In the Year 2000: ’61 Life Magazine on Future Space

life_solarsails.jpg

Flickr group “In the Year 2000” participant “adm” scanned a few pages from a 1961 Life magazine, including these dreamt-up images of a solar wind-power regatta. adm says:

this is from the april 21, 1961 issue of Life magazine. most of the issue is devoted to yuri gagarin, who had just returned to earth, and americans (judging from the tone of the articles) were FREAKING OUT that the soviets had beaten them to space. much of the issue reads like a study of a national identity crisis. so, life tried to pick up everyone’s spirits by running a few drawings of what OUR spaceships would look like, if we ever got around to building any.

spaceship of the future (1961) [Flickr]

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4 Responses to In the Year 2000: ’61 Life Magazine on Future Space

  1. Stefan Jones says:

    The bulbous thing on the next page is one of the “nuclear pulse” propulsion types. The spherical part would be filled with thin gas, and a very small atomic bomb would be detonated inside. This would heat the gas, which would shoot out the rear creating thrust.

    Contrast with “Project Orion,” which would detonate little nukes behind a sturdy steel pusher plate. The nuke would be coated in a material which would vaporize and PING! off the plate, transmitting the kinetic energy to the spaceship.

  2. Daniel Rutter says:

    It’s hard to see how big these sails are expected to be, but unless the tiny capsules on the corners are meant to be the size of Manhattan, they’re probably far, far too small to get more than a tiny fraction of a newton of push from the feeble solar wind.

    (Just as well, too, or the solar wind would have blown our planet out into the freezing night long ago.)

    The text also makes reference to “tacking like a sailboat in the wind”, which would be completely impossible. Sailing craft can tack only because they’re sitting on water and have a keel, which makes it much easier for the boat to move forward than for it to move sideways.

    No equivalent of the keel can exist in space, so solar sails just go where the solar wind pushes them, with a pushing force determined by the distance from the sun and the cross-sectional area the spacecraft presents to the solar wind.

    (None of this applies, of course, in the case of solar sails made by ancient Bajorans.)

  3. Teresa Nielsen Hayden/Moderator says:

    A masterful summary.

  4. Joel Johnson says:

    Dan, so great to see you here!

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