Ask A Genius 389 – Welcome to Star Bar
September 21, 2018
[Beginning of recorded material]
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You saw some of the recent Star Wars movies. Let’s hear it.
Rick Rosner: I saw both latest Star Wars movies, Solo and Last Jedi. It is no secret that there are two major models of interstellar travel in entertainment. There are Star Wars and Star Trek and then secondary or less important ones – Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica.
But all of them – including Alien or the Alien series. Nothing works unless you have faster than light travel. Because going from star to star at less than light speed means like a 40-year trip, generally, because even the most ambitious interstellar travel programs, I think, have ships that we could build now that would reasonably go more than a 10th of the speed of light.
You might be able to get them to go faster, but the trouble with going faster is if you run into anything then you ruin your ship. You need faster than light to get the characters from place to place in a reasonable amount of time without the risk of being destroyed by a dust particle.
The deficiencies of that model point to what could be a satisfying science fictioney, fictional, world of interstellar exploration set 150 years from now. You could have people aboard ships. But the ships would not be real.
They would be compiled from data from actual galactic exploring ships. But calling them galaxy-exploring is giving them way too much credit, but ships pointed at nearby stars. The only reasonable ships, at least at this point in our technology, wouldn’t have people on them, because that would be a huge issue.
You can have people on board ships going to some of the planets in our Solar System, but you cannot have people on board ships if you are aiming for nearby stars. It is senseless. You need ships that don’t cost very much, are full of some AI and a lot of telemetries, and a bunch of shielding or some magnetic field that directs particles away from the ship, so if it is traveling 10 or 15 percent of the speed of light junk in its path doesn’t destroy it.
To have a science fiction series based on the actual attainable technology of one to two centuries from now, you would have to assemble virtual ships based, at least in part, on the information you’re getting from these unmanned, cheap telemetry vehicles. Those heading out in all directions.
Those that are, probably, being followed by repeaters, by amplifiers – like a 1/10th of a light year away, because you’re not going to get adequate signaling, as far as I know, from a little ship that is going to be .4 lightyears from you, after 4 years at 10% of the speed of light.
I think you need to send a steady dribble of ships after it, in order to keep in touch with it. After a few decades, you would have a network of these ships. They would be sending all sorts of observational data.
From this, you could construct the experience of manned spaceships. But they would be virtual. People could take on various roles on these ships. You could have legitimate scientists doing legitimate research but who like the environment of being on a ship.
You could have virtual adventurers who like the adventure of being on a ship even though it is virtual. Given the control over thought and perception 150 to 200 years from now, you could have participants in the shipboard experience who do not know that they are on a virtual ship.
In addition to the hard data people are working with there, you could add fun plot elements like various aliens. You can travel as fast as you want in this virtual environments. You could travel from one direction to another at the speed of light because this would be based on the information already compiled.
A more realistic picture of this kind of entertainment could make for a decent show and would provide a more realistic picture of what we are and are not going to do in space over the next few centuries with some added dramatic elements.
I read a book called The Planet Factory. It summarizes the current state of knowledge about exoplanets. Planets orbiting other stars, of which there are plenty; where the vast majority of stars are orbited by planets, you’re always hearing in the news about the discovery of Earth-like planets.
But it turns out reading this book, “Earth-like” has, in every case, right until now has been an exaggeration. When they say, “Earth-like,” it means the rough mass or radius of the Earth or orbits its star at roughly the same distance as the Earth orbits the Sun.
But it turns out these so-called Earth-like planets do not have the conditions that support life. Most planets in an Earth-distance orbit are not that solid. They are gas planets. They do not have a solid surface, at least on you could use.
The planets with an Earth-like radius or mass are orbiting way to close to their stars, like 1/10th the distance to their stars as the Earth is from the Sun. It turns out this is discouraging, except that there are 10^22nd stars.
It means that there are at least that many planets. It may be that one, on average, on a solar system out of a thousand or five thousand, or ten thousand, or a hundred thousand have a planet that can support life, or a moon of a planet that can support life because you’re still dealing with 10^22nd planets.
Dividing that by 10^5th still leaves 10^17th stars still with potentially habitable planets, it doesn’t preclude life in other parts of the universe. What it does mean, though, we might have to travel a lot farther to find those planets, which is another discouraging aspect of the real universe.
It runs counter to the Star Wars universe. If you are a super Star Wars nerd, you have seen maps of its galaxy, which shows you how far apart the major planets in the whole deal are.
But I have never seen that. I would assume that they are not too far apart from each other. They talk in terms of parsecs, which is, like, 3.26 lights per parsec. Without faster than light transportation, that trip is taking 300 years.
It is in a galaxy where you’re likely to find a habitable planet within 30 lightyears. At least according to the message I got from this book, it might be 50 or 70 lightyears or more before you find a planet that is at all habitable.
It is brutal when you’re dealing with slower than lightspeed exploration. That is, if only 1 planet in a thousand is habitable, then it is 10 times the distance compared to a universe in which every planet is habitable, where you’re talking about 40 lightyears instead of 4 lightyears on average.
So, there’s that.
[End of recorded material]
American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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