China – gunpowder invented

Gunpowder propelled missiles were used as weapons in 10th century China. In the 13th century, the Mongols used the Chinese technology of gunpowder weapons to great effect in establishing an Empire from the Adriatic to the Pacific. They used gunpowder in guns and bombs as well as rockets. The technology was rapidly developed by their nervous neighbours.

The first manned flight in rocket powered craft was in 16th century China. Wan Hu invented a kite-like monoplane powered by 30 rockets, but he was killed on his first flight. This disaster as well as the attitudes of the Ming government at the time kept this a solitary legendary incident.


In the 18th century Hyder Ali, Prince of Mysore, and his son, Tippu Sultan, employed rockets successfully against British troops. The rockets were cased in iron with a range up to 1½ miles. They were used in volleys of 2,000 at a time at a distance of over half a mile.


This led to efforts to develop the weapon at the Woolwich Arsenal. At the beginning of the 19th century William Congreve developed a rocket which was used in the Napoleonic wars and later in 1814 against Fort McHenry, Baltimore.


A rocket propelled flying vehicle was designed by engineer Nikolai Kibalenich (1853-1881). He was still working on his design in prison before his execution for revolutionary activities against the Tsar.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935), was the first to work out the theory of space travel by rocket flight and propose as fuel, liquid oxygen or liquid hydrogen.

Tsiolkovsky lived in Kaluga, Russia. He was left deaf by scarlet fever as a child, and had to study by himself for 14 years to qualify as a teacher. He worked alone in his home workshop with only his teacher's salary to finance his work. He published in

1883 – an article on space flight "Free Space".

1895 – an article on an artificial Earth Satellite in "Dreams of Earth and Sky"

1903 – his calculations proved that space travel by rocket flight was possible and predicted and solved most of the basic engineering problems of astronautics.

The Paris Gun, Germany

In 1918, in World War I, the longest yet flight of a shell (weighing 11.5 kg) was fired on Paris from a range of 75 miles by the Germans from "the Paris Gun". The Treaty of Versailles limited the calibre of weapons which the German army could use so the Army Weapons Dept. in Berlin looked to the development of rockets.

USSR - research begins

1921, the new USSR sets up a state laboratory for research on rockets under Tikhomirov.


1926 Robert Goddard (1882-1945) with funding from the Smithsonian Institute, successfully launched the first liquid fuel rocket in his back garden.


1927 – Group of German rocket enthusiasts founded (officially amateur).

1928 – German rocket plane flies just over a kilometre a minute.


1929 Group for Development of Rocket Engines formed within Gas Dynamics Laboratory, under Glusako, in Leningrad (now renamed St.Petersburg).

1931 – groups in Leningrad and Moscow founded for the study of Reaction Propulsion (In Moscow this was under Fridrich Tsander).


The first German rocket flight by the first radio-controlled rocket was developed by Professor Erich Regener who originally intended it for meteorology use. Regener was a meteorologist who was researching the ozone layer. Regener was sacked from Stuttgart University because his wife was Jewish. His services were demanded for military purposes but Regener refused unless his wife was safely living with him, so he was imprisoned with his wife on an island laboratory on Lake Constance.

In 1930, the Ballistic Council of the Army Weapons Dept. in Berlin, appointed Walter Dornberger to run its research programme. He picked Wernher Von Braun as a technical assistant and Walter Reidel as test engineer, and set up the Kummesdorf West Experimental Station near Berlin.

1932 - liquid fuel rocket tested – this was soon after the Nazis acquired a majority in the Reichstag and Hitler took over as Chancellor.


1933 "GIRD OG" launched near Moscow. One of the design team was Sergei Korolyov. GIRD X liquid-fuelled rocket designed by Fridrich Tsander reaches 80 metres.


1934 – Germans launch A-1, then A-2, to 1½ miles up.

1936 – move to site at Peenemünde on the north coast and collaboration with Luftwafte for military rocket development. A-3 burns liquid oxygen and alcohol like A-1 but is 5 times larger – 7.6m. high and 0.75m diameter weight 750 kg. Many more experts recruited.

1939 visited by Hitler. A-4 given priority and A-5 tested, reaching height of 7½ miles over range of 11 miles. Peenemünde now most advanced and largest rocket establishment in the world as in:


1937, despite successful launches of designs by Sergei Korolyov, GIRD, the Group Studying Rocket Propulsion – also called Group Working For Nothing, was purged by Stalin. Korolyov was sent to a Gulag.

During the war, Korolyov was part of a team of imprisoned scientists (later rehabilitated by Khrushchev).


1942 – A-4 tested. It travelled 120 miles and came down only 2½ miles off target. Germany now has a new weapon better than the Paris Gun. Goes into mass production with visits by Hitler, Speer, Himmler etc.


British intelligence on this is hopeless. Only R. V. Jones had the necessary scientific knowledge on the team. Others only knew about the rockets on Bonfire Night and were looking for a giant version launched from a huge milk bottle (true).


Peenemünde did get bombed by the RAF but they mostly killed the prisoner slave labour from which the British had been getting most of their intelligence. Production was delayed slightly. The rocket research was moved to Blizna where the work was done by slave labour from a concentration camp under the SS. conditions were so bad that Speer insisted the SS improved them.

1944, the attempt to kill Hitler as Russians advance from the east and Germany is losing the war. Polish resistance manage to get hold of a test rocket that had landed in swampy ground and work on it. Another A-4 went wide and landed on Sweden. Hitler was furious.


More rockets found after D-Day. It was realized that tremendous damage would be inflicted on London – even worse than the damage done by the "flying bomb" – V.1. (Vergeltungswaffe – Revenge Weapon). But the rocket called the V.2, did not seem a threat by the British Government until…

A-4 offensive under General Hans Kammler. The original launching sites were already in Allied hands so mobile launchers made. First two aimed at Paris on 7th September and failed, later ones successful. So they moved to Holland to bomb London. At this time in Britain they thought the war was nearly over and civil defence precautions were abandoned. On the 8th September at 6.34 pm a V.2 landed in Stavely Road, Chiswick and another in Epping.

The explosions could be heard from miles away which made it difficult for the government to hush up casualties. They did silence the British press but it was reported in America. More V.2s followed and the damage continued to be hushed up the British Government. They fell mostly East of London – Walthamstow, Ilford, Dagenham. There were no warnings, so people could not take shelter. The government claimed it was gas explosions.

There was massive destructions and deaths all winter, 4415 in Essex and London, also Herts., Norfolk and Kent.

