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"The Incentive Trap: When to Launch a Starship" Topic

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496 hits since 18 May 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0118 May 2017 3:26 p.m. PST

"Richard Trevithick's name may not be widely known today, but he was an important figure in the history of transportation. A mining engineer from Cornwall, Trevithick (1771-1833) built the first high pressure steam engine, and was able to put it to work on a railway known as the Penydarren because it moved along the tramway of the Penydarren Ironworks, in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, running 14 kilometers until reaching the canal wharf at Abercynon. The inaugural trip marked the first railway journey hauled by a locomotive, and it proceeded at a blistering 4 kilometers per hour. The year was 1804.

Consider, as René Heller (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research) does in a new paper, how Trevithick's accomplishment serves as a kind of bookend for 211 years of historical data on the growth in speed in human-made vehicles from the Penydarren to Voyager 1. The world's first production car was the Benz Velocipede (1894), whose top speed of 19 kilometers per hour far surpassed the Trevithick railway, but was put to shame by a Stanley Steamer racing car that reached a then incredible 204 kilometers per hour in 1903.

I mused about the nature of speed in a 2013 post called The Velocity of Thought, and Heller's new paper has me doing it again, though in entirely different directions. A few more waypoints and I'll explain what I mean. When the Wright Brothers took to the air in 1903, their Wright Flyer first flew at about 11 kilometers per hour, and we began to see how quickly aviation records could be superseded. A Sopwith Camel of World War I vintage could reach 181 kilometers per hour. By 1944, German test pilot Heini Dittmar was able to take a ME-163 rocket plane to 1130 km/h, a number that wouldn't be reached again for almost ten years…"
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Mobius18 May 2017 5:46 p.m. PST

Anyone who has ever played Railroad Tycoon knows that name. Trevithick, the first little loco in the game.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP19 May 2017 7:05 a.m. PST

You launch your explorer starship as soon as you think there's a decent chance it might report back. You launch your colony ship as soon as you think it might survive and probably has a place to land.

If you wait until you're richer and more scientifically advanced, you run the risk of never launching at all.

Tango0119 May 2017 10:29 a.m. PST

Good point!.


KPinder19 May 2017 3:57 p.m. PST

I always wanted to write a sci Fi story about an interstellar mission that gets sent out in 2025. The mission is to last 12 years. After 2 years they get picked up by a subsequent mission that has a much faster spacecraft. After a year they both get picked up by yet another mission with an even faster ship. This goes on and on until 6 crews are all on the same spacecraft.

They finally arrive at the destination to find a thriving human colony already there. There were 20 later expeditions that decided it was too much trouble to stop and pick their predecessors up.


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