An Endless Journey into Deep Space


space probes were both launched in 1977.  Voyager 2 was launched on August 20, 1977 and Voyager 1 on Sept 5th 1977.  It probably doesn’t matter very much that Voyager 2 was launched first. Similar in size and weight, only about 2/3rd the weight of a small 4 cylinder family car, the most important thing about each of these probes is that they have been travelling away from Earth since 1977. In 2017 they both will mark up 40 years in space. They are still sending messages back to Earth.

In 2012 Voyager 1 was described as "exiting our solar system", which means going beyond the limit of the Sun's influence. It had reached the Heliopause which is the margin or boundary of what is called the Heliosphere.



The Heliosphere is like a bubble surrounding our Solar System: it’s a region of space encompassing the solar system in which the solar wind has a significant influence. Solar wind is a stream of electrons, protons and alpha particles released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. Embedded in this solar wind plasma is the interplanetary magnetic field. Solar winds flow outward supersonically, up to a million miles per hour, reaching great distances filling the heliosphere which is surrounded by the interstellar medium.

Between 2012-2013 Voyager 1 was crossing over from inside our Heliosphere to the outside, into the interstellar medium which exists between the stars, often called the emptiness of space. By 2014 it was considered to have finally reached deep space. Scientists were making a big fuss about this anticipated crossing-over  just a mere 36 years after it was launched.


In 2013 they also noted these indicators which showed that Voyager 1 had left our solar system and was now in deep space:

- That “charged particles” from the Sun were no longer detected.
- There was a spike in Cosmic Rays measured.
- They noted an absence of change in “magnetic direction”.

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are both powered by Plutonium powerplants, generating a mere 420 watts, which is about the same as my 50” LED TV consumes. They will continue sending back data to Earth until 2025. They have only 9 years’ worth of nuclear fuel remaining now. (September 2016) These nuclear power plants do not propel the probes through space, they merely keep equipment working for the collection and transmission of data back to Earth.

NASA placed a kind of time capsule aboard Voyagers 1 and 2, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials. The Voyager message is carried by a phonograph record, a 12 inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.

But they did not provide a player for ET play it on, assuming that ET would be able to work it out because of their superior intelligence.  

Voyager 1 has reached a speed of 62,136 km/h. This great speed was achieved by use of slingshot manoeuvres using the gravitational pull of Jupiter and Saturn to accelerate it to its current cruising speed. Voyager 2 was sent on a different trajectory and now is also in Deep Space, but at 57,890 km/h is not travelling quite as fast as Voyager 1.

By 2013, Voyager 1 had reached that speed of 62,136 km/h and travelled 19 billion kilometres. Radio signals it sent back at that time took 17 hours to reach Earth.

This diagram shows the different trajectories
of both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2

You can see the alignment of the planets
which permitted these manoeuvres at the time.

If Voyager 1 continues to travel deep into interstellar space it might, or might not, come close to one of the nearest stars outside our Solar system, either Alpha Centauri or Alpha Proxima, 4.22 light-years away. If it did reach one of those stars that journey would take approximately 40,000 years. In 2013 this figure was sadly misquoted by the SBS news service as 40 years!  Only three zeros were missing from their report.

That’s media and their misuse of numbers for you!  I did not expect the SBS personnel to “do the numbers” themselves. All they had to do was to accurately copy the numbers they’d received from some other news service and to pass them on to their viewers. Unfortunately, they got it wrong, but how many viewers would have known that? A very large proportion of the populace simply cannot bother with big numbers.

Since writing the first draft of this essay I found some other estimates for the journey which came close to 80,000 years. I decided to try and get a more accurate estimate so I worked it out and the answer I came up with was 72,953 years. (FOOTNOTE 1)

By September 2016, Voyager 2 had been operating for 38 years and the Deep Space Network is still receiving its data transmissions. It is the only spacecraft to have visited the two outer giant planets, Uranus and Neptune. In December, 2014 it was moving at a velocity of about 57,890 km/h relative to the Sun. Although launched before Voyager 1, Voyager 2 is travelling about 4,000 km/h slower so Voyager 1 is now further away from Earth.


Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is currently estimated to be approximately 100,000-120,000 light years across. About ten years ago when I first started noting these details, it was estimated as only 52,000 light years across... how things change!

When I first set out to write a piece like this three years ago, I did some basic research to enable calculations of speed and comparisons.

At that time the speed of light was given as    
                                                 299,882        kms per sec

TODAY (20/9/2016)                                  
                                                 299,792.458   ”    ”     ”

Although this is a statistically small discrepancy, I have no idea why these estimates have changed so much in such a short time. Also, about six years ago I read that the Milky Way was said to contain 100 billion stars like our Sun. Now it is listed as containing “200 billion” and up to “400 billion” stars. This is not a small discrepancy. Considering these recent changes in the estimates it's no wonder I feel quite uncertain of these so-called facts.

What is it with these varying estimates and fluctuating numbers? Are we engaged in science or fiction? I realise science uncovers more facts as it progresses, and explains more processes, but surely there is a difference between a fact and a guestimate! Something we imagine may be a possibility but is not a fact until it is proven!

However, for now, let’s just accept 100,000 light years as an approximate estimate for the size of the Milky Way. That’s an easy number for me to work with! Even though I’m not a scientist, nor an astrophysicist, nevertheless I am embarrassed to be taking such shortcuts.

Radio waves travel at the speed of light!   

From Wiki:-

Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum longer than infrared light. Radio waves have frequencies from 300 GHz to as low as 3 kHz, and corresponding wavelengths ranging from 1 millimeter (0.039 in) to 100 kilometers (62 mi). Like all other electromagnetic waves, they travel at the speed of light.

Some of the earliest radio transmissions on Earth occurred about 1897 when Guglielmo Marconi sent and received messages to ships off the British coast. A few years after the first radio signals were transmitted for commercial purposes, in 1897 Marconi was able to produce more powerful signals. I don't imagine that these signals were powerful enough to travel across the Milky Way, but just for the sake of imagining let us consider this scenario:-

From Wiki:-

In 1901, Marconi built a station near South Wellfleet, Massachusetts that on 18 January 1903 transmitted a message of greetings from Theodore Roosevelt, the President of the United States, to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, marking the first transatlantic radio transmission originating in the United States. This station also was one of the first to receive the distress signals coming from the RMS Titanic.

I have chosen this pivotal moment as significant in proving the "reach" of radio signals far beyond the first coastal broadcasts of 1897. Let's assume it’s possible for these signals to travel in every direction, including upward from the transmitter, out into space. I’ve heard that the signal being sent back to Earth from the Cassini spacecraft during the Huygens Probe’s descent to the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan was only as powerful as that of a mobile phone!  So let's imagine that the signals from Marconi’s first transatlantic transmission started on a journey from Earth, exiting our Solar System, travelling right across the Milky Way galaxy.

The Cassini-Huygens Probe’s descent to Titan

For 114 years Marconi’s radio signals have been travelling at the speed of light, but they have traversed a distance of only 114 light years. However, the Milky Way Galaxy is reputed to be more than 100,000 light years across from edge to edge, if you travel through its centre. So Marconi’s transmission would not have reached many of the stars in this galaxy, except for those closest to our Sun. These radio signals have probably reached quite a few stars in our local neighbourhood, e.g. Alpha Proxima, Alpha Centauri, Sirius, Teegarden's Star, and many more. They must travel for another 99,886 years to reach the far side of the Milky Way!



Let us imagine that the Milky Way is a big sports stadium such as our dear old Melbourne Cricket Ground which has an oval-shaped playing surface: 171m x 146m. It’s a good sized sporting arena similar to many other athletic stadiums which are used for Olympic events, e.g., in London and Rio, and it is much larger than the playing area used for either football (soccer) or rugby.

If you think of the Milky Way as filling the entire surface area of the MCG, our entire Solar System, including our Sun, all its planets, and also all the comets and asteroids in the Kuiper Belt, would be like finding a 5 cent piece just a few metres in from the fence!

In the following image from Google Earth showing the playing surface of the MCG stadium, pin “A” represents the centre of our galaxy, and pin “SOL” represents the position of our entire solar system within the galaxy, very far removed from the centre at pin “A” where it is claimed there is a big BLACK HOLE.

However, it’s also quite possible that the analogy of a five cent piece on the surface of a sports stadium which I’ve used to represent our Solar System is far too generous. Maybe it should be downsized to a grain of rice?

Or, perhaps, a grain of sand?

This aerial view of the Melbourne Cricket Ground shows one of the largest sports playing surfaces in Australia and it's also larger than many cricket grounds around the world. It is suitable for athletics events, as per the 1956 Olympic Games but is considered to be too large for football (soccer) and rugby. Their playing surfaces are much smaller so spectators are not seated as close as they would like to be: they are too far removed from the action.

I have chosen this analogy just to show how difficult it is for us to get our head around the vast numbers of Deep Space. You could also extend it by zooming out from the MCG and taking in the whole suburban sprawl of Melbourne, and that would represent the size of the Milky Way in the Universe… well, maybe.

If you think this analogy is too far-fetched just take a look at this:-

If you would like to take a fly-through of the Milky Way from Earth and Sun, via the planets, and then out of our solar system, to explore nearby stars, such as Alpha Centauri, Sirius, etc., you’ll find many examples of such “fly-through” animations available on the Internet. e.g.,


This link shows images of different galaxies taken from the Hubble Telescope, accompanied by the most evocative music: “Cantus in Memoriam of Benjamin Britten” composed by Arvo Part.


 the nearest galaxy to our Milky Way,

only 2,537 MILLION light years away!

Our Milky Way is overwhelmingly large compared with our Solar System. Beyond the Milky Way, and beyond the Andromeda galaxy, there are all those other galaxies, millions of them, far far away! The numbers of galaxies and of the light years separating them, totally intimidating, incomprehensible. Some years ago, when the Hubble telescope was directed to a dark area of space where scientists thought there were no stars, millions more stars or galaxies were revealed.

Well, here are all the galaxies of the Universe
which have been found so far.

Do you think you can spot the Milky Way?

To have a look, press the buttons below.

OK, you can see Andromeda,
but where's our Milky Way?

So Marconi’s feeble radio signals carrying President Theodore Roosevelt’s message to King Edward VII in 1903 will have reached only a tiny number of stars in our “neighbourhood”, about 11% of the Milky Way. It will be a very long time before they are noticed by any advanced life forms in any other galaxy, despite the fact that this radio signal is travelling at the speed of light.

Let's compare the speed of light with the speed of Voyager 1 mission:-

In one hour at 62,136 km/h Voyager 1 can travel :           62,136 km.   
In that same hour any radio signal could travel:    1,080, 000,000 km.

Light travels approximately 17,420 times faster than Voyager 1.

To cross the Milky Way galaxy Voyager 1 would take 17,420 times longer than a message carried by radio signal.

Given that the Milky Way is estimated at more than 100,000 light years across
 it would take
 years for Voyager 1 
                         to cross the Milky Way!


Now we come to Kepler-452b  (CNN, July, 2015)

NASA said Thursday that its Kepler spacecraft has spotted "Earth's bigger, older cousin": the first nearly Earth-size planet to be found in the habitable zone of a star similar to our own.

This image is an artist’s impression of
Kepler 452b compared with Earth.

Though NASA can't say for sure whether this planet is rocky like ours, or has water and air, they say “it's the closest match to Earth yet found”. The planet, Kepler-452b, is about 1,400 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. NASA says it's about 60% larger than Earth and is located in its star's habitable zone, that region where life-sustaining liquid water is possible on the surface of a planet.

The most important information here, aside from the speculation that it may have water, that it may be similar to Earth, that it may be capable of sustaining "life", etc., is that it is estimated to be at a distance of 1,400 light years from Earth.

It would take 1,400 years for any creatures living there to receive a radio message from us. If they are as advanced as we are and could send us a response, it would take a further 1,400 years for us to receive their reply. However, any life form on Kepler-452b may be no more evolved than an amoeba, or a sponge, or a fish, and may not be able to respond to our message.

Voyager 1 would take 24,388,000 years to get to Kepler 452b.  (1,400 light years  x 17,420)

Of course, if Voyager 1 could survive that incredibly long journey and avoid colliding with some small bit of space debris along the way, it could not detect life on that planet, and it could not tell us what Kepler-452b is really like at that time in the distant future, because Voyager’s power plant can only last till 2025: 9 years from now.

"We are not alone!"

Why do we need to know if we are or are not alone?

I assume there are probably many examples of LIFE, or other “life forms” in our universe, including other intelligent life-forms; maybe some primitive life-forms exist inside our Solar System, e.g., on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Or possibly on another planet’s moon which may have internal warming such as Io, Jupiter’s fourth largest moon. The gravity of Jupiter squeezes Io and the friction generated by that squeezing causes Io’s interior to be quite hot. With more than 400 active volcanoes, Io is the most geologically active object in the Solar System. Moons of other planets such as Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, may also host some primitive life forms. Perhaps there are some others within the Milky Way, our home Galaxy.

I don't imagine we're going to find any creature as intelligent as a dog, an ape, a dolphin, or an octopus, either nearby or far away. As you would certainly know, it would not be an easy task for a dog, a dolphin or an octopus to create any sophisticated technology such as radio transmitters, telescopes or spacecraft. Aside from the evolutionary advantage of limbs, fingers and thumbs, a water-borne or liquid-borne existence would preclude any metal-based technologies such as our hi-tech implements which are created from metals, which after being mined and processed, are then smelted in furnaces.

So even if they are out there, unless they have reached a capacity equal to or greater than ours, we are not going to have a meaningful discussion. I don't eagerly anticipate any serious discussion with algae, larvae, worms or snails. So why does our scientific community, via our ever hungry media, keep salivating about "a new Earth-like planet" which “may support life” and is only 1,400 light years away from here?

We interrupt this broadcast for some important BREAKING NEWS:

A new rocky planet discovered orbiting a star close to Earth” (CNN, 25.8.16)

In a discovery that has been years in the making, researchers have confirmed the existence of a rocky planet named Proxima b orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun, according to a new study. It is the closest exoplanet to us in the universe.

Given the fact that Proxima b is within the habitable zone of its star, meaning liquid water could exist on the surface, it may also be the closest possible home for life outside of our solar system, researchers said.

Because of its location, the researchers hope it provides an opportunity for possible "robotic exploration in the coming centuries."

"The good news is that it is so close," study author Ansgar Reiners said. "It is not only nice for having it in our neighborhood, but it's a dream come true for astronomers if we think about follow-up observation."

Proxima Centauri coexists with a binary star in Alpha Centauri, a well-studied star system that serves as a neighbor to our sun.

Proxima b is a mere 4.2 light-years away from our solar system, or 266,000 times the distance between the Earth and the sun, which are 92.96 million miles apart. Previous rocky exoplanet discoveries, like those orbiting the ultracool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1, were previously described as "close" at 40 light-years away.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the planet Proxima b.

"It's not only the closest terrestrial planet found, it's probably the closest planet outside our solar system that will ever be found because there is no star closer to the solar system than this one," said lead study author Guillem Anglada-Escudé.

"The only thing you can hope to find between that is Planet Nine, but that would (require) a solar system object or a brown dwarf that hasn't been discovered," researcher Pedro Amado added.

If you would like to see for more images of “Earth-like” planets go to this link:



Faster than a speeding bullet!

A thought experiment:

When we launch any spacecraft from Earth, it takes a huge amount of fuel to get it out of Earth’s gravitational range. The cost of launching a probe on an Atlas V rocket is between $100-150million. Commercial launches are cheaper at about $100 million. (FOOTNOTE 2)

Once a probe has reached a certain distance from Earth, the speed it has achieved at this point will be constant in space, because there is no drag or resistance such as air, wind, or road surface. But there is still a chance of retardation or acceleration when passing close to other large bodies like planets and moons.

If an astronaut was to fire a bullet from outside a spaceship, e.g., from a revolver or a rifle, that bullet could be aimed away from our solar system’s planets and moons and it would travel into deep space at the same speed as it exits the barrel of the gun, plus the speed of the spaceship. It would never stop travelling at that speed unless it came upon an obstacle such as a star or planet or comet. The same is true for spacecraft such as our Voyagers… they will now continue to travel in space like a bullet, only speeding up when pulled by the gravitational force of a planet or star. Otherwise they will sail on into the infinity of the Universe, for as long as forever is!

The fastest bullet at the present time is fired from a Winchester and exits the muzzle of the rifle at a speed of 4,400 km/h.

The fastest aeroplane…  an X-15, reached mach 6.70 (about 7,200 km/h) which it attained on the 3rd of October 1967. It was not a conventional jet plane, so it was launched from another aeroplane, a B-52, before igniting its own rocket thrusters.

Voyager 1 has been travelling at 62,136 km/h. It has sustained that speed since it got its last acceleration from the slingshot effect off Saturn. That is about 14 times faster than the fastest bullet! And 8.6 times faster than the fastest ever aeroplane powered by a rocket!

