Thanks to movies like Star Wars and Star Trek, we have become accustomed to the idea of interstellar travel as an easy thing to do. However, in reality, interstellar travel is far from possible with today’s technology. Unfortunately, we are unable to just engage our “warp drive” and travel to another star in the galaxy within a few minutes.
Interstellar travel is one of the most exciting possibilities for the future of humankind. Exploring our solar system is only the first step in experiencing the wonders that our galaxy holds for us. To be capable of interstellar travel, there are some serious problems we would have to overcome.
First, we have to deal with the immense distances between us and other stars. The nearest star is Alpha Centauri, a brisk four light-years away. Doesn’t sound like much, but I say four-light years, that means it would take four years traveling at the speed of light to reach that star. The problem herein lies in achieving faster than light travel, which according to Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, is physically impossible.
Another fascinating problem with light speed travel would the issue of time dilation. When traveling at the speed of light, occupants of a spacecraft would actually age slower than friends back home. This means that when travelers on a long voyage return back home, they would find their friends and family have aged far beyond them.
To put these incredible distances into perspective, take for example the Voyager 2 spacecraft that was launched back in 1977. In 2012, Voyager 2 surpassed our solar system, venturing out into interstellar space. For it to finally get to Alpha Centauri, it would have to travel for another astounding 75,000 years.
These distances pose a serious problem for us achieving the ability to travel beyond our solar system. Interstellar travel is still far beyond our reach, but there are some interesting happenings in researching methods to do so. One such idea includes using lasers to push a spacecraft equipped with specialized solar sails, that would allow for speeds of travel far beyond our current capabilities. Others ideas include using new forms of specialized energy, like nuclear fission.
Nevertheless, the thought of interstellar travel is beyond our grasp, at least for now. However, in time, we just might unlock the secrets to achieving the ability to explore the great unknown of space like we’ve never done before.