Sailing into space may take us to stars – NASA author

Physicist, science writer to speak Nov. 5 at engineering school, University Club of Nashville

A physicist by day and a science author and editor by night, Les Johnson – Senior Technical Advisor for NASA’s Advanced Concepts Office, Marshall Space Flight Center – shares his passion with people through the pages of his books. Johnson is the author of several popular science books as well as a science fiction writer.

Les Johnson

Johnson will deliver a lecture – Solar Sails for Spacecraft Propulsion – as part of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Lecture Series. The lecture is Thursday, Nov. 5, at 4 p.m. in Jacobs Believed In Me Auditorium/134 Featheringill Hall.

“Solar sails will allow for exploration to be more affordable and will offer access to destinations that are out of our reach,” said Johnson. “Solar sail technology is rapidly maturing for space propulsion applications within NASA and may one day take us to the stars.”

Solar sails use sunlight to propel vehicles through space by reflecting solar photons from a large, mirror-like sail made of a lightweight, highly reflective material. This continuous photon pressure provides propellant-less thrust, potentially enabling a solar sail propulsion system to propel a spacecraft to tremendous speeds – theoretically much faster than any present-day propulsion system and allowing for very high, total-thrust maneuvers for long duration, deep space exploration, Johnson said.

In 2008, Johnson, along with New York City College physics professor Gregory Matloff and Giovanni Vulpetti, a Rome, Italy, physicist, published a non-fiction book, “Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel.”

Johnson also will speak at 6:30 p.m. in the Wedgewood Room of the University Club of Nashville, on the Vanderbilt campus, and guests are encouraged to arrive at 6. Book signing of “Going Interstellar will follow his presentation: “Interstellar Travel: Is It Possible?” The University Club Lecture Series is open to the public.

More than 1000 exoplanets have been discovered, some of which may be similar to Earth. How do we get there? Johnson says though the distances are vast, there are methods that may allow humanity to one day go to the stars – and they are within the known laws of physics. Following a status on exoplanets research, he will describe methods that may one day allow humanity to become an interstellar species.

“Going Interstellar,” published in 2012, is a collection of original science fiction stories by several authors and non-fiction essays that describe the “science behind the fiction.” Readers will find a short story and non-fiction essay by Johnson.

Johnson received his M.S. in physics from Vanderbilt. He has received NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal three times and has three patents.

Brenda Ellis, (615) 343-6314
Twitter @VUEngineering