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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Review: Centauri Dreams


When I discovered Paul Gilster's Centauri Dreams Blog in a Carnival of Space edition, I never realized that he also had written a book of the same name. The Centauri Dreams Blog is also the news forum of the Tau Zero Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the science of spaceflight. Appropriately enough Centauri Dreams is a book that explores the past, present, and future of interstellar spaceflight.

The name itself comes from our dreams of traveling to nearby star systems, such as Alpha Centauri. The Alpha Centauri system, however, is not the only candidate considered in this book. Gilster also considers the possibilities of traveling to Epsilon Eridani, Tau Ceti, and Barnard's Star, among others. This wide array of possible destinations begs us to ask, what are we really looking for when we get to these star systems? Exoplanets and possibly even rocky exoplanets? Possibly even life?

Choosing somewhere to go is the simple part, however. How will we get there? In Centauri Dreams, Gilster showcases many different types of propulsion systems that could be developed in the future for interstellar travel. Among these are solar and magnetic sails, Bussard ramjets, laser and maser driven craft, and even nuclear powered spacecraft such as Project Orion. Written in an easy-to-understand manner, Gilster provides explanations of a multitude of propulsion options. In other words, you don't have to have a degree in physics to understand this book.

Also considered in this book is the sorts of technological advances in electronics and nanotechnology that would be required for such missions to become a reality. For example, a robotic interstellar probe would have to "heal its own wounds" so to speak.

One of my favorite excerpts:

"In a way, a Centauri probe isn't modern. Paradoxically, it may require medieval thinking, the sort of thinking that built cathedrals in Chartres and Salisbury and Cologne. Just as the stonecutters and masons of twelfth century France found themselves awash in a sea of endless time, dwarfed no less by the monuments they built than by the vastness of the eternity the sought to suggest in their stained glass windows, so the builders of the first star probe will be overwhelmed by the immensity of distance."

-Paul Gilster, Centauri Dreams


My favorite feature of the book is that it is a current look at what we have to work with, and where these technologies could take us in the future. I would positively recommend this book to anyone interested in our future in space. Young or old, scientist or not, we all have something to learn about interstellar flight! Pick up your own copy of the book at Amazon!

I receive no compensation, monetary or otherwise, for the publishing of this review.

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