing that held us back wasn’t aerodynamics- it was propulsion. A lot of development in metallurgy, electrical engineering, and chemistry needed to happen first before we could develop engines that were small enough and light enough to power a fixed wing aircraft.

    In regards to spacecraft, we’re still in the early steam engine era of using chemical reactions. Who knows what the future may bring?

  14. Interviews? Our Sarahy doing interviews?

    M. Todd Henderson Tells About the Brett Kavanaugh He Knew
    By Sarah Hoyt
    First, let’s tell our readers who you are.

    I am a law professor at the University of Chicago, where I have taught for the past 14 years. Before that, I worked for several years alongside Brett Kavanaugh at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C. (1999-2000). I have my first novel coming out on October 15th about a Supreme Court nominee charged with sexual assault. It’s called Mental State. *

    Second, how do you know Brett Kavanaugh? How long have you known him?

    Brett and I worked closely together on high-profile matters before the Supreme Court. We were part of a small appellate litigation group of about a dozen lawyers. I spent countless hours working by his side, traveling with him, and socializing with him at work and private events.

    What’s your impression of him? How do you feel about the circus of accusations aimed at him? Do they sound remotely plausible?

    My impression of Brett during this time was that he was a straight-laced, honorable, hard-working, and caring person. He was single at the time, and yet on a typical Saturday night at 2 a.m. we were more likely to be hunched over Supreme Court briefs in a conference room than partying. In bars, at ballgames, at parties, during the hours when everyone was punchy, I never heard him remark about women or sex in a way that even came close to the line. I cannot say that about everyone I’ve ever worked with over my decades as a lawyer, consultant, and law professor. I never saw him treat anyone with less than complete respect.

    Brett was the guy who told the people who worked for him to mind their Ps and Qs. At one law firm party on a hot summer night in D.C., I stripped to my boxers and plunged into the partner’s pool, while Brett and the other partners stood on the deck looking at me with a mix of shock and disappointment.

    He was a role model that I admired, not just for his legal mind but also for the way he carried himself and the values that he exuded. Brett and I do not agree about all legal issues. [Edit at his request:] On matters of social policy I’m probably less rigid than he is. [And some of you people should be ashamed of yourself.] But based on what I knew of his skills as a lawyer, of his public service, and of his judicial writings, I was delighted when he was nominated.

    Do the accusations sound remotely plausible to you?

  15. No love for John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), who, merely 5 years after Columbus’ 1492 voyage, sailed for the Bristol merchants and discovered what was termed the New Found Land?

    1. “That’s What Happens When You Fail to Secure Your Borders Day?”

      A few guys standing around with pieces of birchbark and quill pens, intoning “Anything to declare?” and history might have been much different…

      1. There’s an XKCD from a few years ago that had someone saying “These immigrants should just learn English,” and the other person replies with something in an unknown language. When the first person asks, “What language is that?” The second one says, “Cherokee”.

        I think Randall Munroe was trying to discredit the “the immigrants should learn English” argument, but he actually strengthens it. Because what kind of person doesn’t learn the language of the people who live in the country they’re moving to? The kind of person who doesn’t want to intergrate into that culture. I.e., tourists, or temp workers who expect to be there for just one or two years before returning home*… or invaders.

        * This category (people who expect to be there just one or two years) also applies to a lot of American military personnel stationed at overseas bases. Though here I’m a little bit ignorant, and would welcome more information from those here in a position to inform me: do most American soldiers/airmen/sailors/Marines** stationed in, say, Germany tend to learn German? Or do they mostly interact with other English speakers on the base and rarely interact with Germans? The sociolinguistic dynamics would be very different depending on whether people mostly stay on the base or whether they mix with the local population a lot.

        ** I don’t think Coasties tend to get stationed overseas, which is why I left them out here. But I didn’t forget them.

        1. Argh. Integrate, not “intergrate”. Though now I’m picturing some kind of Rube Goldberg machine with multiple gratings and a bunch of wiring in between them, making an intergrated circuit.

        2. In Saudi in ’91 the U.S.C.G. was responsible for port security in Dammam port where I was working. One of my co-workers’ son was the coxswain on a Coastie high speed RHIB and he got to do a ride-along. He said if his hair weren’t already white it would have been at the end of that trip. I was invited, but couldn’t get off work that day.

