Book Research: The Technologies and Sciences of Space Travel

I am ridiculously obsessed with research.  Recently, I’ve started doing background research for a book that will take place on a space ship.  I’m having loads of fun coming up with some of the stuff pertinent to space travel.

The effects of space on the body…

We all know space travel does a whammy on the body.  The first thing I looked into was the effects of zero gravity on the body.  I already knew that plants can’t (currently) survive in space because they respond so negatively to stress (they end up killing themselves with stress hormones).  Humans undergo something called spaceflight osteopenia, which is where bone density reduces as the body acclimates to a reduced need for bone density.  Bone density is a direct reaction to gravity.  The heavier the gravity, the denser the bones.  Zero gravity = no need for bone density.  So, in order to resolve this problem, I came up with two ideas.

  1. A ship that rotates on an axis in flight.  At a proper rotation, it would be able to mimic Earth’s gravity.  Problems: Designing such a ship would be very difficult.  It would require multiple engines propelling in two perpendicular directions, and all floors would have to curve around the center of the ship.  Weird design, and hard for my mind to wrap around.
  2. A ship with magnetic flooring.  The flooring is coupled with a combination of flight suits and various other gear.  A light magnetic field would be able to mimic gravity.  Some areas of the ship would likely need to stay zero gravity in order to prevent sensitive systems from being damaged.

Another thing to think about is the significance of exposure to vacuum on the body.  After all, what’s a space story without someone getting sucked out an air lock, right?  Most people would reflexively hold their breath, causing their lungs to rupture.  If you don’t hold your breath, you can remain conscious for roughly 9-11 seconds.  Surviving in vacuum is much like the bends.  The change in pressure causes vapor to form in various portions of the body, specifically those portions under the lowest pressure.

Most of the cardiovascular system should be fine, though there is the possibility of air bubbles forming in the lower pressure areas of the system like the capillaries, which could result in embolisms.  You can survive for up to 90 seconds in vacuum without serious side effects, if all goes perfectly.  Individuals will spontaneously recover upon reestablishment of normal pressure and oxygen.

You may find that gas expansion will cause a body to bloat excessively under vacuum, but should recover completely, as I said before.

The biggest concerns for vacuum survival are:

  1. Do not hold your breath
  2. Loose objects may cause injury as they fly through an open air lock.
  3. The body cannot survive longer than 90 seconds in vacuum
  4. Risk of air embolism

Lastly, it takes large holes to cause explosive decompression.  A bullet hole won’t cut it.  It will start decompression, but there is plenty of time to repair it.  Imagine a pool raft being slowly bled of air.  You have plenty of time to find the hole and repair it before the raft completely leaks all the air.  The same goes for space suits.  Small holes are no real concern.  Many astronauts have had small decompressions, and have continued with their work.  However, the affected body part will undergo the aforementioned symptoms like bloating etc.  Survival etc. is better for decompression of individual body parts.

Long Distance Communication…

Communication is one of those things that never really gets brought up in space travel fiction.  Of all I’ve read or watched, only one book actually addressed it.  In modern times, it takes months for communications between Earth and some space installations (or vice versa) to travel, years for others.  If we’ve tackled the stars, I think communicating back and forth would be important.

I got this idea from, of all places, the TV show Eureka.  I was rewatching the first episode when I got to wondering what the hell a tachyon was.  A tachyon is a theoretical particle.  It acts exactly opposite all laws of physics.  For our purposes, all you need to know is that it can travel at faster than the speed of light, can never go at or below the speed of light, and expends more energy the closer it gets to the speed of light.

Somehow, my eternal wanderings brought me to a thought experiment called the tachyonic anti-telephone, which I like to call the TAT, for short.  The weird properties of the tachyonic particle mean that you could actually make calls not just across space, but backwards in time, causing causality issues.

To me, this seemed like a perfect machine for long distance communication.  To my absolutely terrible grasp of physics and mathematics, it seems to me that, with a TAT, you would design a communications device that could make real time communications between far distance locations, so long as the calculations were perfect.  You would have to know the exact distance between targets, and use that to calculate signal energy strength.  Between the FTL properties of the tachyon, and the theoretical ability of a TAT communication to arrive before it was sent, you could calculate it in such a way that a message arrived seconds after it was sent, even though many lightyears were between destination and origin.


Well, now I’m off to watch a movie about aliens.  Hope you found this useful!

And, yes, I am a total Doctor Who nerd.

Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center / Foter / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: Rooners Toy Photography / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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