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Centauri Dreams: Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration 2004th Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0387004365
ISBN-10: 038700436X
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Science and SF writer Gilster's latest isn't only an enlightening tour of the propulsion and communication systems and the materials that might take us (in unmanned or even manned probes) to the Centauri triple-star system 4.3 light years away (nearby in interstellar terms). The book is also a plea to remember that the urge to explore the unknown is what makes us human and that the future may not be as far away as we think. What separates this work from many scientific explorations of topics typically relegated to science fiction is that none of the methods described require breakthroughs in physics: we need no faster-than-light travel, no warp drive, no hyperspace or wormholes. All today's scientists need is the time, funding and license to turn their thought experiments into engineering problems. Like a master kite flyer, Gilster slowly lets out the line and allows the magnificent dreams of interstellar flight to soar—describing the relevant technologies we already possess—then he reels readers back in by pointing out the lack of funding and the distance these theories still need to go before becoming reality. The technologies include sails that capture light instead of wind; a combination of fusion and antimatter reactions; and artificially intelligent computer systems that evolve over time. Metaphors and examples based on common experience put the science in perspective. This work is not only a clear, well-thought-out explanation of theoretical science and engineering but also food for the soul of anyone who has ever thought that space is a great adventure waiting to happen. (Jan.)
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Review

From the reviews:

"Science and SF writer Gilster’s latest isn’t only an enlightening tour of propulsion and communication systems and the materials that might take us (in unmanned or even manned probes) to Centauri triple-star system 4.3 light years away (nearby in interstellar terms). The book is also a plea to remember that the urge to explore the unknown is what makes us human and that the future may not be as far away as we think. What separates this work from many scientific explorations of topics typically relegated to science fiction is that none of the methods described require breakthroughs in physics: we need no faster-than-light travel, no warp drive, no hyperspace or wormholes. All today’s scientists need is the time, funding, and license to turn their thought experiments into engineering problems. Like a master kite flyer, Gilster slowly lets out the line and allows the magnificent dreams of interstellar flight to soar – describing the relevant technologies we already possess – then he reels readers back in by pointing out the lack of funding and distance these theories still need to go before becoming reality. The technologies include sails that capture light instead of wind; a combination of fusion and antimatter reactions; and artificially intelligent computer systems that evolve over time. Metaphors and examples based on common experience put the science in perspective. This work is not only a clear, well-thought-out explanation of theoretical science and engineering but also food for the soul of anyone who has ever thought that space is a great adventure waiting to happen." – Publishers Weekly, Jan. 10, 2005

"Paul Gilster is fascinated by interstellar space flight – not the Star Trek kind, but the real thing. He takes the reader on a tour of plans being developed quietly at NASA and other space agencies for sending an unmanned probe to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star. Extensive notes capably steer readers into the technical literature. Call this book science-fiction-for-real." – Astronomy, March 2005

"Gilster takes readers on leaps of imagination beyond the probable, past the unlikely, skirting the unbelievable, through the land of supposed impossibility, into the future where, one way or another, humanity will be pursuing 'Centauri Dreams,' or, as the subtitle states, 'Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration.'" -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Centauri Dreams is a look at the state of the art as-yet hypothetical technology needed to take us to Earth’s second-closest star. … Author Gilster examines the possibilities with a sure-handed humor liberally illustrated with interviews with real-life experts and examples from the great science-fiction stories of Anderson, Sterling, and Clarke." (Sci Fi, 2005)

"Paul Gilster is fascinated by interstellar space flight – not the Star Trek kind, but the real thing. He takes the reader on a tour of plans being developed quietly at NASA and other space agencies … . Extensive notes capably steer readers into the technical literature." (Astronomy, March, 2005)

"‘Centauri Dreams’ consists of a thorough analysis of the alternative propulsion technologies … . This analysis is tastefully interspersed with numerous references to science-fiction ideas and writers, reflecting Gilster’s wide ranging knowledge of real science and his passion for science fiction literature. … This book is very well researched, and was for me an enjoyable read, one that I’m sure will be well enjoyed by science-fiction aficionados and hard-nosed realists alike!" (Gerard Mc Mahon, Astronomy & Space, April, 2006)

"Centauri Dreams provides a … thorough and up-to-date review of the various interstellar-travel concepts to be found in the literature. … By and large the author does a good job describing complicated concepts … . I can recommend Centauri Dreams to anyone seeking a non-technical summary of interstellar-travel concepts as they stand at the beginning of the 21st century." (Ian Crawford, The Observatory, Vol. 125 (1188), 2005)

"Paul Gilster explains some of the ongoing research … that may one day lead to an unmanned, possibly even robotic or manned, space probe being sent to Alpha Centauri, the nearest bright star outside of our solar system. … Centauri Dreams … contains thirty pages of notes that enhance the reading. General audiences and professionals will find this book a fascinating read about the possibilities of future interstellar travel." (Alvin K. Benson, Salem Press, September, 2005)

