This material is part of the NASA JSC document: SPACE EDUCATORS' HANDBOOK which is designated as document number OMB / NASA Report Number S677.
Using the following HTML program familiarize the student with the design of manned spacecraft systems. Next, have the students sketch and analyze science fiction rockets, robots, etc. found in movies, comics, and novels. (SCIENCE FICTION / SPACE TECHNOLOGY : TOOLS FOR LEARNING features numerous examples of this process.)
Ask the students to find:
(1) What technology exhibited by these sci-fi devices is currently possible? (Study existing technology - space shuttles, space stations, lasers, robots - similar to the selected items.)
(2) What is probably not possible with today's technology?
(3) What new technology is needed to make the science fiction devices work?
(4) Finally, for extra credit, design (add to the original sketch) items overlooked by the science fiction author or artist that should have been included to make the science fiction device work.
Spacecraft, like automobiles, require certain basic systems to function properly. Among these systems are: PROPULSION (engines), GUIDANCE (steering), LIFE SUPPORT (air to breathe, food and water), CABIN QUARTERS (manned operations and living area), COMMUNICATIONS (radio transmission and reception), THERMAL PROTECTION (isolation from the extreme temperatures of space as well as the heat of reentry), DISPLAYS AND CONTROLS (a means of flying/controlling and monitoring the status of the spacecraft's performance - switches and gauges).
Science fiction authors, artists, and illustrators generally portray the same basic systems as listed above in their literature and art. This document discusses the fictitious scientific substitutes for the above systems. Additionally, the science fiction spacecraft technology study reviews historic sci-fi artwork for scientific feasibility in light of current knowledge of spacecraft technology. Obviously, much art is drawn simply to represent the appearance of space technology. The illustrator ignores technical details achieving the desired effect through "artistic license." For this reason, no criticism of the reviewed artwork is intended. Some of the most impressive illustrations exhibit the greatest number of scientific incompatibilites.
The above twentieth century space systems have counterparts in the world of sci-fi technology: PROPULSION: (FTL - faster than light propulsion, Cavorite-antigravity material, warp drive - a means of exceeding the speed of light), GUIDANCE (steering without thrusters, spherical thrusters), LIFE SUPPORT (generation ships, hibernation biology, suspended animation, cryonics), CABIN STRUCTURE (space arks, world spaceships), COMMUNICATIONS (mental telepathy, molecular transporters),THERMAL PROTECTION (often ignored), DISPLAYS AND CONTROLS (standard video viewers as well as telepathy techniques).
For more information about the above science fiction technologies click on SCIENCE FICTION TECHNOLOGY TERMS here.
1. Newton's Third Law: Every action requires an equal and opposite reaction.
2. Einstein's (law) Theory: Energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared which is sometimes stated as the speed of light in a vacuum is the fastest speed possible and equal to approximately 186,000 miles per second.
3. THE EXISTENCE OF CENTRIPETAL FORCE: Centripetal force is the force that causes a mass to travel in an arc or circular orbit. It is equal to the object's mass times its tangential velocity squared divided by the radius of the arc or circular path. The "pulling away of the mass from the radius of curvature of the arc (the orbit)" is due to the inertia of the object causing it to try to move in a straight line. The pulling away is a result of Newton's First Law. (Newton's First Law: An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.)
4. The UNIVERSAL LAW OF GRAVITATION: The force of gravity is equal to the universal gravitation constant (G) times the product of the masses of two bodies which attract one another divided by the square of the distance between the two bodies.
5. THE GAS LAW: The pressure of a gas on the walls of a closed container times the volume of the container equals a constant times the temperature of the gas.
Familiarize yourself with the science of space and the technology of spacecraft prior to examining science fiction space systems. After using the following sites for space orientation, examine the pictures included in SCIENCE FICTION / SPACE TECHNOLOGY : TOOLS FOR LEARNING. Before reading the discussion following each picture, try to find errors or oversights the artists may have made in their ideas of what space rockets and spacecraft look like.
Now that you are familiar with the technology of rocketry and spacecraft, begin examining the feasibility of sci-fi space art by selecting EARLY SCIENCE FICTION TYPES below.
Click here to continue with: Early Sci-Fi Spacecraft.
Click here to continue with: Spacecraft in Sci-Fi.
Click here to continue with: Space Stations in Sci-Fi.
Click here to continue with: Space Shuttle Type Craft in Science Fiction.
Click here to continue with: Using Science Fiction Space Technology in the classroom.
Click here to continue with: Science Fiction Spacecraft Art.