It Is Rocket Science

Breakthrough propulsion physics just sounds too cool to be true. At the moment it involves taking some far out ideas from science fiction and trying to come up with some real engineering solutions.

The earth is eventually going to die and our only real chance is space travel between the stars to our closest habitable neighbours. The shortest time that this could take using conventional rocket technology is longer than humans have been on the planet so obviously we need to start having ideas however crazy they sound to us today.

Another slightly terrifying thing to consider is that using the most advanced space rockets we have today we'd need the energy of our entire sun to get where we're going! The distances are unimaginable except for the science fiction writers who routinely place their stories in interstellar space with travel between the stars commonplace and technology outlandish.

Relativistic space travel, warp drive, faster than light spaceships, that's what Marc Millis thinks about every day. He also uses the super cool phrase 'undiscovered physics' to describe what he does. As founder and driving force of the Tau Zero Foundation and NASA rocket scientist Millis is the public face of current thinking about travel to distant stars. He spends his time applying real world maths skills to the most outrageous and implausible dreams of educators, writers, thinkers, scientists and artists.

A constant refrain is that conventional physics is going to be no use in this scenario. There are basically 2 options, either we come up with some way of moving spaceships at close to light speed by using any number of wacky solutions or we start seriously thinking about colony ships and sending out a human society in a fleet of ships that can survive for thousands of years. Both this scenarios throw up some mind-boggling questions. Just how many would people would we need for a self sustaining colony - 500? 5,000? 50,000? What about life support, governance energy? They may seem like obscure and distant concerns today but could ensure the future of mankind tomorrow.

Marc Millis will be at TEDx Brussels on December 6