The launches were very accurate. One of the first V.2.s landed on the Firestone factory on the Great West Road. The XX Committee (M16 secret service) consulted with scientists and agreed to give reports of the landings but with false places. There were arguments with the government. The Ministry of Production who wanted to protect armament and work areas, the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison who wanted to avoid unnecessary loss of life. Eventually there was a directive that the North West of London be protected as much as possible. That is why the East of London got most of the V.2.s and most of the casualties. Reports given by the agent code named Garbo (Juan Pujoi – Spanish) convinced the very accurate German launchers to shorten their range. They also staged his arrest (An idea planned by Tommy Harris) to make the Germans think he was believed spying on the V. bomb areas so the information was genuine and he received an Iron Cross from his German employers.

The V.2.s ended on 6th April 1945 as …


Peenmünde had to be evacuated to escape the Russian advance.

Wernher von Braun made plans to flee to the Americans (they had not been murdered and bombed by Germans so there was less of a revenge factor). He felt the Americans would give him privileged treatment in exchange for his country's secrets. Von Braun grabbed the last stocks of rocket fuel (as there was no petrol left) and fled in a chauffeur-driven alcohol powered car until his driver fell asleep at the wheel and they crashed. He woke in hospital with an injured arm and shoulder. Then he left with Dornberger on 6th April for Oberjoch near Oberammergau.

On the way, they left films, drawings and documents in an abandoned mine in the Harz Mountains and blasted the entrance shut, so if they had backed the wrong winner they could return to work on the more advanced and destructive missiles that von Braun was designing. Then they stayed in a hotel in comfort waiting to surrender to the Americans. 2nd May they were in Garnisch-Partenkirchen as honoured guests of the USA -instead of being treated as the mass-murderers they were.


By December 1945, most of the Germans who had helped develop the V.2. were in the USA with laundered records.

April 1946, America's first V.2. launched in New Mexico. Von Braun died of cancer in 1977, aged 65, Dornberger became obscure.

Secrets of the Saucer Scientists

In all probability the first saucer scientists were rocket scientists. Without a doubt one of these great men was the pioneering rocket scientist, Professor Hermann Oberth.

Oberth was a writer, scientist, and visionary from Rumania whose paper, The Rocket Into Interplanetary Space, was published in 1923 and served as an inspiration to the rocket designers that followed. Wernher von Braun read Oberth's work in 1925 and joined him in rocket experiments in 1930.

In letters to Donald Keyhoe (1), Oberth mentions his belief that saucers are spaceships manned by superior beings. He says that the marvelous aerodynamics of the saucers is accomplished by generating an artificial gravity field. This is the famous G-field theory. The saucers create their own gravitational fields which enables them to hover motionless above the earth, accelerate at tremendous speeds, or execute violent turns that would cause ordinary aircraft to disintegrate. Even with swift changes of speed and direction, the passengers would feel no effect. It would also explain the silence of UFOs in flight as the artificial G-field would drag the surrounding air along with it. And, because the air is not flowing pass the hull, it would eliminate heating caused by friction.

Statements have been made that saucer behavior defies the laws of physics. It seemed impossible that a manned craft could execute such tremendous accelerations from a hovering position to a high-speed linear velocity or in high-speed acute-angled turns. Inertial forces caused by such accelerations would tear apart an aircraft frame. And, often, the picture came to mind of a human pilot ending up flat as a pancake against the cabin wall. Gerald Heard, in his book Is Another World Watching? hypothesized that the saucers were being flown by insects because only insects could survive those wrenching turns. All of these concerns evaporate when one considers the physics of G-field propulsion.

In a revealing document published in Status Report VII by the late pioneering researcher Leonard Stringfield, a preliminary report refers to a recovered flying disc. The report does not specifically mention Roswell, but states that the data in the report was provided by the engineering staff of T-2 at the Air Material Command at Wright Field. One of the scientist examining the evidence is Dr. Theodore von Karmen, founder of Aerojet, and then head of the Army Air Forces Scientific Advisory Group. Dr. von Karmen was a leading authority on aerodynamics and had authored papers, both in English and German on the subject. Another renowned scientist mentioned in the report is Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, Director of the Manhattan Project and a leading physicist of his day.

In the opinion of these two famous scientists the interior of the craft contained a compartment with an atomic engine. The device was a donut-shaped tube approximately thirty-five feet in diameter, made of what appeared to be plastic material around a central core. A large rod centered inside the tube was wrapped in a coil and the investigators believed it to be the source of electrical potential which ionized the surrounding air around the craft.(2)

There will be questions and doubts about this document, but the recurring theme behind the exotic propulsion found in these craft is found again and again. The relation between high electrical potentials and gravity was the object of scientific research and classified studies conducted by aircraft companies in the fifties. In fact, the coming age of anti-gravity was mentioned in popular magazines of the fifties, and yet little is known about what developed from this research.

An experimenter by the name of George S. Piggot conducted some amazing experiments in 1904. He made use of an apparatus that had a rotating spherical electrode mounted on a stand. He was able to suspend, against gravity, small metal balls by means of a strong electric field. Extending for about .5 cm. around the perimeter of the objects there was a mysterious dark band. Such dark bands and dark spots have been observed on UFOs. He also succeeded in suspending nonmetallic objects such as cork and wood. These objects would oscillate up and down around the center of the field. An improved Wimshurst generator supplied the spherical electrode with approximately 500, 000 volts of potential.

Dr. Francis Nipher, once professor of physics at Washington University, St. Louis performed a modification of the Cavendish experiment in 1916. Nipher used a one-inch lead ball suspended with an untwisted silk thread approximately 180 cm. long and centered inside a 5-inch-square box or Faraday Shield. He placed an insulated 10-inch-diameter lead sphere next to the iron box. A copper wire connected the large sphere to the metal box to keep them at the same potential. When the large sphere was electrified using a high-voltage influence generator, the normal attraction of gravity between the two spheres was reversed and the small suspended sphere was repelled from the larger by about twice the deflection caused by gravity. Reversing the polarity did not alter the effect. Nipher thought that the gravitation force was reduced by the electrical potential applied to a mass.

In a letter to researcher William Steinman, Dr. Robert I. Sarbacher who was with the Washington Institute of Technology, confirms that some of the scientists involved in the study of recovered flying discs were Dr. Vannever Bush, John von Neumann, and Dr. Robert Oppenheimer. (3) Steinman also discovered that one of the scientists working on saucer technology from the early days was Dr. Eric Henry Wang who became Director of the Department of Special Studies, within the Structures Division, of the old Wright Air Development Center, near Dayton, Ohio.

Another significant scientist and UFO researcher from the early era was T. Townsend Brown who conducted experiments with suspended charged capacitors which exhibited anti-gravity effects. When the capacitor was charged, it exhibited a forward thrust towards the positive pole. When the capacitor was mounted vertically on a beam balance, the positive-pole vectored thrust lifted the capacitor. This did not involve the expulsion of charged particles to produce thrust as in an ion rocket. Brown felt he discovered the principle of electro-gravitation.

Agnew H. Banson Jr. was another inventor who studied saucers and experimented with electro-gravitation. He patented an electrical thrust-producing device in 1966.

