In space, no one can hear your gyroscopes

December 22, 2009 in Technology

In a thoroughly exciting/depressing (depending on your perspective) article, Joseph Shoer has written up his thoughts on the realities of space combat - and it's not all about dogfights and laser beams. Instead, it's about spherical warships firing physical projectiles from a variety of orbits. Need to change direction? Save your thrusters - you have a giant but stealthy gyroscope for that.

The most salient point for me is also the most concrete for circa-2010 spacefare:

It’s not terribly expensive or difficult, comparatively speaking, to get people from orbit down to a planet surface. You fall. This is the purpose of a space capsule. What’s really, really, prohibitively difficult is getting them back up again.... (This is the problem facing any NASA Mars efforts, too: getting back up through the Martian atmosphere is much harder than any of the lunar ascents were.)

Apart from that, the article is fascinating in and of itself because it represents real thought into something that has remained, for the most part, a piece of an unreachable and idealized future. I found this piece through the NYT's Idea of the Day blog, which publishes "Must Reads from the Week in Review Staff." It's not the first time people have addressed such out-there concepts - James Kakalios' The Physics of Superheroes comes to mind - but this is one of the most "real" approaches I've seen (simply stating "there are no explosions in space" just doesn't cut it anymore).

I am sure there must have been similar opinions published at the turn of the (last!) century, when airplanes began to take flight - some of which were surely vindicated by the aerial combat of World War I. By World War II, airborne operations were commonplace and in the modern era we have handed over some control to artificial intelligence. Similarly, steel-hulled ships and submarines demanded new naval tactics, as did short-lived technologies like zeppelins and mainstays like helicopters. I would love to read what people thought of each new development, and see how those predictions came to bear.

[Via Gizmodo via NYT]

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