In space, it has to be done. Somehow. And while there are many methods of ‘travel,’ let’s focus on a detail often overlooked in space travel.
Just how far are we going?
Good question. Actually, that is the question one should be asking. The one thing rarely touched on in space travel is distance. For a simple reason: it can become meaningless. Does it matter that you’ve covered 700 quintillion light years in the last few minutes if you still have 12 septillions to go? Even if you’ve heard of those numbers, it doesn’t matter; the distance is rarely what projects the distance.
Time, however, can be more powerful. I can conclude this by merely polling people’s preferred method of travel from Los Angeles to New York. Of course, not everyone is from the US, so for diversity, let’s include a couple others: Cape Town, South Africa to Lagos, Nigeria, for those on the African Continent; Altay, China to Hong Kong for those in Asia; Paris, France to Moscow, Russian Federation in Europe; Perth, Australia to Melbourne for the Pacific Rim; and Bogota, Colombia to Brasilia, Brazil in South America. I don’t think you have to travel these routes to consider what you would feel your preferred method of travel from point A to point 1. I’m gonna guess walking wasn’t your answer.
Why is that? Why wouldn’t you want to walk these distances? Think of the scenery you’d be missing, the landmarks you would pass, the scenic vistas and breathtaking views.
I’m gonna assume you’re not saying you wouldn’t walk it because you’re lazy like I am; I’m going to think you wouldn’t walk it because of time. Specifically, the time it would take to traverse the distance.
When I started writing the book, I used a ‘conventional’ measure of speed to project the distance and time covered, though later I considered wanting to avoid plagiarizing this method over making a better measure my own. Along with this, I would also consider what it is I’m trying to measure.
The reasoning was to give more scale to both our own galaxy and the star systems within. Science Fiction has the trapping of relativizing the distances between things. Stars, planets, galaxies – the distances being covered are just dismissed.
In this book, I made an effort to show the distances covered, without it being undemandingly lengthy. The measure of distance used is Light Years per Hour, or as the book refers to this, Kliks.
It is explained briefly here:
This vessel, named the TSCTessla, was on its 347th voyage from its homeworld of Earth, but only the third into this particular area of space. The TSCTesslawas a midsized deep space vessel, carrying a complement of seventy-eight restless crewmen. Although the exterior was refit to mask its age and update certain technologies, the dated interior clearly emphasized its lengthy service. In spite of its small size, it had an impressive array of weapons, rivaling armaments on larger battleships. It had a top speed of one-point-five light-years per hour (or one hundred fifty Kliks), although presently it cruised at sublight speeds.
I thought I would give another number along with this one, to assure you this is not slow: one light year covers 6 trillion miles. So this ship is moving at about 9 trillion miles per hour! That is not slow.
The scale of the universe prevents this from being a significant speed, as the star nearest to us, Proxima Centauri (in the Alpha Centauri system) is still about 3 hours away at this speed. I would also point out that at this speed, it would also take 10-15 years to cross the Milky Way Galaxy. Maybe less, but shaving a year or two off won’t change the fact that THAT IS A LOOOONG TIME!
The story does have two shortcuts mentioned. One is glazed over here:
Richard, smiling, gives up on the spot. “Well, it is an old yacht from the Viking series.” He looks around at the dimly lit and rather dusty room behind him. “It is not much to gaze upon, but it has a light drive, so I do not have to use the toll gateways.”
The ‘toll gateways’ are the first shortcut. The book won’t go into much detail on them, because, well, Richard doesn’t use them. And while the context could imply they work at a speed similar to the ‘light drive’ his ship uses, they do not. They are faster. But as the word ‘toll’ implies, there is a cost.
In the United States (and in some other countries) some roadways function like these gateways do in space; a faster way to get to another place, often a more direct route. Some of these routes may have a charge associated with their use. The ‘toll’ is a cost for the benefit provided, usually a faster, shorter path.
The second shortcut is one I mentioned when I was talking about Joe: the Mass Displacement Drive. This drive as Richard points out:
“… in theory we could cross the Milky Way galaxy in a matter of seconds instead of ten to fifteen years with conventional light drives. This is an incredible breakthrough!”
The Mass Displacement Drive, or as it is later known the Fold Drive is a method of travel designed to mitigate distance. As Richard explains, you will be able to cover vast distances in seconds.
What will this enable?
That seems like a silly question, but realize it can appear I’ve undermined the original premise of coming up with a plausible measure of speed. Next week we will touch on why these technologies are present when we look at the distances between the various planets mentioned. When it comes to that, you probably see that I didn’t answer the question, since we didn’t even examine the distance between Earth and Alexandria.
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