Starlight Traveler

Dreams of Sailing Through Space




The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has announced that the Planetary Society, founded by scientist and author Carl Sagan, is set to build and fly a series of solar-sail spacecraft, dubbed LightSails, first in orbit around Earth and then into deeper space, in the next three years. The beauty of LightSails is that they are powered by sunshine, which carries both energy and momentum; unlike rocket fuel, this gentle force fires continuously.

Over time, a big enough sail, perhaps a mile on each side, could reach speeds of hundreds of thousands of miles an hour, fast enough to traverse the solar system in five years. Riding the beam from a powerful laser, a sail could even make the journey to another star system in 100 years, a human lifespan.

Dr. Louis Friedman, director of the Planetary Society, a worldwide organization of space enthusiasts, says eventual passengers will likely be robots or human genomes encoded on a chip, due to the need to keep the craft light, like a giant cosmic kite. In principle, it could tack like a sailboat. Japan is already testing solar sails deployed from satellites or rockets, although none are traveling anywhere yet.

These are visions for the long haul, advises Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He remarks: “Think centuries or millennia, not decades.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Uncommon Devotion

On any given Sabbath, four out of 10 Americans travel to a place of worship, a number that hasn’t fluctuated dramatically in the past half-century.

United in Utah

The oldest, largest and most inclusive gathering of all faiths and traditions will be held in Salt Lake City, where international spiritual leaders will come together to share wisdom and best practices for dealing with global issues.

Happy Birthday

Members of the Institute of Noetic Sciences persevere on the frontier of witnessing the revolution in human understanding about the nature of consciousness and human capacities.

Survey Says

People worldwide are completing more schooling, a hopeful sign for the future.

New Newscape

Nine in 10 American adults now get their daily news from multiple media platforms, including the Internet, television, radio and local and national newspapers, with the Internet at the center on how people’s relationship to news is changing.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags