Feb 23, 2009 | 11
Nearly a decade ago, Leik Myrabo shared with Scientific American readers his vision for the future of space travel: a "LightCraft" pushed out to the stars by a pulsed infrared laser beam from the ground or pulled into space by a laser beamed down from a solar-powered station orbiting Earth. (Read the article here.) Myrabo, an associate professor of engineering physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., described in his April 1999 article a grand plan for constructing these orbital stations and a beamed-energy craft that could transport passengers out to space.
Ten years—and reportedly 140 test flights using small prototypes—later, he foresees laser flight carrying people around the globe and into space by 2020, Wired.com reported from "Expanding the Vision of Sustainable Mobility," a conference hosted last week by the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. For this scenario, ground-based lasers called LightPorts would provide the energy needed to propel the crafts, although Myrabo acknowledges that this won't become viable until more powerful lasers are developed and jet fuel becomes expensive enough to force the aviation industry to search for an alternative.
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