i'm a bit of a writer, and i can't help but feel drawn to science fiction. that shouldn't be surprising.
lately i've been reading up a great deal on theoretical physics, exobiological speculation, and all that. i was dismayed at first to learn that the chances of faster-than-light travel being physically possible are slim. it was also pretty discouraging when i sat down and looked at the actual speeds that'd be required to traverse sizable parts of the galaxy in a single conscious lifetime. it was a kick when i was down to learn about how difficult terraforming probably would be. but the more i've been learning, the more i've been excited about telling a different kind of science fiction story.
to draw an analogue to our world, the thing that made both the european colonial age and the modern process of globalization have been technology. it's not that we couldn't go to various places around the world before, it just cost too damn much to make anything worth it. i got my BA in sociology, and these sorts of things interest me.
if FTL travel isn't possible, then more than likely it'll be too damn costly to ever colonize beyond our own solar system as the way it's been envisioned in most of the celebrated scifi universes. But there are examples such as Arthur C. Clarke's Songs of a Distant Earth
or Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
where humans colonize to escape destruction on earth.
recently i had the chance to meet both Kim Stanley Robinson
and Geoff Ryman
. Robinson is a hard scifi writer after my own heart; the Mars Trilogy is a really interesting look at our first attempts to colonize within our own star system. Ryman was actually more interesting to talk to, though. maybe because few people have ever heard of him (i was only there because i work at UCSD where he was being hosted). but i actually got to talk to him. he said he thinks we probably won't ever leave our galactic neighborhood.
i'm interested in writing a hard scifi story (or series) myself. i'm interested from a sociological point of view: what would drive us to colonize space? from a writer's point of view, i want to keep the earth around, so i'm not interested in a flight from disaster. what would societies be like after colonies were established? trade would be difficult, but not impossible. same goes for war.
while i'm certainly interested in contributions along those lines, i'm also interested in learning more about the hard science and engineering behind interstellar travel. i've got a lot of questions i haven't been able to answer through wikipedia and google alone. but i'm not about to list them all here.
it seems like a discussion about real
("real") colonization and space travel could use a place on these boards.
i'll kick it off. i've been reading up on propultion especially, and bussard ramjets seem like the most economically feasible option since they gather their fuel as they go - perhaps especially if it could be hybridized with another form such as antimatter-catalyzed fusion. the wikipedia article on bussard ramjets
describe that they'd probably need what is essentially a magnetic funnel or ramscoop to gather interstellar hydrogen as propellant.
The mass of the ion ram scoop must be minimized on an interstellar ramjet. The size of the scoop is large enough that the scoop cannot be solid. This is best accomplished by using an electromagnetic field, or alternatively using an electrostatic field to build the ion ram scoop. Such an ion scoop will use electromagnetic funnels, or electrostatic fields to collect ionized hydrogen gas from space for use as propellant by ramjet propulsion systems (since much of the hydrogen is not ionized, some versions of a scoop propose ionizing the hydrogen, perhaps with a laser, ahead of the ship.) An electric field can electrostatically attract the positive ions, and thus draw them inside a ramjet engine. The electromagnetic funnel would bend the ions into helical spirals around the magnetic field lines to scoop up the ions via the starship's motion through space. Ionized particles moving in spirals produce an energy loss, and hence drag; the scoop must be designed to both minimize the circular motion of the particles and simultaneously maximize the collection. Likewise, if the hydrogen is heated during collection, thermal radiation will represent an energy loss, and hence also drag; so an effective scoop must collect and compress the hydrogen without significant heating.
talk about kick-butt imagery! spirals of heated gas careening towards a ship only to be fused and expelled in a jet plume? sweet.
anyway, i've written enough, and i hope it hasn't put anyone off. some of the the community here has proven to be very well read with regard to these kinds of science, so i thought it'd make a great topic for discussion: all things related to space exploration and colonization with reasonable extrapolations of current technology.
my biggest point of curiostiy was with respect to ramjets, so i'll take the kickoff: could the spiral motion of the inbound gas somehow be harnessed to artficially generate gravity by rotating the ship, instead of producing drag?
final words: i hope no one minds my double-motive. i won't try to steer any dicussion, though if things quiet down i might pose more general questions to keep it going; i encourage anyone interested to pose your own!