NASA's Recent Research Projects Seem like Science Fiction

Eric Sentell

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From Star Wars to Star Trek, science fiction almost always includes extremely fast rates of space travel.

Captain Kirk commands, "Full warp," for the Enterprise. Han Solo pilots the Millennium Falcon into "hyper-space."

NASA recently approved funding for research into a "Combined Heat Shield and Solar Thermal Propulsion System for an Oberth Maneuver" and several other research projects that sound like the stuff of science fiction.

Hermann Oberth proposed in 1928 that a space vessel could use the gravitational pull of a large celestial body to aid its acceleration: the Oberth Maneuver.

If a space shuttle moves around the moon, then the moon's gravity can help slingshot it back toward earth. The shuttle must have enough propulsion to escape the moon's gravitational pull and leave its orbit of the moon. But the moon's gravity will exert some additional force to the propulsion.

Now imagine if a space vessel could slingshot around the sun. The gravitational slingshot might send the vessel out of the solar system at unprecedented speeds.

Of course, that assumes the sun doesn't melt the vessel.

Enter the approved research into a "Combined Heat Shield and Solar Thermal Propulsion System for an Oberth Maneuver." Researchers will work on developing a substance that can protect a space vessel from the sun's heat. They will also develop a propulsion system with new types of fuels.

The success of this project won't get us to Warp 1 or enable us to complete the Kessler Run in less than 10 parsecs. But it could dramatically improve the fuel efficiency of sending ships beyond our solar system to explore what lay there.

NASA's other sci-fi type projects include a silent propulsion system for air vehicles, a way to breathe in Mars' atmosphere, and an asteroid destroyer.

Why research silent air travel? We could already have flying cars if their jet engines weren't so loud roaring over our rooftops.

Who needs to breath on Mars? If we want to colonize Mars, then we need an efficient way to convert the atmosphere of Mars into oxygen that the first "Martians" (that we know of) can breathe.

And if you've seen Armageddon or Don't Look Up, then you know why an asteroid destroyer could come in handy one day.

The innovations of tomorrow begin with today's scientists and organizations looking to the future.

Here is the full list of NASA's recently approved sci-fi type research projects.

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