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Space is hard.


So this might be a boring topic, but then again, maybe not.

Imagine yourself flying your star ship, using your space GPS to find the Jovian L-5 station where your sweet spouse resides, and that mouth watering bunny burger joint. Mmmm. Your stomach growls, just as the antique GPS system finally goes kaput with a spark and a wisp of smoke.

Fetch! That didn’t look good. What now?

Well spacer, break out your periscope sextant. Dig out your old Rocket-Scout manuals and take that angle between three stars about 120 degree apart to get a fix on your location. Calculate the angle of your direction off of those three stars and you have your orientation. You remember as a Rocket-Scout they taught you, the nose of you ship is rarely your actual direction. Calculate your velocity by recalculating the same three stars some time later and see how far you’ve moved in the intervening time plus a bonus, you get a directional azimuth. Precision is important here, and it helps to know some geometry, expecially since in the gravity well of the solar system, everything curves at it orbits something, even you in your star ship heading over to Jovian Trojan L-5 station.

Just navigating in space precludes that you’ve made it to space, and I’m having a hard time even imagining how somebody figured out how to fix your position in space using a triple fix off of three stars at the same time.

You will soon realize, flying a spaceship in actual outer space is considerably more difficult than flying a video game rocket in a largish box’s electric imagination. Heck, just play Kerbal sometime and try to get the rocket you’ve built into low earth orbit. It’s the Minecraft of space. So far I’ve killed all my pilots in fiery rocket crashes primarily because I haven’t cheated the game yet. I’m developing a new sense of wonder at the engineers who built and the pilots who flew all the original spaceships.

I love the adventure of space exploration and travel, and though I abhor the effects of von Braun’s early work for Germany in WWII I am beginning to understand the dichotomy. It’s seems obvious in hind sight that effort wasn’t worth the deal with the devil because Werner said after the first V2 rocket hit London “the rocket worked perfectly, except for landing on the wrong planet.”  However, even in the nineteen thirties, scientist understood the human race will in the future take damage at some level up to an potentially including human termination from all sorts of existential dangers ranging from asteroid impact to disease, and that diversification off this planet is really the only viable solution.

Wow. That went from something technical and hard to write about to something deep and hard to write about. I didn’t mean to but my deadline is approaching like a freight train so I’ll just make my point now. Space is hard. Space is as hard to do as space is big, and space is really, really big. I just want to point that out because so much of modern science fiction is easy. Too easy for me to really believe; I mean professional soldiers [lookin’ at you Stormtroopers] who can’t hit the broad side of a barn? Really? That’s hyperactive creativity combined with zero real world experience in my opinion.

So here’s to some space realism in science fiction.

So here’s to some space realism in science fiction.

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