Getting materials and people into orbit has always been an expensive proposition, one that's even costlier now that the Shuttle program has been retired. But one enterprising American inventor thinks he's got a solution: Space Cannons.
In 1937, Princeton engineering professor Edward Fitch Northrup published a book called Zero to Eighty. And, in what must be one of the strangest scifi novels ever written, Northrup developed the idea of the modern “mass driver,” or rail gun.
The idea of firing objects into space from a cannon was first hinted at by Newton, and has been seized upon by many a sci-fi writer since. But what's the science behind the idea like—and could we ever launch payloads into space using the technique?