Beyond the Spaceplane

Someday the spaceplane will be as fondly remembered as the Conestoga wagon of the American pioneer, or the nineteenth-century steam locomotive. Space history books of the future may actually devote an entire chapter to the ancient spaceplane, the first fully reusable, practical spaceship. What type of space vessel could possibly succeed the spaceplane?

Certainly, anything more advanced than the spaceplane will have all the features that ensured its own success: reusability, ease of operation, affordability, reliability, and, of course, safety. What, aside from magic, could upstage these characteristics? To be sure, the fantastic craft beyond the spaceplane will be rooted in technology as firmly as any other machine. What might these features be? Here we enter the realm of informed speculation, liberally laced with a dose of creative imagination, yet still rooted firmly in factual physics.

The space vessels of the extreme future will not require wings at all, nor will they even require propellants. They will, nevertheless, harness far greater energies than any rocket or spaceplane that came before it. They will be capable of not only interplanetary flight on a routine basis but also interstellar travel. Their energy source and means of propulsion will be one and the same, based on an understanding of gravitational field physics that our best twenty-first-century scientists have yet to master. With this knowledge, engineers of the future will design spacecraft that will create local distortions in gravity fields, enabling extreme accelerations without inertial effects. Advances in physics, likely supplanting or updating Einstein's theory of General Relativity, will inevitably enable the construction of these seemingly magical devices. By manipulating gravity, both space and even time itself will be controlled, allowing our species the freedom to finally roam the universe. But that is the subject of another book!

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