Breaking Through at NASA: Science on the Edge

  • Paul Gilster


Marc Millis zips through the western suburbs of Cleveland in his green Chrysler convertible, the top down on a benign day in early spring. In the front seat, hair blowing in the wind, is physicist and science fiction writer Geoffrey Landis. I am in the back, getting the full brunt of the airflow, eyes watering as I lean forward to eavesdrop on the conversation up front. These two NASA futurists, working out of Cleveland’s Glenn Research Center, have their eyes on the issues we’ll need to resolve to achieve interstellar flight, but just now they’re talking about frontiers and human courage, and how the two relate to each other. It is just two months after Space Shuttle Columbia’s fiery end over Texas.


Black Hole Cosmic String Science Fiction Casimir Force Solar Sail 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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    “new dialogues between Achilles and the tortoise.” —Carroll’s work appeared as “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles,” Mind 4, no. 14 (April 1895), pp. 278–80. The Hofstadter dialogue appears as introductory material to each chapter in the author’s Gödel,Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (New York: Basic Books, 1979).Google Scholar
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    “then an antimatter rocket.” —Interview with Marc Millis at Glenn Research Center, April 3, 2003.Google Scholar
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    “to listen to their own words fifty years later reporting on their journey.”—Van Vogt’s tale is reprinted in the collection Destination: Universe (New York: Signet Books, 1952).Google Scholar
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    “in his science fiction novel Mars Crossing.”—Geoffrey Landis, Mars Crossing (New York: Tor Books, 2000).Google Scholar
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    “And it’s going to take a long time.” —Interview with Geoffrey Landis at Glenn Research Center on April 3, 2003.Google Scholar
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    “the proton is a whopping 430 times more massive than when it is at rest.”—A wonderfully readable overview of the relationship between mass and energy is David Bodanis’s E=mc: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation (New York: Walker and Co., 2000). Recall that mass and weight are not the same thing. Weight is measurable in a gravitational field, whereas in orbit, even the heaviest satellite has no weight. But all objects have mass, which is a measure of the resistance of the object to motion and is normally measured in kilograms. Mass is therefore a measure of the object’s inertia. That orbiting satellite still has plenty of mass, so that moving it is no small job no matter what its weight. It was Einstein’s insight that mass and energy are the same thing. Converting one to the other is possible and violates no physical laws. While each can change its state, the total amount of mass and energy remain the same. The conversion factor, of course, is huge. In Einstein’s famous equation, the energy released is equal to the mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light.Google Scholar
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    “Ultrarelativistic Rockets and the Ultimate Fate of the Universe.”—By A. Kheyfets and W. Miller, and F. Tipler III, respectively.Google Scholar
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    “far-out physics.” —Lawrence Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek (New York: Basic Books, 1995). Krauss is also the author of Beyond Star Trek: Physics from Alien Invasions to the End of Time from the same publisher (1997).Google Scholar
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    “the `warp drive’ of science fiction.”—Ibid.Google Scholar
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    “they sent forward to control the wall of the spacetime bubble in which they traveled.”—Natario’s paper, “Warp Drive with Zero Expansion,” appears in Classical and Quantum Gravity 19, no. 6 (March 21, 2002), pp. 1157–65. See also Eugenie Samuel, “The Truth About Warp Drive,” New Scientist 173, issue 2334 (March 16, 2002), p. 9.Google Scholar
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    “How do you produce the exotic matter needed to manipulate negative energy?”—A straightforward look at the Alcubierre drive is provided by M. Szpir in “Spacetime Hypersurfing,” American Scientist 82 (Sept/Oct 1994), pp. 422–23. Also see Larry Gonick’s column “Science Classics” for a playful look at the “warp and woof drive” in Discover, Dec. 1994, pp. 44-54.Google Scholar
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    “Arthur C. Clarke’s novel The Fountains of Paradise?” -Clarke’s novel remains the definitive vision of a space elevator. It was first published by Harcourt in 1979.Google Scholar
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    “co-authored by physicist Alfonso Rueda.”- Ibid.Google Scholar
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    “the even more fantastic possibility of controlling inertia.”-Ibid., 245. p.174: “the Casimir Effect.”-Robert Forward, “Extracting Electrical Energy from the Vacuum by Cohesion of Charged Foliated Conductors,” Physical Review B 30, no. 4 (August 1984): 1770–73.Google Scholar
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    “the real behavior of this quantum vacuum.”-Jordan Maclay, “An Analysis of Vacuum Fluctuation Energy and Casimir Forces in Conductive Rectangular Cavities,” Physical Review A 61, 052110–1 to o5zno-18 (moo) provides technical background. “Energy Unlimited” by H. Bortman is a useful layman’s description of Maclay’s work in New Scientist, January 22, 2000, pp. 32–34.Google Scholar
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    “there would be no such thing as inertia.” -Telephone interview with James Woodward, October 7, 2003.Google Scholar
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    “transient fluctuations in its mass.”- See James F. Woodward and Thomas Mahood, “Mach’s Principle, Mass Fluctuations, and Rapid Spacetime Transport.” Available online at Scholar
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    “it would be our first evidence that wormholes actually exist.” -The paper Landis is referring to is Cramer et al., “Natural Wormholes.”Google Scholar
  42. p.180
    “stretching to infinity in both directions.” -Geoffrey L. Landis, “Approaching Perimelasma,” in Impact Parameter (Urbana, Ill.: Golden Gryphon Press, 2001).Google Scholar
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    “cards home to be shuffled”-“What We Really Do Here at NASA” also appears in Parameter. Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

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  • Paul Gilster

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