Building a Spaceship, Part II

A few months ago, I wrote a post about how we could think about building a spaceship — what the limitations were, what their alternatives could be, and so on.

Yesterday, I came across a cool article from Wired that does something very similar, for similar purposes, titled Could a 21st Century USS Enterprise Really Fly? 

Two things would’ve made me revise my previous assessments: the impracticality of harnessing nuclear energy, and the problems with generating centrifugal gravitational energy.

We’ve got multiple problems with nuclear energy, including the difficulty of wrestling a large one, designed for earth, into space — as well as the issue of remaining healthy while being bombarded by nearby radiation.

“…the radiation shielding and heat rejection system would be a huge design challenge,” said Elliott.

Producing artificial gravity, through the spinning wheel, is also impracticable because of the forces involved:

“To get a sense of this effect, try taking an external hard drive and wobbling it around a bit while it’s running,” said Lee. “It tries to torque you in a perpendicular direction when you tip it.” (On his website, BTE Dan says a second, counter-rotating wheel could solve the problem.)

This guy’s website should afford me several days’ worth of nerdy entertainment. The point is not the building of an actual USS Enterprise in space (which as one of the critics points out, needs to be done in space, because it’s simply impossible to achieve liftoff from earth):

“But there, as improbable and audacious as it seems, you see the value in scoping projects like this,” he continued. “It makes you think, even if it’s to say, ‘That’s a dumb idea, but maybe if we did this here and tweaked these assumptions here….’ That often leads to valuable innovations in other, more near-term developments.”

It’s the what-if, the maybe-we-could, the sort of fruitful speculation that fires imaginations and sparks research and science fair projects.


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