Super-Fast Space Travel Would Kill You in Minutes

Illustration for article titled Super-Fast Space Travel Would Kill You in Minutes

Everyone thinks it would be cool to travel at the speed of light, which is why scientists devote their lives to working out if it would be possible and NASA is trying to develop its own warp drive. But easy, tiger: turns out super-fast space travel would be fatal.


A paper published in Natural Science brings some boring common sense to the speed-of-light-travel table. In order to travel huge distances in next to no time, people need to travel close to the speed of light. In so doing, travelers cover extremely large distances very quickly and, thanks to the quirks of relativity, would feel like it took mere minutes because of an effect known as time dilation, which squashes perceived time.

Trouble is, traveling close to the speed of light brings about other effects, too. In Natural Science, Edelstein and Edelstein point out that hydrogen in any craft cable of traveling at the speed of light would also prevent it from traveling at the speed of light. They explain:

Unfortunately, as spaceship velocities approach the speed of light, interstellar hydrogen H, although only present at a density of approximately 1.8 atoms/cm3, turns into intense radiation that would quickly kill passengers and destroy electronic instrumentation. In addition, the energy loss of ionizing radiation passing through the ship's hull represents an increasing heat load that necessitates large expenditures of energy to cool the ship.

In other words, travel close to the speed of light and you'll be bombarded with so much radiation that you kick the bucket. The knock-on effect is that even if it's possible to create a craft capable of traveling close the speed of light, it wouldn't be able to transport people.


Instead, there's a natural speed limit imposed by safe levels of radiation due to hydrogen, which means humans couldn't travel faster than half the speed of light unless they were willing to die almost immediately. Dammit. [Natural Science]

Image by Reha Mark/Shutterstock




Star Trek used the deflector dish (combination of fields and beams to deflect, destroy and collect interstellar detritus.) They also employ a Bussard Collector which employs a high-powered magnetic field to funnel interstallar hydrogen into collectors which then use it and antimatter to create warp plasma. The technology behind the actual deflection and collection isn't really behind us, just the energy to power it.

Finally, if one does a little research then one can find that it is not only possible to create plasma "sheilds" with present day technology but it is also possible to create electro-magnetic "force fields" as well. They are fragile and don't stop much more than a few rads of radiation, but we can do it. This all indicates that should we manage to find a power source capable of generating the massive amounts of power we would need for interstellar travel we could also overcome the other hurdles standing in our path.

Don't forget, scientists claimed that traveling faster than the speed of sound was impossible. They didn't fully understand what destroyed planes reaching that speed because they didn't understand the propagation of sound through the atmosphere. They claimed all sorts of things that didn't really exist were destroying the aircraft when in fact it was just the sonic boom of the sound wave breaking.

Finally, many scientists believe that interstellar travel will be effected by never traveling faster than light or as fast as light, but rather by traveling instantaneously. Whether we take short hops of a few million kilometers at a time in rapid succession or tunnel over light-years in a single jump we won't be breaking any of the laws of physics by doing it.