The Problem of Space Travel

As a man of science and a huge Star Wars fan, the prospect of intergalactic space travel is an especially titillating one. However, there exist a problem in the arena of space travel which I hope you are well aware. Be warned though, I’m about to drop some science on your ass.

You probably remember the age old equation E = MC^2. Whenever you want to sound smart, or sciencey you just blurt out E = MC^2 and are immediately recognized as the smartest person in the room. But do you know what that actually means? Well it’s derived from Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, and it says that energy is mass and vice versa, they are the same thing. Let me reiterate ENERGY IS MASS. Despite being the second coolest thing ever (after Han Solo) it makes space travel annoyingly difficult. Everything outside our solar system is really far away, so in order to get there you need to go really fast, like incomprehensibly fast. Here’s the thing though, the faster you go, and therefore the more energy you have, the more mass you have (remember Energy IS Mass), so you have to exert more energy to keep moving faster, which makes you more massive, so you have to exert even more energy and so on and so forth. And some really smart people realized that if you wanted to travel at the speed of light (which would still take 4 years to get to the nearest star) you would need an infinite amount of energy.

So it’s a problem, but not an insurmountable one. There’s tons of theories and things out there about how to bend space-time and crap to “effectively” travel faster than light. Plus there’s all that Dark Energy and Dark Matter crap that we know absolutely nothing about, maybe there’s some secret property we don’t know about. Maybe you could distort the Higgs field to reduce the mass of your spaceship. Maybe you could convert your spaceship into energy, beam it across the galaxy and then just reconstruct it later (aka teleportation). So that’s a problem, and a well known one at that, but it is by no means the only problem, and it’s not even the worst one.

So what I just told you about is based off of Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity, but he had another theory on the Photoelectric Effect, but he also had a third theory, his theory of General Relativity. The basic idea was this, your concept of time is completely flawed, space and time are not two separate entities but actually a single one, you know space-time (it’s really more of a fabric than a continuum). Well anyways, there are two way you can distort space-time. Be really fat or be really fast (actually though). Time slows relative to the strength of gravity, so in theory time stops inside a black hole (although we really have no idea). Time also slows depending on how fast you go. In fact satellites travel so fast ( ~18,000 mph depending on your orbit) that they have to account for the difference in times. And the faster you go the slower you experience time, so (once again) in theory if you were to travel at the speed of light, you would instantaneously reach your destination, your travel time would be 0 seconds, but back on earth it would have been an eternity. So even IF you could overcome the speed limitations, you would still have the time differences to deal with.

Surely listening to me ramble is getting boring so let me give you a fun animal-themed example to help you illustrate these two Einstein-related (lol) issues. Meet Space Giraffe.

Boldly going where Neil Armstrong has already been.
Boldly going where Neil Armstrong has already been.

Space Giraffe is a humble astronaut, daring to explore the outer reaches of the galaxy! One day while enjoying a relaxing evening with Ms. Space Giraffe, he receives a call from NASA head quarters. Space Griaffe has been selected to be part of a dangerous mission to explore a nearby solar system called Goatanus (it’s a long ‘a’ perv), which is suspected of harboring goat-like life forms. And so the next day he arrives at NASA headquarters ready to shoot off on his daring mission, but instead spends the next three years training to go on his daring mission rather than actually going on it. Anyways, after three years, and what is sure to be an inspiring, yet humorous training montage, Space Giraffe hops in his spaceship, and shoots off towards Goatanus (maybe Uranus was not the best planet to name my fictional goat system after).

TO VICTORY!!
TO VICTORY!!

Luckily Space Giraffe is carrying the State-of-the-art Gilmartin Warp Drive and is able to zoom towards his destination at nearly the light speed. After a year of travel he arrives a Goatanus, to discover that in fact Goatanus is populated with a surprisingly intelligent species of goats. After another year of studying the goats and gathering stool samples, Space Giraffe spends yet another year, heading towards home. After three years of intergalactic space travel Space Giraffe finally returns to earth, to go back to his wife and relax until the end of the days. Except that upon landing Space Griaffe realizes that ANYONE AND EVERYONE HE HAS EVER KNOWN IS DEAD. While he only experienced 3 years of travel, because he was traveling nearly the speed of light, 200 years had past back on Earth, because Einstein hates Space Griaffe.

Wipe that stupid grin off your face
Wipe that stupid grin off your face

 

 

 

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