Lieutenant Plantier of the French Air Force was another scientist who theorized about saucer technology in the early era. Like Oberth, he attributed saucer dynamics to the generation of a gravity field around the craft. He also stated that the machine would carry the air around the craft. It could withstand enormous accelerations because every atom of the passengers and craft are uniformly accelerated without inertial lag. We have grown accustomed to inertial acceleration and lag in our own ground and air transport. We experience that acceleration after a time lag, the time it takes for the thrust to reach our bodies. In a saucer, thrust is instantaneous and is applied to all objects within the field at the same time. The earth itself is experiencing angular acceleration in its solar orbit, yet we do not feel these minute changes in velocity as we are all embedded within the solar gravitational field.

The Department of Defense was not ignoring these ideas, but was more intent on turning theory into practice. In June, 1957 G. Harry Stine wrote for Mechanix Illustrated magazine that "there is a good chance that the rocket will be obsolete for space travel within 50 years". This was at a time when the multi-stage rockets were being fired from White Sands Army Proving Grounds in New Mexico. Though Wernher von Braun saw the multi-stage rocket as a solution to space travel, able to boost a payload beyond the pull of earth's gravity, the DOD had other purposes in mind. The rocket was the dream of the future, and yet Stine was predicting its obsolescence. That was because he was aware of T.T. Brown's work on electro-gravity and the DOD contractors that were working on anti-gravity -- the Glenn L. Martin Company, Bell Aircraft, General Electric, and Sperry-Rand just to name a few.

In July, 1957 another article appeared in the same magazine,. this one written by Michael Gladych. He begins by describing the following:

The spherical craft squatting on a concrete strip emitted a faint hum. A ghostly glow surrounded its shell. The strange craft rose and hovered momentarily while its landing gear retracted. Then the hum increased and the craft shot eastward and vanished beyond the horizon before the witnessing scientists could click their stop watches.

Sounds like a typical UFO sighting, but he goes on to say that the Canadian government's Project Magnet had been working on a gravity-defying vehicle powered by electromagnetic forces. He also states that at least 14 United States universities and other research centers were hard at work cracking the gravity barrier and also mentions the Glen L. Martin Company and Bell Aircraft as well as others.

Even the late Lawrence D. Bell said that they were on the threshold of amazing new concepts (beyond the Bell research rocket planes) . Bell said, "We are already working with nuclear fuels and equipment to cancel out gravity instead of fighting it." This article concludes by saying, "Make no mistake about it, anti-gravity motors and G-ships are coming."

And, we are still waiting! Or, have we developed anti-gravity spacecraft in secret?

Keyhoe looked into this possibility and found that our government had set up 46 different research projects on various aspects of gravity control.

The Air Force ran 33 of those projects. Experiments and research were conducted at two Air Force laboratories: Flight Dynamics and General Physics Research. Other labs involved were RCA, MIT and several engineering centers. A large number of corporations were involved in gravity research of the fifties: Bell Aerospace, General Electric, Hughes Aircraft, Boeing, Douglas and others. There were at least 65 to 70 projects going on.

Dr. Oberth believed that "energy, inertia, and gravitational fields are only aspects of one and the same thing". William P. Lear agreed with him and predicted that future U.S. vehicles will also use artificial gravity. He said, "people on board would probably not feel any more effect than they do from the tremendous speed of the Earth as it rotates and orbits the sun." It is certain that Lear's son, John, is prepared to fly such a craft.

Years ago, Glenn Martin's vice-president of advanced design, G.S. Trimble, predicted that by 1985 practically all airliners would be using artificial gravity, yet the 1995 debut of Boeing's most advanced jetliner, the 777, still uses turbojet propulsion.

One of the leading physicists of the German Institute of Field Physics at Göttingen, Germany, Dr. Burkhard Heim had been searching for the answer to the riddle of gravity. He said that he had discovered a positive lead to antigravity. The discovery involved an intermediate field, neither electromagnetic nor gravitational. The results, applied to space flight, would be direct levitation, conversion of electricity into kinetic energy without any waste, and "immunizing the occupants and the structures of such vehicles against any effects from acceleration of the vehicle, however great or violent."

The Martin subsidiary that investigated gravity control was RIAS Inc. Now, the Glenn Martin Company through a series of evolutionary mergers has absorbed GE Aerospace and merged with Lockheed to become the Martin-Lockheed Company, a company known to be in the forefront of classified aerospace craft.

In a book entitled Spacepower (1958), fusion, photon, and anti-gravity propulsion techniques were considered to be accomplished facts beyond 1990. If they are secret accomplished facts, why are we still flying that flaming torch called the STS?

Was Project Outgrowth a secret Air Force project that attempted to utilize the knowledge gained in field propulsion research? Twenty-eight members of the Air Force Systems Command at Edward's Air Force Base published a technical report dated June, 1972 that covered such categories as: electrostatics effects, Alfven wave propulsion, electromagnetic spacecraft propulsion, superconducting particle accelerators, and anti-gravity propulsion. The Air Force Systems Command also has a presence at Groom Lake in Area 51. I asked a colleague, Randy Koppang, to see if he could get a hold of this document. He contacted the Edwards AFB library. The librarian informed Randy that the report was removed from the library and was not available to the public.

According to Bill Jenkins who hosted the Open Mind talk-radio show a few years ago, there was a secret showing of our own antigravity aircraft at Norton AFB on November 12, 1988 Norton was also home to the Air Force's Audio-Visual Division for the investigation of crashed aircraft (or UFOs). A flying saucer was put on display in a guarded hangar. The electro-gravity engine in the craft was built by GE Aerospace and the composite skin structure supposedly made by AMOCO. Was this craft a result of back-engineering of alien spacecraft?

By now most Ufologists have heard the story told by the controversial Bob Lazar concerning his work at S4 on the Sports Model. He described a high voltage glow around the craft and the use of gravity waves to propel it. It almost sounds like a reprise of the Mechanix Illustrated article from 1957. Skeptical scientists do not think Lazar is a physicists as he professes, but stop short of saying that he has fabricated his detailed story of S4. In actual fact, others have talked about the S4 site in hushed tones.

I have now talked with two other saucer scientists who have worked on alien technology and have confirmed the S4 site and the Sports Model. Some will say that they are fabricating based on previous revelations and that all of it is nonsense. There are still researchers who believe that witnesses have only seen advanced technology aircraft, remote-controlled vehicles, and lifting bodies, hoaxes by engineers having fun, and other such paraphernalia at the borders of Dreamland in the Nevada desert. Yet, witnesses describe classic UFO phenomena with all the fantastic aerobatics attributed to them.

