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Did I Tell You I Once Flew To Mars?

I did. I flew to Mars and beyond.

It all happened with Martin Schweiger's excellent Orbiter simulator. It is a simulator that quite accurately simulates space travel, exactly as it should be according to Newtonian physics. Which means that if you want to travel to the moon, you can't just aim for it and blast away, you have to set up a Hohmann transfer orbit and carefully plan ahead. For more information, see the excellent Basics Of Space Flight at JPL.

But I decided to go to Mars. This is a little complicated, because you have two gravitational sources pulling at your ship; the Earth and the Sun. But I got out about halfway to the moon, so the pull from Earth wasn't that severe, aligned the orbital planes to Mars, calculated the correct burn time and angles; and then... I took off.

It must have taken about half an hour (even at 10000x speed) to get there. In real life, it takes about six months. And then I made some course corrections on the way; kept track of the orbit; slowly, slowly watched Mars creeping ever closer; and then when the time was right I made a heck of a retrograde burn. And then, I slowly descended towards Mars, adjusting the orbit as I went. And finally, I touched ground.

I cannot describe the feelings I felt at that moment. I stood on Mars, and watched up against the starry sky, and saw that little blue dot in the sky that was home; and I knew I had never been further away. The distance was enormous, and I felt so homesick that it amazed me. The earth was so far away.

Finding another spacecraft with a bit of more punch to it (experimental simulation engines), I also traveled to Jupiter and Saturn. I still remember standing on one of the moons and looking up towards Saturn and it's thin, frail rings covering the entire sky above me. Breathtaking is too weak a word to describe the enormous beauty of the scene.

I never went to Uranus, Neptune or Pluto. They are simply too far away to be reached in reasonable time, even with the simulator. And beyond that is emptiness... Space, with no words to describe or comprehend the vastness of its dimensions. The nearest star 4.3 light years away; the entire galaxy is about 100.000 light years across; and then comes the next galaxy a million light years away from us, and the next, and the next... Then there's the Local Group of galaxy clusters we belong to, and then we have the whole wide band of galaxies and galaxy clusters laid out before us along the central portions of the recognizable - or understandable - universe; glittering like a million billion bright pearls strewn across the dark canvas of night.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (Eccl 3:11, NIV)


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