Imma Comin’ For Ya, Curiosity

Galleons, do you remember when you were a kid and you got your first bike? Oh, the freedom. Oh, the speed. Oh, the places you’d go on that shiny white bicycle. At least, that’s what you thought. The reality was far more limited in scope. While you might have that lovely new bike capable of taking you all over the neighborhood, you were made to ride circles around your block (safe from the perils of oh-so-dangerous street crossing, but not from your asshat brother throwing rocks at you as you rode by your front lawn).

Sometimes, though, you’d get to the backside of the block and stop. You’d look around, as if expecting your mother to be standing behind you, watching your every move for signs of deviancy. You’d see the coast was, in fact, clear. And you’d see that stop sign across the street. A simple thing, the stop sign. But it became this beacon. You had to get over there. You had to just touch the thing. You had to prove that you were old enough and responsible enough and just plain badass enough to cross that fucking street.

And so, you did. You darted across the street, little legs pumping furiously. And you stood on that corner for a moment, your hand sliding down the warm metal signpost, your heart racing, a huge grin plastered on your face. A small thing, but an important one. You’d cross that street again with a new confidence, ride lazily to your backyard, park your bike, pet the dog, and ignore your brother as he whines about never getting to leave the yard. You don’t care. You are the master of the road.

When we went to the moon, it was like darting across that road all over again. It was the first taste of that freedom, that adventure, that we’d been yearning for as we built our first shuttles. But we never went any further than that. Instead, we endlessly circle our cosmic block in our space station, looking out across that metaphorical road and yearning to visit the other side, to see what’s beyond

Right now, robots (even ones I have completely anthropomorphized to be something like an SUV-sized WALL-E) are the lone colonists of our red neighbor. It’s like the 7-11 two blocks away that we don’t dare to visit but want to because we desperately want a Slurpee. Oh, we say we’re going to go. We keep promising we’ll try. Russia’s even locking astronauts away for months at a time to study how the prolonged isolation of such a trip would affect people.

A big barrier to space travel beyond our own moon is that space is just so… vast. As we all learned from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

And because space is so goddamn big, it makes travel through it a bit of a knotty issue. It just takes too damn long to get anywhere. Hell, it would take 6-8 months alone to get to Mars. Fucking Mars. The planet right the fuck next to us.

But what if I told you we’re currently developing an engine that would cut that down to just three month? An engine that ran on, oh, motherfucking dilithium crystals.

I’m not even kidding, dear galleons. Right now,  a team at the University of Hunstville, working in collaboration with Boeing, NASA and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, are developing a fusion engine that would use deuterium and lithium-6 (okay, so it’s not quite dilithium, but it’s close) in a crystalline structure as fuel.

The Charger-1 Pulsed Power Generator, as they’re calling it, would pass millions of amps through thin lithium wires to generate up to three terawatts of power. The wires would then vaporize into plasma, which would be collapsed into the deuterium/lithium-6 core. Under such high pressures, deuterium and lithium-6 undergo a fusion reaction.

And BAM! An engine twice as fast as what we’re currently working with. An engine that could hurtle us through space at 100,000 km/h (about how fast the Earth travels around the sun).

Of course, this is still in the early stages. In fact, fusion isn’t even a fully viable fuel source quite yet, though we’re making some enormous strides in that arena. Maybe we’ll soon be able to send people to Mars.

You know, so the robots aren’t so lonely.

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