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Monday, May 2, 2016

How it works

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, to herald new discoveries, is not Eureka (I found it!) but that's funny...
--Attributed to Isaac Asimov

There are online debates as to who originally said the above quote and I'm not going to go into that here. Asimov said many wise things. That's good enough for me.  Another guy recently had a 'that's funny' moment. In 2001 Roger Shawyer designed an electromagnetic propulsion drive. It was innovative, unconventional and defied the laws of physics, namely the law of momentum conservation.

-Momentum is neither created nor destroyed, but only changes through the action of forces, as described by Newton's laws.-

Are you with me so far?
Shawyer admitted he didn't know how his system increases momentum, but it did. By bouncing microwaves back and forth in a truncated cone, tiny amounts of thrust were created. He discovered propellentless drives.
Think about that. Every rocket we make has fuel tanks that make up a significant part of it's design. We're limited by how far we can go in the solar system by the size of our gas tank.
Of course the scientific community was skeptical. A few years back, some backyard inventors tried to get out the word they created a room temperature fusion. You know, fusion is what happens in the sun. Mind boggling burning temperatures, immense pressure, eyeball searing bright light (because hey, it's the sun.) If it sounds too good to be true, subject it to peer review and have an independent lab recreate your results. That was the problem: no one could recreate the result. Cold fusion went the way of the frictionless flywheel. But here's where the EM drive is different.
Several scientists have recreated the result, in a vacuum no less. UK physicist Micheal McCulloch has a hypothesis on how the EM drive works.  We have known about microwaves for a while now. Percy Spencer accidentally discovered microwave ovens at Raytheon in 1945 when the candy bar in his pocket melted. Talk about a 'That's funny' moment.
I truly believe we are in an age of invention. We (the human race) are plugging in things that normally don't go together, blending to create new and altogether different stuff.
This EM drive has a lot of promise. I believe it's a matter of time before we put the basics together and build a spacecraft for exploring the solar system and beyond.

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