Astronautical Notes: Rip Van Winkle with compound interest

OF ALL tales of folklore remembered in future ages, the best known will be the story of Rip Van Winkle. It tells of a man who aged only one night while the rest of the world aged 20 years. And it will be remembered because it is going to come true.

Rip, it will be recalled from the fable told by Washington Irving in 1819, was a thriftless, hen-pecked husband who liked a drink. One day he wandered up a mountain in the Catskills in search of game. There he met some strangely dressed people who gave him some peculiar wine which made him drop fast asleep.

When he woke the following morning, his gun was rusty and his dog had vanished. On descending to his village, he found that everyone he had known was dead (including, to his relief, his nagging wife). Two decades had passed. A war had been fought. He had gone to sleep a subject of George III and awoken a citizen of the United States.

This story is going to come true countless times - not on magic mountain- tops but in spaceships. Einstein's 1905 special theory of relativity predicts that what happened to Rip will happen to all astronauts who travel at close to the speed of light. Not only will they age much more slowly than the stay-at-homes. They will also be able to make a great deal of money out of doing so.

What if Rip, instead of being an idle frequenter of inns, had been a keen businessman who knew in advance about the properties of magic mountains. Suppose that before climbing the mountain he had invested pounds 100 at compound interest at a rate of 11 per cent - a reasonable rate to expect since he would undertake not to touch it for 20 years. On his return he would find that his capital had appreciated by 800 per cent. Together with his original investment, he would now have pounds 900 in his pocket.

Were he to repeat this exercise 10 or more times he would become vastly richer than Bill Gates. By the end of the 20th century, he would be only 12 days older, but his village would be 240 years older. His original pounds 100 would by then have turned into more than pounds 7 trillion.

While researching my book over the past three years, I read many varied and interesting opinions about manned flights to the stars, the ultimate goal of space travel. What is particularly interesting are the incredibly naive predictions about who is going to pay for these trips, and why.

Many experts assume that governments on Earth will finance them. This is absurd. Why should governments pay people to fly off to distant planets where they cannot be taxed? For national prestige? Surely not. Interstellar flight is a long-term project, and any such prestige will accrue long after any politician who supported it has left office.

What, then, of interstellar trade? Apart from tourism, trade is the main motive for intercontinental travel on Earth. But this will not work either. Maybe fabulous new minerals will be found on a planet circling Alpha Centauri. But our local asteroids bear many minerals: why go so far for what can be got so near at hand?

For science, or for adventure? No doubt many voy-ages will be undertaken for these purposes, but they cannot provide the finance needed for regular scheduled voyages, year after year, like a sort of cosmic British Airways.

Instead, imagine a man who invests part of his money at compound interest, goes off to Alpha Centauri with a large party, establishes a thriving colony there, and returns alone to collect his accumulated wealth.

Being now extremely rich and still relatively young, he can finance a second expedition to another star, and so on. Einstein's discovery will have created a new kind of capitalist.

Adrian Berry is the author of `The Giant Leap: man- kind heads for the stars' (Headline, pounds 18.99)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve