#AtoZChallenge – Lunar Mining

Time for L in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge!

 

We might have workers on the moon in the future, but let’s hope it doesn’t turn out like this.

Lunar mining is an appealing concept in science fiction, and in actual science as well.

The Moon likely has resources worth mining – most promising is the isotope helium-3, which could be used in a form of fusion power. The main problem is that nobody can be sure exactly how much helium-3 there is. Current estimates are based on materials brought back from the Apollo missions – if these estimates are accurate, large portions of lunar surface would have to be excavated just to power average-sized cities on Earth. However, the idea of mining the moon is gaining traction with some billionaires and companies, along with the idea of mining asteroids. You can bet that sooner or later, somebody will land on the Moon again to more closely examine its resources.

Living and Building on the Moon?

Lunar colonies are so common in science fiction because the Moon is an ideal staging ground for missions into deeper space. Any sort of permanent lunar outpost would have to be able to find a power source, and would have to find and extract lunar water.  It’s not clear now if lunar mining would provide for all the needs of people and industry on the Moon, but it might not be that long before we find out!


More about lunar mining:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization_of_the_Moon

http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/moon-mars/a235/1283056/

http://www.space.com/28189-moon-mining-economic-feasibility.html

 

#AtoZChallenge – Kinetic Bombardment, death from above

Time for K in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge!

Kinetic bombardment is used in science-fiction as an extremely destructive form of warfare. The idea is that instead of firing explosives at your enemy, you could simply drop dense matter on them from orbit. There are many variations on the idea, but one of my favorite books to feature it is The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein. In this story, citizens of Luna use a giant railgun to fire projectiles at targets on Earth.

 

The idea of kinetic bombardment has more recently popped up in games and movies as “Rods from God”. A satellite is loaded with inert rods of tungsten, which are then launched from orbit and cause widespread destruction on Earth. While it’s true that such rods would hit with a lot of kinetic energy, sci-fi stories tend to grossly exaggerate the amount of destruction they would cause. The main advantage would be that the target would have almost no warning and no time to prepare, but the actual damage caused probably wouldn’t be worth the extreme cost of putting the satellite into orbit in the first place.


 

More about Kinetic Bombardment:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinetic_bombardment

http://scientificgamer.com/rods-from-god/

#AtoZChallenge – Jumpgates

Time for J in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge!

Jump Drives have the clearest connection to my ongoing serial fiction that I am shamelessly promoting, but that subject is covered nicely by another A-to-Z Challenger. So instead, I’ll take on a closely-related concept, jumpgates.

freelancer_gate

My first encounter with jumpgates, from the PC Game Freelancer.

 

Jump gates, jumpgates, or stargates, are fictional devices that can create wormholes between distant points, allowing objects to pass through. Depending on the fictional universe, jumpgates can either teleport you directly to your destination, or they may send you into hyperspace, a realm or dimension where FTL travel is possible. Many fictional universes have a network of such portals set up by some ancient, highly advanced civilization, allowing our heroes to get around the universe without having to cross all that bothersome space between the stars.

250px-sg1stargate

Man, if only there were some huge, extremely popular sci-fi franchise built around that idea, huh?

 

As I’ve said before, such faster-than-light transportation devices are entirely fictional – it is highly unlikely that such a device could actually exist. They’re damn fun to speculate over and write about, though!

 


In my fiction:

The Tereshkova colony vessel in Far Flung is one of several vessels used by the Ulysses Corp. to colonize Mars in the 22nd century. It was later refitted with a jump drive and tasked with carrying colonists to the Tau Ceti system.

This technology combines the ideas of jumpgates and jump drives from other fiction – ships can instantly “jump” from certain points to certain points in the universe.


 

More about jumpgates:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumpgate

 

#AtoZChallenge – Ion Engines, do they make ‘that’ noise?

Time for I in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge!

 

tiefighter-fathead

You just heard this sound in your head, eh?

 

Ion engines have been around in sci-fi as far back as 1947, in Equalizer, by Jack Williamson. NASA has had ion drives for some time now, but they aren’t quite as impressive as those on the Galactic Empire’s signature Twin Ion Engine Fighter, pictured above.

Ion drives work by ripping electrons out of a gas like xenon, then passing the charged particles of gas through a magnetic field to speed them up and fire them out as propellant.

The beauty of ion propulsion is in its efficiency.

While a spacecraft flying with ion drives alone would accelerate very slowly, it would also use a lot less fuel than a chemical rocket. This means that even a small spacecraft can keep running, and keep accelerating, for quite a long time. It’s very possible that future manned missions will use a combination of chemical and ion drives as we set out to colonize Mars and explore the rest of our solar system!

 


More about Ion Drives:

http://www.techinsider.io/new-plasma-ion-rocket-engine-2015-10

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/about/fs21grc.html

http://www.gizmag.com/improved-ion-engines-jet-propulsion-laboratory-erosion-lifetime/26323/

#AtoZChallenge – Hive minds – just fiction, or coming soon?

Time for H in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge!

I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is over. From this time forward, you will service us.

Hive Minds are often used in science-fiction to present a threat to everything that makes us human.

Individuality, freedom of expression, spirituality – all of these things could be repressed if some controlling intelligence connected and controlled every mind at once.  This is why hive minds are usually portrayed as evil or undesirable – they could threaten our very humanity.

The idea of hive minds or group consciousnesses has been around in sci-fi for a long time, as far back as 1930 in Olaf Stapledon‘s Last and First Men. The idea is not always seen as a bad thing – a society that shares consciousness would have no need of war, and probably wouldn’t have famine, poverty, or disease either. Connecting all human minds could either be our ultimate peace or the ultimate dystopian nightmare, depending on which sci-fi author you ask!

Brain-to-Brain interfaces in reality

In one study on rats, two rat brains were connected – one was in Brazil, and the other was in North Carolina. Signals from one rat’s mind were able to help the other rat solve problems, in real-time. Research has already given people the ability to control prosthetics with their minds, so there are definitely ways for machines to get usable information out of human minds. The main challenge, really, is ‘translation’ – for example, if I think of the word “mountain”, my mind will probably conjure a snow-topped peak in the BC Rockies. Your “mountain” could be Kilimanjaro, or a hill in the middle of a grassy field, or something that looks entirely different. A computer might not recognize these as the same idea, and thus would have trouble getting us on the same wavelength. However, it’s probably just a matter of time before such challenges are overcome.

 


More about Hive Minds:

 

http://io9.gizmodo.com/how-much-longer-until-humanity-becomes-a-hive-mind-453848055

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_mind_(science_fiction)

http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/hive_minds

#AtoZChallenge – Faster-Than-Light, FTL

Time for F in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge!

I’ve talked before about the physical impossibility of going faster than the speed of light. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity describes a universe in which “faster-than-light” simply can’t happen. If you see a news story about something going faster than light, it is most likely a big miscalculation or a misunderstanding on the part of the reporter.

Getting around the universe is a huge pain. And I mean HUGE.

The Milky Way Galaxy alone is somewhere around 100,000 light years from end to end, and its nearest neighbor (Andromeda) is around 2.5 million light years away. This means that even if you could travel at the speed of light, it would still take a long time to get anywhere.

Science-fiction has had several ways around this for a long time now – some ways more plausible than others. The various incarnations of Star Trek have had warp drive, which basically folds space around a spacecraft, allowing it to circumvent the universal speed limit. Other series have had variations on warp drive, or have used hyperspace or jump drives.

Hyperspace drives push ships into another dimension or reality where it is possible to go faster than light, while jump drives allow ships to disappear and reappear elsewhere.

620px-lorentzian_wormhole-svg

Wormholes are also often used in science fiction – folds in space-time that connect two distant points, allowing ships to pass through. In theory, wormholes could exist, but they wouldn’t be stable – you would require vast amounts of exotic matter to hold a wormhole open long enough to be usable.

Is FTL possible?

warp

This is a big maybe. There has been research into the possibility of a real warp drive, but at this point, it’s pretty much all theory. As for wormholes – it’s still unclear how to make a wormhole big enough and last long enough to be useful. But hey, who knows what the future will bring?


 

In my current fiction:

In Far Flung, the colony ship Tereshkova was outfitted with a jump drive. It was supposed to open up a temporary wormhole to the Tau Ceti star system, but things didn’t go as planned…

More about FTL:

http://gizmodo.com/5942634/nasa-starts-development-of-real-life-star-trek-warp-drive

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warp_drive

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wormhole

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperdrive

#AtoZChallenge – Exoskeletons, in sci-fi and now

e

Time for E in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge!

For E, I’ll go with something more grounded in reality than yesterday’s post – exoskeletons. Insects, arachnids, and many other invertebrate critters have had exoskeletons for a very long time, giving them some measure of protection against predators. For humans, exoskeletons can serve both medical and military purposes – and both kinds were used in science-fiction before being realized.

starship-troopers

In fiction, the first medical use of a human exoskeleton came around 1968, in A Specter is Haunting Texas, by Fritz Leiber. In this novel, people who grow up in low gravity environments have to wear powered suits when they come to Earth – their bodies are too weak for regular gravity. Powered military armour makes appearances in many works of fiction, perhaps most famously in Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein.

73338097_cyberdyne-hal-exoskeleton-for-sale

In the real world, many companies are developing exoskeletons for purposes both benign and military. There are suits designed for heavy lifting, and to help rehabilitate people who have lost mobility. The main problem right now is packing enough battery power into a suit to keep it going for long periods without a power cable.

Oh, that suit pictured above? It’s made by a Japanese company called Cyberdyne, and the suit is called Hal. Way to doom us all, guys …


In my current fiction:

I made an offhand reference to exoskeletons in Far Flung as common equipment used for helping the physically disabled in the future.


More about exoskeletons:

BBC News article about real-world exoskeletons

Wikipedia on exoskeletons