Urgent! Starships Now!

Dr. Robert Duncan-Enzmann, ca. 1985

There are not just reasons but urgent reasons for building unmanned interstellar probes and manned starships in the immediate future. The reasons for urbanizing the solar system and concurrently opening a new age of exploration and discovery are as crucial as were the reasons for digging individual wells in rural areas, installing water and sewage pipes, building railways, installing urban and rural electrification, and producing antiseptics and anesthesia for hospitals.

Many people who are alive today will be aboard starships launched out on the long passages to neighboring stars. Manned starships are a certainty in the very near future. The technology to build starships exists now and, in fact, has existed for the past thirty to forty years (1940-1950). Knowledge of this technology has been withheld from most of the public and even much of the engineering community for decades. This has been done by ‘classification’ and news media in the United States, which is implacably hostile to technology in general. This attitude of the media and a politically powerful segment of the so-called academic community has literally frozen aeronautical progress in the United States for nigh unto thirty-two years (as of this writing in 1985).

An effort to build starships would, in ten to fifteen years, place expeditions with men, women, and children aboard on landfalls nearby half a dozen of the Sun’s closest neighbors. In the immediate future – 1985-1995 – such an effort would generate a technological, economic, social, and moral boom of global extent, raising standards of living in the USA by 200 – 300% and over the globe by a minimum of 50 – 100%.

Efforts toward launching an unmanned interstellar probe by 1980 to the Sun’s nearest neighbors, the triplet suns of the Proxima Centauri System, were well underway by the 1950s. Plans were not ad hoc. They were carefully couched in an overall plan to gradually expand humankind’s research within the solar system, around the solar system, and then out of the solar system. In all phases, applications were to follow the first research and exploration probes. In all cases, the Grand Design was itself subordinate and always a small part of a much larger global plan to quickly improve the health, education, and living standards of as many people on Earth as possible.

Basic to the goal of launching an unmanned interstellar probed by about 1980 was the Orion nuclear pulse rocket. Such vehicles could, in the late 1960s, have carried eighty-person expeditions to Mars in one week and stopped there for a day, a week, or even months. They had sufficient power to be independent of the narrow launch windows we follow today as tortuously as the Spanish followed the Trade Winds in the 1600s. They could have returned with ten tons of samples after another seven days of flight. The same vehicles could have carried a twenty-person expedition to Pluto (about eight light-hours distant) in three weeks, stopped for a week, returning with two tons of samples in a twenty-one-day return passage. The lengths of time spent by the Pioneer, Marine, and Voyager probes are absurd compared to the possibilities that were and still are open to engineers.

The engineering community was fully confident in 1958 and 1959 that men would land on most of the bodies of the solar system well before 1990 and certainly before 2000. Orion spaceships were built and test flown in the late 1950s by the US Air Force. They were powered with charges of conventional explosives in order not to contaminate the atmosphere. In space, the Orion vehicles would have been driven by tiny nuclear bomblets. The nuclear pulse engine was tested successfully in an enclosed static rack in the late 1950s with complete success, exceeding all specifications.

It is all too easy to jeer and make fun of technological achievements. However, in human history, the years of WW I and WW II are notable for enormously expanded technology, improved health, better nutrition, universal suffrage, general education, soaring productivity per capita, and particularly the expansion of scientific information. Interesting and notorious examples include the Mount Paloma telescope, the Krupp family’s Big Bertha airplane, the eradication of Smallpox, V-2 nuclear fission bombs, and power plants, then, quite suddenly, the first manned spaceflights.

It was in the 1940s that interstellar flight became a technological possibility. The dream of star flight fired the imaginations of scientists everywhere and burned in the hearts of many others. How much we owe the early pioneers, scientists, inventors, industrialists, and philanthropists. The writer knew a few of them personally – Charles Lindbergh landed his plane on the white sandy beach in front of our lonely, isolated home in Maine, which was situated close to the home of future Senator Margaret Chase Smith. Lindbergh stayed with us for several nights.

“If humankind is forbidden to venture out into interstellar space, the consequences are not expanded freedom, justice, and a wholesome clean environment. The consequences are threefold: dictatorship, devolution, and death.”