|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Weeeeeee!!!
On July 28, 2014, NASA published a paper announcing that they had
verified that something assumed to be impossible actually works. This
something is not just impossible, it's crazy impossible. As in, it
breaks some of the most fundamental rules of hundreds of years of
accepted physics, most notably conservation of momentum.
Fifteen years ago a propulsion system invented by a man named Roger
Shawyer was immediately dismissed by most of the scientific community,
including NASA, as a scam. To be fair, we're talking Dr. Seuss kind of
weirdness here. The EmDrive, as Shawyer calls it, was about as close as
you can get to a perpetual motion machine. It uses no propellent. It
requires only a battery to run. There is no detectable release of mass
from the device. It just creates thrust by bouncing microwaves around
inside of a metal container.
Generally speaking, when you light a conventional rocket, there is no
question about whether or not it's on. A controlled and continuous
explosion ensues as hot gas is ejected and catapults the vehicle upward.
The problem is that carrying all of that fuel is very, very costly in
terms of weight. It's also dangerous. And when you run out of fuel in a
rocket, let's just say that you better have reached your destination.
There are no filling stations in space.
The question of fuel is probably the most vexing problem for manned
interplanetary travel. Getting a rocket into space while carrying enough
fuel to reach Mars borders on impossible. It has scientists thinking
about crazy things like building the vehicle in space or on the moon.
And that's not even taking into consideration how you'd get back. Most
think that we'd either have to just stay on Mars, or possibly generate
new fuel from available resources for the return trip.
So you can understand why a propulsion system that runs off of a battery
(which can be recharged with solar panels) and requires no fuel is just
too good to be true. It's long been proposed that we might consider
using nuclear power, but there are those of us terrestrial-bound
non-astronauts that are not really all that excited about launching
rockets carrying enriched uranium into our lower atmosphere. Besides,
reactor fuel runs out eventually too.
The quantum vacuum plasma thruster technology (a.k.a., the EmDrive) has
now been verified by three independent sources: Roger Shawyer's company
SPR, Ltd., a group of Chinese scientists, and now NASA. Most scientists
are still incredulous, and even NASA isn't sure how the stupid thing
works. They just acknowledge that it indeed does.
It's hard to overstate what this could mean for space exploration. Every
Comic-Con dork out there is dusting off their storm trooper outfit, and
rightly so! The implications are truly hard to comprehend. Assuming that
things evolve the way that Roger Shawyer has predicted for the 2nd
generation of these devices, we could soon be able to build space
vehicles that are up to 90% smaller and lighter than today's fleet. We
will have the ability to travel within our solar system at speeds that
we could only imagine a few short weeks ago.
For example, if we can get one of these drives to generate constant
acceleration equal roughly to gravity (there's some question if this can
be achieved, as thrust of the EmDrive decreases rapidly with velocity
increase along the thrust vector), we would be able to reach Neptune in
less than two weeks. Conventional vehicles using fuel-based propulsion
can't burn their rockets the entire trip, as, well, they don't have
enough fuel. Using a more advanced version of the EmDrive, you could
accelerate for the entire first-half of the trip, and slow down for the
second-half. We would need much less food, water, and toilet paper, too.
It's tempting to point fingers at NASA, the ESA, and every other
scientist that scoffed at Mr. Shawyer for the past 15 years, and accuse
them of being pig-headed, face-in-the-sand, Star Trek-hating, idiots.
But I won't do that. Some of these dissenters are very smart and are
true scientists -- skeptical by nature. I emailed John Costella, who has
been Shawyer's most vocal critic to ask him what he thought of the NASA
announcement. It seems that John is sticking by his original scathing
rebuttal of the EmDrive, stating that "...NASA hasn't overturned the
laws of physics yet." If I'm fair, the strange behavior and crazy claims
of the purveyors of the EmDrive is pretty close to someone coming to me
and telling me that they've figured out how to solve any NP-complete
computer science problem using only golf balls and broccoli. I would
find such a claim hard to accept too, mostly because I hate broccoli.
I'm more focused on what feels to me like, dare I say it, a paradigm
shift in space travel. This is the kind of advance that could be on par
with those made by Gutenburg, Bell, Marconi, Ford, and the Wright
brothers. This really could change everything. Any reasonably smart
person should be able to see the possibilities. It's not rocket science.