(Submitted April 03, 1998)
Within the next 50 years will it be possible to travel to other stars
within our own galaxy?
...outside our galaxy? ...ignoring money, what are the major limiting
technologies? Thanks for whatever information you can supply!!
It will not be possible to send people to other stars within 50 years. The
nearest star to the Sun is about 4.3 light years away, so even if we had a
spaceship which could travel at a tenth of the speed of light, we would
have to leave in the next seven years in order to get there in time. Right
now, we don't even have a space ship which could get to the Moon.
In 50 years, if we work hard, we might be able to build robotic probes
which can get to the nearest stars a few decades later. One suggested
probe is StarWisp
which weighs about half an ounce--not much room for a passenger and life
The main problem is that of propulsion. Even using hydrogen fusion, we
would need hundreds or thousands of times as much fuel as payload in order
to get up to a few percent of lightspeed. Compared to that, the problems
of maintaining a life-support system for the decades that the trip will
take are trivial engineering details.
As for intergalactic travel, even the over-optimistic Star Trek: Voyager
using hyperdrive requires a lifetime of travel just to get from the far
side of the galaxy to here. The Magellanic Clouds are only 160,000 light
years away, but the nearest big galaxy, in Andromeda, is a couple of
million light years away.
Without major breakthroughs in physics, interstellar travel will always
require heroic efforts over decades or centuries.
More information is available at
for Ask an Astrophysicist
Questions on this topic are no longer responded to by the "Ask an Astrophysicist" service. See http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/ask_an_astronomer.html
for help on other astronomy Q&A services.