What the Future COULD be...(if We are Willing to Take it Seriously)
What you see above is a test of the VASMIR engine, taking place here on Earth, but it is designed to function in space. A new rocket engine, big deal, right? We have all kinds of different rocket engines and they all do the same thing, There's not much difference between one rocket engine and another, right? They all push big, heavy things into orbit and make alot of noise while they're doing it.
The VASMIR engine is a completely new concept that uses a tenth of the fuel of a conventional chemical rocket and produces much more bang for the buck. Additionally, it's not using hydrogen and oxygen or solid rocket fuel but rather an inert, noble gas that is very safe to store and use. How does
The gas gets excited into a cold plasma state by radio waves, then it goes into the booster section-a high-energy ion cyclotron resonance where it gets excited even further- then even more electricity heats the gas and accelerates it to the velocities needed for space propulsion. Sounds pretty technical and geeky right? The really cool thing about all this is the fact that this high-temperature plasma never even touches the walls of the rocket because it's all protected and funneled by electromagnetic fields. How cool is that? What's the biggest problem with rocket engines? The heat... When things get that hot, metal, no matter what kind it is, tends to melt.
Alright, cool, I'm down with all this geeky, technical, rocket-science-y stuff, but what does all that mean to me? It means we can go fast, and we can go cheap!
Well, that's cool! Fast and cheap, always good things right? In this instance, it's a VERY GOOD thing because where we want to go is big. Douglas Adams sums it up best in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when he says, "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space."
The VASMIR engine will make the vast distances in our solar system much more manageable and allow us to start thinking like a multi-planet species. Multi-planet species? Why the hell does that matter? We've got a planet! What's wrong with it?
We are only one extinction level event, be it a virus, a meteor, some idiot with a twitter account and the codes to the nuclear arsenal, or another of the many scenarios that could wipe humanity from the face of our little planet from disappearing from the cosmos completely. We have a duty to protect our species by ensuring its survival, and the best way to do that is to have multiple bastions of life in our own solar system. We'll worry about the rest of the galaxy later, after we find Sauron's One Ring, learn to use the Force, and get that Warp drive working. In the meanwhile, we owe it to ourselves and the rest of humanity to use developments, like the VASMIR, to help ensure we have the chance to survive and flourish instead of withering away into the ashes of time like the dinosaurs.