By Gary Michael Church
The first Star Wars movie I watched was The Empire Strikes Back and I did not see the original Star Wars until much later. I saw The Empire while in training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, sitting alone in a nearly empty movie theater. I was genuinely surprised who Luke’s father was. As it turned out Empire was the only movie of the franchise I liked. I enjoyed the old black and white movie “Dambusters” more than Star Wars, which blatantly ripped off that great black and white war movie. Much later, in the 21st century, I began reading about the real Star Wars program taking place at the same time I watched The Empire during the Reagan Years and have been contemplating the applications of this “black” technology for actual space travel ever since. While the Star Wars movies are often identified as being in the genre of sci-fi called “Space Opera”, I must disagree. As a boy in the late 60’s one Christmas morning I was presented with a boxed set of the Lensman series. Now THAT was Space Opera.
The only real successor to E.E. Doc Smith in my opinion is David Weber with his Honor Harrington books and collaborations with Steve White. We love our Honor. Interestingly, Reagan’s Star Wars and Weber’s Honor-at-war both rely on a miracle weapon called the bomb-pumped X-ray laser. How much money was pumped into the bomb-pumped laser program is classified but it was undoubtedly a huge fortune considering actual nuclear testing occurred and the concept could not be made to work and was finally abandoned. But the data on directed energy weapons remains and may well be worth every penny if it is ever applied to Nuclear Pulse Propulsion and Human Space Flight Beyond Earth and Lunar Orbit (HSF-BELO).
If I produced a remake of the movie Star Wars as hard sci-fi, not much of the original imagery would remain. No light sabers, no faster than light jumps into hyper space, no alien musicians. It would take place in this solar system and the stand-ins for other worlds would be the artificial hollow moons envisioned by Gerard K. O’Neill. The only human outposts on natural bodies would be under the ocean moons of the gas and ice giants. There is where any aliens will be found and any intelligence octopus or squid-like in nature. Smaller spacecraft ascending from natural bodies would likely use beam propulsion and would thus be dependent on energy transmitted by antennae or other devices from a power station for any dramatic escapes. As for the “droids”, it is hard to imagine such artificially intelligent beings as comedic relief. Such “artilects” are presently a great worry to scientists and despite repeated warnings against autonomous war machines the robot warriors are doubtless gestating in the research establishments of the major powers.
In space, the most likely scenario is a concept showcased in another sci-fi movie, the surrogate. In space, in reality, the surrogate would be an android inhabited by way of telepresence, while the human operator is shielded from cosmic radiation behind 15 feet of water. That swimming pool mass of water is the “Parker Minimum” of cosmic ray shielding necessary for humans to inhabit deep space for any long durations without suffering permanent damage from cosmic radiation. The most remarkable scene in Star Wars in my opinion is the lifepod carrying the droids spiraling away from the captured starship. It is notable because a Tether Generated Artificial Gravity (TGAG) system would generate a similar slowly spinning field of stars. The space travelers would view such a rotating starscape through windows holding a mass of clear water shielding. The giant space wedge star destroyers would instead be massive discs using H-bombs for propulsion. The pulses of high speed plasma pushing these discs around the solar system would in large measure be using Ronald Reagan’s failed Strategic Defense Initiative data to make Star Wars real.
Bomb-pumped laser technology can efficiently focus nuclear energy into a tight beam which can then incandesce a slug of material and project the resulting cloud of high speed plasma against the rear plate of spaceship. The effect is an interesting reversal of a fighter jet being catapulted off the deck of an aircraft carrier, with the small bomb-like pulse unit accelerating a multi-thousand ton spaceship.
Most interesting of all, we can do it right now with no unobtanium, wishalloy, or handwavium required.