Have you ever wanted to go to Mars but just couldn’t find the time? Well, you might be in luck! The 3 Days Journey To Mars.
People continue to be fascinated with Mars, with numerous planned missions from the US, Russia and China as well as private companies preparing to colonize the Red Planet. But, it’s not that easy, getting to Mars takes money, fuel and well, time.
How much time? Well, not taking into account developing technology, training crews, and the fact that the Earth and Mars are constantly moving, forcing missions to have to wait until the two planets are at an optimal alignment, the distance from here to there is really far and the journey takes a really long time.
The average distance between Earth and Mars is about 140 million miles (225km.) And let’s say we send the fastest spacecraft we’ve ever launched, NASA’s New Horizons, on a mission to Mars. If it maintained its launch speed of 36,000 mph, which it wouldn’t, the journey would still take 162 days. That is a lot of time for something to go wrong.
So what if I told you that in the near future we might be able to do that exact same journey in just three days? Sounds impossible, right? But it very much could be a reality all thanks to photon driven propulsion. A paper written by physicist Philip Lubin titled A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight outlines this technology and how we can use it to further explore the universe.
Photon propulsion is an idea that would use light particles, called photons,instead. It is similar to the idea of solar sails that use light rays from our sun, which bounce off a reflective surface, creating a small amount of energy that propels the craft forward.
But instead of the sun, this plan would use a hypothetical space laser that would be launched into orbit around Earth. The laser, in theory, would be powerful enough to project the craft, which is currently proposed as a wafer thin vessel, to interstellar speeds.
Lubin suggests this could propel small vessels to 26% the speed of light. And even though this project is similar to a solar sail, it’s also very different. Light from a laser will be highly concentrated, opposed to the light coming off our massive sun, which gets weaker the farther away it travels. A concentrated laser beam would effectively be more efficient at long distances in order to propel an object faster and further.
So, all this means we can start sending people to Mars over a long weekend, right? Well, not any time soon. Even though the math might be there to prove this theory, the size of this project would be expensive. That’s why Lubin proposes to start small, and eventually scale up to one day accommodate manned photon propulsion flights.
But keep in mind the name of his paper, A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight. He is thinking bigger than Mars. Photon propulsion would be able to send small crafts to the farthest reaches of the universe with no fuel to worry about and in a fraction of the time currently possible. That would mean the ability to visit and document other stars and exoplanets. In fact, Lubin calculates it would only take 17 years to send a small craft to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to us, about 4 light years away.
Again, this isn’t science fiction, Lubin is currently working on proton propulsion with NASA in a program called DEEP IN, or Directed Energy Propulsion for Interstellar Exploration. And others have been working on the idea of photon propulsion.
Dr. Young Bae, who is also working with NASA on photon propulsion actually has a video showing a one pound weight moving across a track using just light from a laser.
But there is still a lot of obstacles to overcome to achieve intergalactic space travel. Like how to slow down something traveling that fast, how to send back data from 4 light years away and creating a laser strong enough to make this all possible. But for now, let’s just sit back and dream of a world where you can send a care package to your friend living on Mars in 3 days or less.
So, where would you send a probe to if you didn’t have to worry about how long it would take? Tell us in the comments below.