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October 8 2012
Humanity has been in space for a while, but we really haven’t managed to go very far. Carl Sagan once said that “the surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean, and recently we’ve waded a little way out, maybe ankle deep” — that was in 1980, and we haven’t risked testing the water any deeper since then.
One of the main reasons for that, though, is that space is so frustratingly massive. Voyager 1 is the fastest man-made thing ever, but 10.5 miles per second is a piffling fraction of the speed of light. Even getting to one of our nearest neighbours, Mars, would take six to eight months using conventional spaceship engines. Ideas like warp drives are still theoretical, and unlikely to be seen within our lifetimes. However, it might be possible to cut that trip to Mars down to as few as three months using a form of fusion fuel — “dilithium crystals.” Yep, just like Star Trek.
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