(1) How can a spaceship travel from a nearby solar system to earth in a reasonable time?
(2) Once here, how can flying saucers behave the way they are observed to behave? How do they achieve their reported high speed flight in the atmosphere (thousands of miles per hour), their ability to stop and start abruptly, to move up and down and back and forth seemingly with none of the limitations of conventional aircraft?
Typically there are no visible external engines, wings, or tails. Usually the objects are relatively silent compared to conventional craft. Often unusual colored glows are seen adjacent to the craft, and a variety of physical and physiological effects are produced on living and inanimate objects in the vicinity. These are the truly technological challenges we face.
The problem must be divided into two parts because there is no good reason to assume that the same propulsion system is used for both the long haul and local portions of the trip. It seems reasonable to assume that the huge cigar-shaped “mother ships,” into and out of which the smaller disc-shaped craft fly, are the interstellar vehicles and the others are Earth Excursion Modules for local travel only. Mother ships are rarely observed cavorting or flying close to ground level. In Ted Phillips’s huge collection of trace cases more than 90 percent of the low-level vehicles are disc-shaped. A useful analogy here is the aircraft carrier Enterprise, which is nuclear-powered and operates at low speed for many months or years on the surface of the ocean. The much smaller aircraft it carries cannot operate on the ocean but can fly at high speed and altitude for short periods and are highly maneuverable. But they are not nuclear-powered. Neither craft could replace the other.
The problem of traveling to the stars must also be viewed from an entirely different perspective than is useful for understanding our recent flights to the moon and flights of instrument packages to other planets. Distances within the solar system can be measured in light-seconds, light-minutes, or at most in a few light-hours. Stars are at least several light-years away. Our chemical rockets carry astronauts to the moon in about sixty-nine hours, and the Viking spacecraft to Mars took about ten months to reach its destination. But they are propelled by forces other than gravity for only seventeen minutes or one hour respectively. The rockets are coasting and slowing down until they are close to the target for almost the entire trip. The Apollo spacecraft, at an altitude of two hundred thousand miles, is going only two thousand mph although it left the vicinity of earth at twenty-five thousand mph. If it had been able to accelerate at just one G (a twenty-one-mph increase every second) for just one hour, the final velocity would have been 79,000 mph; for just one day it would have been 1.9 million mph! Peak acceleration during an Apollo launch is actually close to eight Gs (a 168-mph increase every second). To understand the foregoing a bit better, note that an acceleration of one G at the surface of the earth equals 32.17 feet per second, which in turn means that as each second passes velocity is increasing by an additional 32.17 feet. Translated into miles per hour one-G acceleration means that velocity is increasing at the rate of 21.9 mph every second! At the end of two seconds it is 21.9 mph plus 21.9 mph, or 43.8 mph, and at the end of three seconds it is 64.7 mph, and so on.
In just one day at one-G acceleration a velocity of almost two million mph would be reached and the craft would be far out of the earth’s gravitational field. For each minute of operation near the earth, gravity effectively pulls the craft at 1260 mph. While in space there is practically no gravitational or atmospheric friction. It is extremely important to recognize that it takes only approximately one year at one G to approach the speed of light—about 670,000,000 mph—-and we can speculate that any space travelers may have refueling or rest and relaxation centers at locations between the stars, so that our earth visitors need not have come directly from their home planet.
Unfortunately, chemical rockets such as we have been using are by their very nature extremely limited in their ability to provide high velocities in their limited operating times because of their great inefficiency.
Starship and Earth Excursion Module designers thus face two obvious questions: (1)How much acceleration can people stand for how long? (2)What method can provide more miles per hour than chemical rockets, either by operating for longer times or at higher accelerations?
The amount of acceleration a person can stand depends on many factors. The three most important are the duration of the acceleration (the greater the force, the shorter the time it can be tolerated), the direction of the force in relation to the body (back to front acceleration is much easier to handle than head to foot acceleration, and for this reason Apollo astronauts have their backs perpendicular to the direction of thrust, rather than along it, as in an elevator), and body environment is important (a person immersed in a fluid can withstand greater acceleration than one not so immersed).
Let’s consider some of the variables. A trained and highly motivated pilot can perform a tracking task while being accelerated at fourteen Gs (about three hundred mph increase every second) for two minutes. Starting from rest he would be moving at three hundred mph in one second, at three thousand mph in ten seconds and at thirty-six thousand mph at the end of two minutes! Obviously conventional propulsion systems such as airplanes, trains, buses, and cars cannot provide fourteen Gs. A drag racer achieving 210 mph in ten seconds would have an average acceleration of only one G. A trained person properly constrained can stand thirty Gs for one second without damage. Data suggest that much higher accelerations could be withstood for shorter times. Reports of EEM (Earth Excursion Module) flight often indicate that the high acceleration—as when making a nearly right-angle turn or changing altitude—takes place in an extremely short period of time. In modern physics and technology the primary method for providing very high forces for relatively short periods of time is the use of electromagnetic forces such as with lasers, magnetoforming of complex shapes, and the acceleration of nuclear particles to velocities close to that of light.
In the mid-1960s and electromagnetic submarine designed by Dr. Stuart Way, who was on leave from Westinghouse Research Laboratory, was successfully tested. It made use of the fact that electric and magnetic fields at right angles to each other produce a (Lorentz) force at right angles to both. The force pushes against the surrounding electromagnetically conducting fluid (seawater) which pushes back and moves the submarine. It is possible to envision an airborne analog in which seawater is replaced by ionized electrically conducting air, and conventional electromagnetic fields are produced by superconducting magnets which need little space, very little power and weight, and generate very high magnetic fields. Substantial research, much of it classified, has been done showing that a magnetoaerodynamic system would be capable of solving all the problems of high-speed flight by controlling lift, drag, heating, and sonic-boom production—all electromagnetically rather than mechanically or chemically. The resulting system would be symmetric, highly maneuverable, relatively silent, often have a glow around it, and be capable of sudden starts and stops. It could carry its own power supply or be charged up on board its mother ship in much the same manner as a golf cart which carries only a storage battery.
The reason much of the research on MAD propulsion systems is classified is that the nose cones of ballistic missiles create an ionized air region around them as they reenter. Modifications of the nose cones can be used to vary the radar profile, lift, drag, and light direction and other important parameters without carrying along fuel or
For the interstellar trip the obvious first choice, although undoubtedly not the ultimate choice, for replacing primitive chemical rockets is a nuclear rocket. Although most people are unaware of nuclear propulsion systems other than those the Navy developed for submarines and surface ships, there have been several other programs for the development of airborne or space-propulsion systems. Jet engines were successfully operated on nuclear power for the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program. A nuclear ramjet was successfully ground-tested as part of the Pluto program. An entire family of nuclear rockets were successfully ground-tested during the NERVA (Nuclear Engines for Rocket Vehicle Applications) program. Most of the work involved in these multimillion-dollar-a-year programs was classified and conducted by industrial contractors in conjunction with national laboratories under the direction of NASA, the Air Force, and/or the old Atomic Energy Commission. All of the above systems utilize nuclear fission of the uranium-235 nucleus to produce huge amounts of heat by the conversion of a small amount of mass into a large amount of energy. Millions of times more energy per pound can be produced in this way than by burning rocket fuel.