Last edited by Steven L Jordan; August 13th, 2012 at 03:40 PM.
Steven, I think part of the problem of you trying to get a proper discussion going is that everyone now looks for a theory before they try building anything and if they can't find a theory then as far as they are concerned it can not be built.
To me, as a now retired engineer, this attitude is totally back to front. If the Victorians had waited for the theory to emerge there would a very different world today because most of the inventions of that time would never have been made.
One of the questions we should be asking ourselves is why we have allowed this state to be perpetuated. As an engineer I don't need to know the theory of how a thing works, I am quite satisfied that it does and can therefore be used to do its job.
We have let theorists take over the running of science, even Einstein got it wrong, when they should be explaining what the engineers are doing after they have done it.
We will never have more than a token space presence until some engineers start thinking 'out of the box' and produce something really new. For example there has to be a better way of getting into space than riding what is essentially an exploding totem pole. NASA is going backwards in their thinking not forwards and until the reverse that there will be stagnation.
While it is commonly said that new science typically builds on rather than "proves wrong" old science, the truth is that typically--and more and more so as our progress accelerates--the "expansion" of scope is so huge that it amounts to a whole new world revealed.[I]t's one thing to say "we don't know everything"--which, of course, we don't--and another to ignore the facts we do know about science and nature, and assume we'll simply find a workable brute-force method and "prove those facts wrong".
Picture the world a mere couple of centuries ago. Now look at what is routine in our world, and ask yourself how much of that would have been, if depicted in a fiction, regarded by even the learned of 1812 as impossible, nonsensical poppycock? Probably most or all of it. Despite the fact that no one has exactly "proven Newton wrong".
And, as I say, the pace accelerates.
Personally I always liked Harry Harrison's (I think) Bloater Drive. He expanded the ship to the same size as the galaxy and then shifted the centre of gravity before contracting back to normal size. The shift in C.O.G. caused the contraction to centre in a different part of the galaxy. Hey Presto FTL.
Totally impractical but entertaining anyway.
As an aside, wasn't there an old system of propelling a pusher plate-equipped craft from below using x-ray lasers, until orbit is achieved? It's been used in many SF stories, but is wholy unrealistic now because of - IIRC - the energy needed. The advent of fusion energy should deal with that part.
That's a possibility. Another is railgun technology... if we can sacrifice craft control. I do think we might still have room for enough engine improvement, allowing us to better power ourselves into orbit... but we should look to other ways of getting spaceborne as well.
Reynold's new Blue Remembered Earth has a giant underground railgun that shoots a payload that is then fired upon by several lasers that circle the railgun tube along it's length. I imagine the tube is also in vacuum and it's cap opens at the last second.
I think the ultimate method would be a space elevator for human and cargo transit, and including a space skyhook that spacebound ships would attach to, to be lifted into orbit and possibly returned to ground as well. That would remove a lot of the control issues generally required for powered flight and re-entry, allow non-aerodynamic craft to leave and re-enter, and replace explosive rockets with any safe power source that can run a railgun-type system.
Not to beat this to death, but I'll say that I have worked on IC circuit design, and we never considered anything about quantum theory when doing it. Classical physics wass more than enough to give us headaches. Quantum effects are just too small to be of any practical use in essentially anything that has been produced to date in any field.
Fact though any structure built using a wheel as a measuring unit will have Pi 'built in'. Knowledge of Pi, or even the concept is not necessary to the practical aspects of the structure and its construction.