Proxima Centauri – So near yet so far

Chanced across this TIME article on an Earth-like planet discovered orbiting our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, a piffling 4.2 light years away. Hair throughout body stands on end.

This leads to the inevitable idle speculation of how long it would take to send a space probe to said planet given current space technology.
How far is this planet again?
Proxima Centauri is 4.2 light years away.
So,
4.2 * speed of light (distance light travels in a year)
= 4.2 * 5.879e+12 miles
= 2.3516e+13 miles
= 23,516 billion miles!!!

Thus, time taken to travel said distance
= 2.3516e+13 miles / s (speed of spacecraft)

What is a realistic value for s?
Google says 24,000mph based on the Apollo mission.

More digging reveals a more optimistic number.
” In 2018 though, a new NASA mission – Solar Probe Plus – will be launched. Designed to come as close as 8.5 solar radii to the Sun (that’s about about 5.9 million kilometers or 3.7 million miles), it will hit orbital velocities as high as 200 kilometers a second (450,000 miles an hour).”
Wow. Assuming this velocity can be kept up, which probably isn’t realistic, this translates into 2.3516e+13 miles / 450,000 mph ~= 5965 years.

Somewhere, a balloon deflates silently.

A kind word from NASA raises hopes back to stratospheric levels.
” A nuclear thermal propulsion system could potentially be over 100 times more powerful than chemical systems of comparable weight”

Using our value of 5965 years above as best case for chemical propulsion gives us ~60 years to get to our doppelganger on Proxima Centauri and shake hands (or tentacles) with our galactic neighbors, should they exist!

Assuming nuclear thermal propulsion systems become a reality, mankind’s ancient dream of visiting the stars might no longer remain a vainglorious pipe dream.

Here’s another take on this truly momentous event in our history.

 

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