          1. Interesting. Did the Coast Guard have a (semi-)permanent base there that saw repeated deployments, or was it more of a tour of duty, from a base back in the US? Because I was thinking more along the lines of permanent or semi-permanent bases in my comment above (e.g., Army bases in Germany where entire families go there to live, as opposed to deployments where the soldier goes overseas but his family stays home). But I didn’t know the Coast Guard had ever even deployed overseas (at least that far from the US coastline: a deployment in Canada or Mexico would make sense), so that’s fascinating to hear about.

            1. I’m pretty sure it was a forward deployment for the duration of Desert Storm and its aftermath. Their portfolio was basically ‘keep potential terrorists away from our transport ships’. I have no idea what the foreign ‘footprint’ of the USCG is today. A quick web search shows that the only foreign (for some flavor of ‘foreign’) Station is in Guam.

        3. There was not and is not a single Indian language. The indian tribes were at war with each other endemically.

          We have/had English as a single common language. To the extent that we are endemically at war with anyone, it is not American English speakers. Okay, yeah, the left and people who speak only that cant, but that is an issue of whether religious diversity can really function with an evil religion that is also incapable of being at peace with anyone.

          Peace involving the Indian tribes seems to have occurred as they learned to speak English. Correlation is not causation, and there are myriad confounding factors.

        4. My understanding is that while some military people stay on the base, or in the tourist areas, and do their level best not to ‘go native’ they are a minority. Some just don’t have the knack of languages, but limp along in a mixture. And some lear the language everywhere they are stationed. Indeed there is a term for the local girlfriends that such people acquire; horizontal dictionaries.

          Now, this is from the outside, and may be badly wrong, so talk to some real military before you accept it as gospel.

          1. I don’t think my dad was that much better at languages than I am, and he wouldn’t have done a lot of (or no) off-base socializing back in ’58, but he did pick up a few (about three) Korean phrases like: I don’t know (“oop-so-me da”), thank you (“an-ya-ha-she-me-ka”), and come here quick (ee-dee-wa, chop-chop, balli-balli). Interestingly, he passed them along faithfully enough, that when I repeated them in front of individuals who had been stationed in Korea, they knew what I was saying.

            As far as the difference in being deployed and being stationed somewhere goes, it’s not so much if your family goes with you (what was known as an “accompanied tour”) or not (an “unaccompanied tour”), but if you’re going to an established base or a forward (undeveloped / possibly dangerous) area. The rule (for the Army, 25 years ago, roughly) is that you can go someplace (like Korea, not a slap at Korea; it’s just so far away) for one year by yourself or the the service member can bring dependents for a three year tour. (YMMV, check your local Army recruiter, S-1, etc.) I’m not sure if some areas have changed from being a deployment to station, such as Bosnia or Kuwait.

            Germany had the reputation of being a fun tour, particularly for a family; Korea had the reputation of being a fun tour for a single soldier as there were many businesses in Seoul, eg, that catered to supplying soldiers with food and alcohol. (I don’t drink, but I’ve heard of Sol-ju.) Korea also had the reputation of being harder as by the time I was on active duty the Soviet Union didn’t exist, but the Korean War hasn’t ended yet. You could expect to work more Saturdays and train harder in general the closer you were stationed to the DMZ on the 38th parallel. One of my sergeants talked about being in a foxhole from the time the President landed in Japan until he left Korea, for example. That was probably President H. W. Bush.

            Then with the draw downs in the late ’90s a lot of the bases in Germany closed; if this has reversed in the last 17 years of the wars against terrorist and their inn keepers and bankers, I wouldn’t know.

            1. I was talking to the Army recruiter that lives in my apartment complex and he said most of the 7th Div has moved back to Seoul from the DMZ.

  16. I always supped that an intermediate strategy would be the most workable For an interstellar ship/habitat velocity of .05c would get to Alpha Centauri in less than a century. That could be fast enough to mitigate the everything-wears-out problem and the run-out-of-volatiles probles. It would be slow enough to mitigate the fuel and ship-protection issues. With technology capable of doing that you wouldn’t need planets at the other end, though they could be nice to have.

