Superpower Implications #1: Space Exploration

This post will not be about superheroes. I love them, truly, but I’m a sci fi man at heart and prefer some logic when I write about a world (FTL aside), something that many superheroes seem to flee from when finding sensible applications for their powers.

Instead, this post will be about things that would be different in a world with superpowers if they were applied somewhat logically. Many of the ideas I’ll bring up are things I have thought up for my own superhero universe, but I’ll try to keep them primarily conceptual. That will also avoid, maybe, spoilers. In case I ever write any of the superhero novels I have in my head.

For this post, I’m going to start with a really big, serious, ridiculously major difference that there would be in a world with superpowers.

SPACE TRAVEL! (as in, better space travel than we have right now)

So, superman can fly, right? In my parlance, I call his power autokinesis. It’s like telekinesis, in that he can spontaneously impart momentum to a mass, except that the only mass he can impart it to is himself. Another way to see this is that he regularly violates conservation of momentum, one of the fundamental laws of physics.

So what does this have to do with space travel?

The big problem with space travel is that it requires some kind of mass ejection, and thus onboard reaction mass, in order to work. To get that reaction mass into space in order for a spacecraft to eject it and get movement, requires even more reaction mass (Read as: GIANT EXPENSIVE DANGEROUS BOOSTER ROCKETS). The “even more reaction mass” requires insane amounts of resources and money to construct relative to the actual payload delivered to orbit. As a rough example, Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission, weighed only 45 tons but required a Saturn V booster rocket weighing 3,048 tons and costing 3.2 BILLION dollars (current dollars) to get it into orbit and headed to the moon. That’s a cost of roughly 67 tons of booster rocket and 48 million dollars per ton of payload delivered.

Imagine how NASA feels every time they have to explain that to a new congress looking over their yearly budget.

Now, consider, if you have people who can spontaneously generate momentum, then you can SKIP the whole booster rocket phase and just carry Apollo right into orbit. Not sure your flying superhero could do it? Can he fly with a tank? A current M1A1 Abrams main battle tank weighs about 70 tons, 25 more than the Apollo mission. In a world where a man can fly with a tank, NASA can launch an Apollo lunar lander for the cost of two cheese burgers and an extra space suit.

This would DRASTICALLY change space exploration.

First, it would obviously be cheaper, even if there’s only one guy who can do the boosting. If there are more, even better. And they don’t all have to be superman strong (if any of them ARE, however… well… superman has been known to lift OCEAN LINERS. Can you say 500-person space station in 1980?) as many satellites aren’t very large. The lightweights could boost the smaller comm. sats and such, while the heavyweights would do the boosting for permanent installations and big missions.

Second, it would be safer. For starters, superman doesn’t usually blow up, while about 1 in every 100 actual space launches DOES. Additionally, even without the consideration of not blowing up, not needing boosters would avoid the whole cloud-of-deadly-space-junk effect we have going on right now.

Third, it would be much more extensive. Even assuming a 70-ton max, the lowered cost of boosting heavy modules would allow NASA to quickly build an orbital stockpile of building and exploration materials (such as REACTION MASS) for sending missions to the outer planets. That would vastly accelerate exploration, allowing for manned missions to mars, exploitation of asteroid resources or the methane seas on Saturn’s moon Titan, and even colonization (of the moon or mars or wherever).

And those are just the start.

In short, with those three implications, it would unlock the solar system to human colonization BEFORE 2015 (assuming superheroes showing up around World War II or so).

Take it a step further, and assume you could get two of these fliers willing to leave the planet for a bit, and you could DISPENSE WITH THE REACTION MASS. No, seriously, two fairly weak fliers could totally push a spaceship to mars (from inside the ship), taking it in shifts. Remember that once they get it up to speed it keeps moving, so they can regularly sit back and rest between pushing sessions. (I say two, because you have to have a spare, in case one of them gets sick, if your superpowered folk can get sick.)

Can you say Manned Mars Mission in 1980?

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