Sunshine and Discovery

In relation to the movie Sunshine we watched, space travel and orbit is always an interesting topic to man. In the news, they just launched the final mission of the spaceship Discovery. By the time this voyage ends, it will have had 39 missions into space and covered 143 million miles while in orbit. After discovering so much about space and orbit over the past 30 years, however, the ship is about to be retired. The establishment of President Kennedy’s 30 year Space Program led to continued government support and aid for their launches. At the end of the program this year, however, it is unclear how much space travel NASA will continue without the funding. Recently, President Obama has cancelled the idea of future trips to the moon for man. Instead he wants to focus the money and technology into developing factories to turn soil from the Moon and Mars into rocket fuel. It may be years before we see another shuttle launch into space until this new technology can be created.

Now about the movie. It is highly unlikely that any spaceship could reach the sun considering how extremely hot it is. Its surface is approximately 1000⁰F, 5500⁰C to be exact. So far there are no man-made or chemical materials that can withstand that heat. Even diamonds and tungsten, which has the highest melting point known to man, would melt in orbit before it reached the surface of the sun. The movie tries to account for this technology by basing it 50 years in the future. Some scientists now do say that this only accounts for passive material we have and not any “active shield” that could somehow refract the energy of the sun and use a cooling agent to protect itself. However, I find it improbable that any shield will still be created to withstand the sun’s power in this century. Also, in the movie it took about 16 months for the Icarus II to reach the sun. The Discovery already travels at speeds of 17,500 mph and the sun is about 93 million miles from Earth. That means, even with technology now, it would only take the current spaceship we have 221 days, or just over 7 months, to reach the Sun’s surface. Even with a much heavy spaceship and carrying the “payload” they should be able to make the speed of crafts in space fast in 50 years, not slower.

There may be a bit of truth in the movie about the sun dying. In an interview with Brain Cox, a physicist and scientific advisor for Sunshine, he admits the idea of the movie came when he and the writers made up supposed Q-balls, particles created by the big bang, which could be entering the core of the sun and damaging it. However, they deny the accuracy because the Sun is not dense enough to allow this. Still, the theory that the Sun is dying is believed by many, even if it is 5 billion years away.

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