Science fiction writers don’t need to spend a lot of time and words on technical details. That’s boring, even for people who understand it. Readers just want to get on with the story. But sci-fi writers do have a responsibility to understand these technical details when they’re building their futuristic worlds.
Launching a person into space, for example, is a difficult and dangerous process. Most readers know that, but the science fiction writer has to know why. Even if everything goes right, even if there are no accidents or mistakes of any kind, astronauts are subjected to dangerous and potentially life threatening stress. Newton’s laws are not kind.
In order to reach Earth orbit, the space shuttle rapidly accelerates to a speed of 8 kilometers per second, creating a force of about 3 G. If the force were much higher than that, it would prevent the heart from pumping blood to all parts of the body. A person moving that fast headfirst would pass out, since blood couldn’t reach the brain; this is why astronauts are lying down at lift off.
Engineers at NASA have to think about how their machines will affect the human body and how they will affect each part of the human body. If someone could figure out how Star Trek’s inertial dampeners work, than we can forget about this problem, but until then science fiction writers need to be aware of it. Just so long as they don’t bore their readers with acceleration and force equations.
Next week, could evolution make a better, more space-worthy human?
Banks, Robert D., James W. Brinkley, Richard Allnutt, and Richard M. Harding. “Human Response to Acceleration.” Fundamentals of Aerospace Medicine. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2008. Pages 88-107.