    1. Umm even .05c has some serious with debris issues. Using Ke=1/2mv^2 a 1 gram (.001Kg, kilograms matters so we get the right units) object at rest struck by our generation ship yields 112350050000J(oules). Going to our handy dandy wolfram alpha and asking for conversion to Kilotons that yields 0.02685 kilotons of TNT. That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that is 26.8 TONS of TNT. Mass has a pure linear effect so .1g yields 2.68 T and .01g yields .268T or ~500 lbs or 200 Kg of TNT. That speck of dust just turned into a 500Lb bomb. I think we need deflector screens or an awful lot of rock at the front of our generation ship.

      1. You absolutely need a meteor shield for this sort of trip, and it would definitely be ablative. Ice could brute-force the job – there’s more of it in the outer system than rock and it takes less energy to reshape it after a hit.

        (The one-gram projectile is generating enough heat, if spread out, to heat a 6.5 metre cube of water from just above freezing to just below boiling. In reality, it would generate a crater, instead. You could embed a mesh in the ice to contain fragments.)

        At lower velocities, you’ll need less of that shield that you would at higher velocity. Besides the kinetic energy difference, you start accumulating relativistic effects. 0.10c is more than four times as hard as 0.05c

        If you had the engines that could accelerate the colony ship to this speed, adding the shield would be an engineering problem. I would expect there would be more elegant solutions than ice.

      2. Several plans for such ships include multiple layers of ablative shielding stacked out in front of the ship, with some distance between them, and some include electromagnetic fields to deflect the plasma that would be generated by passing through each layer.

  17. “And this was back when Scientific Amerikan pardon me, American, was worth reading, a situation that ended several years ago!”

    Two decades, give or take. I remember. One of the greatest betrayals of modern times. What there is left of that magazine is a pitiful joke.

  18. Once we get to the asteroid belt, we use tunneling machines to hollow a mile wide one. Build a real Orion, fusion is best, fission still possible.

    Start tossing out bombs, accelerate at 1G. After half a year your velocity is half the speed of light. So less than 40 years to stars 20 light years away. To slow down just toss out bombs the “front” of the craft.

  19. “However they were quite sure that the Earth was the center of the “universe” and the Sun, Moon, planets, and “fixed” stars all revolved around it”

    Actually, in the 3rd century BC, Aristarchus of Samos proposed that the Earth (already known to be spherical, and they were no more than 15% off in the size) circled the “Central fire” of the solar system. He was wrong in some of the details; he presumed a circular orbit, when we now know that all orbits are ellipses. And he presumed that the stars were unmoving in the firmament (“firm” being the operative syllable) and the Sun was motionless in the center.

    1. I can’t fault the ancients too much for getting hung up on the “circular orbit” thing. Yeah, there are some captured bodies with highly eccentric orbits… but of the visible planets, the question is “why *aren’t* they in circular orbits?” That’s still the default of most “how the planets were created” theories, which then slam into the “where did the buttload of energy to shift a whole planetary system into a noticeably elliptical orbits come from, and why didn’t they just disintegrate instead of moving?”

  20. “We’ve known about the speed of light and relativistic effects for barely more than a century.”

    The speed of light was measured by Ole Romer in 1676, and known fairly accurately by 1727.

    As to relativity: Einstein formulated his theory in 1905. Since that time, relativistic effects have been studied in great detail by tens of thousands of very smart people, performing a huge number of carefully designed experiments and making precisely measured observations.

    All this work has confirmed Einstein’s theory. To equate this situation with the vague and fragmentary geographical knowledge available in 1492 is wishful thinking.

    1. There is still a theoretical gap between general relativity and quantum mechanics. Until we can reliably measure quantum effects in intense gravitational fields, that gap is going to be hard to close.

    2. Yes, and we can’t fly past the speed of sound, and going faster than 60 mph would peel the skin off your face.

  21. Every time someone says something is impossible, you should do it immediately.

    We’re at the dugout canoe stage of space travel, and maybe we’ll get to the caravel stage soon. Especially with Elton Musk pushing things.

  22. Regarding Columbus and his notions concerning the size of the Earth, yesterday I was talking about him with a friend of mine, and he said that Columbus had what he thought was corroboration: things sometimes washed up on the Canary Islands that could not have survived if they had drifted as far as they would have had to if the Earth was as big as Eratosthenes’ calculation. Of course, the idea that there was a set of continents out there did not occur to anyone, in part because it was believed that Eurasia was bigger than it actually was.

    I need to investigate this; that was the first time I had ever heard of it. But if it was so, it makes Columbus not quite as much of a crackpot as I have considered him all these decades. Not RIGHT, of course, but not as incompetent.

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