So, is it really possible that we will ever accelerate a spacecraft to, or close to the speed of light?

What sort of propulsion system would we need get us up to that speed? There is no known propulsion system that could get us anywhere near the speed of light.

Furthermore, if we were ever able to reach the speed of light, would the spacecraft and the people in it remain material, or would they become photons (which do have mass) or would they become like radio waves and have no mass?  

If spacecraft could ever reach the speed of light or very close to it, how would they be made to slow down? What braking system would be used? Some would say this is the least of our problems and ask why wouldn’t conventional reverse thrust rockets work?

I wonder if matter remains stable as it approaches light speed?  I’ve seen a documentary about “Absolute Zero” which  showed that as matter is dropped to ultra low temperatures, very close to “absolute zero”, it ceases to behave as it did in other temperature zones. For example, the flask which contains the material becomes porous and the material seeps through the flask. This may sound very strange to my reader but I didn’t make it up. Here it is demonstrated in the NOVA documentary film "The Race for Absolute Zero", in this excerpt:-

That made me wonder what might happen at the opposite end of the spectrum when matter speeds up and approaches close to the speed of light. Would there be any possibility of a change of state? Is it possible that a material object or body approaching the speed of light may no longer behave like matter as we know it? Perhaps it might change state and become light?


Potential propulsion systems:-

Ion thrusters are being designed for a wide variety of missions—from keeping communications satellites in the proper position (station-keeping) to propelling spacecraft throughout our solar system. These thrusters have high specific impulses—ratio of thrust to the rate of propellant consumption, so they require significantly less propellant for a given mission than would be needed with chemical propulsion. Ion propulsion is even considered to be mission enabling for some cases where sufficient chemical propellant cannot be carried on the spacecraft to accomplish the desired mission.

These thrusters don't seem to answer any of the big questions relating to getting a spacecraft towards the speed of light, let alone being faster than light. However, in the past week a news item appeared in the media which claims an Australian invention is going to provide an answer to much faster space travel:

An Australian-designed rocket propulsion system is heading to the International Space Station (ISS) for a year-long experiment that ultimately could revolutionise space travel.

Key points:

  • The ion thruster could replace the current chemical-based rocket propulsion technology
  • Can be powered using space junk, making it very fuel efficient
  • Hope to test the tech for a year in space when it is taken to the International Space Station

This news release seems extremely promising and the full release can be found at this link:

Einstein's theory seems to have made a prohibition on the speed of light, so much so that nothing can exceed that speed, anywhere in the universe. This quote comes from:

“As for your last question, I don't actually know why the speed of light is a constant in the universe. I'm not sure anybody does. It's one of those questions waiting for a bright young student to come up with a new idea, and test whether that idea matches experimental observations.”

Clearly, if space travel is possible in terms such as visits by Aliens to Earth, or by us “Earthlings” doing better than a trip to Mars, either a one way trip taking 9 months, or a landing plus return trip taking 18 months or more, this mission is no walk in the park! There are so many problems facing amy mission to Mars that it's best to refer the reader to an article I found:-

If a return trip to Mars is so difficult and so unlikely for many years into the future, then the question of the speed of light being the outermost limit of speed has to be broken. We cannot be constrained by the limitation that the speed of light is the absolute maximum possible. And we must not exceed it by just a little bit, that won't do either. We would need to do much better than that.

Consider this: if we could visit Kepler 452b at the speed of light it would take approx. 1,400 years. If we could possibly go faster than speed of light:-

          x2,    would take 700 years,

          x3     would take 460 years,

          x4    would take 360 years,

          x5     would take a little under 300 years.

To make it in only 100 years we must travel 14 times faster than the speed of light.

This gives rise to another question: you may or may not believe in Aliens and ETs who have been visiting us, checking us out, keeping an eye on us, abducting some of us, doing experiments upon us, etc.,  but purely for the sake of argument, let's allow that there may be extra-terrestrials who visit Earth, who sample some Earthlings for their own research purposes. Let's assume that the coherence of all the stories from all those people who claim to have experienced such visitations are sufficiently “close” to each other in terms of description of events, appearance of the aliens etc., despite huge differences in the abductee’s country of origin, time of the event, age of “victim” of the abduction, etc. And let's assume that some of these people are honest people who have experienced some deeply disturbing event or events which go beyond their powers of understanding given the constraints of their various culture. So for the purposes of this discussion let's consider that they may have been visited and abducted, experimented upon and returned safely to where they lived (which is what most of them report) and then the only significant question we have to ask is:

      "How did these alien creatures from some other place get here?”

If such alien creatures do possess incredibly advanced technology enabling them to travel not only at light speed, but more likely, many times faster than light, there would still be extremely long space journeys for them to negotiate, even from stars within our Galaxy, let alone from star systems or planets beyond this galaxy.

Another question about getting a spacecraft up to such incredible speeds is this: how long would it take to accelerate a spaceship towards light speed, and how long would be required to slow it down? I ask this question again because I’m still wondering whether a spacecraft travelling at that speed remains “material”? What if it ceases to be material? As matter things are differentiated, separated into structures such as the body of the ship, the equipment inside the ship, the people in the ship? If the material becomes like light or radio waves, then what would happen to the instrumentation, such as the retro rockets needed to slow it down? Would these rockets still function?

I put these questions to a good friend who prefers not to be named, and he responded:

Tammer, even light and radio waves can’t exceed the speed of light. You are talking not only of a new technology, but of a new physics with new laws of nature.”  

