CENTAURI DREAMS: Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration

Paul Gilster, Author
Paul Gilster, Author . Copernicus $25 (302p) ISBN 978-0-387-00436-5
Reviewed on: 01/10/2005
Release date: 10/01/2004

Science and SF writer Gilster's latest isn't only an enlightening tour of the propulsion and communication systems and the materials that might take us (in unmanned or even manned probes) to the Centauri triple-star system 4.3 light years away (nearby in interstellar terms). The book is also a plea to remember that the urge to explore the unknown is what makes us human and that the future may not be as far away as we think. What separates this work from many scientific explorations of topics typically relegated to science fiction is that none of the methods described require breakthroughs in physics: we need no faster-than-light travel, no warp drive, no hyperspace or wormholes. All today's scientists need is the time, funding and license to turn their thought experiments into engineering problems. Like a master kite flyer, Gilster slowly lets out the line and allows the magnificent dreams of interstellar flight to soar—describing the relevant technologies we already possess—then he reels readers back in by pointing out the lack of funding and the distance these theories still need to go before becoming reality. The technologies include sails that capture light instead of wind; a combination of fusion and antimatter reactions; and artificially intelligent computer systems that evolve over time. Metaphors and examples based on common experience put the science in perspective. This work is not only a clear, well-thought-out explanation of theoretical science and engineering but also food for the soul of anyone who has ever thought that space is a great adventure waiting to happen. (Jan.)

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