Space Guns and Space Invaders
Technology Articles 11/30/11
By: Chris Capps
In the 1961 episode of the Twilight Zone, "The Invaders" we came face to face with the difference size may play between humanity and extraterrestrials in a large way. Of course it wasn't the first time the idea that aliens may be extremely small (or extremely large compared to us) but it did become a cultural staple that suggested to us that our own understanding of even the most basic things could change significantly if we were to expand beyond our own world. And a few principles in energy and time travel suggest that future explorations into time and space may not be quite as big as we once thought.
What good is traveling through space if you can't fit in the ship designed to take you? Rocket Scientists have long been confronted by a key problem that every rocket that takes off has to have enough fuel in it to not only carry the rocket's module, but also the fuel on-board. By the end of the design process, this rocket fuel tank is often the heaviest part of the ship. If it were more efficient, or if the fuel weight itself were not part of the equation, rocket science would be - not rocket science. One of the more radical solutions proposed was a means of getting as much into space as possible with a relatively small amount of equipment. The so-called "Space Gun" was among the more lofty proposed solutions with a rail operated cannon that would fire projectiles (namely, everything needed in a given space mission) into space with the hyper-acceleration of the initial blast being the only thing to propel it into space. As such, anything of larger size would run the risk of being destroyed if it were not strong or well buffered enough. Of course the benefit would be far less energy required to actually conduct the launch.
The first example of a projectile being fired into space occurred when a steel plate was placed in a deep hole underground during an underground nuclear test prior to the launch of the Sputnik. The steel plate, often erroneously referred to as a manhole cover, is thought to have been launched into space after the detonation with such incredible force that it easily escaped Earth's gravity and fired into space. Space guns were theorized later, but have never actually been constructed (as far as we know).
But what if this same amount of force were applied in a zero gravity environment? What if a far smaller spacecraft - with hardened robotic "pilots" were launched toward distant stars in the spirit of exploration? These tiny craft may eventually reach far larger worlds, but would ironically be much more able to escape their gravity with a sufficiently powerful propulsion system due to their far smaller size.
Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem of allowing humans the ability to travel into space. A ship incapable of taking humans to distant planets is a far less appealing idea than simply rewriting the laws of physics as we understand them with loopholes. But what if there were some way to reconstruct humans, or at least their consciousness on a far smaller scale when sending them out and then reconstructing their physical bodies at the larger scale with the materials present on the planet's surface? Though it is ambitious, it may be no less ambitious than rewriting physics as we understand it.