Designing a Mission

  • Paul Gilster


In a laboratory in the Propulsion Research Center at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, a gleaming drum about the size of a whiskey barrel has been built that one day will hold a trillion of the world’s rarest particles—antiprotons. The wry, kindly man standing next to me, wearing an unkempt shirt and battered khakis held up by suspenders, is Raymond A. Lewis, a key figure in developing Marshall’s High Performance AntiProton Trap, or HiPAT. Lewis’ eyes dance with the merriment of a man whose life’s passion has taken him exactly where he wants to be. He is a physicist whose work on antimatter, both at Marshall and at the Swiss particle accelerator complex CERN (the French acronym for the European Laboratory for Particle Physics), has reshaped our understanding of how to trap and store antimatter.


Solar System Interstellar Medium Science Fiction Deep Space Solar Sail 
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  1. p.1: “The only thing left was rockets!”— Interview with Ray Lewis at Marshall Space Flight Center, July 30, 2003.Google Scholar
  2. p.2: “all written in the dry, precise cadences of physics.”—Like so many of these papers, however, the terse prose belies the staggering possibilities that grow from these ideas. See, for example, Lewis’s collaborative paper “Antiproton-Catalyzed Microfission/Fusion Propulsion Systems for Exploration of the Outer Solar System and Beyond,” written with G. Gaidos, Gerald Smith, B. Dundore, and S. Chakrabarti, in Space Technology and Applications International Forum-1997, edited by Mohamed S. El-Genk (New York: American Institute of Physics Press, 1997), p.1499; also available online at A later chapter discusses Lewis and his colleagues’ concept of AIMStar, a propulsion system for interstellar precursor missions.Google Scholar
  3. p.2: “mirror matter.”—Indeed, the best general introduction to antimatter is a book by Robert Forward and Joel Davis of the same name, Min-or Matter: Pioneering Antimatter Physics (New York: John Wiley Sons, 1988 ). Forward was also editor for several years of an influential antimatter newsletter that connected theorists and experimenters in a field that continues to flourish.Google Scholar
  4. p.4: “we have no alternatives.”—Interview with John Cole at Marshall Space Flight Center, July 3o, 2003.Google Scholar
  5. p.5: “to help determine latitude.”—Ben R. Finney, “The Prince and the Eunuch,” in Ben Finney and Eric M. Jones, eds. Interstellar Migration and the Human Ex perience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), a collection of papers from a 1983 conference discussed in Chapter 10.Google Scholar
  6. p.7:“a full cargo of peas.”—As found in Richard Hinckley Allen, Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning (New York: Dover Publications, 1963), a reprint of the charming 1899 original Star-Names and Their Meanings. Google Scholar
  7. p.8: “260,000 AU.”—This is NASA information, drawn from a Web site about solar system distances, http://heasarc.gsfc. Scholar
  8. p.8: “(not to mention reaping plenty of airline miles).”—Aczel’s useful comparison appeared as “A Measurement Whose Time Has Come” in the New York Times,September 9, 2003, p. F3.Google Scholar
  9. p.8: “seven miles apart.” —Terrile’s analogy comes from an interview Geoffrey Landis conducted with three scientists who are also science fiction writers, David Brin, Robert Forward, and Jonathan Vos Post, in the magazine Science Fiction Age. “Starflight Without Warp Drive” is now available on the Web at I have used 100 billion as the total number of stars in the Galaxy, although some estimates range as high as Soo billion.Google Scholar
  10. p.9: “at least one miracle in development in order to enable an interstellar mission”—Howe is the author of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts study “Antimatter Driven Sail for Deep Space Exploration.” Howe’s work can be found on the NIAC Web site at Scholar
  11. p.10: “Pluto….an average 40 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun.”—Pluto’s 248-year orbit is highly elliptical, and varies from 29.6 AU to 48.9 AU. For about twenty years per orbit, Pluto actually passes within the orbit of Neptune, the only planet to cross the orbit of another.Google Scholar
  12. p.10:“fully three-quarters the size of Pluto.”—The team that discovered Sedna at California’s Palomar Observatory speculates that the planetoid may actually belong to the cloud of cometary debris known as the Oort Cloud. See “Planetoid on the Fringe,” in New Scientist 165 (March zo, 2004), p. 179.Google Scholar
  13. p.10: “surprisingly thick band.” This prediction is found in Davies’s book Beyond Pluto: Exploring the Outer Limits of the Solar System ( Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001 ), p. 149.Google Scholar
  14. p.12: “in semiconductors, materials, simulation, propulsion.” —As reported in “Goldin Announces Interstellar Probe Within 25 Years,” Pathfinder Special Reports, Aerospace FYI, July 3, 1997, a document found among Robert Forward’s papers.Google Scholar
  15. p.12: “developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1977.”—L. D. Jaffe et al., “An Interstellar Precursor Mission,” JPL Publication 77–70 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, October 30, 1977.Google Scholar
  16. p.12: “out to perhaps 1,000 AU.”—The Interstellar Precursor Mission is summarized in L. D. Jaffe et al., “An Interstellar Precursor Mission,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 33 (1980): 3–26.Google Scholar
