The Right Stuff for Super Spaceships

Crafted from smart materials, tomorrow's airplanes could have self-bending wings that operate without flaps - thus reducing drag and lowering fuel costs.Revolutions in technology - like the Industrial Revolution that replaced horses with cars - can make what seems impossible today commonplace tomorrow.

Such a revolution is happening right now. Three of the fastest-growing sciences of our day - biotech, nanotech, and information technology - are converging to give scientists unprecedented control of matter on the molecular scale. Emerging from this intellectual gold-rush is a new class of materials with astounding properties that sound more at home in a science fiction novel than on the laboratory workbench.

Imagine, for example, a substance with 100 times the strength of steel, yet only 1/6 the weight; materials that instantly heal themselves when punctured; surfaces that can 'feel' the forces pressing on them; wires and electronics as tiny as molecules; structural materials that also generate and store electricity; and liquids that can instantly switch to solid and back again at will. All of these materials exist today ... and more are on the way. With such mind-boggling materials at hand, building the better spacecraft starts to look not so far fetched after all.

About the Author

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA Marshall Space Flight CenterThe George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, located in Huntsville, Alabama, is the U.S. government's civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion research center. As the largest NASA center, MSFC's first mission was developing the Saturn launch vehicles for the Apollo program.