Friday, April 17, 2009

The Future is Coming: Ion Engines!

Just when you start to think that space nerds are good for nothin' besides predicting our doom, they go and do something cool like this: they invented the Ion Engine! That's right! The envy of the Romulans! The workhorse of the Empire! (what, you didn't know that TIE stood for Twin-ION-Engine?!? n00b) On April 6th, NASA switched on the ion propulsion engine of their Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Explorer (or the much cuter GOCE!) and reports that it's operating normally! The ion engine is perfect for keeping this cute little guy hanging in low orbit so it can do its science thing. We here at G'Nerd are less about the science, and more about the fiction-so I won't pretend to truly understand what's going on here-but long story short, GOCE is floating in low orbit using nothing more than solar power to keep it up there. That sucker is gliding at an impressive 20 milliNewtons of thrust-that's an acceleration of less than the width of a human hair per second squared.... wait, what? Hurm... rocket car pancake this is not. But all amazing science miracles have to start somewhere. I'm sure the first lightsaber was really just a warm swiss army knife.

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