NASA has recently announced an ion drive with sufficient thrust to get a spaceship to Mars in 40 days.
Let’s admit that is fast. Chemical rockets can get a spaceship to 5kms or so, this new ion drive can get a ship to 25kms. That’s as fast as a meteor, pretty much.
With that speed the millions of miles to Mars tick away like clicks on a clock, and 40 days later the ship enters Mars orbit. Ideally with a full load of cargo and enough people to make the trip worthwhile for research, or if Elon Musk has his way, colonization.
So the hype of course if for Mars. But imagine this engine used for a few different things.
A ship in permanent use in space, transferring cargo and colonists to Lunar orbit for transfer to a Moon colony. The trip would be much faster than the Apollo missions, I’d think, although I’m not about to do that math right now. Even a chemical rocket gets to the moon in a few days, this engine might allow a ship to travel back and forth to the Moon in hours. That’s the sort of thing that makes Lunar tourism a possibility, although only for the rich. It still takes a chemical rocket to launch from the surface of the Earth to LEO (Low Earth Orbit).
Or how about Titan? Colonizing Titan makes way more sense than colonizing Mars when you study the opportunities of the Red Planet and the Yellow Moon. The trip to Titan will be reduced to months instead of years. I also suspect (but haven’t looked up) that fuel for the ion drives (Xenon if memory serves) is probably much more available on Titan.
This engine opens up the solar system if we’re actually interested. That remains to be seen. I hope we are, I just wish I was young enough to be part of it.
Thanks, NASA, for giving me hope that there will be American flags in space once again.