So now we are talking about the differences between science fact and science fiction in a post-Einstein world, such as:






I call all of these ideas “concepts” or “imaginings”, “hypotheticals”  some of which may become facts at some time in the future, but which are not yet proven as facts in our time. It is also possible that they will never be proven as science fact!  Let’s start with Warp Speed:

Warp Speed: The Hype of Hyperspace

  By Elizabeth Howell, Contributor | April 27, 2016 12:26am ET

Hyperspace travel is the premise that it's possible to travel at speeds faster than that of light when energy from other dimensions is harnessed, and is an idea much used by science fiction writers. One famous example is "Star Trek," where the starship Enterprise jumps from star system to star system to visit other planets.

"If Captain Kirk were constrained to move at the speed of our fastest rockets, it would take him a hundred thousand years just to get to the next star system," said Seth Shostak, an astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in Mountain View, Calif, in a 2010 interview with's sister site Live Science.

"Science fiction has long postulated a way to beat the speed of light barrier so the story can move a little more quickly.  But in reality, the concept is "a lot of hype," Shostak said.

The concept of hyperspace travel is also known as hyperdrive, subspace and warp speed. But the dearth of research and scholarly discussion on the transportation method make it more often a convenient literary device than scientific possibility, Shostak said.

Sometimes "hyperspace" is used to refer to the concept of additional coordinate axes. In this model, the universe is thought to be "crumpled" in some higher spatial dimension and that travelling in this higher spatial dimension, a ship can move vast distances in the common spatial dimensions. An analogy is to crumple a newspaper into a ball and stick a needle straight through, the needle will make widely spaced holes in the two-dimensional surface of the paper.

But is this “crumpled space” an analogy or a reality?

No! It's only an hypothesis!

It’s just an idea!

Well, that still leaves us with wormholes and parallel universes, doesn’t it?

Let's start with wormholes: a worm may find a wormhole, but how do we find a wormhole and how do we know where that wormhole will exit?

Imagine you are a space traveller who has just discovered the portal for a wormhole close to Earth, let's say somewhere between Mars and Jupiter.

Finding this portal was like finding a needle in a haystack.

This wormhole may lead to some other place in the Universe.

Unless this wormhole displays a sign you can read saying where it leads to, you would be taking a huge gamble; you could end up inside the Sun, on the icy wastes of Pluto, or at a location in deep space many galaxies removed from the Milky Way. And worst of all, this wormhole may only work in one direction, to get back you might need to find another wormhole somewhere else, which may lead back to Earth...  but which may not lead back to Earth.

Alice was indeed fortunate to be led to her hole in the Earth by a White Rabbit, and that she was able to return via the same hole. But that was just a good yarn, wasn’t it?

Other dimensions?

Parallel Universes

From Wiki:

The “multiverse” concept of many universes co-existing, side by side, with people being able to move freely from one to another, popping out of one universe and its reality, into another universe where there may be a similar reality, or even nothing which we would identify as reality in our terms at all. Or that there are many versions of our type of reality, some ahead of us in time and some which are behind our time. “Parallel universe” is a theory of a self-contained separate reality co-existing with one's own.

A specific group of parallel universes is called a "multiverse", although this term can also be used to describe the possible parallel universes that constitute reality. While the terms "parallel universe" and "alternative reality" are generally synonymous and can be used interchangeably in most cases, there is sometimes an additional connotation implied with the term "alternative reality" that implies that the reality is a variant of our own.

The term "parallel universe" is more general, without any connotations implying a relationship, or lack of relationship, with our own universe. A universe where the very laws of nature are different – for example, one in which the Laws of Motion do not exist  – would in general count as a parallel universe but not an alternative reality, and is merely a concept between both fantasy world and earth-like reality.

So where do we stand?

Planet Earth is just a tiny speck in our Solar system. Our Milky Way, as vast as it is compared to our Solar System, is just a tiny speck in a giant Universe. The distances between these innumerable galaxies are far beyond the comprehension of many intelligent people.

It seems that it will be impossible, or at least extremely difficult for us ever to get a spacecraft to travel up to the speed of light, let alone faster than the speed of light.

Many of the ideas suggested to get around this limit are merely “fictional”, they are paraded under the banner of science, but they are just science fiction, not science fact.

Many people will say: “Before Marconi came along radio was science fiction, just a possibility, not a fact.” And that is true, it was purely hypothetical, an idea, until it became “real”, that is, an actuality. Before it was “realised”!

Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519. In his sketch books he left us many futuristic drawings including a helicopter for flight.
Helicopters became real many years later, four centuries later.
Until the first model was flown his helicopter was merely a concept.

When Jules Verne published 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, (1870) there was no “nuclear powered submarine” anywhere in the world. Some people in those days thought it might be possible to have a “ship which travelled underwater, carrying a crew”. There were many experimental examples around for underwater-craft from the 17th century, but they were difficult to create, they had difficulties with propulsion, and also for the supply of fresh air for the crew to breathe. Jules Verne didn’t invent those things. What he dreamed of was a submarine which was powered by a unique source of power, not available at the time, which could address many of the problems of travel and sustaining life underwater for long periods of time.

A future development of this “train of ideas or concepts” is the nuclear powered submarine:

From Wiki:-

Steam power was resurrected in the 1950s with a nuclear-powered steam turbine driving a generator. By eliminating the need for atmospheric oxygen, the time that a submarine could remain submerged was limited only by its food stores, as breathing air was recycled and fresh water distilled from seawater. More importantly, a nuclear submarine has unlimited range at top speed. This allows it to travel from its operating base to the combat zone in a much shorter time and makes it a far more difficult target for most anti-submarine weapons. Nuclear-powered submarines have a relatively small battery and diesel engine/generator powerplant for emergency use if the reactors must be shut down.

