Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been enamored by space travel. I think I read everything I could about the Apollo missions. Unfortunately, since the 1960s, we’ve really scaled back on our space programs due to the cost.
While the space shuttle era was fun, it really brought nothing to the table for those of us interested in real space exploration, the kind not seen since the skyscraper sized Saturn V rocket’s last missions to the moon.
Thankfully, this might be changing soon. Scientists both in China and the United States have recently been doing research on a type of propulsion system that essentially breaks Newtonian laws of physics.
How does the engine work? I don’t want to get in-depth as I am not a rocket scientist myself, but essentially, what this engine does is use microwaves to create thrust without the need for fuel.
This engine is known as the “EmDrive,” and though it has been tested both in America and China, many scientists dispute its efficacy due to the aforementioned fact that it breaks Newtonian physics.
There’s no timetable as to when or even if this technology will be applied to spacecrafts, though it is encouraging that NASA recently released a statement acknowledging that the EmDrive works, though they didn’t do much in the way of explaining the physics of it.
Since this technology is still in the testing phases, and hasn’t even been accepted by an a large number of skeptical scientists, I doubt we’ll see its use in the mainstream for at least another decade or so.
Still, if this technology continues to be developed, we have a lot to look forward to in regard to space travel and exploration. Indeed, one of the biggest problems for space travel currently is the cost of fuel, as it’s one of the major inhibiting factors preventing NASA and other space agencies from launching more missions.
Once you’re in space, there’s no gravity, and thus you only need to expend fuel in certain specific circumstances, like when changing direction. Those huge fuel tanks you saw on the space shuttles are mainly there to get the vehicle into space.
Now, imagine if we could get satellites and other vessels out of our atmosphere without the need for fuel? That alone makes space exploration infinitely more feasible, as not only will agencies like NASA be able to send more things into space, they’ll be able to do so on a far lower budget.
If we ever develop something like the EmDrive, getting into space and maneuvering about will no longer be an issue. What’s the next thing to worry about then? Oxygen.
As you know, there’s no oxygen in the vacuum of space, and besides fuel, one of the current limiting factors of space travel is that you can only go as far as your oxygen tanks will take you.
What’s the solution? According to scientist Julian Melchiorri, it’s artificial leaves. Or, more specifically, man-made leaves that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen without all of the soil, sun, water, and gravity that plants usually rely on.
These leaves could theoretically be used as building materials for certain things, like walls on the interior of a spacecraft, for instance. Instead of limited oxygen tanks filtering in an ever-decreasing amount of air, the very walls around you would be constantly recycling the carbon dioxide you’re exhaling, turning it into fresh oxygen for you to breath.
Pretty neat stuff if you ask me.
Though NASA and other space agencies have hit a bit of a rut recently, new technologies like the EmDrive and the artificial leaf might just be the breakthroughs we need to get things rolling again.
Featured photo credit: Space Shuttle/ Official U.S. Navy Page via flickr.com