At about four light-years from the sun, Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to the solar system. While that may seem relatively close, it would still take humanity thousands of years to reach, based on current propulsion technology.
In fact, it took Voyager 1, which was launched in 1977, 37 years to reach the outskirts of the solar system. That spacecraft flew at 17 km/sec, less than 0.006% the speed of light.
“We have to radically rethink our strategy or give up our dreams of reaching the stars in a way romanticized in books and movies,” wrote Philip Lubin, of Univ. of California, Santa Barbara’s Physics Dept.
In his paper, “A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight,” and in a video from NASA 360, Lubin states that photonic propulsion, or the propulsion of objects through light particles, could help humanity achieve quick interstellar travel, turning science fiction into science fact.
Currently, NASA estimates that it would take humans roughly six months to travel to Mars. According to Lubin, his theoretical technology could propel a 100 kg robotic craft to Mars in a few days, and a shuttle-sized craft in about one month. The former robotic craft would travel around 1,200 km/sec.