A friend of mine met Charlie in a photocopy shop in the summer of 94. Charlie was contacting OMNI magazine about their article on the UFO cover-up. I met Charlie later after writing a letter to him that he never received. Instead, I received a reply from a veteran's organization that warned me not to contact Charlie anymore. According to the letter of reply the subject of UFOs was classified permanently. It also stated that UFOs and aliens should be the responsibility of the military and that civilians had no business delving into military secrets. Nevertheless, Charlie contacted me later through our local MUFON group.

Charlie had been in the Marines and aboard the U.S.S. Oriskany aircraft carrier in 1958 during the early Vietnam era. His father was a commander in the navy and was stationed with the Pentagon's Research and Development Board. His father had been with President Eisenhower at Edwards AFB in 1954 when an extraterrestrial spacecraft had landed. The base had already been renamed Edwards at the time of the occurrence and was no longer known as Muroc (Corum spelled backwards after one of the early families who settled in the Mojave Desert). Charlie said the aliens at Edwards were human types with flaxen hair and pale blue eyes. Charlie's first experience occurred when he was assigned to a special operations team that retrieved a crashed disk in Vietnam and stowed aboard the aircraft carrier.

According to Charlie, this disk was 10 meters in diameter and lighter than a Volkswagen. It had a crew of two aliens. The recovery team transported the disc back to the Oriskany where it was stored on the flight deck between mattresses that were used to cushion the craft on deck. A tarpaulin was thrown over the disc and when the Oriskany put into port in San Francisco, the cover story told by the Captain was that a special water tank was being brought in for maintenance and the tarpaulin was used to protect it from storms at sea. Charlie referred to this disc as the IRC-10. IRC is an abbreviation for Interstellar Reconnaissance Craft. Charlie refers to the Sports Model as an IRC-16 because it is 16 meters in diameter. It is not known whether these metrics are exact.

Charlie explains that not all UFOs or discs are from another planet. Some are from a parallel world. These parallel worlds exist in another time dimension. It's as if our universe runs on the beat on one clock and another on the beat of another clock. Normally, the two are out of phase and there is no interaction between universes, but, occasionally, there are locations where the two universes synchro-phase and a portal opens up between the two allowing passage from one to another. Many discs originate from another dimension and use a transpatial field resonator to bridge the gap between their universe and ours.

The aliens project their thoughts into a thought amplifier plate that carries signals to the avionics controls via optical fibers. Another saucer scientist, Bill Uhouse of Las Vegas, says that he designed flight simulators for our pilots because our pilots had difficulty controlling the aliens' avionics. Bill worked at Los Alamos in conjunction with an alien scientist on designing a simulator using our own avionics technology. Bill said that General Electric built the antigravity engines for U.S. discs and Westinghouse provided the nuclear reactors to power the engines. I asked him if he knew any reason why U.S. discs could not fly in space and he replied that he thought they could. Bill was a Mechanical Design Engineer when he was recruited for this highly secure position. Today, he is retired and talking about his work openly with the permission of his security guardians. Perhaps they would like some of the story told.

In 1993 I met an electronics engineer by the name of Vince. Vince and his wife were having alien encounters. Vince felt like he was receiving technical information from the aliens. I gave him some material to read on the Brown effect. Soon he started to build a rig to test the concept of electro-gravity. I assisted him as much as I could. Our idea was to provide external power to light-weight aluminum models. Vince designed a high-voltage power supply that he described as a variable-parameter that consisted of a current pulse-modulated by bi-polar transistors and variable-switched capacitor banks for tuning. This pulse-modulated 12-volt current is fed into an auto ignition coil to raise it to a high voltage. Leads connected the power supply to a dielectric aluminum levitator for testing the effects of varying the voltage and frequency parameters. An oscilloscope was connected to the rig. Vince claimed that he turned on the unit one night in his garage and the levitator jumped off the workbench and wobbled in the air at which point he reached out to grab it, burning his hand, and shorting out the coil. He planned to rebuild it when the Northridge quake came along and destroyed most of his equipment. He never returned to this project, but we obtained some interesting insights from these experiments and may continue them at some future date.

An English inventor named John R. Searl built levity discs as early as 1951. The Searl Effect Generator consists of a number of magnetic rollers in the form of cylinders that rotate around a magnetic annulus. These rollers generate extremely high voltages which decouples the whole assembly from gravitational and inertial forces. Each roller is a composite of 4 components: titanium; iron; nylon; and neodymium. He also uses aluminum, silicon, and sulphur in the magnetic rings and rollers. Searl is now in the United States working with a man named John A. Thomas in New York to rebuild the levity discs.

Contactee Howard Menger claims to have built a craft with an electro-dynamic propulsion system in 1951 called the HMX1 by experimenting with information given to him by space visitors. Today, in Florida, he is constructing small models with specially designed coils and capacitors that demonstrate electro-gravitic effects.

Even some Aerospace engineers have presented papers on anti-gravitic propulsion devices and some have gone so far as to patent some of their ideas. F. E. Alzofon presented a paper on anti-gravity with present technology to a Joint Propulsion Conference in Colorado Springs in 1981. The abstract from his paper says that he proposes a method for decreasing (or increasing) the gravitational force on a vehicle, using presently-known technology and various ways of utilizing this effect for vehicle propulsion.

An earlier report on Electrohydrodynamics was given on June 30, 1967 which describes the use of electrostatic fields creating hydrostatic pressure in a dielectric medium. This form of electro-hydrodynamics proposes an aero-marine vehicle that generates toroidal vortices for lift.

For those who wish to become diehard experimentalists I recommend the Electric Spacecraft Journal published from 73 Sunlight Drive, Leicester, N.C. 28748 by Charles Yost. The publishers of this journal have access and publish all the known data on electro-gravitics. Members performing relevant experiments publish articles in the journal. Not all the work in this important field of research is being conducted in government labs.

We must re-examine the physical properties of space itself if we are to understand the relation between electromagnetic and gravitational forces. We must also re-examine our concept of time. It is possible that time is more than one-dimensional. This also will be cause for us to contemplate wondrous possibilities. Can different moments of time be revisited?

The announcement that two physicists, Ed Witten, and Nathan Seiberg have simplified the study of the fourth dimension deserves plaudits and admiration. However, there is little recognition for scientific viewpoints that differ from the reigning paradigm.

It is generally acknowledged that space seems to curve into an unseen fourth dimension according to Einstein's General Theory. This curvature is a kind of macro curvature impressed on space by physical bodies. Thus, it is argued that the gravity force we sense is actually our tendency to follow a curved path in space-time. However, geometry does not explain how acceleration and gravity causes bodies to accelerate. Perhaps curvature could explain the path an object traces through space, but how does it explain increasing acceleration as when rocks fall on earth?

There are alternative theories of gravity and perhaps one day a more rational theory of gravity will be considered which may explain the so-called missing matter in the universe as well as why high-voltage potentials reduce gravity.