"The fastest manmade vehicle is now Voyager 1, heading out of the solar system. It could cross the US in less than four minutes. Even at that speed it will take 70,000 years to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri. … Paul Gilster’s book explores the terrain at the frontiers of hard logic and hairy thinking. Interstellar travel is now part of imagination’s landscape. … The interstellar idea, says Gilster, in this exhilarating book, is taking shape." (Tim Radford, The Guardian, March, 2005)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Copernicus; 2004 edition (October 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038700436X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0387004365
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #875,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kermit Ellis on January 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It will be surprising to many people that the initial planning of humanity's first voyages to the stars has already begun. Those of us who grew up in the early days of the American space program, and whose vision of the future assumed that by the end of the twentieth century space flight would be commonplace and relatively easy, and who assumed that manned missions to Mars and further would be the next step within several years after the Apollo moon landings, became impatient with the slow and methodical pace of space exploration carried out in the immediate vicinity of Earth and by robotic probes sent about the Solar System- even though these missions were usually brilliantly planned and executed.

This book brings the welcome news and consolation that, even though the first interstellar mission of any kind is probably still at least several decades away, imaginative and intelligent people are already working on the theoretical basis for such future voyages, and some of the engineering problems are being addressed. So at least we don't have to wait until the rest of the solar system has been explored to get an idea of how the next colossal task will be approached. Much of this work is being done by various research agencies associated with NASA, by the European Space Agency, and even by academics and assorted dreamers.

Paul Gilster does an excellent job of explaining the current state of the planning for adventures to the closest stars, providing lucid descriptions of the work even now being done on such amazing concepts as laser-powered sails and antimatter drives. I have read a fair number of the popular scientific works intended to introduce laymen to difficult subjects (string theory, hyperinflation, etc.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jill Malter on December 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is about sending a space mission to a nearby star. I know, it sounds more like science fiction than fact. We're talking about really long missions. Perhaps several hundred years or even a couple of thousand years. Even the one-way light time to our objective would be on the order of five or ten light years.

Gilster starts by mentioning some possible destinations: Alpha Centauri (closest, at 4.3 light years) and Epsilon Eridani (10.7 light years but may be more interesting biologically). Or possibly Barnard's star (5.9 light years) or even Tau Ceti (11.9 light years).

Yes, we could try to get a spacecraft to move much faster. But that's not easy. And there's a much, much higher chance for the spacecraft to be destroyed just by hitting a very small object. The author warns us that at such speeds, a grain of sand would look like a torpedo. Even if one of the speculative propulsion technologies the author then discusses could be made to work, the chance of the spacecraft surviving the trip might be rather small.

On the other hand, the author also tells us about space telescopes that will be looking for terrestrial planets in the next few years. What if one of them finds a planet that looks like it harbors life? Would we then start taking a mission to that planet seriously?

Still, how does one get there? Gilster explains that chemical rockets are unlikely to be the right answer. Even nuclear propulsion is too weak. The first alternative he suggests is antimatter. With all due respect, I find this idea preposterous. The next idea is a Laser Accelerated Plasma Propulsion System (LAPPS). While this idea might work in theory, present technology is several orders of magnitude short of being usable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By jeremy turner on July 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
i just finished this book, and i have to say, it is one of the better books on this subject i have read. if youve read Zubrins entering space, and/or the case for mars then you are probably familiar with most of the concepts in this book, but if you are into realistic visions of mankinds future in space i would HIGHLY recommend this book, it makes me feel like a kid again, watching the first shuttle launch and thinking (if we can do this, there is nothing we cant do!) the title of this book sums it up well, if you want to rekindle the feeling of endless possibilities for the future, read this book and dream the dream.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Joshua C. Williams on December 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I like that I have finally found a book that discusses interstellar travel in serious, but very readable way. It isn't too heavy on jargon, but gives you just enough to not make you feel like the book was dumbed down. I highly recommend this book as a purchase. The only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 is I have some quibbles on the pacing and structure of the book. Chapters sometimes seem to end abruptly with no warning, and he occassionally gets a bit too chatty, but these are minor quibbles.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Troy Lauritsen on April 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I was hoping this book would be a technical discussion about robotic interstellar travel. I was disappointed to discover that it was largely a non-technical series of interviews of people working in the fields of interstellar space flight. I was hoping to get a real understanding of the energy required to attain relativistic velocities but I was disappointed. I also wanted to learn a lot more about ion propulsion but this was only lightly touched on. There was not a single illustration or graph in this book. I also did not follow the logic of the topics covered; it was as if the author just assembled chapters based on the people he was able to get interviews with.
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