Friday, May 18, 2012

The World's First Time Traveler

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Did you know that Russian Cosmonaut Сергей Авдеев ("Sergei Avdeyev") is considered Earth's first significant time traveler?

During his active years as a cosmonaut (1992-1999), he set a record for cumulative time in space. Across 3 visits to the Mir station, he spent an astonishing 747 days in low Earth orbit! Sergei circled the planet nearly 12 thousand times, traveling a total of 515 million kilometers.

After Avdeyev retired from Roscosmos in 2003, cosmonaut Sergei K. Krikalev reached 803 days in space, breaking the record for time – but not for speed.

Avdeyev is the first human being calculated to have traveled a measurable .02 seconds into the future.

Russian Cosmonauts
Mir Cosmonauts Avdeyev, Gidzenko & Reiter

Spending just over two years on MIR going 17,500 miles per hour is what racked up those 20 milliseconds, says Princeton astrophysicist J. Richard Gott: "If you go out 500 light-years, then come back at the same speed, when you arrive back the Earth would be 1,000 years older and you would only have aged 10 years."

The closer we get to the speed of light, of course, the slower time proceeds. Moving physically through time more noticeably would require travel at 99.995% the speed of light, so 20 milliseconds probably seems pretty tame – but we'll take it!

Sergei Avdeyev is, technically, one-fiftieth of a second "younger" than if he had stayed home. He has thus traveled one-fiftieth of a second into the future, effectively experiencing .02 seconds less than the rest of us here on Earth.

Time Travel
The Apollo astronauts hold the overall speed record in that their crafts traveled faster, but they were only in space for a few days at a time. The fastest spaceships of today travel at only .00004 percent the speed of light, and a voyage to our closest star, Alpha Centauri, would take about 80,000 years.

Say we somehow found the fuel and other means to speed that up to say, 75% percent of the speed of light? We could reach Alpha Centauri in 5.7 "Earth years." But for the astronauts on the ship, the trip would take a tad less than 4 years. Neat theories! Think we'll ever pull it off ??

1 comment:

Matt said...

Anything that achieves extremely fast sublight speeds will have to contend with the mass problem if we don't find a way to subvert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity. As the amount of kinetic energy necessary to accelerate a particle with mass to light speed is infinite, the theory dictates that so, too, will the mass of the particle be when light speed is achieved. Therefore, as energy approaches infinity, mass does too. This will be a significant problem even if we do find "the fuel." I seem to think that the fuel is only the first hurdle. Tricking Einstein? Good luck with that. However, a cool sidenote is that if we do come close to the speed of light, say, close enough that the difference in speed might be equivalent to the difference in speed between my car and the Porsche speeding by me on the highway, if I looked out my special space window (hurdle #3 in construction... hopefully that plexiglass guy in San Francisco who was supposed to invent transparent aluminum 20 years ago hasn't given up on salvaging Scotty's data from his old Apple II computer), light would still appear to be "going the speed of light", instead of just a small fraction of it.