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And what of the aliens? We have only discussed the physical technology of UFOs up to this point. What of the alien biology and anthropology? Charlie says that some of the Grays are synthetic life forms and undergo transdermal osmotic dialysis on a regular schedule. In other words, they undergo a process whereby the excrete effluents and absorb nutrients through their skin in a pressure chamber. If these Grays are synthetics, then what beings synthesized them?

The existence of alien discs in our possession or the revelation that we are constructing similar craft is going to raise a lot of eyebrows. Today, we are not only constructing secret aircraft, but secret spacecraft, or even secret time craft. Our technology may actually be leapfrogging us into the undiscovered country, the future. That future may already exist in some variation on some distant worlds in space.


(1) The Flying Saucer Conspiracy (1955) by Donald E. Keyhoe
(2) UFO Crash/Retrievals: Search for Proof in a Hall of Mirrors Status Report VII(1994) by Leonard H. Stringfield
(3) UFO Crash at Aztec (1986) by William S. Steinman and Wendelle C. Stevens
Excerpted from the book Alien Magic © 1996, 2000 by William F. Hamilton III

The Spaceship that Almost Was

"Space Travel
is Utter Bilge"

So said astronomer Sir Richard Wooley in 1956. In 2002, a JPL scientist pays tribute to the visionaries who, in the face of skepticism and gravity, opened the way to interplanetary flight

By Donald Yeomans

Until a few decades ago, interplanetary travel was the stuff of dreams and fantasy. But it was a fantasy in which the dreamers often turned out to be uncannily farsighted and correct, while the predictions of some eminent scientists proved to be far too conservative. Successful space travel would actually come about, in large part, through the efforts of engineers and scientists who were also dreamers. In the end, it would be a handful of these individuals, existing on the fringe of contemporary science, largely ignored and sometimes derided by the “experts” of their day, who carried forward the torch of interplanetary travel and manned space flight. For centuries, they predicted that an era would come when mankind would venture into space. That fortunate era is now.

While the conquest of the skies via heavier-than-air vehicles did not arrive until the Wright brothers’ historic flights in 1903, earlier dreamers needed only to point to the birds to demonstrate that the air would one day support human flight. But travel to the space beyond Earth was only accessible through their flights of imagination.

Early in the 17th century, the noted astronomer, Johannes Kepler, penned a treatise entitled “The Dream” (Somnium), in which the central character, Duracotus, takes a voyage to the moon. The story is based loosely upon Kepler’s own life, and the lunar voyage is facilitated by Duracotus’s mother. She is in league with lunar demons that can, on occasion, provide the necessary transportation to the moon. Once in space, Duracotus protects himself from the rarefied air by applying damp sponges to his nostrils, while noting that the pushing supplied by the lunar demons is no longer necessary once he has ascended beyond Earth’s orb. Kepler, who would be remembered for his laws of planetary motion, did not dare publish the book during his lifetime. However it was read in manuscript form and was partially responsible for his mother’s being tried as a witch. Fortunately, she was freed in October 1621 after spending 14 months in custody.

The English bishop Francis Godwin published another lunar fantasy entitled The Man in the Moone in 1638. Its hero, a shipwrecked mariner named Domingo Gonzales, wishes only to escape the uninhabited island on which he is stranded. He trains a flock of 30 wild swans to fly him back to civilization but the birds’ migration season has begun, and their home turns out to be . . . on the moon. After a 12-day voyage, our hero arrives at the moon to find the inhabitants there to be much larger than those on Earth. The lunarians are an average of 28 feet tall. Despite his puny stature, Domingo is well-treated by the lunarians and after enjoying their company, he returns to Earth safely, although two of his 30 swans have died and the rest “began to droope.”

In 1827, in an early example of American science fiction, George Tucker, writing under the pen name Joseph Atterlay, wrote A Voyage to the Moon. The spacecraft was a copper vessel loaded with scientific equipment and powered by lunarium, an anti-gravity metal with no more validity than wild swans.

It was a Russian schoolteacher, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who would be the first to seriously consider realistic means for achieving space flight. Born on September 17, 1857, 100 years and 17 days before his countrymen launched Sputnik, Tsiolkovsky contracted scarlet fever as a child and became nearly deaf. Unable to attend the local schools, he began an intensive course of self-study into the natural sciences. In 1879, he passed his teaching examinations without having attended any of the lectures and began teaching outside Moscow in Kaluga province. What spare time he had was devoted to research into aeronautics.

At age 26, he published a short treatise entitled “Free Space” and stated that the path to space was through rocket propulsion. Rockets were certainly not a new concept, having been invented by the Chinese by the thirteenth century, but Tsiolkovsky was the first to note that only rockets could serve the needs of space travel. He is also credited with a variety of forward-thinking ideas on space flight, including a theory of rocket travel that took into account the rocket’s changing mass; the use of liquid hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel; multistage launch vehicles; the effects of atmospheric drag and solar light pressure on space vehicles; the nature of weightlessness in space; and geosynchronous orbits, whereby a satellite could always remain above a single location on the Earth’s surface.

Did Tsiolkovsky’s advanced ideas find easy acceptance or support? They did not. Up to the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, he was either ignored or considered a crazy inventor and rootless dreamer by the recognized scientific community of tsarist Russia. However, his ideas for using technology to overcome gravity meshed with the Marxist philosophy that machines are indispensable to the construction of Communist society. Thus in 1919, the now-ruling Communist Party yanked Tsiolkovsky from obscurity and appointed him to the Socialist Academy, which later became the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In 1921, at the age of 64, he was given a personal pension, which allowed him to devote himself entirely to his scientific research. While he still worked alone, he now had government assistance to publish his works and to republish some that had appeared earlier as very limited issues published at his own expense. In the 1920s his work on space flight began to receive international recognition.

Robert Goddard was a professor at Worcester Clark University in Massachusetts, USA. Goddard was fascinated by stories of Man going to the Moon. However, he realized that any vehicle used to go there could not use solid fuel as it could not generate sufficient power for a rocket to leave the atmosphere and defeat gravity.


The propulsion system would generate explosive power at the end of a rocket to propel it. Goddard concluded that any fuel would have to be liquid.


Goddard also faced the problem that the power generated by a rocket would have to be greater than the weight of the rocket itself - and it would need some power to spare. Goddard believed that if hydrogen could be piped into a combustion chamber sufficiently quickly and burnt with liquid oxygen, it would produce the desired force to propel a rocket to the Moon.


Goddard experimented with solid fuel rockets to refine his techniques. During World War One he also invented the bazooka which the US Army took up shortly before the end of the war in 1918.


In 1920, Goddard wrote a report about his rocket engine tests and sent it to the Smithsonian Institute. It was called "A method of reaching extreme altitude". The New York Times got hold of a copy and severely criticized Goddard and his work. It claimed that Goddard lacked the knowledge given out to pupils in school on basic physics.


