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Q & A: Sailing along in the cosmos

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
I am a junior in high school, and I am interested in space travel. I have had difficulty finding information on methods of propulsion other than by chemical means (other than those described in Heinlein novels...). Are there others extant, or under research? Recently, I noted a reference to a proposition to construct a series of space stations to provide electromagnetic propulsion, allowing probes to travel outside the solar system. Is such an idea feasible?
- Jamie Davis (age 16)
Kingston, NY, USA
A:
There is one idea that could work, but only within the solar system.  That is the concept of solar sails.  The scheme is that photons from the sun can reflect off of a 'sail' and thus propel the craft much as wind can propel a sail boat.   I refer you to a nice wikipedia article on the subject.  
I wish to point out a particularly relevant sentence in the article:
"The science of solar sails is well-proven, but the technology to manage large solar sails is still undeveloped."

LeeH



(published on 10/22/2007)

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