Science fact and fiction author Les Johnson made the case at Dragon Con for solar sail development for otherwise inaccessible solar research, interstellar flight, and potential planetary protection. Speaking from a virtual platform in the Science track (Friday at 11AM), Johnson presented “Solar Sails: Using Sunlight to Explore the Solar System and Beyond.”
Presenting as an author of science fiction and popular science books, including Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel with Giovanni Vulpetti and Greg Matloff, he detailed supportive evolution of and future plans for solar sail development. Although specifically not speaking from the perspective of his day job as a NASA physicist, Johnson mentioned his work on Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout and Solar Cruiser, an upcoming solar sail project for which he is the lead. (Note from author’s website: “NASA does not endorse Les’s books or speaking engagements.”)
Johnson recounted his own first contact with solar sails as a young boy reading “Sun Jammer” by science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke in Boy’s Life (March 1964). The story featured a solar sail spacecraft “yacht race” and was included in Clarke’s 1972 collection, Wind from the Sun. Johnson dedicated his talk to his early-career mentor, the late Dr. Robert Forward, considered the father of laser-beamed energy propulsion and also a science fiction writer (The Dragon’s Egg, 1980, and Indistinguishable from Magic, 1995, among others).
Johnson talked about the continuum of physics, engineering, and materials science (perhaps solved by using graphene?) challenges facing advanced solar sail development. He praised work with similar technology proposed as solar shades to reduce global warming, addressed at a later Dragon Con Science track panel.
Johnson invited questions emailed to him at (email@example.com) les.mail (at) lesjohsonauthor (dot) com. For more information about solar sails and his latest science fiction novels Saving Proxima (by Travis Taylor and Les Johnson) and The Spacetime War (available October 5, 2021), visit www.lesjohnsonauthor.com.