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Friday, June 17, 2011

Breaking the Light Barrier

When I first read books about how to write science fiction there seemed to be a lot of discussions about which method of traveling faster than the speed light was correct or not correct.  There are arguments that you can't use faster than the speed of light because it is scientifically impossible to go faster than the speed of light.  If you want to use the same characters and have them travel about the universe and have different adventures you have to have some means of crossing these vast distances without them being cytogenetically frozen or animated, because frankly a ship of sleeping people isn't very exciting to read about.
Plus anybody who is a Star Trek fan knows why Deep Space Nine failed, because the ship didn't move.  Part of the excitement is some monstrous ship popping into to view to save or ruin the day depending upon the plot.
I am a huge fan of the movie, "The World's Fastest Indian," where Anthony Hopkins plays Burt Munro.  It is the true story of Burt Munro of Invercargill, New Zealand, who broke and still holds the worlds land speed record for under 1000cc on a motorcycle.  In 1920, Burt bought a 1920 Indian motorcycle from America.  It was the 627th one off the assembly line.  Originally this model of bike had a displacement of 600cc and a top speed of 55 mph.  Burt loved speed and as you can tell by the amount of money that goes into every form of racing every year, humans are obsessed with speed.  It wasn't long before he started modifying his motorcycle.  Eventually Burt wanted to know how fast his bike could actually go so he crated it up and brought it to America to race it during speed week at the Salt Flats, Utah.
Burt set his first world record in 1962 with the engine bored out to 850cc with an official record of 178.95 mph.  He set another record in 1966 at 168.066 mph.  Lastly in 1967 he got the record for 190.07 mph for under 1000cc on a motorcycle.  He still holds the record today; even he died at the age of 78 on June 6th, 1978.  That means he was 67 years old when he set his world land speed record!  Burt had an unofficial time of the flying mile where he was clocked at the flats at 205.67 mph.  He did all this on his 1920 Indian that was heavily modified.
I remember that when automobiles where created people said if you went faster than 30 mph you wouldn't be able to breathe.  The sound barrier was impossible to break, until Chuck Yeager blew the hell out of that.  Today we have jets that can do multiples of breaking the sound barrier.  It won't be some scientist who figures out how to go faster than the speed of light.  But someday some old fool crack pot with an old beat up space craft will just go "Beep. Beep." and Poof will disappear only to reappear later with some wild tale of flying through the Galaxy in seconds.
It takes the desire to push the limit, the tenacity to build it, and the balls to get on it and try it.


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