Rather than dishearten Goddard, the criticism spurred him into 20 years of intensive research. In 1926, Goddard launched his first prototype rocket, called Nell, at his aunt’s farm. Nell stood 10 feet tall. When its oxygen-gasoline fuel mix was ignited, nothing happened….at first. Then the ignition caught and Nell was launched at 60 mph and climbed to a modest 14 metres before falling back into a cabbage patch.


Goddard’s work attracted the attention of Charles Lindburgh - the first man to fly across the Atlantic. He introduced Goddard to Harvey Guggenheim - a millionaire financier who provided Goddard with sufficient funds to continue his research. Goddard moved to New Mexico and worked under the strictest of secrecy. Was this because of the potential military use of his invention? Probably not. One newspaper referred to the success of Nell in 1926 as "Moon rocket misses target by 238,799 miles". Why attract the attention of those who belittled your work?


During the 1930’s, few American scientists wanted to talk to Goddard but he met with German engineers. The American military took no notice of his work. When World War Two broke out, Goddard was so worried by the attention the Germans had given to his work, that he contacted the American military and showed them film of his Nell’s rocket. The military was not interested. In 1944, the first V2’s hit London.


After the war, Goddard had the opportunity to examine a V2. He found that a lot of the work on the V2 copied his own work. The Nazis had taken his papers and read his 200 patent applications.


Goddard died of throat cancer in 1945. His work was taken up by American and, ironically, German scientists working for the Americans. In 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the surface of the Moon after being taken out of the Earth’s atmosphere by Apollo 11.


In 1969, the New York Times wrote a public apology to Goddard - the man who gave to science a liquid-fuel rocket.

Professor Hermann Oberth
, considered by many to be the "father" of German rocket science, did not "retire" from government service; he elected to go back to Germany after only a two-year "scientific advisor" position at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama (1955 to 1957). His expertise in the field of rocketry was deemed so inconsequential that his "advisor" position was offered on a one-year basis, renewable by request of either party. Professor Oberth realized that his stipend from the German government would be many times greater than his salary at Redstone or any accrued retirement, so he went back to Germany.

Professor Oberth was actually barred from Dornberger's military rocket center at Kummersdorf during the 1930s because he was of Rumanian citizenship and considered a potential spy! That made him ineligible to work at Peenemünde as well. In 1938 he moved to
Vienna where he investigated the possibilities of liquid propelled rockets, remaining there until 1940, when he moved to Dresden, Germany to take a similar middle-post position. Not until one year later, in 1941, when he requested to return to Mediash, Romania, did he discover that he was a virtual prisoner in Germany because he knew a bit too much about Nazi rocket developments.

He had two options: To renounce his Rumanian citizenship and become a naturalized German or to remain on the Nazi's "alien" list, a course which could land him in a concentration camp. He chose German citizenship, and the Nazis sent him to Peenemünde in 1941 where, after recovering from the shock of learning of the great advances of von Braun's team, he was assigned an inconsequential position as "consulting engineer."

In 1943 he was transferred to
Wittenberg and remained there as an "investigator" until the war ended in 1945. Intensive interrogation by allied intelligence units revealed that he did not possess information worthy of exploitation so he was allowed to return to his country house in Feucht, West Germany.

Until 1952 he could do little more than "grow cabbages and turnips in my little vegetable garden," and he was unable to land a job even as a teacher in a secondary school. Eberhard Rees, von Braun's deputy at Redstone Arsenal, learned of Oberth's plight in 1952 and he was subsequently employed there in 1955, again, as only a "scientific advisor."


There are many similarities between Tsiolkovsky’s life and that of the American rocket pioneer, Robert Hutchings Goddard. Goddard also worked in relative obscurity, and he did not receive the credit due him until after his death in 1945. Like Tsiolkovsky, Goddard taught school—he was a professor at Clark University in Massachusetts. But whereas Tsiolkovsky never attempted to actually build a rocket, Goddard developed and flew various rockets, as well as conceiving many new ideas in the theory of rocket flight.

Goddard published the first of two important monographs in the January 1920 Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections. In a slim paper entitled “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes,” he discussed his theories and experiments concerning the efficiency of the ordinary rocket. He provided calculations on the minimum rocket mass needed to raise one pound to various altitudes in the atmosphere and calculations on the minimum mass required to raise one pound to escape the earth. In an effort to demonstrate that a rocket could escape Earth and reach the moon, Goddard had worked out how much flash powder an observer on Earth would see through a one-foot aperture telescope when the rocket crashed into a dark region of the lunar surface. But he was completely unprepared for the publicity that greeted this scenario. The press termed him the “moon man,” and made him the butt of jokes. Never an outgoing person to begin with, Goddard responded by withdrawing further into professional and private seclusion, so that his work was generally not well known during his lifetime.

Goddard demonstrated the first flight of a liquid fuel rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts in March 1926. The rocket reached an altitude of 41 feet and covered a mostly horizontal distance of 184 feet, roughly comparable with the distance covered by the second flight of the Wright brothers’ airplane in 1903. Like Tsiolkovsky before him, Goddard realized the liquid-fuel rockets were more efficient than those powered with dry, or solid, fuels. The 1926 rocket flight was documented ten years later as part of Goddard’s second significant publication entitled “Liquid-Propellant Rocket Development.”

Goddard’s extraordinary achievements did not go entirely unnoticed. The aviator Charles Lindbergh and the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Charles Abbot, were influential in helping him secure a $50,000 grant from the Guggenheim Fund for the promotion of aeronautics. Using this substantial award, Goddard, his wife, and four assistants established a research area near Roswell, New Mexico. There in the desert, between 1930 and 1941, they undertook one of the most amazing lone-wolf efforts in the history of technology. In tests conducted at this site, Goddard’s liquid-fuel rockets reached speeds of 700 mph and altitudes above 8,000 feet. His innovations included the use of fuel-injection systems, regenerative cooling of combustion chambers, gyroscopic stabilization and control, instrumented payloads and recovery systems, guidance vanes in the exhaust plume, gimbaled and clustered engines, and aluminium fuel and oxidizer pumps.

By the early 20th century, the works of Tsiolkovsky and Goddard had clearly shown that space flights were theoretically possible. Assuming that a sufficiently powerful rocket-thruster could be developed, Isaac Newton’s 17th-century formulation that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction provided the basis for rocket flight. Nevertheless, there continued to be a commonly held belief in the impossibility of flying a rocket in space, where “there was nothing for the rocket to push against.” Many who did understand that rockets need not push on anything simply denied that rocket technology would ever advance to a point where enough power could be generated to achieve the 11.2 km/s velocity required to escape the earth’s gravity.

Fortunately, none of these objections was enough to deter a new generation of dreamers, many of them in Germany, who, like Goddard, combined technical training and expertise with a commitment to furthering the possibilities of space flight.

