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Friday 8 April 2011

Novel space technologies

The main difference between space technologies in the real world and in science fiction is that real world technologies have to work, whereas SF technologies don't (that's why Star Trek has got warp drive and NASA hasn't). You might think it would be pretty risky to build a spaceship based on a description from an SF novel, and you'd be right. On the other hand, amongst all those way-out ideas, there might be some pointers to a future breakthrough...

That's obviously the way the European Space Agency was thinking when they set up the ITSF (Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction) database in 2001. Divided into categories such as Communications, Robotics, Materials, Propulsion and Space Transportation, the database is a repository of ideas from such Great Thinkers as Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.

I even submitted one item myself, taken from Ian Watson's thoroughly bizarre novel Alien Embassy (1977). In this, the participants indulge in Tibetan sacred sex rituals in order to project their astral essences to the planets of other star systems (all the enlightened races in the Galaxy do this). Believe it or not, the item did make it into the ITSF database (minus one or two of the more technical details), but under Feasibility they put "not able to judge". They probably didn't even try it!

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