The report said that scientists are concerned about the spacecraft, traveling at 32,500 mph, because the closer it gets to Pluto, the greater the chance it might run into a small particle of space matter. According to officials, "At such speeds, a collision with an object as small as a grain of rice could prove catastrophic."
The reason is that a particle the size of a grain of rice hitting the craft at 32,500 mph would have super-high kinetic energy. If such a rice-size pebble hit your car windshield at only 32 mph, it could leave a crack. Now imagine the damage that tiny object would do if it hit a spacecraft that was travelling 1,000 times as fast.
It wasn't easy to get the New Horizons spacecraft to travel at 32,500 mph. But at that speed, it would take 80,000 years to reach the nearest star. Because of the realities of "interstellar" space travel, imaginative engineers are trying to develop faster propulsion systems.
NASA promotes this effort because of the idea that the "human species" needs to be a "two-planet species" to survive a future mass extinction catastrophe. The second planet can't be Mars, because it will never support human life, nor will any other body in our solar system. Hence, scientists also focus on traveling to distant star systems.
To take humans to a distant star will require a spacecraft that travels thousands of times faster than New Horizons. But the faster a craft goes, the higher the kinetic energy if the craft hits a tiny particle, even one as small as a particle of dust. Avoiding such a tiny collision at enormous speed, which would destroy the spacecraft, presents a far greater engineering challenge than building a faster propulsion system.
Remember this the next time you read the next cool article about "two-planet species" or "interstellar travel" or "advanced propulsion system."
Because there's a vast difference between science fact and science fiction.
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2015. Building Personal Strength .