USS Nautilus (SSN-571) was the world's first operational nuclear-powered submarine. The vessel was the first submarine to complete a submerged transit of the North Pole on 3 August 1958. Sharing names with Captain Nemo's fictional submarine in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and named after another USS Nautilus (SS-168) that served with distinction in World War II, Nautilus was authorized in 1951 and launched in 1954. Because her nuclear propulsion allowed her to remain submerged far longer than diesel-electric submarines, she broke many records in her first years of operation, and traveled to locations previously beyond the limits of submarines. In operation, she revealed a number of limitations in her design and construction. This information was used to improve subsequent submarines.

So Jules Verne’s ideas, including the propulsion system for his “Nautilus” in that wonderful early “science fiction” novel had to wait about 80 years before they became a reality. Except for the nuclear propulsion system, many of the other difficulties facing submarine travel from the mid-17th century had been overcome to some extent between 1870-1954.  

Nuclear powered submarines today are not limited by a need to refuel!

They are not limited by a need to surface for air!

They are not limited by a need to take on fresh water as they convert seawater into freshwater!

They can can remain submerged for 3 months, perhaps longer!

The only limit to submarine travel submerged for 3 months or longer is food for the crew!

Although submariners have similarities with space travellers, there are huge differences:

a) Space travellers cannot convert seawater into freshwater as they have no seawater to draw upon.

b) They cannot convert oxygen for their crew to breathe from sea water for the same reason, they have no access to seawater.

Both submariners and astronauts have this problem in common:

 The storage of sufficient  food for the long-haul traveller!

For a more detailed comparison of the differences between submarines and spacecraft see this article on modern British submarines featuring Stuart Godden, the director of engineering for BAE Systems' submarines:-

We are the beneficiaries of many amazing technologies which we all use today, and which we all take for granted: our mobiles and computers which give us the capability to talk with each other over thousands of miles, and to send each other complex messages, photos, moving images, involve development from a number of pre-existing technologies:-

Digital information (e.g., the card system of the Jacquard loom, and also Morse code)

Computer technology,

Radio transmission,

Cameras,  Audio recording, Maps, Satellites,

Consider this one great leap of science which set us free: telegraph v. radio!

Once radio was invented and proven as a technology we became free from cable connections. Can you imagine what our world would be like today if that one technology called radio transmission and reception was not available to us?

The many precursors of our current technology converge to make it possible for us to receive images like  this, sent back to Earth from the New Horizons Pluto Probe:-

After the images are collected
by the high-definition camera,

they are managed by computers, translated into data,

and then they are transmitted back to Earth.


It takes 4.5 hours for every bit of that data to reach Earth!

The Pluto Probe is jam-packed with equipment. There's no room on board for an astronaut, no living quarters at all, not even for a traveller the size of a mouse! When it was launched it weighed 478kg, but small as it is, and despite the fact that it has no crew, it still cost a fortune to get it into space and finally arrive at Pluto. It also took shots of some of Pluto's neighbours.

All the computation and communication technologies listed above have been in the pipeline for more than 100 years, and they have all been advancing at astonishing rates compared with advances in rocketry and propulsion systems. When the Apollo spacecraft was launched to send people to the Moon in 1969, it took 51 hours and 49 minutes in space, arriving at Lunar orbit on July 19th, 1969. But the fastest spacecraft to fly past the Moon was NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission which took 8 hours and 35 minutes to reach the Moon.

On July 16th, 1969 NASA launched a Lunar Landing module which weighed 15,065 kg, that’s 31 times heavier than the Pluto Probe and approximately 17 times heavier than the Voyager probes. (FOOTNOTE 3)


A command module (CM) with a cabin for the three astronauts.

Also, a service module (SM), which supported the command module with propulsion, electrical power, oxygen, and water; and a lunar module (LM) that had two stages – a lower stage for landing on the Moon, and an upper stage to place the astronauts back into lunar orbit.

The lunar module was a two-stage vehicle designed for space operations near and on the Moon. The spacecraft mass of 15,065 kg was the mass of the LM including astronauts, propellants and expendables. After being sent toward the Moon by the Saturn V's upper stage, the astronauts separated the spacecraft from it and traveled for three days until they entered into lunar orbit.

Armstrong and Aldrin then moved into the lunar module Eagle and landed in the Sea of Tranquility.

After 21.5 hours on the lunar surface, the astronauts used Eagle's upper stage to lift off from the lunar surface and rejoin Collins in the command module. They jettisoned Eagle before they performed the maneuvers that blasted them out of lunar orbit on a trajectory back to Earth. They returned to Earth and landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.  

Round trip: 8 days in space

So you can see that launching the Pluto Probe in 2006 did not require the rocket power which was used in 1969 to put three astronauts in orbit around the moon, two of them landing on the surface of the moon, and bringing them all home safely a round trip of 8 days.

The Pluto mission is a great achievement indeed. However I think the differences between the “manned” mission to the Moon and the robotic  mission to Pluto certainly indicate that rocketry may not have advanced as dramatically as other technical areas of endeavour.

From Wiki:-

This mission had a speedy launch, with its Atlas V rocket accelerating it to a speed of 58,536 km/h. At this rate, it only took 8 hours and 35 minutes for it to get to the Moon from Earth.

So the Pluto Probe passed the moon in a quarter of the time taken in 1969. On the face of it this looks like a great example of progress in rocketry since the 1960s. Rockets are still extremely risky business, e.g., the SpaceX explosion last week, (FOOTNOTE 4) and in my opinion they have not progressed as dramatically as mobile phone technology, computer technology, or many miraculous advances in medical science over the last 20 years. Compare the extraordinary successes in organ transplants since the early 1960's with Dr. Christian Barnard's first heart transplant, and recent advances such as transplants of limbs!

When Voyager 1 was launched in 1979 it achieved 62,136km/h.

But the New Horizons Pluto Probe launched in 2006 has only achieved 58,536km/h.

Now consider what the Pluto probe is capable of:

High Definition imaging of the new digital cameras, (1980s)
Computers creating those images out of dots, pixels, (1980s)
Then converting them into radio signals,
Transmitting these bits of data over vast distances back to Earth at the speed of light,
"receiving" of those signals here on Earth via radio telescopes (the first radio telescope: 1932)

which can now pick up an extremely weak signal sent from a probe powered by a nuclear power source as weak as 228 watts, only half as powerful as that which sent back data from Saturn in the Cassini-Huygens mission.

All the components in this chain of technology were virtually unknown 150 years ago. Now they have “converged” in such a way that we can use all of them to explore a dwarf planet which was only discovered on February 18, 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh.



Voyagers 1 & 2

The cost of the Voyager 1 and 2 missions, including launch, mission operations from launch through the Neptune encounter and the spacecraft's nuclear batteries (provided by the Department of Energy) is $865 million.

Cassini-Huygens to Saturn and Titan

The total cost of this scientific exploration mission is about US $3.26 billion, including:

$1.4 billion for pre-launch development,
$704 million for mission operations,
$54 million for tracking
$422 million for the launch vehicle.

The cost of this mission was much more expensive than the Voyager probes because this spacecraft was three times heavier than both of those, or six times more than the Pluto Probe

New Horizons Pluto and Kuiper Belt Probe

All of the technology and labour that has gone into the mission must have racked up quite a bill - so what was the cost of this epic voyage?

$720 million.

All those dollars have been adding to the US national debt, a truly astronomical number in its own right, not quite rivalling the size of the Universe:

$19,442,913,162,409.14 by Friday, August 26th, 2016.

And we haven't even got out of the Solar system yet!  

Well just a little bit further out!

Given the costs of the space programs outlined above, can you imagine what it would cost to build a spacecraft carrying a human crew, for hundreds or thousands of years, keeping them alive with air and food, and just like the STAR TREK spacecraft “Enterprise” being capable of voyaging beyond the Milky Way? Such a mission would probably require backing from all the developed nations on Earth, similar to the current International Space Station Program.

The Anticipated cost of the International Space Station Program:

From  Wiki:- The ISS is arguably the most expensive single item ever constructed.

In 2010 the cost was expected to be $150 billion. This includes NASA's budget of

$58.7 billion (inflation-unadjusted) for the station from 1985-2015 ($72.4 billion in 2010 dollars)
Russia's $12 billion,
Europe's $5 billion,  (This investment from 22 Euro countries includes Germany, Britain and France)
Japan's   $5 billion,
Canada's $2 billion,
plus $50.4 billion, the cost of 36 shuttle flights to build the station, est. at $1.4 billion each.

That list of participants quoted from Wiki shows that the US is the major shareholder, Russia is the second largest investor, while Europe, representing 22 countries, plus Canada and Japan are only equal to Russia. Despite a lot of searching, I cannot find any update on this list to indicate what this space station has really cost since 2010.

This wonderful international space initiative is claimed to be: "arguably the most expensive single item ever constructed."

Considering that it is not a spacecraft designed to fly anywhere other than its orbit around the earth, and given that its main source of power comes from the Sun via its huge array of solar cells, which spaceships a long way out in space will not be able to access, and also that current nuclear power generators such as those on the Voyager probes will only last 9 -10 years, or less than 50 years from the date of their launch: what will be the cost of an interstellar spacecraft similar to those proposed by Stephen Hawking and others, all variants of the Star Trek Enterprise?

Artist’s impression of “Venture Star”
another “interstellar spaceship”.

To create such a spaceship it would be necessary to build all the modules on Earth and to lift them into space for assembly. A tiny probe like Voyager 1, weighing only 825.5kg and about 2/3 the size of a small 4 cylinder car, required all the power of a Titan IIIE to get that little package away from the pull of Earth's gravity.

You don’t need to be a mathematician or an astrophysicist to work out that the cost of any such “starship” will be enormous, far exceeding anything humans have created until now in Space. I think it’s fair to say, in our world when so many nations’ economies are under threat, failing, or just barely getting by, for the time being such a massive investment is most unlikely.

From the figures I’ve mentioned previously concerning the costs of the earlier space probe missions listed above, only one of them (Cassini-Huygens) exceeded $1 billion. Altogether the four missions only cost approximately $4 billion. When compared with the International Space Station, at $150 billion, they were quite small investments.


Who will benefit from these extraordinarily expensive missions into Deep Space?

What will be the benefits or spin-offs for humans
if all of Earth’s nations were to build a spaceship
like Star Trek’s “Enterprise”?

And what will the total cost be?

A cost which will be paid by people of the near future,
in our time, our children’s time,
while the benefits of this vast expenditure
will be for people in the very distant future:
80,000-100,000 years into the future???

Just to find a few microbes or algae living on another planet say 1,400 light years away from here!

Why are we so concerned that we may,
or may not be, alone?

Are we just looking for another planet to inhabit when we’ve finished trashing this one?

Are we looking for some other species to go to war with,
after having destroyed so many species in the
animal kingdom, as well as millions of our own kind?

What could possibly be the reasons that inspire:
our great scientists,
our space agencies,
and the ever-salivating media conglomerates,
to foist upon us their constant reminders that

there may be life forms on other planets
in this Universe?

I wish to thank the following people for their support and encouragement during the writing of this essay. I had many doubts concerning the issues I have raised because it seemed to me that I was missing something obvious that everyone else took for granted. Then I sent early drafts to friends and found I was opening quite a new territory for them, and that they had not really considered it very much until they read those drafts. So the feedback I have received from these people was hugely important for me:

Bill and Vicky Mousoulis for their very close reading and analysis of my various drafts.

My good friend Kit Guyatt for his close scrutiny of the text and for challenging me to double check the accuracy many of my "facts" and challenging many of my sweeping generalisations or opinions. 

Also my friend John Hughes. Although John only read the earliest draft, I was sure I was on pretty solid ground when John sent back his warm and most encouraging response.

My good friend Janine Paton who also read the essay and sent me many valuable comments which have all been addressed.

Finally, my "engineer" friend Richard who volunteered to check my maths, and gave me his seal of approval.

These friends have assisted me immensely in writing this essay which is in a territory I have not ventured before.

I'm still open to feedback from any readers who may wish to respond.

Peter Tammer  (30/9/2016)


(1) Fast missions

From Wiki:- If a spaceship could average 10 percent of light speed (and decelerate at the destination, for manned missions), this would be enough to reach Proxima Centauri in forty years. Several propulsion concepts have been proposed [29] that might be eventually developed to accomplish this (see also the section below on propulsion methods), but none of them are ready for near-term (few decades) development at acceptable cost.

However 10% of the speed of light is a very big ask!

THE SPEED OF LIGHT is 299,792,458 km/sec

Light travels                            1,079,252,848    in 1 hour

x 24                                         25,902,068,371    in 1 day

x 365                                  9,454,254,955,480   in 1 year

Therefore, my estimate based upon above:

x 4.2 (For Aplha Centauri or Proxima)             

                                = 39,709,299,000,000 km to Alpha Centauri

From Wiki:-

The speed of light is the upper limit for the speeds of objects with positive rest mass, and individual photons cannot travel faster than the speed of light. This is experimentally established in many tests of relativistic energy and momentum.

More generally, it is normally impossible for information or energy to travel faster than the speed of light.

Astronomical distances are sometimes expressed in light-years, especially in popular science publications and media. A light-year is the distance light travels in one year, around 9461 billion kilometres.

What % of the speed of light does Voyager 1 travel at?

Answer: approximately   0.00576% of lightspeed

In one hour at 62,136 km/h Voyager 1 can travel :             62,136 km.         

In that same hour any radio signal could travel:  
1,080, 000,000 km.


So, let's just speed up Voyager 17,369 times to get it up to the speed of light!

Alpha Centauri and Proxima are about 40,000 billion kms away from us.

Voyager can travel just  544,311,360 kms in a year

At its current speed, it will take Voyager 1 approximately:   

                72,953 years to get to Alpha Centauri

If Voyager could double its speed, 125,000 km/h        36,476 years to Alpha Centauri

If Voyager could go at 250,000 km/h                                18,238 years to Alpha Centauri

If Voyager could travel at 500,000 km/h                           9,119 years to Alpha Centauri

If Voyager 1 could reach 1,000,000 km/h                          4,560 years to Alpha Centauri                           

To raise Voyager 1 up to 10% speed of light, i.e., 
107,925,285  km/h

its speed would have to be accelerated by a factor of 28.95.

This is very close to 30 times faster!

But that would only be 10% of the speed of light!

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(2) Commercial launches

Supplying the International Space Station

The Jan. 9 launch of the Orbital-1 mission is the first of eight operational Antares/Cygnus flights to the space station scheduled through 2016 by Orbital Sciences under its $1.9 Billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg of cargo to orbit.

SpaceX wins 5 new space station cargo missions in NASA contract estimated at $700 million

- See more at:

Both companies booked further CRS orders – the 9th and 10th mission for Orbital, and the 13th, 14th and 15th for SpaceX – in early 2015 as part of CRS contract extensions. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said at the time that the SpaceX work was valued at about $150 million per mission for the three new orders. SpaceX’s original CRS contract averaged $133.3 million per launch mission.

 - See more at:

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(3) Lunar Module Spacecraft and Subsystems

The lunar module was a two-stage vehicle designed for space operations near and on the Moon. The spacecraft mass of 15,065 kg was the mass of the LM including astronauts, propellants and expendables. The dry mass of the ascent stage was 2180 kg and it held 2639 kg of propellant. The descent stage dry mass was 2034 kg and 8212 kg of propellant were onboard initially. The ascent and descent stages of the LM operated as a unit until staging, when the ascent stage functioned as a single spacecraft for rendezvous and docking with the command and service module (CSM). The descent stage comprised the lower part of the spacecraft and was an octagonal prism 4.2 meters across and 1.7 m thick. Four landing legs with round footpads were mounted on the sides of the descent stage and held the bottom of the stage 1.5 m above the surface. The distance between the ends of the footpads on opposite landing legs was 9.4 m. One of the legs had a small astronaut egress platform and ladder. A one meter long conical descent engine skirt protruded from the bottom of the stage. The descent stage contained the landing rocket, two tanks of aerozine 50 fuel, two tanks of nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer, water, oxygen and helium tanks and storage space for the lunar equipment and experiments, and in the case of Apollo 15, 16, and 17, the lunar rover. The descent stage served as a platform for launching the ascent stage and was left behind on the Moon.

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(4) Failed launch today, 2/9/16:   SpaceX Rocket

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and its commercial satellite payload were destroyed by an explosion at their launchpad in Florida early Thursday (Sept. 1) during a typically routine test.

The explosion occurred at 9:07 a.m. EDT (1307 GMT), as SpaceX was preparing to launch the Amos-6 communications satellite for the Israeli company Spacecom from a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday, Sept. 3. At the time, SpaceX was conducting a static-fire engine test on the Falcon 9.

Such tests, which typically precede each SpaceX launch, involve firing the Falcon 9 rocket's first-stage engines while the booster remains secured to the launchpad.

"SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today's static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload," SpaceX representatives wrote in a statement. "Per standard procedure, the pad was clear, and there were no injuries." [SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Explained]

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© Peter Tammer 2016