  17. p.12: “to transmit its findings,”— See J. R. Lesh, C. J. Ruggier, and R. J. Cesarone, “Space Communications Technologies for Interstellar Missions,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 49 (1996), pages 7–8 for a recap of the Interstellar Precursor and TAU missions. On the TAU mission itself, see K. T. Nock, “TAU—A Mission to a Thousand Astronomical Units,” 19th AIAA/DGLR/JSASS International Electric Propulsion Conference paper AIAA-87–1049, Colorado Springs, Colo., May 11–13,1987.Google Scholar
  18. p.12: “also remained an option.”—See Gregory Matloff, Deep Space Probes (Chichester, U.K.: Praxis Publishing, 2000), pages 26–27 for more details on the TAU mission.Google Scholar
  19. p.13: “if we effectively utilize hybridized technologies.”—Daniel S. Goldin, “Remarks as Prepared for Presentation to the tooth Anniversary Meeting of the American Astronomical Society,” June 3,1999. Available online at Google Scholar
  20. p.14: “have appeared in the Congressional Record.”—From Forward’s “Fast Forward Fifty Years,” an unfinished manuscript available only on the Web at This was to have been Forward’s autobiography, but he did not live to complete it.Google Scholar
  21. p. 14: “10 to 20 years later.”—Robert L. Forward, “A National Space Program for Interstellar Exploration,” Future Space Programs 1975, vol. VI, Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications, Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, Serial M, 94th Congress (September, 1975). Forward’s roadmap for interstellar exploration is evaluated and placed in context by Saul J. Adelman and Benjamin Adelman in their book Bound for the Stars ( Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1981 ), pages 290–308.Google Scholar
  22. p.15: “pass on that information to the public.” —Forward, “Fast Forward.”Google Scholar
  23. p.16: “the gravity focus.”—Gregory Matloff, “Solar Sailing for Radio Astronomy and SETI: An Extrasolar Mission to 55o AU,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 47 (1994): 476–84.Google Scholar
  24. p.17: “Flight to the Stars.”—Strong’s book remains an essential one, despite its dated examinations of many propulsion concepts. Flight to the Stars was published by London’s Temple Press in 1965 and remains a hard to find, much sought after tome in used book shops.Google Scholar
  25. p.17:“excess fusion energy.” —Gregory L. Matloff and H. H. Chiu, “Some Aspects of Thermonuclear Propulsion,” Journal of Astronautical Sciences 18 (July/August 1970): 57–62.Google Scholar
  26. p.17:“Orphans of the Sky”—“Universe” appeared in the May, 1941, issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Orphans of the Sky folded it and another story, “Common Sense,” into a novel in 1963.Google Scholar
  27. p.18: “much closer to home.”—Interview with Gregory Matloff, August 18, 2003.Google Scholar
  28. p.19: “but it can no longer be considered impossible.”—Forward made this comment on numerous occasions. The paper I quote from is his “Ad Astra!” in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 49 (1996), page 23.Google Scholar
  29. p.20: “the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets in 1984,”—Robert L. Forward, “Roundtrip Interstellar Travel Using Laser-Pushed Lightsails,” Journal of Spacecraft 21, no. 2 (March/April 1984): 187-95.Google Scholar
  30. p.23: “hundreds of years to get there.”—Interview with Humphrey Price at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, January 31, 2003.Google Scholar
  31. p.24: “in less than 5o years.”—Ralph McNutt, “A Realistic Interstellar Explorer,” NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts Phase 1 Final Report, 1999.Google Scholar
  32. p. 24:“for the last thousand.”—This observation, and many other thoughts on artifacts and survival, can be found in Stewart Brand’s wonderful The Clock of the Long Now (New York: Basic Books, 1999). To make his case for long-term thinking, Brand adds a zero to our conventional dating, a reminder that we’ll need to reset computers in the year io,000 just as we did in the era of Y2K. 2004 thus becomes, in Brand’s notation, 02004.Google Scholar
  33. p. 24:“within our reach.” —McNutt, “Interstellar Explorer.”Google Scholar
  34. p.24:“Earth-like planet.”—See especially Stephen H. Dole, Habitable Planets for Man (New York: Blaisdell Publishing/Ginn and Company, 1964), a study prepared for the RAND Corporation. More widely available is Dole and Isaac Asimov’s Planets for Man (New York: Random House, 1964), which is based upon the more technical title.Google Scholar
  35. p. 25: “it made as much difference as it did.”—Telephone interview with Ralph McNutt, January 23, 2003.Google Scholar
  36. p.25: “great instruments of civilization.” —Brand, The Clock,103.Google Scholar
  37. p.26: “an incredibly ballsy thing to do!”—Interview with Geoffrey Landis at the Glenn Research Center, April 3, 2003.Google Scholar
  38. p.27: “Tales from the White Hart.”—Arthur C. Clarke, Tales from the White Hart (New York: Ballantine Books,1957).Google Scholar
  39. p.28: “for a very long time now.” —Landis interview, April 3, 2003.Google Scholar
  40. p.29: “landmarks of interstellar research,” —A. R. Martin, ed., Project Daedalus Final Report. Supplement to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 1978.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

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  • Paul Gilster

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