To achieve interstellar travel, the Kline Directive instructs us to be bold, to explore what others have not, to seek what others will not, to change what others dare not. To extend the boundaries of our knowledge, to advocate new methods, techniques and research, to sponsor change not status quo, on 5 fronts:
1. Legal Standing. 2. Safety Awareness. 3. Economic Viability. 4. Theoretical-Empirical Relationship. 5. Technological Feasibility.
In this post I will explore Safety Awareness.
In the heady rush to propose academically acceptable ideas about new propulsions systems or star drives it is very easy to overlook safety considerations. The eminent cosmologist Carl Sagan said it best “So the problem is not to shield the payload, the problem is to shield the earth” (Planet. Space Sci., pp. 485 – 498, 1963)
It is perfectly acceptable if not warranted to propose these technologically infeasible star drives based on antimatter and exotic matter, as academic exercises because we need to understand what is possible and why. However, we need to inform the public of the safety issues when doing so.
I do not understand how any physicist or propulsion engineer, in his/her right mind, not qualify their academic exercise in antimatter propulsion or star drive with a statement similar to Carl Saga’s. At the very least it gets someone else thinking about those safety problems, and we can arrive at a solution sooner, if one exists.
We note that the distinguished Carl Sagan did not shy away from safety issues. He was mindful of the consequences and is an example of someone pushing the limits of safety awareness in the spirit of the Kline Directive, to explore issues which others would (could?) not.
We have to ask ourselves, how did we regress? From Sagan’s let us consider all ancillary issues, to our current let us ignore all ancillary issues. The inference I am forced to come to is that Carl Sagan was a one-man team, while the rest of us lesser beings need to come together as multi-person teams to stay on track, to achieve interstellar travel.
In interstellar & interplanetary space there are two parts to safety, radiation shielding and projectile shielding. Radiation shielding is about shielding from x-ray and gamma rays. Projectile shielding is about protection from physical damage caused by small particle collisions.
I may be wrong but I haven’t come across anyone even attempting to address either problems. I’ve heard of strategies such as using very strong electric fields or even of using millions of tons of metal shielding but these are not realistic. I’ve even heard of the need to address these issues but nothing more.
Safety is a big issue that has not been addressed. So how are we going to solve this? What do we need to explore that others have not? What do we need to seek that others would not? What do we need to change, that others dare not?
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Benjamin T Solomon is the author & principal investigator of the 12-year study into the theoretical & technological feasibility of gravitation modification, titled An Introduction to Gravity Modification, to achieve interstellar travel in our lifetimes. For more information visit iSETI LLC, Interstellar Space Exploration Technology Initiative.
Solomon is inviting all serious participants to his LinkedIn Group Interstellar Travel & Gravity Modification.
4 Comments so far
I agree with you that we have “lawyered up”. We ignore the issues that go against our idea and lobby for the ones that support it. But it is all a consequence of the ridiculous reasons people are stopping science, from idiots fearing GMOs and nuclear powered space probes to intelligent design proponents, scientists have to fight off hordes of mindless zombies that are driven by fear alone. Who would be willing to add to that fear?
Also, it feels natural to me to talk about all ideas, no matter how odd. Maybe an insane idea is genius when you take the insane out and maybe the author can’t do that, but neither can other people be that genius. An antimatter drive would be pretty loony to launch from Earth, but would be perfectly safe from the asteroid belt.
And there are other considerations, like how expensive is safety. Until 9/11 plane travel safety regulations were not lax because the danger was not known, but because it was weighed against the discomfort of millions of people. In other words the passengers were more willing to risk getting killed by a mad bomber than to pass through a zillion checkups and pay more. Assume we would invent an antimatter teleporter. Something that could send us with the speed of light or more to another inhabited planet. Would you really consider placing it on the Moon so it doesn’t blow up and take an entire city with it? Add orbit costs to every transport? Hell, no! We would have it on some remote island or on a large sea vessel and take the risks.
I like your comments Siderite.
I don’t think it is ‘ridiculous reasons people … ’ Consider this, it was only in the last few years that geneticists figured out that the ‘junk’ DNA is where the biological switches are encoded.
Imagine that! We haven’t really got an understanding of how the DNA works and we want to produce GMO (genetically modified organisms … I presume that is what you were referring to).
I’m not against GMO. I think that GMO is here to stay and that is the direction humanity will eventually take. But take some precautions. Understand what we are dealing with and how it really works, before doing GMO and GM foods, and before we have on End Of Humanity event. I think that is all reasonable people are asking.
We have been doing GM foods for millennia, the way Nature does it – by selection. This process has all the safety ‘protocols’ embedded. Now to do it by manipulating the DNA we have to learn another lesson, what are these safety protocols and how & why did Nature implement them.
I’ll address the antimatter issue soon. By the way, if we had invented ‘antimatter teleporter’, the theoretical physics is so sophisticated we would have also invented other means of travel and therefore ‘orbit costs to every transport’ would not be significant.
What I was talking about is that risks are always outweighed against the benefits. Safety for the sake of safety did not and will never work out. I think the best example I can think of is Nobel. He invented dynamite, his brother (whom he loved dearly) blew up in the process of trying things out, and the name Nobel then became synonymous with “prize for peace”. There is only one path to discovery, and that is trying things out, hoping you won’t mess up and learning from your mistakes. Not making mistakes, for the sake of safety, is not learning and not discovering anything. Of course, doing something random with the belief nothing can hurt you is madness, but we were discussing the other extreme :), which in my opinion is still madness, but a boring one.
Siderite, I agree with much of what you say, but I wasn’t discussing the ‘other exterme’. I was discussing what if (using your example) it wasn’t just Nobel’s brother who died but half of Europe? That is what we need to avoid, and I’ll get into this in an upcomming blog post.