Space. The Final Frontier. These are the reviews of the website Rooster Illusion. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new films, to seek out new directors, new screenwriters, to boldly go to the theater…where no one has gone before.
Space is a tough thing to write about in media. Most people haven’t been to space- and certainly no screenwriters. So nobody in film has much direct experience and most people who work in Hollywood are not Astrophysicists- or even scientifically literate. The first thing you need to understand is:
“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…”-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Traveling in space is almost a completely futile endeavor because of how fucking immense it is. The voyage to Mars, the closest planet to us, can take between seven months and two whole years to get there with modern propulsion. And getting out of the solar system? Forget it! The Voyager probe, launched in 1977, just this past year got out of the solar system. With advances in technology, the New Horizons probe is STILL going to take roughly nine years to fly by pluto- or at least pluto’s orbit.
You see, the other problem with interplanetary travel is that the planets (and indeed, all celestial bodies) are moving all the time- and at extreme speeds. NOTHING in space is ever close, or even in the same place for more than a fraction of a second. Not even asteroids! Remember that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Han Solo runs that asteroid field in order to avoid Imperial forces?
Well, in reality, asteroids are so far apart from each other (even in a “field”) that the Empire could fly both of those Star Destroyers through with no problem. Pretty much the only person who would fly into an asteroid would be a pilot that suddenly slips into a coma.
This provides a large problem for most science fiction because if star ships took realistic time to travel between planets (even in the same system), it’d be an incredibly boring show.
Even with futuristic engines, space ships still cannot travel that kind of distance in any short period of time. Think of Star Trek if the Enterprise took a whole season to get out of the star system.
Science Fiction shows that deal with this usually have some sort of cryogenic freezing or “stasis” or “hypersleep,” like Alien.
Don’t get me wrong, though, it could make for a phenomenal science fiction series that was more about the crew of the ship than the alien planets. The show would be about the journey to the place and the generations of people aboard the ship.
Fights in space are also usually handled in a very stupid way. Since space is fucking big and filled with… well, space, projectiles in space would go on pretty much forever until they hit something. Unlike on earth, in space there’s no air friction to slow down rounds. Meaning when the Enterprise fires a photon torpedo and misses the Romulan Warbird, that torpedo is still going through space until it smacks the into some poor Pegasus-class medical ship and kills all the patients inside (look at me flaunt my Trekkie chops). The Mass Effect trilogy of games addresses this and the actual canonical space warfare actually uses this fact. In the in-game encyclopedia, they discuss that battles traditionally take place almost a whole light-year apart:
They then DOUBLY subvert this trope in the third game when the bio-mechanical race of eldritch beings, The Reapers arrive. Reapers can out maneuver, out-gun, and out-run the rest of the ships in the galaxy and are certainly better shots at long-range. Thus, the rag-tag alliance of races go the opposite way and swarm reaper ships at extremely close-range- and even then, “extremely close range” is still from the orbit of Mars.
Though it does make for extremely beautiful battles:
Of course, Science Fiction usually uses faster-than-light travel as a way of getting around the vastness of space. This presents a whole array of problems itself, however, the first of which being Relativity.
FTL Usually is handled in one of three ways (Via TVTropes):
-“Warp” drives: These work by bending the laws of physics in a limited bubble around the ship, where the space is warped in some strange way so the Einstein limit doesn’t apply. Distinguished by the ship still traveling in normal space just like a conventional drive, with all the hazards that may entail.
-“Jump” drives: exploiting the curvature of space-time in some way to instantly move a ship from one location to another. Functionally, a ship using one does not travel faster than light; instead, they alter the distance that has to be traveled, generally to about zero. Sometimes called “fold drives”
-“Hyperdrive”: Ship leaves local space and goes into another dimension where it can go faster.
Straight-up FTL travel (violently breaking known Einsteinian physics), comes with a humungous problem of time dilation. Right, so according to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, the observed time for events is dependent upon the speed of the observer. For objects moving at relativistic speeds, there is an observable stretching out of time relative to an observer in a stationary reference frame. As cool as this sounds, you still have to get pretty fucking close to the speed of light in order to observe any significant time dilation. At 90% of the speed of light, a clock on earth would only appear to move at half your clock’s speed. In order for one minute of your time to equal a decade in “rest time” you’d need to achieve 99.999999999998% of the speed of light.
It’s at this point in the column that I’d sincerely like to apologize if your brain is hurting.
Join me next week as I discuss something from my home field, Psychology: Memory, Amnesia, and Memento.
Be sure to read my other ham-fisted and less intelligent column: Mindless Action Mondays