Published on 01 September 2012
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Review of Futuristic Technologies
Hiya fellow spacenuts,
Its been awhile, yes? But we are back with a movie review of Prometheus which came out a few weeks ago. As usual, our review focuses on the interesting aspects related to space travel and not so much on the plot. Nevertheless, the summary of the movie is that scientists on Earth find some ancient paintings on different continents that point to a distant planet being the harbinger of the human species on Earth. So, a voyage is planned and executed. What happens during and after the voyage is the crux of the story. Hopefully, this does not give away anything interesting to people who have not watched the movie so far. But soon, we bare some details that may do that. So brothers who have not seen the movie and want to, please go watch the movie and return. We will still be here, never fear.
Ahem, back? Good, let us begin.
Let's start with some of the pieces on the spaceship. Foremost is the display of scientists being kept in a form of stasis during the voyage. As we have explained in movie reviews before, this is something that has not been developed on Earth yet. We can keep cultures of cells alive for decades without any metamorphosis. We can reduce the aging effects of the body with a combination of chemicals that brings heartbeats down close to zero per minute with some form of induced coma to facilitate it. We can, in certain sections of the body, replace blood with chemicals that do not destroy the veins and arteries or get rejected by the body. However, the holy grail of being put to sleep for decades and waking up healthy and well with no physical side-effects is just not possible today. In fact, one of the reasons that a human voyage to Mars is expected to take 3 years (rather than the 10 months or so that the Curiosity took) is the fact that humans cannot be put to sleep. That is just one of the many reasons, a human carrying spacecraft cannot go as fast as the Curiosity launch vehicle. So, can this type of sleep and voyage happen in 2079? We think yes. And we are counting on the engineers and doctors among you to be able to do that.
Official trailer of Prometheus
The second artefact in the movie (that brought a smile to my face) is the lavish food and drinks available to the spacecraft crew. This is frankly impossible to do on a looong mission. As we know, building big a spacecraft is prohibitively expensive. I have seen the Apollo 11 spacecraft with my own eyes in the NASA museum and it is claustrophobically small. The Apollo 11 was built in the times of excess and yet, engineering issues dictated its size. Which begs the question, how far can you go with recycling? As we have seen on the International Space Station, regular supplies of food, drinks, scientific instruments have to be sent in order to maintain the station. Going on a multi-year expedition is therefore a mind-numbingly expensive proposition. Given that most people will argue that we should use existing world resources to secure the lives of many a destitute around the world, it is clear that a fundamentally radical approach may be need to design spaceships. Say, a spacecraft with a welding shop inside, with the ability to mine asteroids for minerals, with a chemical lab to manufacture medicines and chemicals on demand, a 3-D printer that can produce needed parts on demand and finally something that can break down un-needed parts and things into their constituent base chemicals. This last requirement is particularly difficult on a ship with limited energy production sources. Water in particular is something that is not easily replaceable if it cannot be recovered.