It seems that every few months I think to myself “I should really post about Flight to the Stars”, and once again I’ve seen a link that reminds me to do so. This time, I actually seem to be managing to post.
The book was published by Temple Press Books in London in 1965, and the author has an impressive string of letters after his name¹. It’s subtitled “An Inquiry Into The Feasibility Of Interstellar Flight”, and it’s split into three sections.
The first, Phase I, defines the scope of the book. Covering the distances involved, hoped-for travel times (using the exponential curve for speed which seems, sadly, to be wrong) and so on, the book concludes that by 2400 a generation ship can travel within its five parsec radius by accelerating to 0.05c (five percent of the speed of light, 5 psol), coasting, then decelerating. The journey would take a century, meaning just three generations; enough, he hopes, to maintain a continuity of purpose. It also suggests a reconnaissance flight, between the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, where the ship could be tested, and considers the possibilities of hibernation.
(One of the best recommendations in this section of the book is that starships should travel in fleets, or at least pairs, if for no other reason than, given light-speed lag, communication with Earth is likely to be stilted at best.)
Phase II goes on to consider the stellar neighbourhood in more detail, settling on some likely targets (Tau Ceti wins), the chances of finding habitable planets around them, how to navigate a starship, and the chances of finding other life.
Phase III is where the science fiction really comes in. A far wider, 50 parsec, radius is chosen, on the grounds speeds may improve and colonies may be able to spawn their own emigrant ships. There’s another survey of the stellar neighbourhood, taking in the three-dimensional layout of the Plough, for example, and then a look at the possibilities offered by FTL travel (although they’re considered with a huge grain of salt). The book concludes with a look at the then-young SETI (known then as Project OZMA).
Looking back from nearly fifty years later, the book generally holds up fairly well. The discussion of science and engineering has stood the test of time best; there’s barely any sociological thinking about crews, for example. The general outline of the generation ship’s construction and flight plan seems sane, even though we’re not really much closer to building it. I’m very happy to have a copy.
¹ The full list, for the curious: James Strong B. Sc (Eng), ACGI, AFRAeS, FBIS