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Space Travel

Part of the Science and Fiction book series (SCIFICT)

Abstract

Our Milky Way galaxy is big. From this simple fact a simple conclusion seems to follow: if you want to cross the galaxy in a reasonable length of time then you must travel fast. Unfortunately, as we know, the universe imposes a speed limit. Douglas Adams pointed this out in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979): ‘Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.’ If SF authors set their stories in deep space and they want their stories to possess a veneer of plausibility then they have to address the light speed limit. Antigravity offers one way of traversing large distances on small timescales, and in Chap. 1 we discussed how some SF authors had their protagonists reach the stars using this technique. But we don’t know whether antigravity exists; right now, talk of antigravity is little more than handwaving. Would it not be more honest to drop the requirement for plausibility? Even hard SF authors should be allowed to wave their hands while mentioning ‘hyperspace’ or ‘warp factors’ or ‘ftl drives’—any vaguely scientific-sounding device, indeed, that opens up the Milky Way for exploration and permits stories to take place against that vast backdrop. Most readers were happy to go along with this approach. Several of my personal favorites—Asimov’s Foundation (1950), Martin’s “A Song for Lya” (1974), Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama (1973)—took place in a future where interstellar travel was simply a given. I was happy to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the stories.

Keywords

  • Solar System
  • Science Fiction
  • Geostationary Orbit
  • Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
  • Space Travel

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.

Mr. Heinlein and I were discussing the perils of template stories: interconnected stories that together present a future history. As readers may have suspected, many future histories begin with stories that weren’t necessarily intended to fit together when they were written. Robert Heinlein’s box came with “The Man Who Sold the Moon.” He wanted the first flight to the Moon to use a direct Earth-to-Moon craft, not one assembled in orbit; but the story had to follow “Blowups Happen” in the future history.

Unfortunately, in “Blowups Happen” a capability for orbiting large payloads had been developed. ‘Aha,’ I said. ‘I see your problem. If you can get a ship into orbit, you’re halfway to the Moon.’

‘No,’ Bob said. ‘If you can get your ship into orbit, you’re halfway to anywhere.’

He was very nearly right.

A Step Farther Out

Jerry Pournelle

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Webb, S. (2017). Space Travel. In: All the Wonder that Would Be. Science and Fiction. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-51759-9_3

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