If you want to send a spacecraft to another star you’re going to have to wait a long time. Our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light-years away. Today’s spacecraft could reach the star in 81,000 years. It would then take an additional 4.3 years for pictures to reach us. Let’s call it 85,000 years. I haven’t yet looked at my calendar, but I suspect I might not be available to view the results.
There is, however, a whacky idea that could get there in a mere 20 years, delivering photos in 25.
The idea, called Starshot, was championed by Stephen Hawkings. It involves a massive solar sail and a bunch of high powered lasers. Like the ships of old, Starshot will sail to the stars on a solar wind generated by an earthbound laser. The laser array’s stream of photons accelerates the craft to 1/4 the speed of light and off she goes.
Here’s the thing. Crazy, whacky, off the wall, is where true innovation comes from. In our industry, think of Peter Walker’s electrostatic loudspeaker, Alan Blumlein’s idea of stereo itself, Alan Hill’s Plasmatronic, Nelson Pass’s Phantom Acoustic room corrector, and the list goes on.
While most of us are content to repolish and rehash the tried and true, it’s the whacky ideas that actually move us forward.
Here’s to all the whack jobs and their crazy ideas. Keep on keepin’ on!