One of them was Hermann Oberth, who from boyhood was fascinated by the possibility of space travel. By 1920, he had derived the formulas for calculating the impulse necessary to achieve escape velocity. Born in Transylvania Hungary, in 1894, Oberth produced a treatise on rockets and interplanetary travel as his doctoral dissertation at the University of Heidelberg. But since neither his advisor, the well-known astronomer Max Wolf, nor anyone else on the faculty would declare themselves competent in this subject, he was unable to submit it for a degree. His thesis was also rejected 20 times by various publishers before the firm of Oldenburg agreed to issue it, with the proviso that Oberth pay for the printing costs himself. Today The Rocket into Interplanetary Space is recognized as a classic in the early theory of space flight. In it Oberth established that a rocket could operate in a void and could travel faster than the velocity of its own exhaust. He also discussed the merits of alcohol and hydrogen as rocket fuels and outlined a type of rocket that he felt could be used to explore the upper atmosphere.

In the only section that was relatively free of complex equations, Oberth dealt with the physiological and psychological problems of manned flight, including acceleration, weightlessness, loneliness, and claustrophobia. He also discussed the possibilities for satellites, space stations, and space mirrors that could beam sunlight to the dark side of the earth.

Like Tsiolkovsky and Goddard before him, Oberth had been inspired as a youth by the rich stories of Jules Verne, particularly by Verne’s 1865 work From the Earth to the Moon. Unlike them, he worked hard to publicize rocketry in general and his own work in particular. In 1930, he became a technical advisor to the Fritz Lang movie Girl in the Moon. As a publicity stunt for the film, Oberth and his assistants were asked to design, build, and launch a rocket. For all his theoretical genius, Oberth was not a rocket engineer and, like the movie itself (a silent film in an era of talkies), the rocket was unsuccessful. It never left the ground.

In the 1920s, while the work of Oberth in Europe was being discussed within a small circle of followers, and the work of Goddard was closely followed by an even smaller group of American dreamers, the general public remained mostly unaware of the work being done to free the human race of the earth’s grasp. In Germany, however, the spark of interplanetary travel continued to be fanned by two other dreamers—Walter Hohmann and Hermann Noordung.

Born in 1880, Hohmann became the city architect in Essen, near the German-Dutch border, in 1912. While his day job was that of a civil engineer, he spent all his free time investigating the possibilities of space travel. His The Attainability of the Heavenly Bodies, published in 1925, was prescient for the ideas it advanced, and many of them seem remarkably modern even today. Among them are the variable-pitch wing for dynamical control of the spacecraft during landing, the use of nose cones and parachutes for successful landings, the manufacture of rocket fuel from planetary resources to save weight, and the use of a surface lander that would detach from a planetary orbiter. However, Hohmann is best-remembered for what is known today as the Hohmann trajectory—the formulation that the optimal energy transfer orbit between planets is an ellipse that is just tangent to the orbits of both planets.

Ironically, Hohmann, who did not participate in the intensive rocket development projects in Germany during World War II, was killed in an allied bombing raid on Essen in 1945, just two months before the war ended.

Hermann Noordung, whose real name was Herman Potocnik, was an Austrian army officer. Although his life was cut short by tuberculosis in 1929 (he was 38), the year of his death saw the publication of his classic The Problem of Space Travel. Though much of the book was based upon Oberth’s 1923 work, Noordung proposed an impressive number of innovative ideas, particularly with regard to space stations. He suggested placing a space station in geosynchronous orbit and using air locks and space suits for walks in space. He also envisioned radio communication between Earth and space stations, and suggested that momentum wheels could be used to maintain control of a spacecraft’s orientation in space. Finally, Noordung proposed several possible uses for a space nation: as a site for doing physical and chemical experiments in the absence of gravity and heat; as an astronomical observatory above Earth’s atmosphere; and as a platform for a parabolic space mirror for weather control and military advantage.

In 1927, Oberth, Hohmann, Wernher von Braun, Willy Ley and other German space enthusiasts formed the Society for Space Travel (Verein für Raumschiffahrt, or VfR). Among the research efforts they discussed were those of Robert Goddard, and their goal was to work toward the day when their rocket technology could be used to send spacecraft to explore the solar system. However, this club of rocket enthusiasts was operating at the margins: their research was largely self-funded and their rocket experiments did not initially attract the kind of governmental support needed to get past the hobbyist stage.

Three years later, across the Atlantic, a group of journalists founded the American Interplanetary Society. Partly as a result of the ridicule aroused by the mention of interplanetary travel, the group soon changed its name to the American Rocket Society; it eventually evolved into today’s Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. As with its German counterpart, funds were shorts, accidents in the course of experiments frequent, and the group struggled for a time to survive. The reclusive Professor Goddard was not even an active member.

While it would be nice to outline a scenario whereby the fledgling German and American rocket enthusiasts succeeded in convincing their governments to support research toward space flight, the reality was far different. The sponsor who ultimately stepped up to push and pay for the serious development of rocket flight was the German army. In 1932, the Army hired a number of VfR members, including Von Braun, and put them to work in the military’s rocket artillery unit. Von Braun was soon put in charge of an expanding rocket-building program, and when Hitler and the Nazi Party took over the government in 1933, he was assigned the task of overseeing long-range missile system development. Over the next dozen years, he would become the leading technical engineer for the Nazi rocket program at Peenemünde, Germany.

Back in the United States, as nervous observers watched these developments, Robert Goddard accepted some military contracts to continue his work on rocketry. It was within Germany, however, that the most rapid strides were taken to develop a long-range and reliable liquid fuel rocket, culminating in the V-2 (Vengeance) rockets that Hitler fired into England in the waning months of the war. It has been pointed out that the 25,000 slave laborers, forcibly transported to Germany from all over occupied Europe, who perished in hellish conditions while building the V-2s at the underground Mittelwerk (Dora) concentration camp were ten times greater in number than the British civilians killed during the V-2 attacks. Von Braun’s role in this program has been called into question on more than one occasion. A high-ranking Nazi party member, he also held the rank of major in the SS. Nevertheless, with an allied victory assured in May 1945, he and his brother Magnus surrendered to the American military with the expectation that their expertise would be considered extremely valuable to the United States. And indeed, the United States made extraordinary efforts to ensure that the cream of the Nazi rocket scientists would remain in American rather than Soviet hands once the war was over. To many, the Cold War already seemed imminent, and the American military was counting on its captured German rocket scientists to develop the next generation of weapons delivery systems.

Whatever his principles, von Braun had unquestioned leadership abilities and an unparalleled grasp of the art of rocket building. The U.S. army put him to work developing rocket-launch vehicles, but his dream of using rockets for space flight was to be shelved until the American public and Congress demanded a response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in October 1957. Working in relative obscurity, the Soviet chief rocket designer Sergei Korolev had helped develop an impressive missile program. He and his colleagues too were aided by some expert Germans engineers from Peenemünde.

The USSR would successfully put yet another satellite into Earth orbit on November 3, 1957 (this time carrying a dog named Laika) before the United States successfully launched its own Earth-orbiting satellite, Explorer 1, on January 31, 1958. In a harbinger of things to come, Explorer’s key components were a launch vehicle developed by von Braun’s team and a satellite built under the direction of William Pickering ’32, PhD ’36, the director of Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The satellite carried a charged-particle detector developed by James van Allen. This instrument detected charged particles ensnared in the earth’s magnetic field, a region now known as the Van Allen radiation belts.

Von Braun’s contemporary Hermann Oberth had not played an active role in the development of the V-2 rocket during the Second World War, but he was hired by von Braun in 1955 and worked for the U.S. Army for a time, before returning to Germany in 1959. He died in 1979, having lived long enough to see his dream of space travel become a reality.

The great rocket pioneer Robert Goddard had died four days before the end of World War II, but with the dawn of the space age, he was at last accorded the recognition he deserved. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center was dedicated on May 1, 1959. The following year, the United States government awarded Goddard’s widow, Esther, $1 million in settlement for the government’s use of more than 200 of Goddard’s patents for rocket hardware.

The race to outer space was on. In 1961, President Kennedy committed the United States to landing a man on the moon “and returning him safely to Earth” by the end of the decade. The successful Apollo program was the result, an effort initiated primarily for political posturing but nevertheless achieving superb scientific goals.

With the close of the 20th century, our generation has been privileged to witness several lunar landings and the continued opening of the solar system frontiers, with the exploration of eight of the nine planets and dozens of natural satellites, comets, and asteroids.

“Centuries hence,” the scientist and science writer Carl Sagan once wrote, “when current social and political problems may seem as remote as the problems of the Thirty Years War are to us, our age may be remembered chiefly for one fact: It was the time when the inhabitants of the Earth first made contact with the vast cosmos in which their small planet is embedded.”

Indeed, we are living in that privileged era that Tsiolkovsky, Oberth, Hohmann, Noordung, Goddard, and other visionaries hoped would one day come.

Donald Yeomans is a JPL senior research scientist and supervisor of the Lab's Solar Systems Dynamics Group. He's also manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program office, and, as such, his is often the voice that the public hears reassuring them (thus far) that the latest Earth-crossing asteroid to be spotted is not on a collision course with our planet. A writer and rare-book collector as well as a scientist, he combined these roles in his 1991 book Comets: A Chronological History of Observation, Science, Myth, and Folklore, and he has written and lectured frequently about the history of space science.

Interstellar Travel
By Marc G. Millis, head of the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program at NASA's Lewis Research Center

Have you ever wondered when we'll be able to travel to distant stars as easily as in science fiction? Believe it or not, scientists are seriously looking at concepts such as wormholes, space-time distortions and space drives.

But transforming these flights of fancy into reality will require scientific breakthroughs on three fronts: propulsion, speed and energy. Although we do not yet know if these breakthroughs can be achieved, we at least know how to begin making the progress to find out.

The real question is not whether interstellar travel can be done, but when it will be fast and easy enough to send the first mission.

In a sense, interstellar travel is already happening. The Pioneer 10 and Voyager 1 spacecraft, both launched in the 1970s, have traveled more than 6.5 billion miles from

Earth and are on their way out of our solar system. But at the speed they're going, it would take tens of thousands of years for a probe to reach our nearest neighboring star. That's longer than all of recorded human history. Further technological developments can significantly reduce this time, but further scientific breakthroughs are needed before interstellar travel becomes practical.


The first challenge is propulsion, specifically propellant mass. Unlike aircraft that can thrust against the air, rockets need to bring along their own propellant to push against. By blasting propellant out the back, rockets push spacecraft. The problem is quantity. Propellant needs rise exponentially with increases in payload, destinations, or speed.

For interstellar voyages the numbers get, well, astronomical. For example, to send a payload the size of a school bus to the nearest star within 900 years, you'd need ... well, more mass than there is in the entire universe. This assumes that you're using chemical engines like those on the space shuttle. With nuclear fission rockets the situation gets better, but not by much - the propellant required would fill a billion supertankers.

Although the situation gets much better with ion propulsion or antimatter concepts, the numbers get astronomical again if you want to get there in less time than 900 years, or if you actually want to stop when you reach your destination.

Ideally, we would want to use a space drive that doesn't need any propellant. A few researchers have begun studying how to achieve this, searching for something else in space to push against, perhaps even by pushing against the very structure of space-time itself, or by finding a way to modify gravitational or inertial forces.


The next and more obvious challenge is speed. Our nearest neighboring star is about 26 trillion miles away. That's more than four years away at the speed of light, and light-speed is about 17,000 times faster than the Voyager spacecraft.

Although the search for a non-propellant space drive would dramatically improve this speed situation, some researchers have even contemplated circumventing the light speed limit for interstellar travel.

Break the light speed limit? No. The trick is to circumvent the light speed limit by distorting the fabric of space-time itself to create "wormholes," which are shortcuts in space-time, or by using "warp drives," which are moving segments of space-time.

The warp drive idea is something like a moving sidewalk, similar to what you find at many airports. By expanding space-time behind the starship and contracting it in front, a segment of space-time moves and carries the ship with it. The starship itself still moves slower than light within its space-time, but when you add the "moving sidewalk" effect; the apparent motion exceeds the speed of light. There are numerous difficulties with these concepts, however.


The last challenge is energy. Even if we had a space drive that could convert energy directly into motion, it would still require a lot of energy. Sending a shuttle-sized vehicle on a 50-year, one-way trip to the nearest star would require 70 quintillion joules of energy - the equivalent of running the space shuttle's engines continuously for that same 50 years. This amount is roughly the same as the output of a nuclear power plant.

For our warp drives and wormholes, the energy situation is much, much worse. To create a 3-foot-wide wormhole, you would need to convert something with the mass of Jupiter into negative energy. To overcome these difficulties, a few breakthroughs in energy production would help.

To find out if we can actually begin making progress toward these grand ambitions, NASA established the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program in 1996. The program has supported conference sessions, workshops and Internet sites to foster collaborations and to identify affordable research.

The next step is to sponsor a few, small research tasks. After two years of supported research, we'll ask if the progress gained is worth sustaining the program. If the answer is "yes," increased support will be sought. If the answer is "no," then the program will be put on hold until further significant developments emerge from general science.

Why bother with these seemingly impossible goals? Well, progress is not made by conceding defeat. History is replete with conquered impossibilities - flying machines, moon landings, and tapping the power of the atom, to name but a few. It took four decades to go from the first liquid rocket to the first landing on the moon, and three decades to go from the confirmation of radioactive decay to the first nuclear reactor.

Physics continues to uncover new possibilities - possibilities that might someday solve the challenges of interstellar flight.