“If one were to take every grain of sand from earth’s beaches and deserts and take that number, it’d still be short of the total number of stars in the universe” (Carl Sagan). It’s hard to imagine how immense the universe is and what’s the possibility of us traveling to a somewhat remotely close point in space. People are doubtful of it being relatively soon, because of how far everything is. It’s impossible even with today’s technology to travel at the speed of light.
However, year after year it seems technology is expanding so rapidly it shouldn’t be a surprise to ask could it be possible within the next decade, or 25 years, or even 50 years? Many scientists have come out and said that interstellar space travel is merely a fantasy. It’s easy to see why, but traveling into distant space is possible and could be done soon. With the right sources of travel, we might just be on our way to the next galaxy.
One of the biggest problems with traveling far out into space is how far everything is from each other. To give a perspective, look at how far it’d take to get to Pluto, our farthest planet in the solar system, from the earth. In the article “Your Top 10 Questions About the Pluto Flyby Answered” by Nadia Drake they talk about how in 2006 NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft “which was the fastest to ever leave earth’s orbit and it took 9.
5 years for the spacecraft to reach Pluto and its moons” (para. 3). To give this a more understandable perspective of how long that is, imagine a car driving from Los Angeles, CA to the tip of Maine, pretty much across the entire United States. It would take approximately 1,734 trips with each one taking nearly 2 full days to equate to the time it took to get to Pluto. For anyone to get anywhere far out into space it’s obvious we need to use something a bit faster and that’s where the ion drive comes in.
The ion drive which was once thought to be hypothetical is now becoming reality. The ion drive is an extremely fast way of transportation. In the article “Ion Propulsion: Father, Faster, Cheaper” by NASA they go into detail about ion thrusters of how they can “reach speeds of 90,000 m/s (over 200,000 mph)” (para. 1). In comparison to this, the space shuttles on earth can reach speeds of around 18,000 mph so an ion thruster is a little more than 11x the speed of a space shuttle which is ridiculously fast. Researchers are trying to test numerous ion drives and think they could shorten a 6-month trip to Mars to just 39 days. However, the technology of spaceflight doesn’t stop there. The photon rocket could be an even better choice for speed and make the ion thrusters look like the tortoise and a hare.
A photon rocket is just a glimpse of hope right now but could be done shortly and offer insanely fast speeds. In the article “Photon Rockets Might Make Mars A Three Minute Trip” by Bruce Dorminey he goes into the reality of what a photon rocket could do and how “in theory could hit velocities equal to 99.999% the speed of light… and turn a one-way journey to Mars into a three-minute and four-second trip” (Dorminey). The speed of a photon rocket is unimaginable. It could reach speeds of over 180,000 miles per second. To put that into comparison with an ion drive, the amount an ion drive travels in an hour a photon rocket could get there in a second. These great sources of travel haven’t been perfected yet or even created, but it’s very possible within the next century or less.
Ultimately, with today’s technology of spacecraft it’s obvious we can’t get anywhere too far without traveling for millions of years, but it shouldn’t stop us from thinking big. Proposed methods of space travel, such as the ion drive and photon rocket would most definitely prove useful being a quick source of travel if we could one day perfect them. Like Carl Sagan said our universe is immensely large and if we want to go anywhere, which eventually we will need to, we’re going to need a lot of speed.