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.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
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
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

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup