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Access to space. UFO. Warp drive.

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From M. Gruntman, Blazing the Trail, AIAA, 2004,
Chapter 18, The First Thousand Years, pp.459-461.

So, in spite of all difficulties, the human race broke away from shackles of Earth's gravity and reached to space. This feat was led mostly by two nations, the United States and Soviet Union, the ideological, military, and political rivals of the Cold War. What will happen next? Where will the next thousand years take us in space? The answer depends on our vision and determination in the pursuit of expansion in space.

If one draws an analogy with space launch, we are now at the cutoff of the engine of the first rocket stage and preparing to ignite the second stage, which will take us to far corners of the solar system and beyond. Two enabling technological developments will have to happen to make it possible, dramatic reduction of cost of access to space and achieving advanced in-space power (nuclear) and propulsion (such as electric propulsion and solar sails) capabilities.

Today it takes $10,000 to place 1 kg in low-Earth orbit. The cost increases fivefold for geostationary orbit. Only a significant reduction in cost of space launch will allow us to embark on exploration of the far corners of the solar system and finally bring manufacturing, tourism, and other yet-to-be-determined activities of the commercial world, with all of its indomitable entrepreneurial spirit, to space. 

Nobody and nothing will help us to achieve this enabling technological breakthrough except dogged determination and focus of scientists and engineers, supported by the public. We cannot, and should not, wait and bet on fulfilling a hope of finally meeting, one day, aliens riding flying saucers and learning from them smart ways of dashing through vastness of space.

In reality, perhaps to the dismay of some, statistics tells us that more than one-half of “sightings” of UFOs in the late 1950s and most of the similar events in the 1960s could be attributed to flights of the U-2 and A-12 aircraft (SR-71 is a military variant of A-12). There is no reason to think that the sightings in the later years were fundamentally different from those earlier events.

Our civilization is very young on the timescale of galactic history. Judging from the progress of the human race, it is reasonable to assume that our technological capabilities will continue rapidly advancing. Conceptually, if there are other worlds and intelligent life somewhere else in the universe, then some of these civilizations could be much older than we are today and thus much more technologically advanced. They might have achieved interstellar flight capabilities and perhaps even visited our solar system. There is, however, no unambiguous experimental evidence that this has ever happened. The latter fact should not preclude or discourage us from trying to understand the meaning of the mysterious geoglyphs such as Nasca figures and lines in Peru or searching for signatures of extraterrestrial intelligence by radioastronomical means.

In the meantime, we need to stay on “this side” of the warp drive and diligently work on improving our propulsion and other space technology capabilities.



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