Space scientists explore fiction for novel ideas

Scientists from the European Space Agency are turning the pages of science fiction novels in the hope of finding new ideas on how to cross the cosmos and explore distant planets.

Scientists from the European Space Agency are turning the pages of science fiction novels in the hope of finding new ideas on how to cross the cosmos and explore distant planets.

The agency is asking science fiction authors and readers to submit any suggestions they have come across during their fictional journeys into space that may become the basis of innovative technologies for exploring the real universe.

Suggestions are already beginning to flood in about subterranean habitats on the Moon and Mars, hollowed-out asteroids with a gravity of their own and biological spaceships that can repair themselves.

Scientists at the agency emphasised that the scheme does not mean they have run out of ideas, only that they want to make sure they are not overlooking any potentially useful concepts from science fiction that would otherwise be missed by the space engineers.

"It's not as if they are really desperate for ideas. It's just a creative way of looking for new ones," explained Arthur Woods, a space artist and president of the Ours Foundation in Embrach, Switzerland, which is conducting the study for the agency with the Swiss Museum of Science Fiction in Yverdon-les-Bains.

Patrick Gyger, curator ofthe museum, said: "They feel there might be something out there and it would be too bad to miss it."

He said there was a long tradition of seemingly fanciful notions in science fiction becoming reality, such as the idea of orbiting communications satellites, which were first outlined in 1945 by the science fiction guru Arthur C Clarke, nearly 20 years before the launch of Telstar.

The agency said the main objective of the study, called Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction for Space Applications, was "to review past and present science fiction literature, artwork and films in order to identify and assess innovative technologies and concepts described which could be possibly developed further for space applications.

"Several science fiction authors have taken modern technology and concepts of their own time and anticipated with some accuracy how new technologies would change our lives, well before these technologies were actually possible," it said.

So-called "hard" science fiction, which attempts to fantasise without breaking the known laws of physics, predicted planetary landers in works published in 1928, rocket fins for aerodynamic stability in 1929 and the construction of orbiting space stations complete with living quarters and supply ships in 1945.

More recently, scientists have made tentative breakthroughs in faster-than-light travel, supporting the concept of the "warp drive" familiar to Star Trek viewers, and quantum electrodynamic effects that might form the basis for teleportation systems, another technology visualised by Gene Roddenbury, creator of Star Trek.

Charles Sheffield, the chief scientist of Earth Satellite Corporation in Washington DCand a leading science fiction author, said that both he and Arthur C Clarke independently came up with the idea of "tethered satellites" - orbiting but tied to the ground by enormously long tethers - in separate novels published in 1979, more than 10 years before the first experimental tethered satellite was launched.

"It's certainly one of those ideas that intrigues people, although no one has yet designed a strong, lightweight tether that could stretch all the way to the ground," said Dr Sheffield, a theoretical physicist.

Other science fiction ideas that have become reality include the pressurised space suit, first visualised in the 1940s, and the gravitational "sling shot", where a spacecraft uses a planet's gravitational pull to propel itself further into space.

"This was used all the time in science fiction and is now routine in interplanetary travel but we cannot be sure which came first. Science fiction and science fact swap ideas all the time," Dr Sheffield said.

A still unsolved problem that science fiction authors have wrestled with for decades is how to get a single-stage spacecraft into orbit. All existing rockets have several launch stages, which is expensive and wasteful, Dr Sheffield said. "We are close to solving this with the next generation of rocket motors that will be used on the spaceplanes of the future," he said. The agency is watching this development closely.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links