Friday, November 30, 2012

Ice! On Mercury!


Yesterday NASA announced that, mirabile dictu, they had found ice on the north pole of Mercury, tucked away in the shadowed interior edges of craters where sunlight never reaches.  Given that the surface temperature of Mercury can be hot enough to melt tin, that comes as a surprise.

They also found organic (not to be confused with biological) materials on Mercury.  These, combined with the water ice, should provide valuable clues to the evolution of the Solar System and possibly even the the origins of life.

But that's not what I and pretty much every other science fiction writer in the world is focusing on.  We're all thinking:  Fuel.  Water ice -- and apparently there's a lot of it -- would make great propulsion mass for a nuclear-powered spaceship.  Which means that such a ship could be sent to Mercury at a fraction of the cost that a ship carrying a round trip's supply would.

Which means that a manned expedition to Mercury just got a lot closer in time than it was a week ago.  How close depends on how much political will various countries have for a vigorous space program, and whether civilization crashes between now and then.  But, with luck, the first men and women to set foot on Mercury may already have been born.

You can read the Guardian article here.


1 comment:

Peter D. Tillman said...

I don't know if you like KSR's stuff -- or even if you read much SF anymore -- but his latest, 2312, might be his best. Certainly the least-political. And the female protagonist is a Mercurian, a resident of "Terminator", a mobile city that rolls around Mercury on titanic railroad tracks!

Lots of other insider SF xrefs, and very strong characters. Cool story-arc too. Give it a shot?

Cheers -- Pete
"Writing a balanced, beautiful novel, where plot and character and
setting and pacing and narrative structure and imagery and, above all,
story work in harmony and true proportion, is fucking *hard*."
--Nicola Griffith,