The visionary associate professor of physics and astronomy is also known around campus as a science fiction fan and charter member of the Palouse Astronomical Society which hosts public star parties throughout the region.
When asked if he’d like to travel in space, he laughs, “I want to go! How much is the ticket? When can I sign up?!”
Beyond the lure of adventure, Worthey says today’s race to explore the solar system results from Earth-bound problems like overpopulation, dwindling natural resources, pollution, and the threat of nuclear catastrophe. Yet scientific calculations show that trying to relieve overpopulation by colonizing space won’t work, he says. “We currently lack the global resources to send billions of people into space.”
He says our biggest barrier to interstellar travel is propulsion. “It takes an enormous amount of energy to boost a rocket beyond Earth’s gravity and into orbit. If we could harness the energy from nuclear fusion or antimatter, the universe would become accessible.”
For now, we make do with chemical rockets. The space shuttles, for example, ran on fuel created from water’s ingredients—liquid oxygen and hydrogen. But liquid fuel is heavy and takes up precious cargo space, making human travel much beyond the International Space Station very complicated and expensive, says Worthey.