Get Neil deGrasse Tyson on the phone! Stephen Hawking! Somebody from NASA!
I’ve figured out how humanity can explore the universe, and on the cheap too.
My inspiration came from a Discovery Channel “Atlas 4D” episode we were watching this week, about the birth of the Hawaiian Islands. They weren’t always the luscious tropical paradise they are now. They began as sheer, bare lava rock, built up over time from undersea lava flows and eventually popping above the ocean surface. Just rock — no plants, no animals, no life.
Until some hardy little seeds carried by the trade winds landed on that lava rock and managed to survive. The plants grew, then decayed, forming soil that allowed other wind-drift seeds to fall and take root. Eventually, migrating birds were attracted to the vegetation, and began using the islands for a pit stop.
Around 300 A.D., Polynesians noticed the annual migration, and followed the birds to find their destination. They got in boats and rowed for as far as they could follow the birds until they disappeared on the horizon, noted that spot, and then returned to that spot the following year to wait for the birds and follow them for the next chunk. This ratcheting process took them 400 years.
Four hundred years!
Yes, that deserves both words and numerals! Consider that humans of that time only lived about 40 years, which means that it took 10 generations to build on what their forebears started. This doesn’t exactly have anything to do with my astounding breakthrough on space exploration, but the story’s just too cool not to mention.
My husband and I were decompressing in the back yard with a glass of wine last night, and I was still thinking about those little seeds, carried along for the ride on the trade winds … no effort required … hitchhiking across the globe …
And then … boom.
We could do the same thing in space! All we need to do is catch a ride on a comet!
Stop snickering and just hear me out. Just like my husband had to.
After my initial flash of genius, the details began unfolding in my head at warp speed and pouring right out my mouth.
“It’s just like the seeds! All we need to do is mathematically calculate a rocket launch so that it lands on a passing comet. Not too big a comet, or one too small, mind you … a Goldilocks sort of comet that circles back around every 20 years or so, so a person could easily complete the trip in a lifetime.”
I asked Joe if rockets can travel at the speed of comets, (besides being The Cutest Man In The World, his other alias is He Who Knows Everything) and he confirmed that they can. Aha! Then they could catch a comet and hitch a ride on it! We’ll equip them with bat hooks, see, which will shoot out and latch onto the comet, and woo hoo — on to the next star!
It’s perfect, I declared. A 20-year ride to explore the galaxy, no problem! Surely there are some young astronauts who’d commit to a two-decade rocket ride around the universe! It’s the opportunity, nay, the dream, of a lifetime!
“How are you going to carry enough oxygen to last 20 years?” Joe asked, a wry, HWKE engineer’s smirk spreading on his face, certain that he’d pinched off my hyperactive little buds of creativity.
I pondered for only a moment, and had the answer: Midgets.
The entire crew will consist of midgets. They’re smaller, take up less space, and will need less oxygen. We’ll attach oxygen tanks in a string of containers behind the rocket, like a kite tail, and they can just reel them in as they need them.
“And what about water?” he chuckled.
Duh. The comet’s tail is made of ice. Just catch it in big space scoops and reel that in too. And to make sure they don’t run out of ice, they can just pee off the back of the rocket and replenish the tail. Air problem — solved. Water problem — solved.
Of course, the comet riders would need to eat too. Hmmm…
“How much beef jerky do you think midgets need to survive,” I asked him.
And that was about when TCMITW/HWKE lost it and started laughing so hard, I thought he was going to choke on his own throat.
“You laugh, but it’s possible, isn’t it! Isn’t it!” I demanded. “We could hitch a ride on a comet!”
When he was able to inhale without spasms, he agreed that it’s possible. He also managed to add, between snorts, that usually you have to be high to think this stuff up. I told him it was a pity we weren’t high, because if we were, he’d take me seriously, instead of giving me a bunch of smartypants engineer grief. He’d exhale one long, slow “Wow,” and then we’d sit there, steeping in hazy wonder, imagining our mini selves streaking through the universe, eating beef jerky…
Lots of beef jerky…
That would sound so amazing, if we were high. And then we’d rummage through the kitchen cupboards, settle on a bag of stale Doritos and some grape jelly, fall asleep in front of the TV, and forget the entire brilliant plan, and all would be lost.
“But — I’m not high!” I reminded him. “I’ll remember every detail, and I’m totally serious: midgets in space, living on beef jerky, playing ‘Battleship’ with the comet tail, and practically for free, because you wouldn’t need rocket fuel. The comet would be the fuel. Admit it! It’s genius.”
“I suppose it’s a better plan than cats wearing watermelon helmets,” he snickered.
Cats in watermelon helmets. That was my next idea if we couldn’t get any midgets.
It’s like he can read my mind.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com