Time and again we’ve seen science fiction inspire inventions, from Bat gadgets to Virtual reality in the Matrix and Jonny Quest series. However, let’s see if the opposite is also true?
The Cooper Station that we see at the end of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, Interstellar, tolls us back to how probably the Noah’s ark looked. Replete with a baseball court, hospitals, houses and practically everything that you can think of as required to sustain human life in all glory, Cooper Station comes across as a cross section of earth itself.
Fascinating isn’t it? I’m sure if I ever had to migrate to a different planet this is the kind of mother ship I’ll want to travel in. Now have a look at this patent which was filed on August 30, 1971. Patent US 3,749,332, titled “Space vehicle with artificial gravity and earth-like environment” describes a space vehicle adapted to provide an artificial gravity and earthlike atmospheric environment for its occupants.
As shown in the image, the space vehicle comprises a cylindrically-shaped, hollow pressure-tight body one end of which is tapered from the largest diameter of the body, the other end being flat and transparent to sunlight. The vehicle is provided with thrust means that rotates the body about its longitudinal axis, generating an artificial gravity effect upon the interior walls of the body due to centrifugal forces. Sunlight is directed into the interior of the body through the transparent end by means of a mirror which is oriented independently of the rotation of the body.
The walls of the body are lined with soil and provided with an initial supply of plants and livestock. Because of the controlled climate and sunlight, an earthlike environment is maintained wherein the carbon dioxide/oxygen balance is maintained, and food for the travelers is supplied through natural system of plant life which can be maintained in the spacecraft. Waste products are treated hygienically and returned to the soil to serve as fertilizers. A pleasant earthlike environment is provided for space travelers on voyages of years or possibly decades in duration.
In my opinion, this patent seemed a near perfect representation of the Cooper Station shown in Interstellar. What surprised me so much was the fact that this patent was filed almost four decades before the invention was shown on the main screen. Visionary is probably an understatement for NASA and its inventors.
Another scene from the movie coupled with Hans Zimmer’s epic music that sent chills down my spine – yes you guessed it right, the first docking scene.
Docking, as you know, is not as flashy or fancy as travelling through a worm hole or plucking gravity strings in a black hole communicating across dimensions. However, I’ll point out that improper docking was the undoing of Dr. Mann, he who survived against all odds for decades before he met his doom at something considered mighty simple. One of the most important aspects of docking, in my opinion, is attenuating the impact and ensuring that the vehicles are securely bonded.
There are many patents by NASA that describe a docking system, however, for the purpose of illustration I’ll pick the patents US 4,898,348 titled Docking system for spacecraft filed on December 30, 1988 and patent US 3,608,848 titled Docking mechanism filed on October 21, 1968.
Patent ‘348 describes a mechanism and system for docking a space vehicle to a space station (just like the Ranger docking on to the Endurance). This invention is particularly suitable for in-flight transfer of personnel and equipment between the docked space vehicle and the space station. The invention comprises an active docking structure which is mounted on a first space vehicle and a passive docking structure which is mounted on the space station or a second space vehicle.
Patent ‘848 describes a docking mechanism which allows the space vehicle and the space station to securely connect by interlocking the male and the female parts of the latch. This probably is the simplest form of interlocking two pieces and, not to generalize, but simple solutions are sometimes the best solutions. Leave it up to Mr. Nolan and you can expect nothing short of classic.
Interesting isn’t it? Interstellar, thus not only shows us a dreamy future (or nightmarish?!), but also showcases a past that might have been lost in the sands of time. With NASA at the helm of space research and with such futuristic IP in its arsenal I’m confident that we might soon be exploring places where no man has gone before.
Till then, Live long, prosper and do not go gentle into that good night!
(Featured image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bernal_Sphere_3.jpeg)